Before you say there's no way he won't exercise it, just remember this:
He's Manny Ramirez.
Not only that, his agent is Scott Boras, who doesn't insist on such flexibility clauses for decoration. He often uses them, as he did with J.D. Drew's opt-out clause when nobody thought he'd walk away from a guaranteed $33 million in 2006, least of all general manager Ned Colletti. But walk he did, and Drew got an even bigger contract from Boston.
And there's something else to remember about Ramirez. He's 37 years old, and he's feeling it. He has told teammates that the pounding his legs absorb playing the outfield is taking a toll, which might help explain his late-season offensive fade. He's told teammates that he ought to be a designated hitter, and who could argue with that? But he hasn't told teammates that he's not coming back. At least, not yet.
If anybody can drum up interest in Ramirez it is Boras, although he couldn't do it in last winter's frozen free-agent market and this year his client has the added baggage of a 50-game drug suspension. Nobody knows how that market will shake out this winter with the overall economy having stabilized, but there are 15 Dodgers besides Ramirez who want to know.
That's the number of eligible free agents they have, representing a possible $40 million that could come off the Dodgers' 2009 payroll, topped by the $15.5 million of pitcher Jason Schmidt, who is expected to retire.
That $40 million will more than cover the raises through arbitration that are in order for Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Russell Martin, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo.
Resolving Ramirez will allow the Dodgers to focus on their primary needs -- starting pitching and second base. They need an ace, although haven't shown the wherewithal to go get one -- even before the owner split. They pulled off the Randy Wolf and Orlando Hudson coups to solidify the staff and second base, but they're back at square one in those spots.
Having won back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1977-78, the mission is clear -- beat the Phillies in the playoffs. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro said the Dodgers remind him of the Phillies.
"I have a great deal of respect for Ned [Colletti] and Joe [Torre], but to accomplish what Ned has accomplished over there in L.A. over the last few years is pretty extraordinary," said Amaro. "Just looking at their club in general and organization overall, if you look at it, it's pretty similar to ours. They have a great core of young players. They added some outstanding veterans. When I say core players, I mean everybody from Martin to Kemp to Loney to Ethier, [Clayton] Kershaw and Billingsley.
"We're very similar. It's just a matter of getting over the hump. Even though we happen to have been the hump to get over, as I told Ned in a text message, I have a feeling that we're going to have a lot of battles over the next several years."
Free agents: Brad Ausmus, C; Ronnie Belliard, INF; Juan Castro, SS; Jon Garland, RHP; Orlando Hudson, 2B; Mark Loretta, INF; Doug Mientkiewicz, 1B; Eric Milton, LHP; Guillermo Mota, RHP; Will Ohman, LHP; Vicente Padilla, RHP; Jason Schmidt, RHP; Jim Thome, PH; Jeff Weaver RHP and Randy Wolf, LHP.
Eligible for arbitration: RHP Chad Billingsley, RHP Jonathan Broxton, OF Andre Ethier, OF Matt Kemp, LHP Hong-Chih Kuo, 1B James Loney, C Russell Martin, OF Jason Repko, LHP George Sherrill.
Options: LHP Will Ohman (club has already bought him out of 2010 contract for $200,000); OF Manny Ramirez player option for $20 million; RHP Jon Garland mutual option for $10 million -- $1 million buyout if player declines, $2.5 million buyout if club declines; RHP Vicente Padilla, club option for $12 million.
Non-tender possibilities: OF Jason Repko.
Russell Martin, .250 BA, 7 HR, 53 RBIs, 63 R
A.J. Ellis, .100, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 R
The manager was pleased with his attitude and defense, but Martin's offense continues to go backward.
James Loney, .281 BA, 13 HR, 90 RBIs, 73 R
The manager thinks he'll keep improving.
Blake DeWitt, .204, 2 HR, 4 RBIs, 4 R
An acquisition is almost a certainty.
Rafael Furcal, .269 BA, 9 HR, 47 RBIs, 92 R
Chin-lung Hu, .400 BA, 0 HR, 2 RBIs, 2 R
Furcal has signed for two more years, so the Dodgers hope he can regain his pre-surgical form.
Casey Blake, .280 BA, 18 HR, 79 RBIs, 84 R
He's a steady gamer.
Andre Ethier, .272 BA, 31 HR, 106 RBIs, 92 R
Matt Kemp, .297 BA, 26 HR, 101 RBIs, 97 R
Manny Ramirez, .290 BA, 19 HR, 63 RBIs, 62 R
Juan Pierre, .308 BA, 0 HR, 31 RBIs, 57 R
Xavier Paul, .214, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R
Jason Repko, .000, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R
Unless Manny opts out ...
Clayton Kershaw, 8-8, 2.79 ERA, 185 Ks
Chad Billingsley, 12-11, 4.03 ERA, 179 Ks
Hiroki Kuroda, 8-7, 3.76 ERA, 87 Ks
Scott Elbert, 2-0, 5.03 ERA
If Wolf, Padilla and Garland don't return, there are innings to pick up.
Jonathan Broxton, 7-2, 2.61 ERA, 36 saves, 114 strikeouts
George Sherrill, 1-0, 0.65 ERA, 1 save, 22 strikeouts (w/L.A.)
Hong-Chih Kuo, 2-0, 3.00 ERA
Ronald Belisario, 4-3, 2.04 ERA
Ramon Troncoso, 5-4, 2.72 ERA
James McDonald, 5-5, 4.00 ERA
Broxton showed he could replace Takashi Saito as the closer, but he's still got that playoff hurdle against Philadelphia to clear.