In a desperate attempt to make this a Manny-free zone -- at least until next week's inevitable all-Manny, all-the-time winter meetings in Texas -- here's what the general manager-less Red Sox ought to do during baseball's annual offseason week of outlandish deals, contracts, and rumors.
1. Give Scott Boras a take it or leave it, four-year, $40 million offer for Johnny Damon.
On Monday. Accept it by Tuesday, or we move on. That's it. The Red Sox can ill afford to drag talks with Damon on through the meetings. And they certainly don't want to be forced to announce the signing of another Boras client on Christmas Eve. Granted, there aren't really many other center field options on the free agent market, which would force the Sox to make a deal for someone. Torii Hunter? He's going to cost you just as much per season ($10.75 million in 2006), as well as a player like Kevin Youkilis in trade. I don't like it. Still, though, the Red Sox can't get caught up in the Scott Boras game. They'll have to assume the rumors of Damon going somewhere like Detroit are a desperation play to squeeze more dough out of Boston and nothing more. Nobody is going to give Damon a 7-year deal (be thankful Omar Minaya already has a center fielder or he certainly would). Odds are, Damon will be patrolling center at Fenway for the foreseeable future. The Sox should push the issue, not have themselves pushed into a corner.
2. Offer Matt Clement to the Brewers ... not for Lyle Overbay.
Those Clement for Overbay rumors going around last week were logistically wacky. Clement was good, not great, for Boston last season. He was disastrous, not just awful, in his Game 1 start against the White Sox in the ALDS. Why exactly would the cash-conscious Brewers take on Clement's remaining $19 million in exchange for a guy who drove in 72 runs last season while making less than half a million? They wouldn't, so get the daydream out of your head. Oh, the Brewers might still take on Clement, if the Red Sox take on one of their higher-priced guys like Carlos Lee or Geoff Jenkins, both of whom will make in the $8 million range next season. Lee had the higher home run and RBI totals last year, but Jenkins' .375 on-base percentage was better than Bill Mueller's in 2005. He's not a sexy name as a possible replacement for Manny Ramirez -- and not nearly the caliber of hitter -- but the Sox could do a lot worse. As for playing the wall, Jenkins had just five errors as Milwaukee's left fielder from 2001-04.
3. Forget the Padres. Send David Wells to LA.
I like Dave Roberts. Nice guy. Legendary steal. But for David Wells? My nostalgia need isn't that great. If Wells wants to go west, why not see what the Angels might give up? They're on the verge of losing Paul Byrd (the Orioles are reportedly making a bid), so what better way to fill the void than with a better pitcher, and a lefty to boot? The Sox could try and pry one of the Angels young studs away (Chris Bootcheck), but due to Wells' age, more likely would get a so-so package including someone like Esteban Yan.
4. Stay away from Trevor Hoffman. Ditto Tom Gordon.
Nothing like trying to replace Keith Foulke with 38-year-old guys. Wasn't age the problem last season in the buckle-up bullpen? Hoffman might command up to $9 million-10 million a season now that B.J. Ryan and Billy Wagner have broken the bank. Gordon would cost a bit less, and could set up Foulke as well as serve as insurance, but you have to wonder how much his arm has left in him after 159 appearances over the past two years with the Yankees. He was good down the stretch in 2005, but in 2004, well we don't have to tell you how pooped he looked in the ALCS, do we? Instead, the Sox should make a concerted push for Kyle Farnsworth. The Yankees have been hot for the Braves reliever, but it's hard to imagine a more perfect fit for what the Red Sox need. Farnsworth closed out 16 games, but also had 19 holds to his credit, and would make a great complement for Foulke. If Foulke continues to struggle, Farnsworth has already proven he's capable enough to take the job, and at 29, would be best suited to a three-year deal to hopefully solidify the spot until Craig Hansen is ready to take over.
5. Go after Barry Zito.
Now that Billy Beane has announced to the world he no longer wishes to be seen as a genius after signing Esteban Loaiza to a three-year, $21 million deal, the Sox can toss their name into the ring for Barry Zito, who is once again on his yearly spot on the rumored trading block. The Rangers have interest, as do the Mets. Of course. Is Beane still as enamored with Youkilis as he once was, and would it take the third/first baseman and perhaps an Abe Alvarez for Zito? Nobody knows if Zito will ever regain his 2002 Cy Young form, but he rebounded nicely in 2005 (14-13, 3.86 ERA), and is good for 35 starts a year. Might it be worth it? Schilling, Beckett, Zito, Wakefield, Papelbon? Um, yes.
6. Torture Omar Minaya.
Hire the maid service to prop Manny cardboard cutouts in Minaya's hotel room. Leave the Mets GM voicemail messages posing as Ramirez. Spend every meeting with Minaya in a Red Sox No. 24 jersey. When using the restroom during a meeting, make sure Minaya is in mid-sentence. Anything it takes to drive him crazy to the point of having the Sox name their package for Ramirez. Then, say no thanks and see what you can drive out of the Rangers or Angels. Maybe nothing. Maybe you don't deal him and let him stew during spring training. Who says you can't have fun along the way?