Portfolio says Manny will be gone; toilet bowl overflows.

July 25th, 2008 → 1:02 pm @

This morning, Portfolio magazine — a Conde Nast business title, for those of you not living in the Manhattan media echo chamber — published a report with a juicy sub-hed: “Red Sox appear increasingly likely to let Ramirez go in 2009.” The magazine has had some buzz-worthy sports stories in the past, notably last year’s dispatch in which Franz Lidz gave the best evidence yet that George Steinbrenner is no longer all there (before this year’s golf-cart trip around the field during the All-Star Game, that is).

Lidz is the author of the magazine’s Manny column as well. Unfortunately, it amounts to — to further a metaphor that Lidz labors over in his lede — an overflowing toiletbowl full of crap. There’s a drawn out anecdote provided by a “prominent relief pitcher” about how Manny refuses to use toilet paper that sounds an awfully lot like similar tales peddled to me back when I was with the team in ’04 and ’05, except the way I heard it, the overflowing toilet was in a hotel room, not the clubhouse. There’s a quote from an anonymous “fuming” member of “the Red Sox hierarchy” saying that Manny is “totally passive-aggressive.” (It took an anonymous source to figure that one out?) And there’s a rehash of the much-discussed incident in which Manny watched three of Mo’s pitches sail by him for a called K to end the ninth of a tie game in the Bronx.

Besides that, the “evidence” Lidz marshals is a series of quotes from Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College professor. Zimbalist has done some good work on the economics of sports, and has become a particular thorn in Bud Selig’s side in regards to his frequent, and frequently spot-on, critiques of MLB’s contra-logical profit-sharing system. But to say that he “has a pretty good idea what the Sox are thinking” is ridiculous; he has no better an idea of what the Sox are thinking than any stat geek with a well-thumbed collection of Bill James Abstracts on his bookshelves. He might, in fact, have a worse idea; Zimbalist’s conclusion is, according to Lidz, based on his belief that the team got “burned” when they signed Schilling to an $8 million deal and Zimbalist’s conclusion that Manny is an “adequate, injury-prone left fielder” with diminished sentimental value. Then, for good measure, Lidz reminds readers that the Sox placed Manny on waivers back in 2003, citing that as one of the “numerous occasions” that the team has “tried to bid farewell to Ramirez.” That’s like saying John McCain won’t carry South Carolina in the fall because he lost the state to George Bush in the 2000 Republican primary.

Back in 2006, I spent some time explaining why Manny would likely remain with the Sox and unpacking the extent to which the market has changed since 2003; these days, with low-revenue teams collecting more money from the rest of the league, it’s not as easy to spend $20 million on an immediate impact player as it once was. And the Sox are not, as Lidz quotes Zimbalist as saying, “very cautious about signing older players,” nor are they convinced that “performance peaks at age 28.” (See: Drew, J.D., signed at age 31 to a five-year, $70 million deal in 2007.) They are cautious — but they’re also cautious about signing younger players. And considering that Manny’s first year in Boston came when he was 29, he’s shown that players on the so-called downside of their career can do pretty well; in his seven full seasons with the Sox, he’s average 36 HRs and 114 RBIs.

This doesn’t mean that the Sox will pick up Manny’s $20 million option for 2009.* I could make arguments that would support either position, but at the end of the day, neither I, nor Andrew Zimbalist, nor Franz Lidz, nor anyone else who isn’t actually in the room has any idea what’s actually going on in the Sox’s front office. To pretend any differently is, well, a load of crap.

* It is worth pointing out that Manny is fourth in the league in OBP, tied (with Youk) for fifth in OPS, and ninth in RBIs. It’s also worth noting that while the last month or so worth of shenanigans are frustrating, they’re nothing the Sox haven’t dealt with before. Are there better players making less money? Of course. Are there better players that will be available next year for a one-year deal for $20 million? Unlikely.

Post Categories: Andrew Zimbalist & Franz Lidz & Manny Ramirez & Portfolio & Sports Reporters