The Dodgers still want Ramirez, but for a short term. Ramirez, who turns 37 this year, still wants a minimum of four years. Those positions were staked out during the General Managers meetings in November, when the Dodgers made the only known offer Ramirez has received -- two years at $45 million, plus a third-year option for $15 million. The offer was ignored and withdrawn.
Two things have changed since then. One is the emergence of the Giants as a potential alternative for Ramirez, although San Francisco officials have indicated they have no stomach for a long-term deal, either. A long-term deal for Ramirez at his age would make more sense for an American League team with the designated hitter available, but none is known to have emerged.
Of greater impact, perhaps, is the economic collapse and its apparent chilling effect on the current free-agent market. The Yankees notwithstanding, most clubs are picking over free agents the way Americans did for Christmas gifts -- seeking bargains. They are committing fewer dollars for fewer years.
Five free agents this winter have received contracts of four years or longer, three of them by the Yankees -- Mark Teixeira (eight years), CC Sabathia (seven years) and A.J. Burnett (five years). The others are Ryan Dempster (four years) by the Cubs and Derek Lowe (four years) by the Braves. When the Yankees targeted Teixeira as their big-bat acquisition, it undercut the likelihood of a bidding war breaking out for Ramirez.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, as well as Colletti, have been candid that the franchise's general strategy is to develop from within, while the uncertainty of revenues this year hasn't been ignored as they planned for 2009. The Dodgers don't announce a targeted payroll amount, but it's clear this year's total will be dramatically lower than last year's $120 million after the departure of 15 free agents and the addition of only three so far.
Currently, the Dodgers have $62 million committed to eight roster players and three departed players -- Andruw Jones, Brad Penny and Gary Bennett. Reworking Jones' contract for his release deferred $16 million that otherwise would have been paid this year, providing needed flexibility.
Even if they add a veteran free-agent pitcher, however, the Dodgers' payroll could drop this year to the $100 million level if they sign Ramirez or closer to $80 million if they don't. They seem committed to wait out Ramirez, making the acquisition of an alternative hitter unlikely as long as Ramirez's situation is unresolved, even if it means going into the season without the addition of a run producer.
"The way the economy is, you can't predict anything in a reliable way," said Colletti. "There's no way to know how the fanbase will cope with the economy. As a result, this season might be more dynamic than any other. Traditionally, you can forecast your revenues and your payroll. This year, there may be movement all year as we see things evolve."