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Monday, October 20, 2008

Could Manny Ramirez join the Cubs?

Phil Rogers Phil Rogers

Manny Ramirez won't be going to Boston for the World Series. No one knows where he will wind up in 2009, including Ramirez or his agent, Scott Boras, both of whom are the cleanup hitters of their businesses.

Despite unprecedented production under the brightest lights, the baggage Ramirez carries is so heavy that it's unclear if the Los Angeles Dodgers will pay to bring him back. His fit elsewhere is equally unclear, as is the outlook for improving a Cubs team that has gone 0-6 the last two Octobers.

Could those uncertainties merge?

With the aggressive nature of general manager Jim Hendry and the anything-to-win approach in the Lou Piniella era, don't rule this out—not if the Dodgers would take on a big contract or two from the Cubs.

But before getting all speculative, let's revisit Ramirez's impact after being traded from Boston to the Dodgers at the July 31 deadline.

Baseball's most dreaded hitter, he batted .520 with four homers, 10 RBIs, nine runs and 11 walks in eight postseason games. He played 61 games in all for Los Angeles, a team that was punchless before adding him, and delivered a .410 average with 21 home runs and 63 RBIs.

He had a .513 on-base percentage and a .783 slugging average—numbers that combine for a 1.296 OPS. He has played in 108 career postseason games for Cleveland, Boston and the Dodgers and delivered a .286 average with 28 homers, 74 RBIs and a .949 OPS.

Ramirez gave up a $20 million option in Boston to become a free agent after this season. He is 36 and, according to Boras, deserving of a six-year contract that will pay him top-of-the-scale money until he's 42, as Alex Rodriguez will be and Barry Bonds was in his last contract. Boras points out a quality that separates Ramirez from those other elite hitters.

"He not only gives you performance of the highest level during the season, but in the postseason he just carries a team," the agent told ESPN Friday.

Boras believes this quality trumps questions about Ramirez's on-again, off-again effort and the selfishness that eventually made him persona non grata after two World Series parades in Boston. It's unclear whether Hendry or executives with other teams will bite.

If there's a fan base ripe for that pitch, it's the fans in the bars in Wrigleyville. They have watched Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez go a combined 5-for-51 in the crushing first-round losses to the Dodgers and Arizona and are hungrier than ever for the full ride, not just the big tease.

There's no way the Cubs can play two left fielders, so Soriano would have to go for Ramirez to come. Soriano seems to be essentially an immovable object with six years and $106 million left on his contract, but the Dodgers will need two things if they don't re-sign Ramirez—power hitting and another buzz guy.

Could Soriano soften the blow of losing Ramirez?

"I have a lot of work to do and a lot of decisions to make," Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told the Los Angeles Daily News last week. "I'll do a lot of listening."

If Hendry, who still needs his own contract extension, decides to make major changes, the Cubs and Dodgers could have lots to talk about.

With Derek Lowe eligible for free agency and Brad Penny and Jason Schmidt physical wrecks (Penny has a $9.25 million option that might not be exercised), the Dodgers likely will be in the market for starting pitching. The Cubs have it to trade, especially if they keep Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood off the free-agent market.

They could move Soriano or Aramis Ramirez to address the Dodgers' need for power hitting, although like Carlos Zambrano both have full no-trade clauses that would have to be waived. Both teams have bad contracts they might be willing to discuss to try to get a deal done (most notably Kosuke Fukudome, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Schmidt).

Manny Ramirez's first option is to go back to the Dodgers. But if owner Frank McCourt isn't willing to make that happen, all bets are off.

Too much down time: Making Boston's rally in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against Tampa Bay even more remarkable Thursday night was how it went against players' basic instinct—that is to get the season over and get home to family, friends and free time. The baseball season is sports' biggest grind and the overabundance of days off in October doesn't help.

When the World Series begins Wednesday night, the Philadelphia Phillies will have played only nine games in the last 23 days. They will have had six days off since the clincher over Los Angeles. This isn't a good sign.

Colorado had eight days off between the NLCS and the World Series in 2007, and got swept by Boston. Detroit had six days off between the ALCS and the Series in '06 and was upset in five games by St. Louis. Their out-of-sync hitters combined to bat .207 and generate 21 runs in those nine games.

Baseball officials need to re-examine the unnecessary days off built into the postseason schedule.

If it is going to keep the same format of starting the World Series on the fourth Wednesday after the end of the regular season, it at least could expand the first round to best-of-seven. That potentially would utilize two of the 10 dark days that are currently the minimum for a World Series team.

Losing Cubs style: Tampa Bay's inability to hold its seven-run lead in Game 5 was the most shocking development in the playoffs since the Cubs gave up the eight-run eighth inning to Florida in 2003—the game that's remembered by the name of the unfortunate fan who had less to do with the loss than Alex Gonzalez and Mark Prior, among others. But that's not the only Cubs connection.

The last time a team came back from a bigger deficit in a playoff game? The Philadelphia A's came back from an 8-0 deficit to win Game 4 of the 1929 World Series over—of course—the Cubs. Charlie Root had taken a three-hit shutout into the seventh inning at Shibe Park in Philadelphia but combined with relievers Art Nehf and Sheriff Blake to give up 10 runs in the inning.

Hall of Famers Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Mickey Cochrane and Lefty Grove all played a role in the Athletics' victory. Simmons seemingly unsettled Root with a leadoff homer onto the roof of the left-field bleachers. Hack Wilson lost a ball in the sun, allowing Mule Haas to get a three-run, inside-the-park homer.

The A's sent 15 batters to the plate, got 10 hits and kept the Cubs from evening the Series at two games apiece. They finished off the Cubs in Game 5, that time scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 3-2. Take away those two innings and it's a championship for the Cubs, not the A's.

The last word: "My heart was ripped out of my chest."—Dale Sveum on the Brewers' decision not to retain him as manager.

Original here