McCourt, visiting cancer patients Tuesday at the Dodgers' ThinkCure partner City of Hope Hospital as part of the team's annual winter caravan, responded to the latest news on Ramirez, who rejected an offer believed to be for one year at $25 million, which would have been the second-highest yearly salary in Major League Baseball history.
"Two things are clear to me," McCourt said. "We very much want the player back and we're trying hard. We came up with what we thought was a creative proposal to give him a lot of money, and well deserved in a challenging economy, and give him flexibility if he feels it's important to test free agency next year. I don't see long-term contracts happening in this market we're in.
"The other thing is, the agent [Scott Boras] is challenging to work with and we've tried hard. We've made three efforts and we still have not received a specific number from the agent, and I don't know what to tell you. At some point, you have to move on and start to get ready to win a championship."
With Spring Training opening in less than two weeks, McCourt said he did not know when the time to move on would be, but called it "inevitable."
"There needs to be closure to this," he said. "We're not done looking at options to signing the player for this season. We'll just take it a step at a time. It should be clear that signing Manny was and is a priority."
McCourt said he has not spoken directly to Ramirez, but said he would welcome the chance. He implied that the lack of communication from Boras during the past three months has been a contributing factor to the absence of a deal, stopping short of suggesting that Ramirez didn't want to re-sign with the Dodgers.
"It's not an exaggeration," McCourt said. "I've done thousands of deals in my life and I've learned that communication, the give-and-take to find common ground, is the key to all those deals. It seems to be, when there isn't conversation, it's much more challenging to make a deal."
McCourt would not say what other options the Dodgers would explore if they don't return Ramirez to the lineup. The logical alternatives are free-agent outfielders Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn, although Los Angeles' interest in them has been on the backburner while the focus has been on Ramirez.
"Our team right now is better than we started last year with," McCourt said, mentioning having a healthy Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake from the start of the season and other moves in the works (presumably the signing of a free-agent pitcher like Randy Wolf or Braden Looper). He also said he was optimistic the core of young players will improve with experience.
"I'm feeling very good about the team," the chairman said. "That said, we'd love to sign Manny. But we have to be prudent with our decisions. This is about winning now, but also in the future."
McCourt sidestepped the question of whether he had two tentative payroll budgets -- one with Ramirez and another without. The Dodgers spent $120 million on salaries last year, and could slash that by anywhere from $20 million to $40 million with the loss of numerous free agents.
"I assure you, we'll do anything we can to win," he said. "We're going to spend wisely, be competitive, focus on winning. Fans get excited about competitive teams playing hard and winning. I don't believe they get excited about an owner mouthing off how much money he'll spend."
McCourt repeated his warnings about the deteriorating economy and its possible impact on running a team, but tempered that by saying the sport was in a "privileged space" as an industry that people "look to at times like these as a place of refuge for people to get their minds off things.
"That's one of the reasons I'd love to bring Manny back and provide that kind of joy and fun for our fans," he said. "If we can duplicate the last 2 1/2 months [of the 2008 season] for the fans, it would be great for the fans and the community, and it's my hope Manny sees it the same way."
The Dodgers consider this their third attempt to ink Ramirez. During the General Managers Meetings in November, Los Angeles offered him two years at $45 million, plus a third-year option for $15 million. Ramirez did not respond, and the club withdrew that offer when the exclusive negotiating period expired Nov. 15.
The Dodgers offered Ramirez salary arbitration in December, which would have bound him to the club with a one-year contract at a salary to be determined, but he did not accept the offer.
The market for the gifted slugger, who turns 37 in May, has been murky. The Dodgers are the only club known to have made an offer. The Giants are the only other team to have acknowledged interest, although like the Dodgers, it is short-term only. Boras has said he's in negotiations with several teams on Ramirez, but has declined to name them.
The Dodgers, with no designated hitter rule available to provide a transitional role as Ramirez ages, have insisted they will not provide the four- or five-year deal he is seeking.
The one-year offer is believed to be a compromise attempt by the club that would reward Ramirez financially while allowing him to return to the free-agent market next year, when the economic climate might be friendlier and he would still be young enough to capitalize.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.