Signing Manny tops Red Sox's free-agent moves

Slugger won two rings, hit 274 HRs in nearly eight seasons with Boston

Signing Manny tops Red Sox's free-agent moves

Before bidding adieu to the Hot Stove season, we asked our 30 beat reporters to look back at their club's past and answer the following question: Who is the best free-agent signing in the team's history?

We narrowed the choices with the following parameters: The signings had to be multiyear contracts, to exclude fluky one-year deals and to focus on players who got real commitments. And contract extensions don't count. Only instances when every team in the league had a chance to bid on the player were allowed, including international free agents who received Major League contracts.

BOSTON -- The year was 2000, and the Red Sox had just watched the Yankees win the World Series for the fourth time in five seasons. Not only that, but it had been 82 years since they had won a World Series themselves.

And there was another twist that led to the most impactful multiyear free-agent contract in team history. John Harrington, who ran the Red Sox on behalf of the Yawkey trust, had announced a few weeks earlier that the team would be sold.

Harrington told Dan Duquette, his general manager at the time, that the Red Sox needed to sign a marquee free agent. A new star would make the club more competitive on the field and more marketable to a potential new owner.

From there, the wheels were set in motion for the sweet-swinging, wildly-entertaining Manny Ramirez to sign an eight-year, $160 million contract with Boston on Dec. 19, 2000.

Manny's two tape measure blasts

"It was important for us to get a player like that, and for us to have really good, identifiable players from a competitive basis," said Duquette, who is now the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Orioles. "We thought that Manny would be a long-time fixture and fit in with the tradition of great Red Sox sluggers in left field."

Ramirez, Mike Mussina and Alex Rodriguez were the three big free agents on the market that offseason. The Red Sox first pursued Mussina, but he went to the Yankees. A-Rod's price -- which wound up being $252 million -- would be too rich for Boston, so Duquette instantly put the full-court press on Ramirez after Mussina signed.

"We got the right guy," Duquette said with the benefit of more than 16 years of hindsight.

Indeed they did. Ramirez had his share of quirky and controversial moments during his nearly eight seasons with the Red Sox. But through it all, he raked at a prolific clip, backed by one of the most artful swings by any right-handed hitter in history. During Ramirez's memorable tenure in Boston, the Red Sox won the World Series twice, in 2004 and '07. The Yankees didn't win any during that time.

In 1,083 games with Boston, Ramirez hit .312 with 274 homers and a .999 OPS.

Combine those numbers with the two rings, and Ramirez isn't just the best free-agent signing the Red Sox ever made, but one of the best by any team.

The legendary David Ortiz probably goes down as the most important signing in Sox history, but his initial deal to come to Boston was for one year after he had been released by the Twins. In other words, it wasn't a classic free-agent sweepstakes type of deal.

Papi, Manny share handshake

Three years before Ortiz's arrival in Boston, many were surprised that Ramirez left his Cleveland comfort zone. The Indians were an offensive powerhouse at the time, and they were annually more competitive in those years than the Red Sox.

The Indians made a solid offer, but finished second in the sweepstakes for Ramirez.

Even if Ramirez sometimes expressed disenchantment while playing under the scrutiny of the Fenway fishbowl, he always produced.

"Manny was a gifted hitter and a dedicated, hard-working ballplayer. He wasn't worried about a lot of the ancillary things," said Duquette. "He came to the ballpark ready to play ball. If you look at the fundamentals of his swing, he had a strong setup, short stride. He kept his head on the ball. Controlled swing. Power to all fields."

Though Duquette only remained in Boston for Ramirez's first season, he appreciates the way the deal played out.

"Mr. Harrington was able to sell the club. Mr. [John] Henry was able to leverage the performance of Manny Ramirez, so it worked out well for both the owners and the player," Duquette said. "He had a nice career there. He was a very entertaining player. He was captivating and always interesting."

Honorable mentions

• After Ortiz signed his initial $1.25 million deal to come to Boston, the Red Sox renewed his contract after the 2003 season because he didn't have enough service time to be a free agent. The Sox would smartly sign Big Papi to several more extensions. Only once did the Red Sox let Ortiz become a free agent. That was after the 2011 season. By that time, there was little question Ortiz would return to Boston, which he did after accepting the club's offer for arbitration.

Farrell on replacing Ortiz

• Ramirez wasn't the only impactful free agent on the 2004 "Idiots" team. Johnny Damon, another Duquette signing (four years, $32 million), was invaluable in the leadoff spot and in the clubhouse. Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar were other important free agents who helped the 2004 team win it all.

• General manager Ben Cherington hit on nearly every acquisition he made in the 2012-13 offseason. The best deal was the two-year, $9.25 million pact that made Koji Uehara a member of the Red Sox. It is often forgotten that Uehara was signed as a setup man. He emerged into a dominant closer for the 2013 World Series champions. Uehara was a force throughout most of his four seasons in Boston.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.