By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
The Red Sox are aggressively shopping outfielder Manny Ramirez now, according to major league sources, at a time when the slugger's trade value has peaked, and there is a sense among some executives that their trade talks are gaining momentum.
"I wouldn't be shocked if the Red Sox traded him by Saturday," says one big league official.
By Saturday, Boston's negotiations with free agent outfielder J.D. Drew are expected to finish officially with a multiyear agreement. At that point, Boston will be in better position to trade Ramirez, who has driven in more than 100 runs in each of his six years with the Red Sox, and in 11 of the last 12 seasons. Ramirez has been an extraordinary producer of runs for Boston, and an equally extraordinary producer of melodrama. He has asked for trades repeatedly, has often played at something less than full speed, and at the end of the 2006 season, there was some question about whether he made a full effort to play with a sore knee.
Among the teams involved in the conversations:
• The San Francisco Giants, who might have to involve a third team to become a serious player in this market, or perhaps swallow some of Boston's worst contracts, like that of pitcher Matt Clement.
• The San Diego Padres, who can build a deal around reliever Scott Linebrink.
• The Dodgers, who are starved for power hitters, loaded with prospects and could probably offer the best possible package of youngsters, from third baseman Andy LaRoche to pitcher Chad Billingsley to outfielder Matt Kemp. Before the August 31 trade deadline, the Red Sox tried to pry first baseman James Loney from L.A. in return for pitcher David Wells, but the Dodgers refused. The Red Sox may resume their pursuit of Loney and perhaps relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton.
• The Rangers have had talks about Ramirez, but as recently as last week, the Red Sox still preferred to talk about a swap of shortstop Michael Young for Ramirez -- a deal that almost certainly won't happen.
The Orioles have spoken with the Red Sox about Ramirez recently, but their conversations hadn't advanced in recent days. The Indians and Red Sox talked last week, but those conversations are dead; the cost in salary and prospects were simply too high for the Indians. The Angels and Red Sox had talked in the past about a Manny deal, but those conversations have apparently ended.
Ramirez has 10-and-5 rights and can veto any deal, so the team working on a trade involving him would have to negotiate a settlement with Ramirez to get him to accept the swap.
Executives with other teams say that in order to move Ramirez, Boston will have to come to grips with the idea that they will not get back major league talent equal to that of Ramirez; rather, they might have to settle for a deal much like the Gary Sheffield trade the Yankees made early in November, when they got three pitching prospects from Detroit. There are indications now that Boston's trade demands for Ramirez are dropping, to facilitate a deal. "They seem motivated to move him," said an AL official. Ramirez signed an eight-year, $160 million deal with Boston after the 2000 season, and his contract was considered all but untradeable as recently as six months ago because of an annual salary that approaches $20 million; the Red Sox placed him on waivers after the 2003 season, and nobody was willing to even take him for free at that time.
But the recent salary explosion -- Alfonso Soriano's $136 million deal, Carlos Lee's $100 million contract -- has cast Ramirez and his salary in a different light.
If the Red Sox complete a Ramirez trade, there would be an enormous hole in the Boston lineup. But it may be that the Red Sox have other plans in the works if they gain contractual flexibility with a Ramirez deal, and with the addition of Drew and possible addition of Julio Lugo at shortstop, they might feel like they will still have a deep lineup.
A Ramirez trade may also have an enormous impact on No. 3 hitter David Ortiz. "That guy will draw about 200 walks next year without Manny hitting behind him," said one scout. "I don't care who it is who bats fourth instead of Manny -- J.D. Drew, or Wily Mo Pena, whoever -- he won't be as dangerous as Manny was, because Manny can hit good pitching."