In pure baseball terms, the Dodgers might have been wiser spending their money on pitchers this season.
Derek Lowe was solid last season but departed as a free agent and neither Brad Penny nor Jason Schmidt became the aces the team expected. Now the starting rotation is filled with question marks.
But when the Dodgers gave outfielder Manny Ramirez a two-year contract for $45 million on March 5 fans responded as if the team moved into serious World Series contention.
On Saturday, when individual game tickets went on sale, 49,000 were purchased. That’s a 33 percent increase over a year ago when Ramirez was playing for the Boston Red Sox.
Ramirez is the final piece in an imposing lineup. If the fans want action, win or lose, they’re going to get it. In contrast to the years when Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitched and 1-0 games were common the Dodgers might have 10-9 games this season, losing as many as they win.
Besides losing several starting pitchers they’ll be without closer Takashi Saito.
But they signed third baseman Casey Blake, like Ramirez a mid-season acquisition who helped the Dodgers’ drive to the 2008 NL West championship. They could have gone with youthful Blake DeWitt as Jeff Kent’s successor at second base but signed former Gold Glove winner Orlando Hudson. They brought back shortstop Rafael Furcal, who was injured last season.
With Russell Martin, James Loney, Andre Eithier and Matt Kemp developing, the Dodgers should be able to score plenty of runs.
With Joe Torre they have one of the best managers in baseball.
But General manager Ned Colletti admits the need for pitching.
“It’s not likely anyone will give up a No. 1, 2 or 3 starter,” he said. “But trades are possible and we’ll be alert to that.”
Colletti says the Dodgers had an interest in one free agent pitcher until the price tag soared way out of control. When a reporter suggested the man was C.C. Sabathia, Colletti didn’t argue.
It’s doubtful the Dodgers had a choice of Sabathia or Ramirez, but if they had fans likely would have preferred the hitter over the pitcher.
In Ramirez’ remarkable 53 games with the Dodgers beginning in July he confirmed the thought he’s one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time. He batted .396, had 53 RBI and added to his career home run total which reached 527.
Then he helped the team win a first round playoff series before it lost in the second round.
The four-month negotiating drama between Dodger owner Frank McCourt and Ramirez’ agent Scott Boras became tiresome, but once the contract was signed and Ramirez reported to training camp the issues were placed in the background.
Ramirez’ shameful behavior in Boston, where he plainly didn’t want to be any longer, hurt him in negotiations. Several teams backed off from the free agent and even McCourt asked for a face-to-face meeting to judge Ramirez’ frame of mind.
But for now, at least, Ramirez seems like he’ll be quite an asset to the Dodgers. He didn’t get the four-year deal he wanted but was smart enough to ultimately see this was the best he could do.
“I’ve made my money,” Ramirez said of the $160 million the Red Sox paid him in his happier years there and the $50 million he made from the Cleveland Indians before that. “This is where I want to be. My teammates love me and the fans love me.”
Despite his well-earned public image of a man who’ll sulk and perhaps fake injuries to avoid playing if he’s unhappy, Ramirez relieves pressure from teammates not only with his offensive production but his quips in the clubhouse and dugout.
“He really says some funny things,” said Colletti
But the best thing he does is give the lineup a presence that helps everyone. Less is required of teammates and they’re not asked to carry the team. The guy hitting in front of him gets better pitches because they don’t want to walk him.
It happens in a lot of cities, but particularly in Los Angeles fans become star crazy and the bigger the name, the bigger the interest.
Ramirez has the option of leaving the Dodgers after one season and becoming a free agent again. Clearly now, however, it’s best to take this one year at a time.