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Shortly after the 4 p.m. trade deadline on Sunday, the most important acquisition in an otherwise uneventful week looked into a television camera and said of playing in Boston, "I'm happy to be here." O.K., so Manny Ramirez has been the Red Sox' leftfielder for four-plus seasons. But this new Ramirez (smiling, settled, even media-friendly) was an enormous addition for Boston, given that the old one (petulant, flaky, forever seeking to be traded) had driven the team to the brink of unloading the major league's leader in RBIs.
Ramirez is renowned for his eccentricity--his famously leaky defense took on literal meaning last month when he left the field during a conference on the mound and then nearly missed a pitch while reportedly relieving himself inside the Fenway Park Green Monster. But last week the folly of Manny reached even more absurd heights. On July 27, a day after SI reported that Ramirez had asked to be traded, he refused to play against the Devil Rays because he said he was promised a day off. On Friday, as the team was working out a three-team deal with the Mets and the Devil Rays, he was booed mightily at home. He was benched the following day to clear his head, and he wasn't in the starting lineup again for the same reason on Sunday. But then, when the Red Sox needed a hit, the suddenly forgiving Boston fans cheered him even before he delivered a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning to boost Boston to a 4-3 victory over the Twins.
According to a source familiar with the Red Sox' thinking, they sought to move Ramirez because of his discontent, his contract (he is owed $57 million from 2006 through '08 on his eight-year, $160 million deal) and his unwillingness to promote the franchise. But in the end they kept him for his bat (.275, 28 homers, 93 RBIs through Sunday), turning down a package that included Mets outfielder Mike Cameron and 20-year-old outfield prospect Lastings Milledge. Said one source briefed on the talks, "It was never as close as people made it out to be."
The nondeal for Ramirez was a fitting highlight to an overhyped trading period. The biggest names who moved last week were first baseman Phil Nevin, whom the Padres sent to the Rangers for pitcher Chan Ho Park; outfielder Matt Lawton, whom the Pirates traded to the Cubs for outfielder Jody Gerut; pitcher Shawn Chacon, whom the Rockies shipped to the Yankees for two prospects; and pitcher Kyle Farnsworth, whom the Tigers sent to the Braves for a pair of prospects. The only impact players who had been rumored to be on the move--Ramirez, Texas second baseman Alfonso Soriano and Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett--went nowhere. Says San Diego G.M. Kevin Towers, "The inventory of available players was very small."
The trade market was depressed because of a thin crop of upcoming free agents (traditional targets in midseason deals) and because so few teams are ready to write off the season and dump players: At week's end 21 of the 30 teams were within six games of a playoff spot. "There are a number of people who think there might be more activity in August, when people have played out their status and when teams are out of the pennant race," says Reds G.M. Dan O'Brien.
Though players must now pass through waivers to be dealt, the trade market, like Ramirez's moods, remains fluid. For the time being Ramirez seems content to stay in Boston. "Forget about the trade. This is the place I want to be," he said after Sunday's heroics. "They want to win. I want to win, too. I'm back."