Intending to discourage further questioning about Manny Ramirez's absence from the Dodgers' spring training camp, Manager Joe Torre said on Wednesday that the All-Star outfielder probably wouldn't be playing through the weekend.
Torre's forecast could end up being wrong.
While the Dodgers were facing the Chicago Cubs in their exhibition opener, owner Frank McCourt and General Manager Ned Colletti made their latest pitch to Ramirez's representatives in a meeting at Dodger Stadium: two years, $45 million.
The proposed deal would pay Ramirez $25 million this season and includes a $20 million player option for 2010, according to baseball sources familiar with the negotiations who weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Ramirez would be able to void the second year of the contract and re-enter the free agent market next winter.
Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras, was said to be informing Ramirez of the offer Wednesday evening and told the Dodgers that he could tell them of Ramirez's response as soon as this morning.
Colletti declined to comment on the offer and Boras could not be reached by phone or e-mail. Dodgers spokesman Josh Rawitch acknowledged that Colletti and McCourt met with Boras and his associate, Mike Fiore.
The value of the proposed deal is the same as that of an offer the Dodgers made to Ramirez in November -- an offer that Boras responded to by saying he would look forward to fielding "serious offers" from other clubs.
That first offer would've paid Ramirez $15 million this season, $22.5 million the next and included a $22.5-million option for 2011 that the Dodgers could've bought out for $7.5 million. The Dodgers later offered Ramirez arbitration and a one-year, $25-million deal.
In what could be the strongest indication that Ramirez will accept the Dodgers' offer, a source in his camp pointed out the benefits of him being able to be a free agent again next winter. The economy could rebound by then, the source said, and Ramirez could further distance himself from his well-chronicled behavioral problems that forced the Boston Red Sox to deal him at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline last year.
The opt-out clause was requested by Boras, sources said. The influential agent convinced the Dodgers to put the same clause into the contract of J.D. Drew, who opted out of his deal at the end of the 2006 season and forced them to overpay Juan Pierre to fill their vacancy in center field.
If Ramirez signs the deal, some of his salary would be deferred, a source said. But it is uncertain how much would be deferred and for how long.
What is clear is that whether it was because of his troubled past, his impending 37th birthday, the downturn in the economy or a combination of the three factors, the market Boras envisioned for Ramirez never materialized. Boras spent the winter asking clubs for four years with a vesting option for a fifth. The San Francisco Giants were the only other team that publicly acknowledged their interest in Ramirez but made it clear they had no intention of entering a bidding war for him.
Speaking to The Times less than three weeks ago in his only interview this year, Ramirez said he wouldn't let the prolonged contract talks hinder his on-field performance.
"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."
Torre said Wednesday that Ramirez's absence wasn't a distraction to his team.
"From my experience with him, I know he's not sitting at home doing nothing," Torre said. "He's working out. I don't see that it's an issue. Hopefully, we do get him and whenever that time is, I'm pretty comfortable that he'll have enough time to be ready."
Center fielder Matt Kemp tried to deliver a message to Ramirez through an ESPN camera, saying, "Manny, c'mon, sign. We need you."
Similar shouts were playfully directed by players at a fan in the seats directly behind the visiting dugout at HoHoKam Park, where the Dodgers lost to the Chicago Cubs, 5-3.
The fan had shoulder-length dreadlocks and looked like Ramirez, prompting Delwyn Young to shout at him, "Hey, Manny, we have to stretch!"
Unknown was the fate of the ticket sales representative who caused a stir by leaving a voice message for a potential season-ticket holder that said the Dodgers were on the verge of re-signing Ramirez. His phone extension at the Dodgers' offices went to the voice mail of another ticket representative. A team spokesman said the employee was expected at work today but declined to say if he was suspended for a day or reassigned. . . . Three of the candidates vying to be the fifth starter looked shaky, as Claudio Vargas, Eric Milton and Ramon Troncoso combined to give up five runs and seven hits over five innings. . . . Tony Abreu, the infield prospect who has been sidelined for the last 1 1/2 seasons because of abdominal problems, drove in the Dodgers' first runs of the spring on a two-out, two-run single in the second inning.