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We come to talk about Manny Ramirez, and the Dodgers, and free agency. Yet we must first talk about cool scented towels.
This is because the Dodgers have forfeited the chance to cite the economic crisis should Ramirez sign elsewhere. If they offer him three years and he takes four years somewhere else, the Dodgers cannot claim they held the line on behalf of their fans.
The Dodgers are freezing prices on season tickets. So are the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates -- and the Boston Red Sox, who have sold out every game since 2003. The NFL is cutting the price of playoff tickets.
Commissioner Bud Selig has warned teams not to “get too cocky” on prices in these rocky times. Yet the Dodgers have done just that in setting the prices for their new spring complex in Glendale, Ariz.
For an exhibition game -- for three innings of Matt Kemp and six innings of A.J. Ellis -- the Dodgers are charging $90 for the best seats in the house, $30 and $26 and $24 for everything else between the bases.
The perks of the $90 seats, according to the Dodgers’ website, include “complimentary water, sunscreen [and] cool scented towels.”
Scott Boras will love that. He’ll ask Frank McCourt how the Dodgers can charge their fans beyond top dollar for practice games, then submit a low-ball offer for Ramirez.
And that’s too bad, because the Dodgers’ offer to Ramirez is perfectly reasonable as a first offer, entirely respectable even as a best offer.
Boras, as the agent, is entitled to scoff at the Dodgers’ bid of two years and $45 million. But McCourt, as the owner, is just as entitled to scoff at highly publicized wishes for six years, or for $30 million per year.
We’ll see what the market holds for Ramirez starting today, when every other team can bid on him. You don’t read breathless reports about such wishes with regard to Mark Teixeira. There is no need to float them. The market will be there for him.
The market does not appear to be there for Ramirez, at least not now, not among the traditional big spenders. The New York Yankees want CC Sabathia. The New York Mets want a closer. The Detroit Tigers want whatever pitching they can get, and cheaply.
The Chicago Cubs have Alfonso Soriano in left field. The Philadelphia Phillies prefer to bring back Pat Burrell. The Boston Red Sox would rather take back Bill Buckner than take back Ramirez.
And, although Angels owner Arte Moreno said a lot of nice things about Ramirez’s abilities Wednesday, he said he would let Manager Mike Scioscia and General Manager Tony Reagins discuss whether Ramirez would fit in Anaheim.
“That discussion hasn’t taken place,” Reagins said Thursday. “Our priority is elsewhere.”
So there is no urgency for the Dodgers to “compromise” at four years at $100 million, when they might be bidding against themselves, when even in 2010 no major league outfielder is scheduled to make more than $19 million in base salary.
In the binder Boras prepared for teams, he pitches that “Ramirez joins baseball’s uppermost echelon in 2014,” projecting him to pass Babe Ruth in home runs in that year and become the all-time leader in runs batted in.
That would come true if, as Boras projects, Ramirez maintains his production of the last four years. But Ramirez turns 37 next year, and he would need 204 homers and 684 RBIs over the next six years to meet those projections.
No player has hit 204 home runs from 37 on, according to baseball-reference.com. Cap Anson is the only player to drive in 684 runs from 37 on -- and he played until he was 45.
This is not to say that the Dodgers can sit tight on their offer. The Mets might well jump in, since the asking price of closers might drop given a supply that expands by the day. The Toronto Blue Jays might bid too, or the Baltimore Orioles, or the Washington Nationals, or the San Francisco Giants.
And Boras could do one thing to help the Dodgers free up more Manny money, and to put a smile on McCourt’s face: He could broker a deal to get Andruw Jones out of town. He could see if the Atlanta Braves would take him back, or if the Giants or Kansas City Royals would take another shot after bidding on him last winter.
The Dodgers would have to authorize Boras to broker a trade, then decide what portion of the $22 million still owed to Jones they would pay.
“I can’t say it won’t happen,” Boras said. “I can say there haven’t been any suggestions made to us.”
The Dodgers have more to handle than Ramirez this winter, much more. They have two vacancies in their starting rotation, with no plan to submit an immediate bid on Sabathia today.
They need a second baseman, shortstop and third baseman, although the Dodgers expect Blake DeWitt could fill second or third. They would like to bring back Rafael Furcal, although they appear more likely to sign Orlando Cabrera to a short-term deal.
So you might need a scorecard to figure out who all the new players are in spring training, from those pricey seats.
The Arizona stadium seats 10,000, with room for another 3,000 on the lawn behind the outfield fence.
The Dodgers plan to charge $90 for the best 700 seats, with amenities including parking, promotional items and food and merchandise credits as well as the opportunity to reserve those seats on a season basis, before any waiting list might form.
Dennis Mannion, the Dodgers’ chief operating officer, defended the rest of the pricing by pointing to the Chicago Cubs, the top draw in the Cactus League. The Cubs last spring charged $22 to $26 for seats between the bases.
“We didn’t create a whole new aggressive pricing structure against what’s happening in the Cactus League,” Mannion said. “We know we’ll have an incredibly better fan experience than the rest of the league.”
No matter what the Cubs do, that’s an awfully expensive ticket for three innings of James Loney and six innings of Ivan DeJesus. If that $90 ticket comes with zero innings of Manny Ramirez, those cool scented towels might as well be crying towels.
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THINGS TO WATCH IN FREE AGENCY
As the free-agent market opens today, Times baseball columnist Bill Shaikin surveys the free-agent landscape:
Francisco Rodriguez set a major league record last season with 62 saves. He’s 26, a perfect age for free agency. But the riches might not be there for him.
On Monday, the San Diego Padres dumped all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman into the free-agent market.
Two days later, Arte Moreno said the time had come for the Angels to turn the page on negotiations with their star closer.
On Thursday, the Chicago Cubs traded for former Florida Marlins closer Kevin Gregg as a backup for new closer Carlos Marmol. Then Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry said closer Kerry Wood should look elsewhere for a long-term contract.
Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said he was not looking for a closer. The Angels are unlikely to sign a closer to a long-term deal and might not sign one at all; General Manager Tony Reagins said he was satisfied with Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo.
The flurry of activity should benefit the New York Mets, the team most inclined to spend big bucks on a closer. The Mets could have their choice of Rodriguez, Hoffman, Wood and Brian Fuentes, plus a lesser group of Chad Cordero, Brandon Lyon, Jason Isringhausen -- and even Eric Gagne.
The Mets could spurn them all too, and trade for Bobby Jenks of the Chicago White Sox.
Older and cheaper
Mark Teixeira will get the big bucks, and so will CC Sabathia and Manny Ramirez. But a triple whammy -- the slumping economy, the belated realization that teams should not overpay older players for past performance and the suspicion that veterans have been most affected by testing for steroids and amphetamines -- could keep many veterans waiting for an offer into the new year, and even into spring training.
A sampling of free agents for whom the days of long-term contracts could be over: outfielders Garret Anderson (37) and Bobby Abreu (34), infielders Orlando Cabrera (34), David Eckstein (33) and Kevin Millar (37), pitcher Paul Byrd (37) and catcher Ivan Rodriguez (36).
The San Francisco Giants as favorites to win the National League West in 2009? If they sign a slugger or two, why not?
The Dodgers have more questions than answers. The rest of the division appears to be self-destructing, with the Colorado Rockies trading Matt Holliday, the Arizona Diamondbacks cutting payroll and the Padres transforming themselves into a minor league team.
The Giants could have the best starting rotation in the division, with Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and even Barry Zito, who went 6-5 with a 4.59 ERA in the second half, holding opponents to a .232 batting average.
Ramirez would fit beautifully here, filling the seats left vacant by the departure of Barry Bonds. The Giants also would do well with Pat Burrell, who grew up in the Bay Area, or Adam Dunn.
Teixeira’s career batting average:
At Angel Stadium: .294
At Fenway Park: .193
-- Bill Shaikin