Monday, August 30, 2010
Updated: August 31, 4:08 PM ET
Manny Ramirez no longer fit in NL
By Tony Jackson
LOS ANGELES -- In the end, there was a simple reason why the Los Angeles Dodgers were willing to let go of Manny Ramirez.
"Everything has its time,'' Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "It was time for him, and it was time for us."
Simply put, Ramirez had reached a point when he no longer fit with a National League team. His gimpy right leg would no longer allow him to play the outfield with any sort of regularity -- manager Joe Torre said he spoke with Ramirez in recent days about mapping out a schedule in which the aging slugger would start about four days a week -- but his .311 average and .405 on-base percentage suggested he can still produce enough to be in the lineup on an everyday basis.
So, on Friday, Ramirez opened up to Torre.
"He felt he would be better suited to being in the American League and playing every day [as a designated hitter]," Torre said. "That was probably more of a determining factor in this than anything else."
It had become fairly apparent earlier that day, when the Chicago White Sox secured a waiver claim on Ramirez, that he wouldn't be wearing a Dodgers uniform for long. By Sunday night, when he hadn't started for four consecutive games, it was obvious Ramirez was headed to the White Sox, either on a straight waiver claim or as part of a trade involving a prospect.
It was around noon Monday when the Dodgers made it official, issuing a statement announcing Ramirez was going to the White Sox on waivers -- meaning the White Sox are responsible for all of the $3.825 million left on his contract, but the Dodgers aren't getting a player in return.
"We had been talking probably since Friday or Saturday," Colletti said. "We offered to take back [responsibility for] $1.5 million for not their best prospect but certainly somebody we thought was a good prospect, and they didn't want to do that. We lowered our [amount] to $1 million for a slightly lower prospect, and they didn't want to go in that direction. So finally, we offered $500,000 for one of their lower-level guys, and they didn't want to do that. We tried to give them a chance to recoup some of the salary they're going to owe him."
In the end, the White Sox, who entered Monday 4½ games behind the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central, felt taking a flier on Ramirez was worth every penny of the money they will have to pay him. Without the burden of playing the outfield every day, the possibility that Ramirez could repeat the performance he gave the Dodgers over the final two months of the 2008 season, after they acquired him from the Boston Red Sox.
As for the $3.8 million the Dodgers are saving, it apparently will go to something other than paying owner Frank McCourt's attorney fees in his divorce.
"We will be able to use that on the baseball side, now or in the future," Colletti said. "There might be something out there now that we need that could help us, although there is only one more day before Aug. 31, so that would be tough. But there might be somebody in September that could help us now and in 2011, or somebody in the offseason."
In the end, after Ramirez did three separate stints on the disabled list this season, club officials crossed their fingers and held their breath every time he jogged to the outfield, wondering if his increasingly fragile body would betray him again.
"It just probably didn't make much sense for him to be in this league," Torre said.
Ramirez's teammates learned of his departure at various points on the team's flight home from Denver on Sunday evening. Because of weather, the plane was forced to sit on the tarmac until about 7 p.m. MT, by which time the Dodgers' decision -- which Colletti said had been made before Ramirez was ejected by plate umpire Gary Cederstrom after one pitch of his pinch-hitting appearance in the sixth inning on Sunday against the Colorado Rockies -- had been reported by several media outlets.
By the time the flight landed at about 8 p.m. PT, almost everyone knew.
"I saw him give a hug to somebody," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "He looked at me and said he was gone. I gave him a hug and told him good luck, and he said the same thing to me."
His quirky -- some might say flaky -- reputation notwithstanding, Ramirez's teammates had nothing but glowing things to say about him in the wake of his departure, which was so abrupt that not all of them got the chance to say goodbye.
"I thought he was a great teammate," Blake said. "I have always said that about him. I feel like he genuinely cares. From my own experience with him, he really cared about how I was feeling, both on and off the field. He always had something positive to say to you. He has been around a while, and he didn't have to be like that toward me. But I think it was just because he was a genuinely good guy and he cared."
Ramirez's stint with the Dodgers, which lasted slightly more than two years, had its share of moments that were less than shining. Most notable among them was his 50-game suspension last season for violating baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. But if you are to believe the words coming from Chavez Ravine in the immediate wake of Ramirez's departure, the first-hand experiences were mostly positive.
"Manny never gave me a bit of trouble," Torre said. "You never had to check to see if he left early or showed up on time. He was always there. I hope he does well."
Ramirez's biggest impact might have been something other than the 17 home runs and 53 RBIs he had during those final two months of 2008, without which the Dodgers probably never would have reached the playoffs, much less wound up in the National League Championship Series.
"He just gave us an overall sense that this game can be fun," Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier said. "He taught us how to enjoy it and not take yourself too seriously. He prepared as hard as anyone. But at the same time, he went out there and had fun and enjoyed it.
"It's just a shame we haven't been able to see that same Manny all year. He was never a factor all year. He only played  games or whatever it was. It seemed like it was just hit-or-miss most of the year."
In the end, though, Ramirez's lasting legacy was that he changed the culture of a team that until his arrival seemed directionless and fractured and hadn't won a postseason series in a generation.
"He showed a lot of our young players how to win," Colletti said.
Dodgers right-hander Vicente Padilla, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since Aug. 20 because of a bulging disc in his neck, was scheduled to make a rehabilitation start for advanced Single-A Inland Empire on Monday night against Bakersfield. Padilla is eligible to return Tuesday, and Torre said he is tentatively scheduled to pitch Monday night at San Diego. ... Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has been on the 15-day DL since Aug. 11 because of a lower-back strain, returned from a week at the team's spring-training complex in Glendale, Ariz., and said he continued to feel much better. Barring a setback, Furcal is expected to begin a minor league rehab assignment sometime this week.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.