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Manny stalemate wears on in LA

Manny stalemate wears on in LA

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LOS ANGELES -- Almost three months after Manny Ramirez filed for free agency, his market is finally heating up, agent Scott Boras said.

"We are negotiating with several teams," Boras said Monday night. "The process has begun and we'll see where it takes us."

Boras said interest in Ramirez has perked up over the last week, but he would not specify the number of clubs involved. He said he remains in regular contact with general manager Ned Colletti of the Dodgers, who tried to re-sign the left fielder with an initial two-year, $45 million offer (plus an option) that was ignored and withdrawn.

The Dodgers are the only club to have confirmed making an offer and there has been speculation that they would guarantee a third year. The Giants have confirmed interest but are said to be reluctant to guarantee more than two seasons for Ramirez, who turns 37 in May.

Ramirez is believed seeking a four- or five-year deal between $25 million and $30 million annually. With Spring Training beginning in less than three weeks, Boras said his client is not panicking over the slow developments of this winter's free-agent market.

"Manny is good. He's a professional and he understands," Boras said.

Earlier in the day, Colletti downplayed any progress the Dodgers might have made in recent talks with Boras.

"Nothing new there," he said.

Colletti said the club's position remains unchanged. He said he still wants to sign Ramirez, presumably at or around those original terms. Manager Joe Torre has reached out to Ramirez to assure him that the club still wants him.

But Ramirez notwithstanding, the Dodgers this winter seem committed to making their roster generally younger and definitely less costly. The payroll, $120 million in 2008, could be slashed to $80 million for 2009 if Ramirez does not sign and figures to be no more than $100 million with him after losing a boatload of expensive free agents including Derek Lowe, Jeff Kent, Brad Penny and Nomar Garciaparra.

Without Ramirez, Colletti said he's comfortable with a starting outfield of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Juan Pierre.

Colleti's not comfortable with his pitching, however, so he remains in pursuit of a starter and a reliever. His starting candidates remain primarily former Dodger Randy Wolf and Jon Garland, with Braden Looper a third choice. A pitching market that also includes Oliver Perez and Ben Sheets will likely remain clogged until the Mets make a signing.

The top reliever candidate is former Dodger Dennys Reyes, but they also have Luis Ayala as a fallback.

Colletti confirmed that the club received an upbeat medical report on Chad Billingsley, who has resumed throwing off a mound after breaking his left leg in a slip-and-fall accident on ice in November. The GM said Jason Schmidt, recovering from a second shoulder operation, is expected to be "ready" for Spring Training, but he's been out so long and been through so much that nobody knows what he'll be able to do.

Colletti on Monday officially signed backup catcher Brad Ausmus, who passed his physical after agreeing to a one-year, $1 million contract last week. Ausmus, who turns 40 in April, becomes a mentor to All-Star Russell Martin while squeezing Danny Ardoin out of playing time.

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"It's a big addition with his knowledge and presence," Colletti said of Ausmus, a three-time Gold Glove winner with five postseason appearances. "He'll give us a chance to give Russell more time off, and at the same time, impart different thought and wisdom. We talked to Russell before he signed, and he said Ausmus would be a great addition for us. The combination of the two will help our pitching situation and help Russell develop into a better catcher than he already is."

Colletti also has hired Lee Elia as a special assistant, replacing Bill LaJoie, who has taken a job with the Pirates that will not require him to travel.

Elia is a career baseball man who managed the Cubs and Phillies, but he is best remembered for his remarkable, obscenity-laced 1983 meltdown ripping Wrigley Field fans and defending his players after a Cubs loss to the Dodgers. Colletti was the Cubs' assistant public relations director at the time.

Elia coached the past eight seasons in Seattle and will do Major League scouting for the Dodgers out of Florida.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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