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Sox, Rodriguez: Union mission

Ordonez looms as target in potential Garciaparra deal

Even as Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein flew to New York to meet directly with Alex Rodriguez, one of the final obstacles to the acquisition of the Texas Rangers shortstop is proving to be formidable.

 

The Major League Players Association has yet to approve a proposed restructuring of Rodriguez's contract, despite a daylong meeting in New York that included Epstein; Rodriguez; union lawyer Gene Orza; and Rob Manfred, the executive vice president of labor relations for Major League Baseball.

"The issue continues to be the essential difference between restructuring and reducing," Orza said when reached by phone last night. "We don't authorize reducing, we authorize restructuring. There has to be some added value to the player."

Orza said talks were scheduled to resume today at the union's office in New York. And the clock is ticking. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had granted the Sox permission to talk with Rodriguez to work out a deal, and because of the complexity of the contract involved, gave them more than the customary 72-hour window. Selig was unavailable for comment last night, but two major league executives with direct knowledge of the negotiations said Selig will not allow the talks to go beyond the Christmas holiday, and the parties have been instructed that a resolution must be reached by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, the fate of incumbent shortstop Nomar Garciaparra remains uncertain, although two industry sources connected to the negotiations said yesterday that in addition to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Sox are also talking to the Chicago White Sox about a deal in which they would receive power-hitting outfielder Magglio Ordonez in exchange for the Boston shortstop.

The sources said another possibility is a three-way deal in which the Red Sox would acquire Ordonez, Garciaparra would go to the Dodgers, and the White Sox would receive pitcher Odalis Perez and prospects, one of which they would flip to the Red Sox, to be packaged with Manny Ramirez in the Rodriguez deal. Red Sox reliever Scott Williamson also could go to Chicago as part of the deal.

Ordonez, like Garciaparra, is a year away from free agency and due $14 million in 2004. He hit .317 with 29 home runs and 99 RBIs last season, and the White Sox had been talking to the Dodgers about a two-way deal for him also.

The three-way deal reportedly was hung up on the Dodgers' and White Sox' inability to agree on which pitchers would go to Chicago.

The Red Sox also have been negotiating directly with the Dodgers about a deal in which they would receive prized Dodger pitching prospect Greg Miller, though it was uncertain whether Miller would then be flipped to the Rangers.

Rodriguez made it clear yesterday he wants to go to the Red Sox, according to a major league source with direct knowledge of the talks, but under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement the union has the power to strike down any restructuring of a contract if it feels the player is giving up too much in return.

Some pessimism was expressed by one of the parties involved that the Sox and Rodriguez would present a restructuring acceptable to the union. Under the terms of the 10-year, $252 million contract Rodriguez signed with the Rangers in December 2000, he has the right after the 2007 season to void the last three years of his deal in exchange for free agency. It has been speculated by parties involved that the Sox would ask Rodriguez to void the last two years of the deal and offer a contract extension for a lesser average annual salary, but for a greater financial package than the $54 million he would be entitled to in those last two seasons.

Orza refused to discuss details of the negotiations. Boras also declined comment, while Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said, "We are maintaining radio silence."

There remain issues to be resolved with the Rangers, most notably whether the Sox would also send cash as part of the deal. The Rangers have been insisting that the Sox pay $5 million a year for the last five years of Ramirez's contract, a posture the Sox reject. Negotiations between the sides have become strained, as Henry was said to be livid at what he considered leaks of information by Texas owner Tom Hicks.

Hicks released a statement through the team's PR office in which he said negotiations had reached a sensitive stage and he would have no comment.

Epstein spoke yesterday with Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, according to an industry source, and indicated to the agent that if the Sox were unable to close the deal for Rodriguez, they would like to reopen talks about a contract extension.

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