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01/23/09 11:53 AM EST

Manny won't be Manny with Tribe

Pipe dream lives in fans' hearts, dies in front office

CLEVELAND -- The question was posed by a little boy during a winter Press Tour stop earlier this week.

But it's a question that has also been on the minds and lips of grown -- and presumably sane -- adults, as well.

"Could you sign Manny Ramirez?" the young boy asked Indians general manager Mark Shapiro.

Shapiro's reply?

"Could I?" he said with a smile. "Or would I?"

There's a distinct difference, of course.

While the thought of Ramirez's bat returning to the Indians' lineup is enough to make any fan -- or Shapiro -- salivate, it's as realistic a possibility as the return of Rocky Colavito.

Sure, it's assumed Ramirez's asking price -- he was reportedly seeking a four- or five-year commitment worth around $25 million per year at the outset of the offseason -- will have to come down if he's going to sign this winter. But how far down would that price have to come for the Indians to become a player for his services?

Does the phrase "pro bono" mean anything to you?

In signing free agents Kerry Wood and Carl Pavano, trading for Mark DeRosa and avoiding arbitration with Kelly Shoppach, the Indians have added at least $18.95 million to their 2009 payroll.

That spending has exceeded ownership's budget. With ticket-sales projections worse now than they were following a fourth-place finish in 2006, the Indians are on track to spend more than they take in this season, unless they reach the playoffs.

Ownership, then, has been generous this winter, especially in light of the dismal economic climate and its effect on free-agent spending for everybody but the Yankees. But when it comes to that spending, Shapiro has been forced to give owner Larry Dolan his checkbook back after a busy Hot Stove season.

"Signing Manny," Shapiro said, "would have cost more than everything else we've done this year."

That hasn't stopped the Internet message boards from staying active with "sign Manny" chatter. And the enthusiasm over adding a guy who not only has 527 homers and 1,527 RBIs in his career, but who also hit .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs in just 53 games with the Dodgers last year is understandable.

Hot Stove

Heck, even the budget-conscious Shapiro gets it.

"He's probably the greatest right-handed hitter I've ever seen," Shapiro said.

Sure, the whole "Manny being Manny" routine would completely fly in the face of the clubhouse culture the Indians have so delicately tried to build over the years. But who's to argue with a 1.004 career OPS, right?

Ramirez would be a welcome middle-of-the order presence (particularly with nagging questions over what Travis Hafner will bring to the table following right shoulder surgery) in the Indians' lineup, he would generate enthusiasm in the fan base and put people in the seats, and he would probably be a slight upgrade over David Dellucci. And a second stint with the Tribe, for whom he hit 236 homers in eight seasons from 1993-2000, would all but guarantee he goes to Cooperstown in a Chief Wahoo cap.

Ah, yes, it's a nice thought, isn't it? Unfortunately, it's a fantasy that will have to live on in a little boy's -- and more than a few grown adults' -- dreams.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.