Walking by a crowd that had assembled in front of the Dodgers’ clubhouse, James Loney smiled.
“Where’s Manny?” he asked, pretending to be searching for his teammate. “Is he here?”
He wasn’t. But he will be today.
The Dodgers’ grueling, four-month negotiation with Manny Ramirez ended Wednesday when the All-Star outfielder inked his name on a new contract that ensured that Mannywood will retain its 90012 ZIP code for at least another season.
The contract is worth $45 million over two years and includes a no-trade provision and an opt-out clause that the 36-year-old Ramirez can exercise at the end of the first year.
Ramirez’s salary this season is $25 million, with $15 million deferred without interest. If he declines the $20-million option for 2010, he will receive $5-million payments over the next three years. If he exercises the option, he will also receive $10 million in 2010, plus $8.33 million in each of the three years after that.
The $25-million salary makes him baseball’s second-highest-paid player behind Alex Rodriguez at $32 million. The Dodgers will pay for Ramirez to stay in a hotel suite when they’re on the road.
Ramirez will report today to Camelback Ranch, where a locker in the back corner of the Dodgers’ clubhouse was set aside for him. Manager Joe Torre said Ramirez probably wouldn’t play in an exhibition for another week.
“You don’t have to speculate anymore,” Loney said, still smiling. “I’ll probably get some new questions now.”
Asked how the addition of Ramirez could affect the National League West, Loney replied, “He affects the whole league, I believe. He’s the guy that other teams don’t want to beat them. When he’s on, he’s on. And he was on for us pretty much the whole time.”
Ramirez became the face of the Dodgers over a breathtaking 2 1/2 -month stretch, taking them to their first National League Championship Series in two decades by hitting .396 with 17 home runs and 53 runs batted in 53 games.
His signing marked the end of a stunning turn of events over 48 hours, as Dodgers owner Frank McCourt went from saying that negotiations with Ramirez would restart from scratch to signing the All-Star outfielder to a deal almost identical in value and structure to one he offered a week before.
So what happened?
Ramirez’s agent, Scott Boras, picked up the phone.
Boras said he told Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti on Sunday that he wanted to speak to McCourt, who earlier that day declared the latest round of talks dead. The agent said he did so not because Ramirez had no other place to go -- the San Francisco Giants were the only other team that publicly acknowledged interest in Ramirez -- but because his client wanted to remain in Los Angeles.
“Manny told me to keep working with the Dodgers to get a deal until I felt we couldn’t get one done,” Boras said.
Ramirez told The Times on Tuesday: “I’m happy in L.A. I like my teammates and had a great time. The fans were so good to me; they treated me the best anywhere in my career.”
Boras and McCourt touched base Monday and met in person Tuesday morning at the Beverly Hills Hotel for three hours, according to the agent. They spoke again in the afternoon over the phone for a couple of hours and talks progressed to the point where McCourt wanted to talk to Ramirez in person.
Ramirez flew to Los Angeles from Miami on Tuesday night. Colletti and Torre left the Dodgers’ camp for a 6 a.m. Wednesday gathering at the McCourt residence in Malibu. Also present at that meeting were Mike Fiore, Boras’ associate; Rico Perdomo, Ramirez’s close friend; and Dennis Mannion, the Dodgers’ chief operating officer.
Returning to Phoenix in time for their spring game against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, Colletti and Torre talked about the positive impression they had of the meeting.
“After last year and the time he spent with us, we knew we wanted him back,” Torre said. “It was about finding that common ground.”
There was widespread speculation that McCourt wanted to speak to Ramirez to rid himself of fears that Ramirez might behave the way he did in Boston last year, when he was unhappy about his contract and forced the Red Sox to deal him to the Dodgers at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But Torre said the topic never came up.
“I don’t think there was any conversation in explaining what had to be done,” Torre said. “That’s what I felt good about.”
The Dodgers announced the deal in a news release that was issued at 4:44 p.m.
Remember the controversy caused this winter by the owner’s wife, Jamie McCourt, who asked whether fans would rather have the Dodgers sign Ramirez or pay for 50 youth fields?
Well, it turns out they’ll have both.
The Dodgers also announced that Ramirez has agreed to contribute $1 million to the Dodgers Dream Foundation to build ballparks for kids, including one in his native Dominican Republic.
So, at least for a year, both sides can call themselves winners. .
However, there is that opt-out clause after the coming season, meaning these negotiations could repeat themselves again next winter.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Highest-paid Dodgers in 2009 (in millions):
*-No longer on team. Jones is owed an additional $16.0 million, to be paid between 2010 to 2014. **-A portion of Ramirez’s contract is deferred money.
The Dodgers last season with and without Manny:
*--* Without -- With 108 Games 54 54-54 Record 30-24 4.17 Runs PG 4.63 0.7 HRs PG 1.2 256 Avg. 281 321 OB% 355 376 SLG% 443 *--*
Los Angeles Times