Apart from the soap opera that is beginning to wind up for the Epstein contract negotiations (please understand this, if you understand nothing else about this franchise - Larry Lucchino is a cancer, and he is malignant), the biggest saga of the offseason will revolve around Manny Ramirez. Simply put the Sox owe Manny $57 Mil over the next three years. This is a lot of money by anyone's standards, with the possible exception of Furious George Steinbrenner.
On top of the spend, you've got a lot of other things going on in the fabulous world of Manny. One, he's a wierd dude. I don't understand why this bothers some people, but apparently it does. Two, he's never been confused with Charlie Hustle. I personally don't think Manny is lazy, because on occasion he'll surprise you with his effort on the field, and off the field the guy is a workhorse. I think sometimes he FORGETS to play hard. You know, he's humming a little tune, and he gets to the good part, and he sort of forgets that that grounder to deep short might be beaten out for an infield hit. Three, his defense can only be described as "white-knuckle". He plays the wall pretty well, he led the league in assists, but his, er, playmaking itself can be harrowing. A Manny error is almost always catastrophic, and brings to mind the Keystone Cops, or Three Stooges (oddly, the other left-fielder who brings to mind the Three Stooges is the Yanks' Hideki Matsui, although in his case it's due to his well-documented resemblance to utility stooge Shemp). These things, plus Manny's occasional rest day - he still plays more games than nearly every positional player on the team throughout the course of the season - drive the fans crazy and lather up the media but are not the reason he's being shopped around.
The reason Manny is being shopped around is because he's 33, getting a little longish in the tooth, and the law of diminishing returns is starting to kick in. If they deal him this year, in terms of productivity they will lose on the deal in 2006, almost certainly. They will probably lose on the deal in 2007, and might lose on the deal in 2008. At the plate, Manny PRODUCES. Not only does he put up numbers himself, he protects Papi. He makes pitchers nibble, throw more pitches. He enhances the line up. This is inarguable, but time will take it's toll, and bizarrely his contract does not at all reflect this other, equally inarguable, fact. So, Theo et al. are looking to get something back while it can still be said that Manny is near his peak years.
The Mets are likely the only taker for Manny, and most likely the Sox would get Beltran in return (although you'd have to hope for more) after his craptacular year in New York in 2005. Even with the savings on that contract - only about $2 Mil in 2006 - there is no way Beltran plus crappy free-agent signing equals Manny's offensive production next year. No way. But the Sox have another problem to solve: do they want to give $40 - $50 Million and 4-5 years to an aging caveman who ironically throws like a girl? Probably not - so they need a centerfielder.
It's not really a win-win, not really. Not for next year. The free agent market doesn't have enough quality to replicate the offense Manny brings to the table. But I'm betting that Theo can see that production coming from somewhere next year or the year after that, and he wants to have the money to go after it. So he's selling high. He's a bright guy, our Theo.
I hope we sign him soon.