Over at Slate, Charles Pierce offers his two cents on the Manny Ramirez deal.
The treatment Ramirez has been receiving in the Boston and national media (the Globe, the Herald, ESPN and FOX) has generally ranged from biased to appalling. Certainly Manny has behaved poorly over the last weeks, but the Red Sox front office have acted very unwisely and from the outset.
Coming into the season, Ramirez was in the last year of his 8-year, $160 million contract that he had signed at the beginning of 2001, but the Red Sox held options to extend his contract for 2009 and 2010 for $20 million per year.
Normally the Red Sox don't hold contract negotiations with players in the last year of a contract until after the season, and normally you wouldn't blame them for keeping their options on a somewhat gimpy 36-year-old player open, but when Ramirez hired Scott Boras as his agent, that was a pretty clear sign that he was angling to a new multi-year deal. (Since Ramirez's agent had negotiated his current contract, Boras stood to make exactly $0 if the Red Sox picked up Ramirez's options.) In fact, Ramirez showed up for spring training in the best shape of his life and declared that he wanted to play for another four to six years. Furthermore, the Red Sox already had firsthand experience with Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 with how horribly wrong things can go with contract negotiations if they are allowed to fester during the season
Apparently the Red Sox thought the "four to six years" comment was a throwaway comment, because they pretty much stuck to their guns for the next four months -- that they'd reevaluate things after the season -- and appeared not to have any significant contact with Boras during that time. Eventually Ramirez got frustrated to the point where he popped off with the "I want no more shit where they tell you one thing and behind your back they do another thing" comment.
In retrospect, it seems that the Red Sox had made up their mind then and there that they were getting rid of Ramirez, because that's when the stories started popping up in the media. Rumors circulated that Manny was faking an injury. Peter Gammons claimed that Manny sits out against hard-throwing pitchers. Theo Epstein told Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during a weekend series against the Yankees that he was open to trading Ramirez, and they relayed the announcement on national TV. Eventually the chorus line becomes "Manny's quitting on the team." (Manny only hit .347/.473/.587 during Boston's horrendous July. What a fraud.) The same pattern of hit-pieces popped up in the media before Garciaparra was traded in 2004 and before Theo Epstein (temporarily) resigned in 2005. Apparently Larry Lucchino and others think that it is absolutely necessary to grease the skids when it's time to let a popular star go. By the time July 31 rolled around, the Red Sox front office had completely poisoned the well, and the relevant question became exactly how many cents on the dollar they could get back in exchange for one of the greatest hitters of all time. (Jason Bay's a pretty good hitter in his own right and definitely a better defender than Ramirez, so all hope is not lost.)
To recap, the Red Sox' mistakes were threefold:
- They never touched base with Manny and Boras in any meaningful way before the season.
- When Ramirez expressed frustration about the contract negotiations, or lack thereof, the Sox stubbornly stuck to their guns when they could easily have made a decision on his 2009 option (either decision would be, at the very worst, a small mistake) or discreetly explored the possibility of trading him;
- Apparently feeling that they had been shown up by Ramirez's comments about his contract, they employed scorched-earth tactics in their effort to run him out of town, painting him as the scapegoat for the team's miserable month of July.
So long, Manny, and thanks for the memories. (Most of the images below appear on SoSH.