Increasingly frustrated with their inability to close a deal with Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers took an unexpected turn in their negotiations with his agent, Scott Boras.
They made it personal.
The Dodgers took a swipe at Boras in a strongly worded news release they issued Thursday night to report that the free-agent outfielder had rejected the two-year, $45-million offer the team made Wednesday.
That prompted a curious response from the Boras camp, which released a statement of its own saying that it was waiting for a response from the Dodgers about the two counterproposals it made Thursday, the most recent being for -- guess how much? -- $45 million over two years.
So why would Boras propose the very deal he rejected?
Did Boras turn down the offer and panic upon realizing that Ramirez had no other suitors? Or was the deal he was proposing a different one than the one Ramirez was offered Wednesday?
What isn't known is whether there are any other teams actively pursuing Ramirez.
What is known is that, according to sources with knowledge of the situation who weren't authorized to comment publicly on the matter, parts of Ramirez's salary would have been deferred under the Dodgers' proposal. The Dodgers offered Ramirez a deal that would've paid him $25 million this year and included a $20-million player option for 2010.
Boras wouldn't comment and directed questions to the Dodgers. What he did say was that he never rejected the Dodgers' offer.
"They asked me to respond to them and I gave them a counterproposal within the framework of the structure we had agreed upon," Boras said.
Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti didn't return a message left on his cellphone. Spokesman Josh Rawitch later sent The Times an e-mail saying that the Dodgers wouldn't issue any comments Thursday night other than McCourt's.
The electronic firestorm was started by the Dodgers, who sent a mass e-mail with a subject line that read, "Boras Rejects Dodgers Offer to Manny Ramirez."
"The Dodgers today received a letter from Scott Boras, the agent for Manny Ramirez, rejecting the offer that the club made yesterday," the release read. "This rejection is the fourth by the agent in the club's attempts to sign Manny."
The release revealed the growing tension between Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Boras, as it included a quote from McCourt mocking the agent and ended with him stating: "So we start from scratch."
The statement from Boras countered: "We are continuing to work within the scope of the parameters established during our discussion Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, which included a two-year term and ability for the player to void the contract after the first year. Per that face-to-face meeting, we agreed to continue to have discussions until Friday at noon, which included our two proposals today, our most recent at two years, $45 million. We are waiting to hear their response."
Until the Dodgers and Boras released their respective statements, they appeared to be making progress in the negotiations. The inclusion of the opt-out clause, which would let Ramirez re-enter the free-agent market next winter if he desired, was said by Colletti to be a "significant" concession by the Dodgers and "a great stride for them."
The Dodgers included a similar provision in the contract of another Boras client, J.D. Drew, who unexpectedly opted out of a five-year, $55-million deal at the end of the 2006 season, forcing the Dodgers to overpay Juan Pierre to fill his position.
Drew's sudden defection was only one of McCourt's dealings with Boras that drew the owner's ire.
The agent represented Luke Hochevar, the Dodgers' first-round draft choice in 2005, whom the club failed to sign. Hochevar re-entered the draft the next year and signed with the Kansas City Royals, who paid him significantly more than what the Dodgers had offered him.
Boras also negotiated a two-year, $36.2-million deal with the Dodgers on behalf of Andruw Jones, who was one of the greatest free-agent busts in history. The Dodgers granted him an unconditional release this winter after deferring most of the $22 million he was still owed.
The Dodgers' news release included this quote from McCourt:
"We love Manny Ramirez. And we want Manny back, but we feel we are negotiating against ourselves. When his agent finds those 'serious offers' from other clubs, we'll be happy to re-start the negotiations."
The final sentence of that paragraph was a reference to Boras' response to the Dodgers' initial offer, which was also for $45 million over two years. That 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.
What were Boras' thoughts?
He said he was looking forward to fielding "serious offers" from other teams when the Dodgers' exclusive window to negotiate with Ramirez expired.
The Dodgers later offered Ramirez arbitration and a one-year, $25-million deal. Both were rejected.
The Dodgers have made their offers public because, Colletti said Thursday, "most of the time when offers are extended back and forth, they end up seeing the light of day anyway. We'd rather have them be accurate than inaccurate."
McCourt also said in the news release: "Even with an economy that has substantially eroded since last November, out of respect for Manny and his talents, we actually improved our offer."
Other than the Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants are the only team that has publicly acknowledged its interest in Ramirez. But Giants President Larry Baer said Thursday that his club was maintaining its wait-and-see approach in regard to Ramirez and had no interest in entering a bidding war for his services.
The Giants haven't extended an offer to Ramirez and haven't been asked to do so by Boras, according to Baer.
Baer mentioned that the Giants' failed pursuit of Joe Crede, another Boras client, ended with the agent calling them to give them a final chance to better the offer made by the Minnesota Twins. Baer didn't know if he would be given that courtesy with Ramirez.
Randy Wolf pitched two scoreless innings in the Dodgers' 16-7 win over the Giants. Fifteen of his 21 pitches were strikes. . . . Andre Ethier (bruised heel) and Casey Blake (groin) have minor injuries that could sideline them for a couple of days. . . . Veteran utility man Doug Mientkiewicz, who played under Dodgers Manager Joe Torre in New York in 2007, was signed to a minor league deal.