Manny or Carlos? Carlos or Manny?
Which slugger should the Mets pursue, if either?
Omar Minaya, the Mets' general manager, wants to add a potent bat to the middle of the lineup, and that is where Manny Ramirez and Carlos Delgado come in. The bats they swing are potent, and both could be available in trades in the next few weeks.
Ramirez has asked the Red Sox to trade him. He has become unhappy in Boston, complaining that he has no privacy. Delgado is where he wants to be, in Florida, but the Marlins' depleted fortunes could prompt them to trade him.
No better power hitters and run producers are available this off-season. Delgado was available as a free agent last off-season but snubbed the Mets and signed with the Marlins. The Mets have tried to trade for Ramirez, most recently in July, but have not been able to come up with the right package of players to satisfy the Red Sox.
If it's Ramirez the Mets prefer, they would have had a better shot in July, because he did not control his destiny then. Once the season ended, Ramirez became a 10-and-5 player, meaning he gained veto rights over a trade because he has played in the major leagues for 10 years, the last 5 with the same team.
If Ramirez is serious about not wanting to play in New York or for the Mets, he could simply block a trade.
Delgado doesn't have that right. When the Mets pursued him a year ago, they offered to include a no-trade provision for the first four years of a five-year contract, but the Marlins made no such offer.
The Marlins' owner, Jeffrey Loria, assured Delgado that he had no intention of trading him. If Delgado played up to expectations, Loria told him, and he tried to trade him, Loria would find a lynch mob at his office door. But the Marlins don't draw enough fans to form a lynch mob.
Delgado's contract with the Marlins actually included a hint that Loria might trade him after the first season. Delgado's first-year salary was $4 million, leaving $48 million for the next three years.
Loria seemed to be saying: "If we get a new stadium, I'll be willing to spend the $48 million because I'll have the promise of greatly enhanced revenue on the horizon. But if we have no stadium in the foreseeable future, I'll have spent only $4 million and then I'll trade him."
No new stadium is in the Marlins' future. They have been unable to put together the necessary funding, and Loria is losing money, lots of money. As a result, the Marlins on Monday began executing a plan in which they would trade some of their best and highest-paid players.
Josh Beckett, one of their best starting pitchers, and third baseman Mike Lowell are the first to go. The Marlins reached agreement on a deal with the Red Sox, which will become official after they pass physicals.
No player on the Marlins is due to be paid as much as Delgado — $13.5 million, then $14.5 million, then $16 million, and a $4 million buyout of the option year.
When Delgado's agent, David Sloane, in the face of widespread rumors, recently asked Marlins General Manager Larry Beinfest to state publicly that the team wasn't shopping Delgado, he refused. When Loria was asked about the issue last week, he said he didn't comment on rumors.
Loria and David Samson, the team president, did not return calls Monday seeking comment on Delgado's status and on a newspaper report that Samson had assumed command of the team from Loria. Baseball officials said that report was not true.
As for the Mets' chances of getting Delgado if they want him, he cannot block a trade, but as a player traded during a multiyear contract, he could demand a trade next November. The Mets could deal with the matter then and call Delgado's bluff, because if they didn't trade him by the ensuing March 15, he would become a free agent but without getting the $34.5 million that would remain in his contract.
When the Mets recruited him last year, Delgado didn't care for their Latino-based approach, which attracted Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. Delgado also said he chose the Marlins because he felt they had a better chance to reach the World Series. As the season turned out, he would have made the Mets a more serious contender than the Marlins were.
Occasionally, Delgado has outproduced Ramirez, but not often. Comparing them in four major offensive categories (batting average, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage), Ramirez topped Delgado, 23-7, with two ties, over the past eight seasons. Even in 2000, when Delgado hit more home runs, drove in more runs and had a career-high slugging percentage (.664), Ramirez had a higher slugging percentage (.697) and average (.351).
Whether it's hitting for average or for power, Ramirez has been one of the best, most consistent, hitters in the majors. His addition to the Mets would excite the city's Dominican population and draw new fans.On the other hand, some of those same fans, friends from his youthful years in Washington Heights, could create distractions for him. Delgado made an issue of refusing to stand outside the dugout for "God Bless America," but the Mets could count on him to be a more solid citizen than Ramirez. But the unpredictability of Ramirez would add more intrigue.
The Mets and the Red Sox have not talked about Ramirez recently, most likely because the Red Sox don't have a general manager. The feeling here is Boston won't trade him, especially if he refuses to go to the Mets.
But I believe the Marlins will trade Delgado.
Initially, I thought it was unlikely that they would trade him to the division-rival Mets, but now that the Marlins have started their fire sale, they may as well trade him to the Mets because the Marlins won't be much of a rival anyway.