The Dodgers, who appeared to be running second at best for days in the race for embattled superstar Manny Ramirez, pulled a last-minute shocker and acquired Ramirez just before Thursday's trade deadline from the Red Sox, who were determined to unload the unhappy slugger.
The Dodgers, who appeared to give up next to nothing in the three-team trade, quieted critics who doubted their ability to do deals while simultaneously catapulting themselves into a favorite's role in the bunched and sorry NL West with the deal that was first reported by SI.com.
The Red Sox received two-time All-Star outfielder Jason Bay from Pittsburgh in the trade, while the Pirates imported four prospects -- reliever Craig Hansen and outfielder Brandon Moss from Boston and third baseman Andy LaRoche and pitcher Bryan Morris from Los Angeles. The surprise trade was completed with minutes, or perhaps even seconds, to go before Thursday's 4 p.m. ET deadline, and wasn't announced until well after the deadline, taking many folks by surprise.
The Dodgers look like the big winner in the trade in that they surrendered no one who really fit into their immediate plans while acquiring one of the greatest hitters of his generation. Never mind that they were already overstocked with outfielders, including also Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. Ramirez was also a winner in that he got the two $20 million team options, for 2009 and '10, dropped in return for his advance word that he would OK a trade anywhere. Ramirez will now be eligible to play the market as a free agent after the season.
The Red Sox lived with the mercurial Ramirez's odd antics for more than seven years, but things really deteriorated this year between superstar and team over the club options that seemed to torment Ramirez. He also was never completely comfortable in the fishbowl existence in baseball-crazed Boston.
The Red Sox spent most of the 24 hours before the trade deadline haggling with the Marlins, who seemed primed to pull of a stunner of their own. The team with the $22 million payroll appeared to be in position to bring the $20 million-a-year talent back home (he lives in Fort Lauderdale). The Red Sox were motivated enough to move Manny that they offered to pay the remaining $7 million on Ramirez's 2008 salary, and the Marlins, who have drafted well and possessed a stash of prospects, seemed prepared to do the big deal.
However, the Marlins balked at the inclusion of several of their better prospects, including power-hitting outfielder Mike Stanton and hard-throwing reliever Ryan Tucker. Then Florida really hindered its chances when it requested that Boston to kick in even a few million more, above and beyond Ramirez's $7 million salary, according to people familiar with the talks.
When the Marlins started to make things difficult, the Red Sox had very few other options. The Phillies were the third team to have expressed interest but they seemed concerned about how Ramirez and Pat Burrell, two left fielders by trade, would share an outfield, dooming their bid. That left the Dodgers as prime candidate to bail out Boston and take their disgruntled star.
The Red Sox went back and forth with the Marlins and Dodgers as Thursday's deadline approached, with SI.com reporting around 2:45 p.m. ET that the Dodgers were back in the discussions. There was skepticism that the Dodgers would be able to put together a deal on short notice. But they did just that.
"It was something that happened very quickly, obviously,'' Dodgers manager Joe Torre told the media out in L.A.
The Dodgers were only too happy to pick up the pieces, claiming an all time great for very little. LaRoche, the brother of Pirates first baseman Adam LaRoche, was hitting .203 in limited time with the Dodgers while Morris, just 21, was 2-4 with a 3.20 ERA in A-ball.
Torre, the iconic former Yankees manager who managed against Ramirez for seven straight years, is known to be a greater admirer of Ramirez. But word is that Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is just as great an admirer. McCourt, who already had shown a fondness for collecting anything connected to the Red Sox (Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Bill Mueller, Grady Little are Red Sox who became Dodgers in McCourt's tenure), and Ramirez, a Red Sox legend, was right up McCourt's alley.
In earlier talks with the Dodgers, L.A. is believed to have offered young outfielder Ethier for Ramirez, with the Red Sox requesting the more talented Kemp. But sometime Thursday afternoon, the Dodgers changed their offer, pulling back Ethier and offering the prospects instead. It isn't known what precipitated the change, but time was running short and the Red Sox were running out of options.
Boston was still able to replace Ramirez with a former All-Star outfielder in Bay, who has resurrected his career this year after struggling all last year. His numbers -- 22 home runs, 64 RBIs and a .282 batting average -- are comparable to those of Ramirez (20, 69, .299), although Ramirez was playing at half-speed the past couple weeks as he started to growing increasingly upset about the possibility of having to play in Boston under the team's terms for two more years.
Bay is a solid if unspectacular player who's never played in a pennant race but replaces Ramirez in a very cost-effective way. Bay is making a relatively puny $5.75 million this year and will make a very reasonable $7.5 million next year. This is the fourth trade of Bay's career. Originally drafted by the Expos, he was dealt first to the Mets in 2002, then to the Padres later that summer, then again to the Pirates in 2003.
The deal made sense from the Pirates' standpoint as they are rebuilding for the future. They needed an inventory of young players, and combined with the trade of Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Yankees, acquired eight young players for their system. The proposed deal with Florida, which would have netted them young outfielder Jeremy Hermida, made sense for them as well. The Pirates spoke to several other teams about Bay, including the Rays, Cardinals, Diamondbacks and Mets.
Ramirez joined the Red Sox with a $160 million contract before the 2001 season. He made the AL All-Star team in each of his eight years in Boston, posting six 30-homer seasons and six 100-RBI seasons in Boston while helping the Red Sox win two World Series titles. Ramirez was the 2004 World Series MVP when he batted .412 with one home run and four RBI as the Red Sox won their first World Series title since 1918.
Dealing such a productive and clutch player is a major risk, but some people in Boston believe the Red Sox finally reached their breaking point regarding Ramirez, who criticized upper management in recent days, came under fire for not playing the first game of a recent series against the rival Yankees, and appeared to not hustle on a couple of ground balls against the Angels in Fenway Park this week.
The Red Sox are 61-48, three games behind the first-place Rays in the AL East. The Dodgers are currently 54-53, in second place in the NL West, one game behind the front-running Diamondbacks. The Dodgers' offense has been underwhelming this season, ranking 13th in the NL with 449 runs scored. Ramirez, 36, is batting .299 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs this season. No player on the Dodgers currently has more than 12 homers or 60 RBIs.