As we have previously discussed, Manny Ramirez was quite good at playing baseball in Cleveland. However, Ramirez entered the 2000 offseason without a contract. This made him one of the best players in one of the most loaded free-agent classes in baseball history. The players sharing Manny’s company as the cream of the crop were shortstop Alex Rodriguez, future Hall of Fame pitcher Mike Mussina and pitcher Mike Hampton.
These four players would end up signing for a combined $621.5 million that winter.
This free-agent class offered a rare opportunity for MLB teams with Rodriguez and Ramirez specifically. Here were two players under 30 with careers trending toward Hall of Fame finishes. Since 2000, the only comparable free agent duos are Carlos Beltran (28 years old) and Adrian Beltre (26) in 2004, and Manny Machado and Bryce Harper (both 26) in 2018.
Here’s where Manny’s 2000 free agent classmates stood when they entered the offseason and where they ended up:
- Entering 25-year-old season
- All-Star in 4 out of 5 previous seasons
- Top 3 MVP in 1996 and 2000
- 38 WAR
- 189 HR / 595 RBI / .309/.374/.561
- Signed with the Texas Rangers for 10 years, $252 million
- Entering 29-year-old season
- 22 wins, named an All-Star and finished 2nd in Cy Young in 1999
- 18.2 WAR
- Signed with the Colorado Rockies for 8 years, $121 million
- Entering 32-year-old season
- Five All-Star appearances
- Seven Top 6 Cy Young finishes
- 47.7 WAR
- Signed with the New York Yankees for 6 years, $88.5 million
And for comparison, here’s a recap of Manny’s time in Cleveland before they let him go.
- Entering 29-year-old season
- All-star in 3 previous seasons
- Top 6 MVP in last 3 seasons (#3 in 1999)
- 30 WAR
- 236 HR / 804 RBI / .313/.407/.592
After Manny signed his contract with [SPOILER], ESPN ran an “Outside the Lines” special with behind the scenes footage of Ramirez’s free agent experience. The video is difficult (potentially impossible) to find, but the transcript of the show is readily available. One of the details included is Manny seemed to have four main suitors with varying degrees of interest.
The Seattle Mariners
A-Rod’s former team clearly knew they couldn’t afford the contract their star shortstop was looking for, but General Manager Pat Gillick was at least initially interested in signing the 2nd best hitter on the market. The Mariners even told Ramirez’ agent, Jeff Moorad, they would consider moving in their fences to better tailor the park to Manny’s power.
Seattle would ultimately sign Ichiro Suzuki to play right field instead. Ichiro went on to win Rookie of the Year (cough, travesty, cough) and the MVP, and the Mariners won 116 games. So, things worked out okay for the first team who missed out on Manny.
The New York Yankees
The Yankees had won three straight World Series and this was very apparent when Brian Cashman called Moorad and essentially said he expected free agents to convince him they wanted to be a Yankee. Moorad responded with, “Well, that doesn’t sound like a real compelling reaching out to Manny Ramirez.” Seems about right.
The Yankees moved forward with signing Mussina on November 30th, 2000. Mussina won 123 games over the next eight seasons and the team signed Jason Giambi (the top 2001 free agent hitter) the next offseason. Neither player won a World Series for the pinstripes, but Mussina solidified his Hall of Fame career in New York.
The Cleveland Indians
Manny’s original team never seemed to really go all-in on bringing him back. Moorad let Cleveland GM John Hart know Manny wanted to be the highest paid player in the game and offered a 10-year, $200 million proposal. The Indians responded a few days later with a 7-year, $119 million counter that Ramirez did not accept.
Cleveland tried to get back in the mix later in the negotiations, increasing the offer to 8 years and adding more money. However, the team seemed to have slow-played their hand too much and Manny chose another city to extend his career in.
Cleveland had laid the ground work for a safety net while they negotiated with Ramirez though by signing designated hitter Ellis Burks to a 3-year, $21 million deal and then signed outfielder Juan Gonzalez for 1-year, $10 million after Manny was gone. In the 2001 season, Gonzalez hit 35 HR and drove in 140 RBI with a slash line of .325/.370/.590 while coming in 5th for MVP. Burks hit 28 HR with a slash line of .280/.369/.542. Both players earned a combined $3 million less that season than Ramirez would by himself.
And the winner was… The Boston Red Sox
Before going too deep into the Ramirez free agent signing, it’s important to take stock of where the Red Sox were as an organization in the winter of 2000. Obviously the “Curse” was still a thing, but the most recent slugger to leave town was casting just as big a shadow as a new century began. In 1998, first baseman Mo Vaughn hit 40 HR with 115 RBI and a .337/.402/.591 slash line. He came in 4th in MVP voting as well. That offseason, Red Sox GM Dan Duquette elected not to resign Vaughn and Mo went west to sign a 6-year, $80 million deal with the Angels that made him the highest paid player in the game.
This left the Red Sox with two superstars in pitcher Pedro Martinez and shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. Two Batmen who each desperately needed a Robin to help ease the burden of carrying the pitching/offense for a franchise struggling to get to championship level.
In the next two seasons, the second most reliable starter after Pedro was 35-year-old Brett Saberhagen who only pitched 119 innings in ’99, and 37-year-old Jeff Fassero who won 8 games in 130 innings in ‘00. On offense, the team added Jose Offerman and Carl Everett in back-to-back offseasons to keep the lineup afloat. Both were All-Stars in their first years in Boston, but each also quickly declined after that.
The Sox headed into the 2000 offseason knowing help was needed on the mound or in the batter’s box and were prepared to be aggressive in finding it. However, Manny Ramirez wasn’t their first choice.
The team’s first target was Mussina with the thinking he’d pair with Pedro to form one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. The Sox were involved in the negotiations the whole way before Mussina ultimately signed with New York. This Boston Globe article by Alex Speier mentions Mussina partly chose the Yankees because they gave him a no-trade clause the Sox wouldn’t.
Duquette and the Sox then turned their focus to improving the lineup and giving Garciaparra the partner the lineup so badly needed. A lineup that went from 5th in the AL in HR and 2nd in Slugging with Vaughn in ’98, to 9th in HR and 6th in Slugging in ’99 and 11th in HR and 12th in Slugging in ’00.
Just FYI, Manny Ramirez led the AL in Slugging in 1999 and 2000.
After Mussina signs with the Yankees on November 30th, a plan was made for the Red Sox and Ramirez to meet on December 5th. Martinez and Garciaparra both called Manny to pitch joining the team. The Sox offered 8-years and about $136 million, which Cleveland then countered with 5-years and $100 million.
On December 8th, Moorad and Duquette negotiated towards a deal that was closer to Moorad’s ask of 10-years, $200 million. The negotiations continued at the Winter Meetings with the final decision coming as Duquette offered the 9th and 10th years of the deal as club options.
Just before agreeing to the deal, Ramirez pulls his first “Manny Being Manny” moment and says the deal is done if the Sox hire a clubhouse attendant from Cleveland to go to Boston too. Unfortunately for Manny, the attendant doesn’t want to move but luckily for Duquette that doesn’t change Manny’s mind.
On December 9th, Manny Ramirez signed an 8-year, $160 million deal with two $20 million team option years to play for the Boston Red Sox.
The next chapter of Manny’s legacy was ready to begin.
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