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Manny Ramirez says lengthy contract talks won’t affect his play

Manny Ramirez says he isn’t upset at the Dodgers. He says he isn’t bothered by how long it’s taking him to sign a new contract. And he says that being a free agent so close to the start of spring training isn’t a source of anxiety for him.

Ramirez glances out a lobby window. Several hotel guests are sitting in a hot tub. Behind them, small waves push onto the white sands of this beach on the Florida Panhandle, the water gradually turning green as it moves closer to land.

“I like it here because I can focus on my work,” Ramirez said. “I have one of the best agents on the market. He’s kept me up to date on everything. I feel really calm.”

Speaking in Spanish in his first interview of the year, a seemingly relaxed Ramirez told The Times on Saturday that he didn’t know when he would sign or with whom. He didn’t offer many details about his state of mind, except, perhaps, when addressing the widespread concerns that the lengthy contract talks might disgruntle him and result in his not playing hard this year.

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“That won’t happen,” he said. “Understand me, I have goals. I know that if I play six more years, I could get to my 3,000th hit and, who knows, maybe my 700th home run.”

Ramirez has 2,392 hits in his 16-year career, including 527 home runs. He turns 37 in May, which has made the long-term deal he seeks elusive.

But Ramirez said he sensed he was moving closer to signing with someone:

“We’re in the seventh inning and I’m waiting for my pitch.”

The Dodgers have made him three offers, counting their offer for arbitration that he declined in December. They made their initial pitch to him in November, proposing a two-year, $45-million contract that included an option for a third year that would’ve raised its total value to $60 million. They made another pitch to him last week, offering a one-year, $25-million deal.

“No, it doesn’t bother me,” Ramirez said of the offers. “This is a business. You have to continue negotiating. . . . What matters is what I sign in the end.”

Ramirez said he has fond memories of his 2 1/2 months with the Dodgers, which culminated with their first National League Championship Series appearance in 20 years.

“I enjoyed the time I spent there,” he said. “The reporters treated me well. They treated me with respect. When I needed my 15 minutes to go to the cages, they gave it to me. I felt really comfortable there. Everyone treated me well, all of the guys.”

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Ramirez said that he has had a couple of conversations this winter with Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, who told him that he was wanted back.

“I felt very proud of what we did there,” Ramirez said. “But we have various options that we’re looking at.”

Among the other options could be the San Francisco Giants, who intensified their negotiations this week with Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras. While Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti said Saturday that he last spoke to Boras on Wednesday, Giants President Larry Baer said his club had talked to the influential agent several times in the last few days, including Saturday.

Baer wouldn’t say whether the Giants have extended an offer to Ramirez. They aren’t believed to be enthused about topping the Dodgers’ offers, but a source familiar with their thinking recently told The Times they had not ruled out offering Ramirez a three-year contract.

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“I’m not going to get into dollars and cents,” Baer said. “We’ve said all along it has to be the right fit for the Giants.”

Ramirez wouldn’t discuss the specifics of any of his negotiations but said Boras regularly updated him with developments. Boras also declined to talk about the details of negotiations other than to say he was in discussions with several teams.

Ramirez said he would return today to his Ft. Lauderdale home, where he left behind his wife and children in November. Working out at the opposite end of the state, Ramirez said his contact with them for most of the winter was limited to phone conversations and weekly visits on Thursdays.

“One has to make sacrifices,” he said.

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That included declining an invitation to represent the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic because he didn’t want to alter his off-season and spring training workout programs. As was the case last winter, which he spent in Arizona, his training regimen is being overseen by Athletes’ Performance.

Though he’s hit in batting cages at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Ramirez said he has focused primarily on fitness, in particular explosive movements. He credited the program for maintaining his strength for the entire season, including his two-month tear with the Dodgers during which he hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 runs batted in.

His only constant companion has been Rico Perdomo, a close friend whom he introduced as his tio, or uncle. Also in town Saturday to help him move back to Ft. Lauderdale was Justin Taglianetti of the Boras Corporation.

Ramirez said he and Perdomo spent a lot of their free time watching movies at the beachfront apartment they rented.

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There wasn’t much else to do in Pensacola Beach, a barrier island where pastel-colored houses, infant palm trees and overgrown weeds dominate the landscape. Men in shorts and women in sundresses took walks Saturday down the residential streets, most of which lack easily visible signs. A group of about 30 ducks halted traffic on the main road.

Few seemed to be aware of Ramirez’s presence.

Tosha Fraley, a waitress at Flounder’s Chowder House, said she served Ramirez two months ago but didn’t know who he was until the other waiters crowded around his credit card receipt.

“I thought he was Jamaican,” she said of Ramirez, who has kept his trademark dreadlocks.

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“He wasn’t hard to please,” she added.

How was he as a tipper?

“Mediocre,” she said. “I think his bill was between $40 and $50. I think he gave me $5.”

She said she made up for it by making a copy of his signed receipt and selling the original to another customer for $10.

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Also experiencing an unexpected brush with fame was the Baumgard family of Jacksonville, who were staying at the same hotel where Ramirez was interviewed Saturday. The family patriarch, Jack, was born and raised in Ohio, and said he has been a Ramirez fan since he played for the Cleveland Indians. Ramirez signed autographs for Baumgard’s son and daughter, and posed for pictures with the family.

“He’s the best hitter in baseball,” Baumgard said.

As Ramirez was about to leave the hotel, he was wished well in resolving his contract issues. He smiled.

“It’s in God’s hands,” he said.

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Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com


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