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If/when Manny signs, will he be happy?


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GLENDALE, Ariz. - Any day now, the Hundred Year War otherwise known as the Manny Ramirez negotiation will come to an end.

Both sides will declare victory and Ramirez will once again heed his genetic calling — smashing fastballs to the planets.

At least that's the Dodgers' best-case scenario. But the longer talks drag on, and the greater the antipathy between owner Frank McCourt and agent Scott Boras becomes, the more it becomes anyone's guess whether Manny's been chilling or seething.

If he's happy, he's a run-producing machine; history bears that out. But if Ramirez arrives in camp with mixed feelings about his contract, even with $45 million in his pocket, watch out.

History has its file on the darker angels of Manny's nature, too.

So which Manny will the Dodgers be welcoming? His teammates wonder.

"I don't know how he rejects these offers when there's no other team out there. But we'll see," said Casey Blake. The third baseman/left fielder was referring to the latest Dodger proposal that Manny and Boras shot out of the sky — a cool $45 million for two years, portions of which may be deferred with or without interest.

Those are the 11th-hour details that baseball people believe will be worked out by the weekend, because, as Blake noted, there's nowhere else for Ramirez to go. The Dodgers are similarly stuck. Without Manny, their lack of offense is almost certain to doom them.

Therein lies the Catch-22 for Ramirez's friends in the clubhouse: They want him to be stress-free, but have purposely divested themselves of the day-to-day negotiations. Blake spoke for the rest of the Dodgers when he said, "I try not to think too much about this because I have no control over whether Manny signs or not."

Rafael Furcal agreed, saying, "I don't know what Manny's thinking or what he's doing. We all want Manny back, everyone knows how much we need him. But I don't know if he's coming or not. Every day there's something new (that's being reported)."

In the meantime, there's open frustration on both sides, if not hostility. McCourt and Boras both publicly jabbed each other Thursday night in dead-ending the latest proposal, leaving GM Ned Colletti with no choice but to start over.

"I've called Scott a few times and all I got was voice mail," Colletti said Friday morning. "We need to have a conversation."

What the executive seeks is simple enough: after four months of fruitless talks — which Colletti wearily calls, "the longest negotiation I've ever been part of" — the Dodgers want to know what, exactly, would make Manny happy.

What would it take to keep Ramirez motivated for two full seasons? He has the right mix of players in the clubhouse. He has the right manager in Joe Torre. It's obvious he likes the Southern California lifestyle. So what does Ramirez require to keep him from imploding as he did last summer with the Red Sox?

The question has consumed the organization and diverted Colletti from his other responsibilities. Speaking to reporters during a split-squad game against the White Sox — while Jason Schmidt was making his spring debut — Colletti said, "I'm frustrated because I'm here for spring training. This is important, and (Manny) is someone we want to be part of our organization. But there's a lot to do in a day, and a vast majority of it is spent on this subject."

The level of corporate exhaustion is such that even Torre has stopped answering questions about Manny. "Until we know where he's going to wind up, with all the back and forth, I'd just as soon not respond," the manager said.

Torre wasn't angry, just worn out, like Colletti. Every day that goes by, the two have to prepare for the doomsday scenario — where McCourt and Boras nuke the negotiation, allowing the Giants to swoop in and whisk Manny away.

The Dodgers know they would suffer without Ramirez — an understandable fear considering they were 13th in the National League in runs before the All-Star break. But the addition of Orlando Hudson somewhat closes the deficit, and the Dodgers themselves have grown from last year's exposure to the playoffs.

After taking the Yankees to the postseason 12 straight years, Torre is now 1-for-1 at Chavez Ravine. Even without Ramirez in camp, he says, "the personality seems to be better (this spring). I think winning has something to do with that."

The Ramirez-factor is all that's left to quantify. Manny electrified the Dodgers for 2 ½ months in 2008, which, Boras has tried impress upon McCourt, is a taste of what his client can do over an entire season.

But money means everything to Manny; if it didn't, he would've never switched agents and hired Boras last year. Together, superstar and agent have rejected every offer the Dodgers have made. The days have turned into weeks, weeks into months. The rest of the baseball world has watched in a combination of curiosity — and relief.

"That's why we didn't get involved. I'm glad about that," one major league executive said of Ramirez. "If Manny plays up to his potential, he pays for himself — almost. But you can never be sure. With him, you never know."

The Dodgers are staring into the abyss, too. But unlike the other 29 teams, they've come too far to walk away. Any day now, Ramirez will be theirs. He'll be richer, but will he be any happier?

Bob Klapisch is a columnist for The Record (N.J.).

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