When the Boston Red Sox took the dramatic step of placing slugger Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers this week, it marked the boldest move yet by a major league team to restructure its payroll while still trying to remain competitive.
It’s doubtful the move will work for the Red Sox, because few teams can afford to add the $101.5 million Ramirez is owed over the final five seasons of an eight-year, $160-million contract. Even the big-budget New York Yankees, smarting from three consecutive postseasons without winning a World Series, reportedly have decided against claiming the All-Star outfielder.
Ramirez had 111 home runs and 336 runs batted in during three seasons with Boston and has career bests that include a .351 average, 45 homers and 165 runs batted in while with the Cleveland Indians. He also is baseball’s second-highest paid player behind Alex Rodriguez of the Texas Rangers, who signed a record 10-year, $252-million deal in December 2000.
If Ramirez is not claimed by another team by today’s 10 a.m. PST deadline, he will remain with the American League runner-up Red Sox. The Red Sox might then try to trade him. But if teams are unwilling to claim Ramirez off waivers because of his salary, it’s difficult to imagine Boston finding a trade partner.
Neither the Dodgers nor the Angels are believed to have an interest in Ramirez.
General managers are forbidden by Major League Baseball from speaking publicly about players who are on waivers because it’s viewed as tampering. But one general manager, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, told The Times: “The Red Sox definitely want him out of there, but they’ve created an awkward situation. If no one claims him, they may have to live with a player who knows his team doesn’t want him.”
Ramirez’s agent, Jeff Moorad, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Thursday afternoon.
Boston’s move also comes at a time when the players’ union is considering filing a grievance that would charge owners with collusion in an attempt to fix salaries last winter during the last free-agent signing period.
This winter’s free-agent market is stocked with big-name players, including Vladimir Guerrero, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield and Miguel Tejada, who figure to command big-dollar contracts.
The union has closely watched free agency since the owners were found guilty and fined $280 million in the mid-1980s for colluding to keep salaries in check by refusing to extend offers to free agents.
Whether the Red Sox’s decision to waive Ramirez is part of a wider movement by teams to revamp payrolls isn’t immediately clear. What is certain is that Boston believes Ramirez is overpaid and inflates its payroll to the point that the club could be hamstrung in attempts to add a quality starting pitcher such as Bartolo Colon or Kevin Millwood.
Ramirez’s salary also could hinder Boston’s attempts to keep together a nucleus of key players that includes Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez, Trot Nixon, Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek, all of whom will be eligible to become free agents after the 2004 season. It’s believed the Red Sox would like to begin hammering out deals with them this winter.
The team began its off-season moves by firing manager Grady Little on Monday.
Moreover, the Red Sox’s willingness to give Ramirez away for nothing underscores their frustration with a one-dimensional player whose only gift is hitting.
Ramirez, 30, batted .325 this season, finishing second by one point behind teammate Bill Mueller for the AL batting title. He also had 37 home runs and 104 RBIs, but lacks standout defensive skills and makes frequent baserunning mistakes.
There also were a number of instances this season when Ramirez seemed to be marching to music only he could hear.
Late this season, he was benched after he sat out a critical series against the Yankees because he said he had a sore throat, but was seen with the Yankees’ Enrique Wilson, a former Cleveland Indian teammate, at a Boston hotel.
Ramirez also skipped an appointment with the team’s doctor and, although he sat in the dugout with his teammates for a game the next day, insisted he was too ill to pinch-hit.
After making a fine running catch against the Yankees in a game in September at New York, he tossed the ball into the stands thinking there were three out, when there were actually two.
Then there was Ramirez’s overreaction to Roger Clemens’ high fastball that started a bench- and bullpen-clearing confrontation in which Martinez threw Don Zimmer, the Yankees’ 72-year-old bench coach, to the ground in Game 3 of the American League championship series at Fenway Park.
Times staff writers Ross Newhan and Jason Reid contributed to this story.