Set aside, for a moment, the issue of whether or not Manny Ramirez will be motivated to play for less than $20 million a year, and his drug-related suspension, and his conduct in his last days with the Red Sox and the Dodgers, and his recent injury history. Try to focus only on this: How good a player is he now, at age 38?
I e-mailed a bunch of club talent evaluators asking them to assess Ramirez's current skills as a player, and got these responses:
From a longtime scout: "He can still hit, but not with the same power or production. Health is becoming an issue, and he's pretty much limited to being a DH. His approach at the plate has always been one of the best and that hasn't changed."
A high-ranking NL evaluator: "I thought that he was starting to lose his lower half, and didn't have the ability to catch up to an average fastball."
From an AL talent evaluator: "He can [still] produce at an above-average level offensively. ... He is strictly a DH. ... He is still able to hit for average against strong fastballs but his ability to impact and pull those pitches has regressed some. He will give his club a quality at bat."
From a scout: He's a solid right-handed bat who only fits for an AL club, but that you could conceivably sign to a reasonable deal to be the regular DH this year and expect solid production.
"He still takes good care of himself, so worrying about what kind of shape he's in to DH at age 38/39 shouldn't be too much of an issue. He's such a pure, balanced, focused hitter that I'd say it's reasonable to expect at least a mid-.800's OPS level of production from him, which most clubs would be pretty happy with, particularly if he's on an incentive-laden deal. He should still hit and control the strike zone; it's the consistency of the power production that would seem to be the most likely aspect of his game that will continue to decline."
From a general manager: "I didn't really see him with my own eyes, but people who saw him with the White Sox said he looked terrible. Slow bat, etc."
From an AL executive: "Although Manny's bat speed has slowed and he is no longer the power threat he was in the past, I would expect him to still post a .380+ OBP with 30 doubles in 2011. Obviously, that has value -- just not as much as Manny provided in the recent past and perhaps not enough to justify the contract he will likely require to play next year. (Just a guess.)"
From an AL evaluator: "He looked like he could still hit when he started the year with the Dodgers, but he looked done in Chicago. It was night and day."
From an NL evaluator: "As a player, the concern with Manny is that he's a well-below average defender with on-base abilities but diminishing bat speed and power. He gets compared to Vladimir Guerrero but his 2010 season -- particularly two extra-base hits in 88 plate appearances with the White Sox -- more closely resembles a healthy Nick Johnson.
"I could see him getting $2-3 million base with incentives that could earn him between $5-10 million. The other thing is, this is a guy who is so obstinate and kooky, he may decide if he doesn't get the deal he likes he just won't play."
Ah, yes. The X factors. They will be major factors, as teams decide whether to dangle a deal in front of Manny Ramirez.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Jon Garland has always made unusual contract decisions in his career, once turning down an offer of arbitration when a lot of executives thought for sure the best way for him to get maximum dollars was to accept.
So his decision to sign with the Dodgers came after an interesting twist. He turned down a $6.75 million player option with San Diego to take a deal with L.A. that has a $5 million base salary, plus a vesting option for 2012.
He really wanted to pitch for the Dodgers, apparently -- and now Los Angeles appears to be in a much better place than it was a year ago with its rotation, which lines up like this:
As the Dodgers noted in their press release to announce the deal, each of the five guys won at least 10 games last year, and had good seasons: "Their cumulative 2010 ERA of 3.39 (371 ER/986.0 IP) and .234 opponents' batting average (857-for-3663) would have led all Major League starting rotations and their combined 844 strikeouts would have ranked third. Each member of the club's starting rotation posted an ERA under 3.65, pitched more than 190.0 innings and made 30 or more starts last season."
The Dodgers are still in the market for an impact bat and bullpen help. Garland is an excellent acquisition for the Dodgers, and yet another starting pitcher comes off the board for their division rivals who are looking for starters -- the Rockies and Padres.
2. The Twins won the right to negotiate with a middle infielder from Japan, and if they sign him, as expected, their intention is to play him at second base, as Joe Christensen writes. The Twins' infield will see changes, writes John Shipley.
The bet here is that the only thing that will move the needle is if some other team seriously engages Jeter -- but that's a complicated thing, because undoubtedly, that other team would want to be taken seriously and not just used as a pawn by Jeter to get more money from the Yankees. Typically, in these kinds of situations, the other team would ask Casey Close, the agent, for assurance that Jeter would actually walk away.
I've heard of past deals in which the team's negotiator says something along the lines of, "We are prepared to make an offer that goes far beyond the other offer" -- in this case, it would be the Yankees' -- "but if we do that, we need to know that he will get a deal done, and quickly." This is basically what the Yankees did when they pried Johnny Damon away from the Red Sox.
But again, it's hard to imagine that any team would be willing to give Jeter a deal that goes markedly beyond the Yankees' offer, given Jeter's age and drop in production in 2010.
Among the teams that currently are looking for shortstops: Giants, Orioles, Reds and Twins. In a vacuum, the Giants would be an interesting fit, given Brian Sabean's long-ago connection with Jeter and the Yankees, but remember, San Francisco already has almost $30 million a year owed to Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand. And given that the Giants already can count on great support and local TV ratings in the immediate future because of their championship, would the acquisition of Jeter make a big difference in the box office? (A consideration that would be central to any other team's effort to sign him).
The answer to that is: probably not.
It's hard to imagine them taking on another $20 million a year for Jeter, given their other needs. We'll see.
The Orioles have money to spend this winter, and Jeter's first manager in the big leagues was Buck Showalter. Would the intangibles that the Orioles would see in the acquisition be enough for Baltimore -- who drew every dollar possible out of Cal Ripken's popularity -- to consider investing $20 million a year in Jeter? Undoubtedly Orioles owner Peter Angelos would love to tweak the Yankees, and give his fan base something to get excited about -- but would Jeter be willing to tear up his roots with the Yankees and risk finishing his career for a perennial second-division team, playing in front of a lot of empty seats?
For someone whose brand is all about being a champion, this would be a very, very difficult thing to do.
4. Wally Backman can't believe the Mets didn't pick him.
5. David Aardsma's trade value has gone up since the Joaquin Benoit deal, writes Geoff Baker. Totally agree. After the Benoit deal was announced last week, I sent a text message to a late-inning reliever with these words, "Congratulations: Your trade value just went up."
6. Just 10 more days remain for the Oakland Athletics to work out a deal with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma.
7. Michael Sasso addresses the question of whether the Tampa Bay area can sustain a team.