Dodgers may show Manny the money, but years are another story

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Dodgers appear willing to meet or come close to superstar free agent Manny Ramirez's annual salary target but are strongly disinclined from acceding to his wish for a deal of five or six years, people familiar with the club's thinking tell

One person who's spoken to Dodgers people suggested that the team is considering proposing a contract that may come close to matching Alex Rodriguez's record $27.5-million average annual salary but on a much shorter term, perhaps only two years. That person hinted he could see the Dodgers even exceeding A-Rod's salary, as long as the length of the deal was to their liking.

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti said he didn't want to say too much about their thinking until after the team had a chance to meet with Ramirez's agent, Scott Boras. But Collettti did say, "We don't have too many six-year deals,'' a reference to Ramirez's own public proclamations that he is shooting for a six-year deal. The Dodgers actually have no six-year deals; but they don't have any other players like Ramirez, either.

"We'll know more after we sit down with Scott to gauge what's happening and see if there's some place we can meet in the middle,'' Colletti said.

Boras declined to discuss how many years Ramirez seeks, but there are some who believe he may require a pledge of at least four years, and perhaps even five, even to sit down with teams. Boras compared Ramirez to Barry Bonds, who signed a five-year deal in the winter of 2001-02 with the Giants when Bonds was 37. Ramirez is now 36.

Competing teams still see the Dodgers as the favorite to sign Ramirez. But if he does return, it may take awhile, judging by Ramirez's early rhetoric.

However, the Dodgers have benefited from keeping most of their free-agent contracts, like those for Rafael Furcal and Andruw Jones, to short-term deals, and are telling people that they want to stick to what appears to be close to a company policy -- though while Furcal signed for three years and Jones for two, the Dodgers did step out to give Juan Pierre a five-year contract.

Boras, though, noted that A-Rod's 10-year deal takes him to age 42, and that Bonds' previously mentioned five-year deal took him to the same age. Were Manny to sign for six years, he too would be 42 at its conclusion. One other interesting thing to note is that Bonds' Giants deal was negotiated between Boras and Colletti, who was then the Giants' assistant GM (Dodgers owner Frank McCourt seems to have a different philosophy regarding contract length than outgoing Giants managing partner Peter Magowan).

The Phillies, Yankees, Blue Jays, Mets, Orioles and Rangers are all seen as potential suitors for Ramirez, who hit .396 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 53 games with the Dodgers and .332 with 37 home runs and 121 RBIs overall in the regular season. Ramirez has proven to be one of the game's two or three most dangerous hitters, and perhaps its most clutch hitter (he was otherworldly in the postseason, hitting .520 with four home runs and 10 RBIs even though opposing teams were pitching around him)

"Manny is a true franchise player, who not only showed grand performance in the regular season but performed even better in the postseason,'' Boras said.

There's no disputing that Ramirez's superb season puts him in excellent position as a free agent to cash in, and he said in interviews immediately after the Dodgers were ousted in the NLCS that he will take advantage to seek the biggest contract possible. Ramirez has proven to be quite the entertainer out in Los Angeles, and Colletti yesterday noted the humor of Ramirez's remark concerning his value when Manny said, "Gas is up, and so am I.''

Ramirez's underperformance with the Red Sox, when he was upset to be in Boston and worried about two team options that were eventually dropped when he was traded, may hurt him with some pursuers. But the Dodgers have only good memories after he lifted their franchise. Colletti agreed that Ramirez had a positive impact on several young Dodgers stars.

"He was positive in a lot of ways,'' Colletti said. "He's a great player. He knows what he's doing. He's very sharp.''