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Union, MLB spar on pact

Orza rejects a bid to alter A-Rod deal; Selig may challenge

NEW YORK -- Faced with the possibility that the Alex Rodriguez trade will not take place because the Major League Players Association rejected the restructuring of Rodriguez's landmark contract by the Red Sox, Major League Baseball's top labor lawyer said last night that commissioner Bud Selig may legally challenge the union's right to do so.

 

If Selig approves the reworking of the contract of sports' highest-paid player over the objections expressed by union lawyer Gene Orza, the matter could wind up before an independent arbitrator, a legal process that could take weeks and cause chaos for the teams and players involved.

"The basic agreement contains a rule that requires any special covenant to be an actual or potential benefit to the player," Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor relations & human resources for MLB told the Associated Press. "In a situation like the current situation, where there was a restructuring, where the player was getting something and the club was getting something, Gene Orza is not the final arbitrator on whether the restructuring provides an actual or potential benefit to the player. The commissioner currently is considering his legal options in consultation with the two teams."

The trade in which the Red Sox would have acquired Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers for Manny Ramirez and minor league pitching prospect Jon Lester may appear to be on life support with a stated deadline of today at 5 p.m. looming, also jeopardizing a deal in which the Sox would acquire outfielder Magglio Ordonez from the Chicago White Sox for All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. But despite statements emanating from the union, Sox, and Rangers, all of which reflected pessimism that a deal could be struck, there is time for compromise, according to three sources directly involved in the negotiation process.

And according to an industry source, the possibility remained that if the Rodriguez trade goes through and the Sox trade Garciaparra to Chicago, the White Sox would then trade Garciaparra to the Dodgers for some pitching. If the Rodriguez deal falls apart, Sox general manager Theo Epstein has told Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, that he would like to resume talks about a contract extension, which could prove to be an extremely difficult process in light of the ruffled feelings left by the team's pursuit of A-Rod at Garciaparra's expense.

On that front, one high-level source said the onus may now be on Rodriguez, whom he described as distraught by the ruling, to persuade the union to reach some accommodation that would allow the deal to proceed, and last night, A-Rod's agent, Scott Boras, said talks were continuing.

The two primary obstacles to the consummation of the deal --the restructuring of the seven years and $179 million remaining on Rodriguez's record-setting, 10-year, $252 million deal, and the amount of money the Rangers are demanding from the Sox in addition to Ramirez, believed to be at least $5 million for each of the last five years of Ramirez's contract -- have yet to be removed. Appearing at a charity event yesterday, Rangers owner Tom Hicks reiterated that his demand for cash still stood.

"We've been very consistent on what basis we would construct a trade," Hicks told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "It's not Alex for Manny Ramirez. It's Alex for Manny and cash and a young pitcher. It's to make us a better team faster."

On Tuesday, in the union's midtown Manhattan offices, Orza met with Rodriguez, Epstein, and Manfred. Yesterday, after further discussions that also included Boras, Orza issued a statement in which he said the union had rejected the Sox proposal "because it was clear it crossed the line separating restructuring from reduction, and by a huge margin.

"We did suggest an offer the clubs could make to Alex that would not do that, but, as was its right, the club chose not to make it . . . The principle involved is a transcendent one, affecting all of Alex's fellow players. To his credit, Alex, from the outset, recognized this. The short of it, though, is that there is no viable contract restructuring for the Players Association to consider at the present time."

Epstein returned to Boston last night, while Orza and Manfred both flew to Tampa, where they are scheduled to sit on an arbitration panel in a grievance hearing involving Yankees outfielder Bubba Trammell. Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, meanwhile, issued a statement in which he bitterly criticized the union.

"It is a sad day when the Players Association thwarts the will of its members," Lucchino, a longtime union adversary, said. "The Players Association asserts that it supports individual negotiations, freedom of choice and player mobility. However, in this high-profile instance, their action contradicts this and is contrary to the desires of the player. We appreciate the flexibility and determination Alex and Cynthia Rodriguez have shown in their effort to move to Boston and the Red Sox."

Asked last night what the objection to forgoing salary in the interests of cutting a new deal would be, Orza said there would be a negative effect on all players "down to those who are arbitration eligible," because "if we allowed this, there would be pressure on players applied by owners to do the same."

Rodriguez's status as the highest-paid player in the game is irrelevant, Orza said.

"He is subject to the rules of the association," Orza said. "We cannot allow clubs to downwardly negotiate contracts. And the players are happy with this policy. Every player we've spoken to agrees. It has never been a subject of discussion in the 19 years I've been with the association. I like A-Rod. I've known him since he was a draftee, but it makes no difference."

Curt Schilling, the Sox newly acquired pitching ace, expressed empathy for the players involved in the deal, especially Ramirez and Garciaparra, two teammates with whom he said he was looking forward to playing and whose futures are being held hostage by the Rodriguez squabble.

"As a player, if Alex Rodriguez wants to go to the Boston Red Sox, I can't imagine the players' union stopping him from doing that," Schilling said yesterday in a phone interview.

"At the end of the day I hope it's not greed that kept this deal from getting done. I would think if Alex Rodriguez wants to come to the Boston Red Sox, he'd sit down and find a way to get it done. God forbid if he did that and the players' union said, `No, you can't.' The last time I checked, I pay money to pay the salary of Don Fehr and Gene Orza. I understand they say there would be a ripple-down effect if Alex wants to change his contract, but what other player would be affected by the restructuring of Alex Rodriguez's contract? None that I know of."

Orza, apprised of Schilling's remarks, noted that the union's executive council, which comprises players, agreed with the decision to reject the restructuring. "If Curt Schilling has a problem, he should take it up with the board," Orza said.

While none of the parties involved would discuss the details of the restructuring proposals, it is believed the proposal presented by the Sox -- and evidently agreed to by Rodriguez -- revolved around a clause in his 10-year, $252 million contract that allows Rodriguez to void the last three years of the deal ($27 million per annum) to become a free agent. The Sox are believed to have proposed that some of that money be deferred, and perhaps adding additional time to the deal, in exchange for giving Rodriguez the right to become a free agent earlier in the deal.

Almost simultaneously with Lucchino's statement, Hicks also issued a statement.

"The Rangers and the Red Sox have agreed to the players involved in this potential transaction and were working toward agreement on the financial considerations," Hicks said. "Given the impending deadline imposed by the Office of the Commissioner, the actions of the Players Association may unfortunately determine this issue."

Red Sox owner John W. Henry did not respond to requests for comment. But yesterday afternoon, he posted a message on a Red Sox fans' website, the Sons of Sam Horn, on which he is an occasional contributor, which said:

"It's an astonishing ending isn't it? Astonishing. In fact, it transcends baseball."

That was an apparent response to Orza's statement.

Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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