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Posted: Monday March 2, 2009 12:31PM; Updated: Tuesday March 3, 2009 1:00PM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >

Is Dodgers owner Frank McCourt souring on Manny?

Story Highlights

One competing owner said, "The Giants should step in now"

Dueling e-mails suggest both sides have complaints about each other

Johan Santana's health and other notes around the camps

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Dodgers fans in Glendale are begging for Manny to join the party.
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Despite seeming to be practically pennies apart in his negotiation with superstar free agent Manny Ramirez, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt suggested again here Sunday that the sides were "starting from scratch." Those are ominous words indeed, if he means them.

McCourt acknowledged that the sides were closer monetarily, and an e-mail from Ramirez's agent Scott Boras suggests they are even closer than believed, as Ramirez apparently has offered to split the difference between his last $45 million proposal and the Dodgers' most recent offer of a contract with a value of about $42 million. There is no good reason for this to fall apart now, not with both sides talking about $25 million for the first year and $20 million for the second on a player option, with the only difference being in the deferrals. However, the Dodgers haven't responded to Ramirez's last three proposals, according to Boras' mass e-mail Sunday. Plus, there are other indications McCourt isn't in the compromising mood.

A person close to McCourt suggested on Sunday there are internal rumblings the emotional owner may either stop negotiating for now, or more drastically, begin "negotiating backward," meaning he might submit a lower offer than his last one. That wouldn't be inconsistent at all with his cryptic and troubling "starting from scratch" remark.

Should McCourt actually lower his latest offer to the franchise-saving savant, that would be quite the gambit. McCourt's last e-mail to the media, which invited Boras to consider other "serious" offers (his quote marks, not mine), snippily suggested he didn't believe he had real competition for Ramirez, who undoubtedly did hurt himself with his abject misbehavior in Boston last summer. It's clear Ramirez is giving the Dodgers every opportunity to win him back, perhaps partly because outside interest remains thin. However, a person close to the Man-child said McCourt would be "playing with fire" should he start lowering bids.

The archrival Giants are the only other team known to have interest in Ramirez, but there are indications they might not have the remaining funds or inclination to try to outbid the Dodgers, especially after their new managing partner Bill Neukom got an earful from a top MLB person for the Giants' $18.5 million expenditure on Edgar Renteria despite perceived slippage by the free agent shortstop. Unlike McCourt, though, Giants people have an excellent relationship with Boras, and that could help them at least remain on the periphery and not disappear altogether. While an outfielder isn't the Giants' greatest need, their balance sheet is said to be in excellent shape and one monster hitter could make their imposing starting pitching look that much better.

One competing owner said, "The Giants should step in now. The Dodgers are giving them an opening."

That owner also questioned whether McCourt really has the money to fund his storied major-market team. Questions along those lines also surfaced late last week when it was revealed that McCourt's last $45 million offer to Ramirez was to be paid off over five years, at no interest, giving McCourt three extra years to foot the bill. However, McCourt denied to the Los Angeles Times that he was deferring money because he can't afford to pay, which seems to indicate that he is playing hardball for some other reason.

People close to McCourt indicate he is upset by the way negotiations have gone, although beyond Ramirez's continuing rejections of the Dodgers' offers, it's uncertain what's upsetting him. One person said McCourt even briefly considered jetting to confront the mercurial superstar in Florida, but McCourt may have less reason to do so. In Sunday's e-mail to the media from Boras, Ramirez is quoted saying he is being apprised of all talks by his agent (not only that, they've all been in the papers by now). "I have given Scott offers that he has given to the Dodgers and he has given me all offers from the team," Ramirez is quoted as saying.

In the last few days, Ramirez has been the one compromising. According to Boras' e-mail, Ramirez's latest offer to return for a two-year contract with deferrals to bring down the present-day value to $43.5 million is about $1.5 million less than the value of L.A.'s last offer.

While McCourt acknowledged the sides appear close during a press conference to mark the opening of the Dodgers' new Cactus League stadium at Camelback Ranch, he reused the foreboding "starting from scratch" line that first appeared on a midnight Dodgers e-mail last Thursday, perhaps suggesting it may not matter how close they are monetarily.

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