The Rodriguez watch heats up
Henry blasts Tellem; union consulted on contract restructuring
EL TORO, Dominican Republic -- In his angriest public comments since he acquired the Red Sox, principal owner John W. Henry yesterday assailed Nomar Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, as an obstructive force who has spurred the team to seek a potential replacement for the All-Star shortstop.
And there were indications that such a replacement -- in the person of AL MVP Alex Rodriguez -- was closer to being obtained. According to a high-ranking baseball official with knowledge of the discussion, Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras, spoke yesterday with union officials regarding a proposed restructuring of his contract with the Red Sox to make sure it conformed with the terms of the Basic Agreement.
Henry, responding to Tellem's assertion in Monday's Globe that the Sox have been "a bit disingenuous" in describing their talks with the Rangers about Rodriguez, called the agent's broadside "the height of hypocrisy" because Garciaparra spurned a lucrative offer last spring to remain in Boston beyond next season.
"We have made him credible offers, and the reason we're proceeding in a manner as if we're not going to be able to sign Nomar is because his agent has given us every clear indication that there's no common ground," Henry said before a ceremony to inaugurate the club's new training academy in the Dominican Republic. "He seems to believe it's still the winter of 2000."
Sources familiar with the talks said Garciaparra rejected a four-year, $60 million offer from the Sox in spring training. Garciaparra asked for $68 million, and when the Sox declined to split the $2 million difference in average annual salary, he opted to wait until after the season to renew negotiations.
By then, the Sox sensed a substantial change in the market and altered their proposal to $48 million over four years. Garciaparra not only rebuffed the offer but considered the package so inadequate that his camp apparently considered the talks near impasse.
"We've been told to pursue alternatives," Henry said.
So it was that Henry reacted angrily to Tellem's description of the owner's direct contact with Rodriguez "a complete slap in the face" to Garciaparra. Henry said he recently had lunch with Rodriguez and his wife but insisted the Sox have negotiated directly only with the Rangers, not Rodriguez or Boras. Sources said the Sox also have considered trading Garciaparra to Los Angeles or Anaheim in tandem with exchanging Manny Ramirez for Rodriguez.
"He says we're being disingenuous and I take great umbrage at that," Henry said. "It's the height of hypocrisy to make statements like that. I just hope he's being more honest with his client than he is with the media."
General manager Theo Epstein, who struck a more conciliatory tone than Henry, indicated that Garciaparra should not have been blindsided, as Tellem suggested, when he read in a newspaper last week on his honeymoon in Hawaii that Henry had sat down with Rodriguez. Epstein said he explained the situation to Tellem after the team's contacts with Texas first became public.
"Arn asked me what was going on with Texas, and I said Texas had made overtures to us, which was correct," Epstein said. "We felt obliged to listen because we weren't sure we could sign Nomar."
Commissioner Bud Selig granted Henry a special waiver to meet with Rodriguez over lunch.
"Our first choice was -- and is -- to sign Nomar," Epstein said, "but if we can't, we need to pursue alternatives."
Henry and Epstein downplayed news reports about possible trade scenarios, particularly the talks with the Rangers and Rodriguez.
"I have not negotiated with Alex," Henry said. "There have been talks with Texas, and maybe you can characterize them as negotiations, but there certainly have been none between me and Alex. I had lunch with Alex and his wife and that has been blown out of proportion."
Sources said Saturday that Henry planned to meet again this week with Rodriguez and Boras about the restructuring of the American League MVP's contract to clear the way for a trade to the Sox. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times reported that Henry and Boras met yesterday. But Henry said he has not spoken with Rodriguez or Boras since his lunch with A-Rod, and he said he has no meeting planned with the player or his agent.
Boras corroborated Henry's account.
"I've not met with anybody," he said. "I've had conversations with the Red Sox about free agents and a number of other things. The Alex Rodriguez situation is now something to be settled among the owners. That's something Tom Hicks and I'm sure John Henry will have to work out."
Henry and Epstein said the door remains open to a deal with Texas.
Amid the fallout, Henry made clear the team's attempt to re-sign Garciaparra has been strained.
"When someone says you're being disingenous and you should be honest with the player -- and he said that publicly -- he wouldn't dare say it privately because he knows it's hooey," Henry said. "It makes it difficult to negotiate."
Tellem responded last night from New York after helping Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui sign a three-year, $20 million deal with the Mets.
"Obviously, I strongly disagree with Henry's characterization of my comments in regards to Nomar's current situation with Red Sox," Tellem said. "All further communication regarding this matter will be conducted in a private and professional manner among myself, Nomar, and appropriate representatives of the Red Sox organization. As Nomar has stated, it has always been and still remains his goal to stay with the Red Sox."
Tellem declined further comment.
Henry and Epstein said they had no reason to doubt Garciaparra's statements that he wants to finish his career in Boston. It's just that the talks have taken a turn for the worse, despite the professed hope on both sides to reach a deal.
"We were much more active in spring training and it was much more productive in spring training than it is now," Epstein said. "Part of that may be the market."
Garciaparra is entering the final season of a seven-year, $44.25 million commitment to the Sox, and as much as his performance may seem to merit a raise, the team believes the market has dropped markedly since Rodriguez signed for $252 million over 10 years in 2000 and Derek Jeter signed for $189 million over 10 years in 2001.
Though Henry said he was very disappointed about the course of the talks -- Garciaparra all but said the same in an interview Monday on WEEI -- Epstein maintained optimism.
"I prefer to see it as a bump in the road," he said, "and if or when we make a deal, we Can chalk it up as just an unfortunate day."
Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.