Everything around Boston's baseball club this winter -- every heavily veiled comment, every unsubstantiated rumor, every blog, every gasp of a breathless Red Sox Nation -- points to the Sox trying their hardest to trade their happily moody and wildly unpredictable slugger, Manny Ramirez.
To which I can only say ...
Are you guys crazy? Do you really believe that you can trade one of the best hitters of the past several decades -- this is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, you know -- get back another outfielder or a shortstop or a starting pitcher and a couple of prospects and be a better team? Is that what you're thinking?
Are you prepared to jump into the American League East with an outfield of J.D. Drew, Coco Crisp and Wily Mo Pena?
And what happens to David Ortiz, the DH-who-would-be-MVP, without Manny in the lineup?
This is a slippery slope that the Sox have stepped onto, and if they proceed -- if they actually make this deal and send Ramirez packing -- the chances of coming out of it without landing on their Boston Butts are not good. It's possible, of course, that Theo Epstein, the team's very capable general manager, ends up making a few deals this winter after the Manny move that, taken as a whole, might make the Red Sox a deeper, more dangerous team.
But that's presupposing a lot falls into place, isn't it? Theo the Great would have to pull off some whoppers to make dealing Manny worth it.
The fact is, you don't replace a hitter like Ramirez. You can't. Ramirez, who turns 35 next May, has been one of the most productive hitters in the game in the last decade. He shows few signs of slowing down. Nobody has driven in more runs than he has since 1998 (1,144). Few get on base as much (a .418 on-base percentage in that time, fifth in baseball). He's averaged more than 40 homers and 127 RBIs a year in the past nine seasons.
In that cutthroat AL East, against bashing teams like the Yankees and Blue Jays, the Sox desperately need Manny. Good pitching is one thing. Everybody needs that. But in the AL East, scoring a lot of runs is critical, and no one in baseball, with the possible exception of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez, has been better at making runs happen in the past nine years than Ramirez.
That whole notion that Ramirez provides lineup protection hitting in front of Ortiz? That might be a little overblown. Ortiz hit .292 last September, with a 1.146 OPS, with Manny mainly sitting on the bench. Still, that doesn't make Ramirez any less valuable.
"Nothing against J.D. Drew, I'd love to have him," Sox pitcher Jonathan Papelbon told the Boston Herald's Jeff Horrigan earlier this week, "but there's no doubt about it, we need to keep Manny."