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Megadeal reveals unsavory lessons

MARC TOPKIN
Published December 21, 2003

The A-Rod-for-Manny trade was pronounced dead by Red Sox president Larry Lucchino last week, but there is enough behind-the-scenes talking still going on that it might yet be resuscitated and even completed in the next few days.

The players union's objection to the proposed reduction in value of Rodriguez's contract was a roadblock, but further analysis shows the parties might be only $12-million, and possibly even as little as $5-million, apart, a reasonable gap to bridge given the magnitude of the deal.

Baseball certainly is not known for its exhibitions of common sense, but there are too many people who have too many reasons to want this deal to happen for it not to get worked out. The Sox want it. The Rangers want it, and A-Rod wants it. And, you can be sure, MLB partners ESPN and Fox wouldn't mind either.

Regardless of what happens, it already has been an educational process.

We have learned, for example:

The current Red Sox bosses don't think that much of Nomar Garciaparra, certainly not enough to give him a contract extension in excess of the $12-million a year Miguel Tejada got from Baltimore. Garciaparra's skills have dropped off some (a .305 average since missing most of 2001 with a wrist injury), and this PR-conscious ownership might be tired of his reluctancy to deal with the media/public and be the face of the franchise. Even if the Texas deal doesn't happen, the Sox almost have to trade Garciaparra anyway just to avoid an ugly season-long mess.

Alex Rodriguez doesn't want to be the lone star in Texas anymore. A-Rod always has had special privileges with owner Tom Hicks, and there have been myriad reports of his rift with manager Buck Showalter. A-Rod's incredible eagerness to rework his contract and his pining for the New York/Boston spotlight make it clear he believes his star is too bright for Texas. Plus, the Rangers have made it clear they can live without him, practically pleading for the chance to invest in pitching. And it's not exactly like they have a great backup plan - if they don't get Manny Ramirez, they might instead sign Ben Grieve.

The White Sox refuse to act like the large-market team they are. Having already lost seven key players to free agency, they jumped at the chance to dump their best player, Magglio Ordonez, on the Red Sox rather than pay him $14-million the year before free agency. How does Sox ownership ever expect to overtake the Cubs as the No. 1 team in the Second City if it is constantly churning players as soon as they get even a little bit expensive? Plus, it doesn't bode well for new manager Ozzie Guillen, who considers Ordonez one of his favorites.

The Dodgers are in trouble. As they search desperately for some way - any way - to improve their anemic offense, they're finding teams are trying to wrest free one, or both, of their elite pitching prospects, Edwin Jackson and Greg Miller. (That's how the Rays responded when the Dodgers asked about Aubrey Huff.) And just when the Dodgers believed they had a deal to get Garciaparra, the White Sox jumped into the middle of it. Now to get Garciaparra, Dodgers general manager Dan Evans must deal with Kenny Williams, who beat him out for the Sox job and with whom there is said to be bad feelings both ways. Evans may have to give up young pitching and take on Paul Konerko and the $16-million left on his contract.

BREAKFAST AT FERG'S: Specifics of the Rays' season-opening trip to Japan are still to be worked out, but the March 30-31 games are expected to start at about 7 p.m. in Japan, which is 5 a.m. here. ... The Rays will be compensated by the Japanese promoter for giving up two home games but must make good with season-ticket holders and the city of St. Petersburg for the lost dates. They also must get permission from the city because their lease requires all home games to be played at the Trop. ... The players also will be compensated, and well. In 2000, the Cubs and Mets got $25,000 each. ... Spring training will open early, probably Feb. 14, and the Rays may add some early spring games. ... They'll leave after a March 25 exhibition then return for exhibitions April 2-3 and resume regular-season play at home April 6 vs. the Yankees. ... In Japan, they'll play a March 28 exhibition vs. Hanshin (day) and March 29 vs. Yomiuri (night).

RAYS RUMBLINGS: In addition to a $1-million salary, new shortstop Rey Sanchez can earn $750,000 in games played incentives, starting to collect at 40 games and getting $30,000 or $50,000 every five games up to 135. ... In a devilrays.com Web chat, manager Lou Piniella said Victor Zambrano is the likely opening day starter. ... The Rays believed Carl Everett was the best hitter they could afford, but talks stalled for a simple reason - money. The Rays offered one year plus an option for a total of $6-million. Everett's counteroffer was for about $9-million over two. With a gap that large, and the market settling at about the two-year, $6-million mark (Rondell White with Kansas City, Reggie Sanders with St. Louis), the Rays decided Jose Cruz, a better all-around player, was a better fit. ... Special assistant Tim Wilken ranks ninth on Baseball America's list of top GM prospects. Ex-Rays scouting director Dan Jennings is No. 2.

MISCELLANY: Mets minor-leaguer Joe Jiannetti has assembled a group of area products, including Rays pitcher Doug Waechter and Twins prospect Boof Bonser, to instruct at a camp for kids 5-15 Dec. 26-28. Call (727) 417-4727. ... The Newsday headline after the Yankees picked up GM Brian Cashman's 2005 contract option: Steinbrenner punishes Cashman with an extra year. ... Roger Clemens also might get an offer to postpone retirement from the Rangers. ... The Brewers, somehow, were named Organization of the Year by the Topps Co. ... The Expos are pursuing veterans Roberto Alomar and Tony Batista.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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