Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Say hello, wave goodbye

This time, I'm afraid, all the experts, insiders, and rumor pushers are right. Like one of his legendary moonshots toward the Mass Pike, Manny Ramirez is going, going, gone.

Now, unless this is your first visit to this warped corner of cyberspace, you're surely aware that TATB is unabashed Manny Territory. We admit it upfront. We're awed by the player (should Albert Pujols fail to keep up the pace, Manny's Hall of Fame plaque will refer to him as the greatest righthanded hitter of his era) and amused by the man-child antics (though admittedly not so much come last September, when his season was aborted due to some combination of injury and indifference). Other than Butch Hobson, the wild-eyed idol of our childhood, we have never enjoyed watching a Red Sox player more. You could say every blast has been a blast.

Yet we're resigned to the sad fact that he'll be an ex-Red Sox shortly, just as soon as Theo Epstein receives the appropriate handful of shiny rocks and magic beans in return. Manny's going to be a Dodger, or an Angel, or a Padre, and one of the most fun, productive, and successful eras in Red Sox history will officially be in the past tense. Pardon me while I cue up Faith Rewarded and wonder why it feels so long ago.

It's not like I don't understand why the Sox would consider shopping him. He's going to be 35 next season; the decline has to begin sometime, and his aching knees may already be a harbinger. And if you believe the whispers - certain to be a full-fledged smear campaign once the deal is consummated - the home clubhouse may not be such a welcoming place for him anymore. I find no fault with Buster Olney's clear-eyed assessment of the situation today:

"Here's the thing: It seems evident that the Red Sox have determined internally that they are better off without Ramirez, a talented slugger who is nonetheless an enormous distraction, and may or may not have quit on the team in the last five weeks of the regular season. And if that's what club officials believe -- if they believe that having Manny Being Manny is a serious problem -- they should make the best deal possible for Ramirez ASAP and move on."

Well-said, but here's the quandary: The words that spring off the screen in that paragraph are "best deal possible," and of all the rumors floating around out there right now, not one of them strikes me as particularly beneficial to the 2007 Red Sox. Scot Shields and a prospect from the Angels? Throw in Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick and we'll talk. James Loney and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers? Intriguing, especially if Theo's goal is to bolster the Pawtucket roster for the summer. Scott Linebrink from the Padres? C'mon, Theo, don't get pantsed by Kevin Towers again.

There's one question that every Red Sox fan should be pondering right now: How in the hell does trading Manny make the Red Sox better?

Will they get an equal talent in return? Highly unlikely, unless Albert Pujols should suddenly get caught looting Tony La Russa's office or Texas foolishly parts with Mark Teixeira after a down year.

Does trading him allow them the financial flexibility to fill other holes? Sure. But if you give me the choice of Manny Ramirez and two replacement-level players or no Manny, but with the immensely unlikeable Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew, I'll take the former option and kick the latter's butt all season long. And frankly, I'm so sure I trust them to spend Manny's millions wisely. In Theo we trust? Yeah, not so much these days.

I'd feel better about this if only they were doing it for baseball reasons. Instead, they seem intent on trading a diamond for three cubic zirconiums, just to rid themselves of the Manny Melodrama. Heck, noted baseball historian Hazel Mae attempted to sum up that mind-set tonight on NESN: "Getting rid of Manny might not be as great as it sounds," she bleated. I don't even know what the hell that means. It's like she was channeling McCarver.

Unfortunately, her silly comment speaks to the common perception we're dealing with at the moment: trading Manny is a good thing, no matter what the return. It seems most of the Trade Manny advocates blame him solely for the gruesome demise of the 2006 Sox, ignoring the indisputable fact that virtually everyone else on the roster either got hurt or, pardon my French, royally sucked down the stretch. Oh, the anti-Manny brigade will yelp and yowl and wait on hold for 45 minutes just to agree with that third-rate lounge act Mike Adams that they deserve someone reliable, a DIRT DAWGGG, A GAME-AH, not a QUITTAH like Manny.

Well, guess what, ya basement-dwelling dope? He's one of the most reliable players in the history of the sport. During his six seasons with the Red Sox, he's batted .316, with an average of 39 homers and 116 RBIs. He has been the Gehrig to Papi's Babe, or vice versa, and you can check the numbers, adjust them for their era, and you'll realize that's not at all hyperbolic. Even with the headaches and midsummer vacations, he's been worth every single Benjamin of his $160 million contract. You want reliable? Despite missing 42 games with a busted finger in 2001, he's averaged 142 games per season with the Sox, a number his supposed successor in the cleanup spot, the infamously indifferent Drew, has surpassed twice in his nine-year career.

Trade him? Sad to say, I'm afraid the banshees will win this round, people. I'm afraid the Sox front office will be unburdened from the contract they've always abhorred, even now, ironically, as it's become a downright bargain. Manny's a goner. This time, it's inevitable.

Too bad. In a time when one-tool players (Juan Pierre) and one-year flashes (Gary Matthews Jr.) are getting PowerBall deals, you bet it's time the Sox do something with Manny Ramirez.

Me, I'd start by picking up his option.

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