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Where will Manny be Manny next season?

There were a lot of No. 99 jerseys and fake dreadlocks showing up in the stands at Dodger Stadium as the place became Mannywood all the way through the NLCS. But with the Dodgers' season now over, here comes the real interesting game in Chavez Ravine: Is Manny Ramirez staying or going?

For all the wondrous at-bats Manny Being Manny had to get Joe Torre's crew over the top in the NL West, the fact remains that he's going to be 37 early next season. Ramirez and agent Scott Boras want at least a four-year deal and you've got to believe they're going to be talking in the $80-100 million range.

Do you give Ramirez that? I say no way, .396 batting average or not. And not just because he'll be 40 when that kind of contract is up. In what was clearly a work slowdown authorized by Boras, Ramirez quit on the Red Sox. His play in the second half in LA has clearly been a salary push for the next big deal. Give him four years and how do you know he's not loping down the first-base line like he was at Fenway again by, say, year two?

Manny, does, however sell merchandise and he sells tickets. Doesn't that automatically make the Yankees and Mets players for him with new stadiums opening next year? Even if they win the World Series, if the Phillies lose Pat Burrell, how tempted are they going to be to get involved because Ramirez is close with manager Charlie Manuel, his former hitting coach in Cleveland?

And can the Dodgers really afford not to get deep into the bidding? This is the one player who carried them on his back into the playoffs, who melded the insurgent youth of the clubhouse with the veteran core, and who showed everybody what real preparation is like.

Ask any player, coach or manager who's been with Ramirez and they'll tell you stories of his incredible work off the field, about the hours and hours before the first pitch he's in the clubhouse studying video of opposing pitchers.

It still strikes me that Ramirez would be far better served in the American League as a DH and part-time outfielder and that a full season with the Dodgers in an NL West full of huge outfield configurations would really expose him.

It's a tough call for the Dodgers, who balked at paying the trade price to get CC Sabathia. Now they're going to be talking far bigger money. Will they pay or will he go?

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Tough call for Sox

You have to wonder what the Red Sox are going to do about Jason Varitek, who really looks spent at age 36 and is at the end of his four-year, $40-million deal.

Varitek has been the pulse of the clubhouse through this mini-dynasty of Sox history and is beloved by teammates, the coaching staff and fans alike. But he had a .220 average with a .313 on-base percentage and a .359 slugging percentage this season. He was just 3 for 26 in the postseason heading into Game Six of the ALCS.

The system is bereft of catching prospects and the pitchers all swear by Varitek. This is one difficult decision.

"When Jason puts a finger down, there's a pretty good chance that the pitcher is throwing that pitch with conviction," said manager Terry Francona. "If a major league pitcher has got stuff like Daisuke [Matsuzaka] or [Jon] Lester [and] is throwing a pitch with conviction, I'm not sure it can be a wrong pitch. And because of Tek's preparation, that's what's going to happen. That doesn't happen overnight, that takes a long time."

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Joba the starter

The Yankees decided at organizational meetings in Tampa last week that Joba Chamberlain is henceforth going to be a starter. So they're going to make sure he spends the winter with a conditioning program to prepare to go 200 innings in 2009.

Chien-Ming Wang should be back healthy and the Yankees are waiting for 20-game winner Mike Mussina to decide if he's coming back or retiring (his family's preference). Andy Pettitte told the team Thursday he'd like to come back but the Yankees are still mulling their options there.

After that, there's the expected free agent push for Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. And I was interested to see Thursday that the Padres are starting to explore trade possibilities for ace Jake Peavy, who has a full no-trade clause. I'd bet they could start a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox as long as Peavy approves the deal.

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Sveum sacked

Interim manager Dale Sveum steadied the Brewers the final 12 games after the firing of Ned Yost and got them into the playoffs. But he put struggling Jeff Suppan into the division series rotation, the Brewers were quickly ousted by the Phillies and Sveum was told Friday that he was not a candidate for the job on a permanent basis.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin told Sveum he'd like him to stay under a new manager but that's unlikely. Melvin is going to recycle a veteran name for this job. Think Bob Brenly or Buck Showalter.

"Basically, my heart was ripped out of my chest," Sveum told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "I just wish there wasn't so much emphasis put on veteran managers. I'll match my knowledge of baseball and my ability to slow the game down with anybody."

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Around the horn

*No word from the Mets yet about minor-league coaches, specifically who will lead the Bisons in 2009. Jerry Manuel is still pondering his big-league staff. If Ken Oberkfell stays, the Mets need a Triple-A manager. If Manuel decides to go in another direction, it's likely the Mets would want to keep Oberkfell and put him back at the helm in Triple-A. He was called up from New Orleans as part of the staff shuffle in June when Willie Randolph was fired.

*Speaking of Randolph, the Nationals are apparently close to hiring the ex-Mets manager to the staff. Hmmm, could he be a manager-in-waiting if they continue to scuffle under Manny Acta?

*Scott Radinsky, the Bisons' pitching coach the last two years, is on the short list for a promotion to the big leagues as the Indians are looking for a bullpen coach to replace the fired Luis Isaac.

*We told you in this space last week that the Red Sox were pondering a spring training move from Fort Myers to Sarasota, Fla. On Tuesday, the city and Sarasota County said months of negotiations would be ending without an agreement due to the sagging economy.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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