After the Red Sox make their run at a third World Series Trophy in just five years, a task no one could have foreseen a decade ago, they will be presented with one of the toughest management decisions this franchise has ever seen. Live with, or without Manny Ramirez, one of the greatest hitters this town has ever seen.
Since the start of the 2001 baseball season, when he became a member of the Boston Red Sox, Manny Ramirez has smashed over 273 home runs (as of July 19, 2008), that's more than half of his career total of 509. While never having a season in which he hit lower than .292 and played in no less than 120 games, he has become a staple of all things Red Sox. From the protection he provides to hitters like David Ortiz and current outfielder, J.D. Drew, to the way he has learned to play Fenway's dynamic wall as if he'd been doing it since birth, Manny Ramirez skill is unparalleled. Yet after eight seasons, a World Series MVP, and the groundbreaking $160 million dollars paid out to him, Manny Ramirez might just be, out.
The case FOR: When former Red Sox GM, Dan Duquette, signed Ramirez in the winter of 2000, he knew what the city and ball club were getting. Manny was a statistical GOD in Cleveland for 7+ seasons. In his contract year of 2000, Ramirez missed 40 games and still hit a mind numbing .351, 38 home runs, and knocked in 122 runs. Had Manny played in 20 of those games your looking at a guy who could have hit between 40 and 45 home runs heading into free agency, not even divorced cougars look that good on the open market. Teams like Seattle, who had just lost Alex Rodriguez to free agency, Cleveland, who was hoping not to part ways with their slugger, and of course Boston, who was hoping to place Ramirez in between crowd favorite Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett, were all in the hunt for Ramirez. Boston's $160 million dollar check over eight years won out. But ask yourself, after all that has happened since that winter, could you see Manny drinking Starbucks and throwing fish in the market while living in Seattle?
So where are we now after eight years? An All-Star every year in Boston, a two time World Series winner, a World Series MVP, member of the 500 Homer Cub, 5-time American League Siver Slugger, good enough? Hardly, you know the accolades and you know the home runs, but how about the emergence of the biggest star this town has ever seen, David Ortiz a.k.a. Big Papi. After six years on the scrap heap in the Twinville, Ortiz came to Boston and has hit over .300 three times, something he never did in Minnesota, has clubbed over 30 homers a season, something he never did before, and hit behind the games most premier hitter of the last twenty seasons, something he never did before. Still not enough? After 83 games in 2008, Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, is hitting .298 and on pace for a career high in both RBI's and home runs. Drew was elected to his first All-Star game in his 9th season, and took home the All-Star game MVP, did I forget to mention he's been hitting in front of Ramirez since the end of May, the following month he hit .337, impressive. No man is worth $20 million a year, but if your going to give it to someone, why not Ramirez. At the end of the day you have to answer one question, if Drew and Ortiz's success as hitters can be accredited, even a little to Manny, do you eat the next season at $20 Mil for the services? Dan Duquette gave you the option, and the ball is in your court.
The case AGAINST: You want personality issues? Manny's got plenty. The once "quiet" star has for some reason become determined to rid himself of that title. Just recently Ramirez had this to say about his pending free agency:
"I want to know what's my situation. I want no more [expletive] where they tell you one thing and behind your back they do another thing. I think I've earned that respect, for a team to sit down with me and tell me this is what we want, this is what we want to do."
Nice, Ramirez has obviously been frustrated with his potential pending free agency looming, and he should be. If the Red Sox opt not to pick up the 2009 club option at a cost of $20 Million, Manny will earn considerably less in free agency. Not many teams can afford that price tag and even if they could, they probably shouldn't.
Since 2005 Ramirez' power numbers have dropped from 45 homers to 35 homers, to 20 homers last season. His RBI totals have gone from 144, 102, to 88 in 2007. Still the .300 average hitter, Ramirez' BA dropped .024 points over the last several seasons, he's a far cry from the .321 he hit in 2006. In order to pay big dollars to Ramirez you need to have hitters in front and behind him to experience his full value, especially based on what the numbers have proved, not many teams can put J.D. Drew and David Ortiz type sluggers around Manny.
You know about Manny's exploit and assault on club house attendant Jack McCormick earlier this season. You know about Manny's sudden shove of Kevin Youkilis after growing tired of Youkilis post strikeout reaction. You also know that you've never seen this in eight seasons of Manny world, and picking up Manny's 09' option would mean a bit of the same thing considering the Sox also have an option year for '10. Could Red Sox players, management, traveling secretaries, and fans put up with another year of this?
To me, the direction of the Boston Red Sox since John Henry's arrival can only mean one thing. Manny OUT. From the Red Sox attempt to rid themselves of Manny's contract in 2003 by placing him on waivers to the departures of aging superstars and Boston legends Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra, the Red Sox do business one way, efficiently.
While the Red Sox don't belt tighten they do transfer money and with the Ramirez money off the books, the Red Sox have plans. Replacing Ramirez with a 5-tool player the caliber of a Colorado's Matt Holliday and using leftover Manny money to bring in another quality starter like free agent to be Ben Sheets, the Red Sox have the ability to transition quickly.
I loved 8 years of Manny, from the home run trots to the ipod in the outfield, but one thing I love more is quality pitching and with the prospect of a Beckett, Dice-K, Jon Lester, and Ben Sheets staff, I can move on quickly. All you Ramirez lovers keep in mind the Sox didn't win a ring till Schill paired with Pedro and Beckett paired with Schill. Chicks dig the long ball, I dig the rings.