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Movement, but no resolution

NEW YORK -- The high-stakes poker game for Alex Rodriguez continued yesterday, though the Red Sox seat previously shared by principal owner John W. Henry and CEO Larry Lucchino is occupied by the third principal member of the ownership group, team chairman Tom Werner, who has been dealing with Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks the last three days.

 

There was movement yesterday, but no resolution, as the Sox refuse to pay the Rangers the extra money they are demanding as part of the deal. And if neither side blinks, what would be the biggest trade in baseball history will not come to pass, not to mention the domino trade of shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and pitcher Scott Williamson to the White Sox for outfielder Magglio Ordonez.

"It would be almost impossible, almost horrible, for everyone to go home without a deal," one management source said last night. "But the other fundamental involved is this circle in which [union lawyer] Gene Orza is a huge problem, and every time the Red Sox pick up a dollar, Hicks thinks he gets it."

According to industry sources, Hicks, who has insisted he would not trade Rodriguez to Boston for outfielder Manny Ramirez and a pitching prospect (Jon Lester) unless the Sox also sent piles of cash as well to defray the cost of Ramirez's contract, came down in dollars from what he'd been asking. Some reports had Hicks seeking as much as $25 million, $5 million for each of the last five years of Ramirez's contract. One industry source directly involved in the negotiations insisted yesterday that Hicks initially wanted $20 million.

Whatever the number, Hicks is down to $13 million, according to two sources directly involved in the talks. In the meantime, Hicks and Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, have worked out a restructuring of the player's contract that would reduce the remaining $179.5 million owed him over the next seven years by $13 million, most of it in deferred money. The players' union, which had proposed a $12 million reduction as a counterproposal to the $28 million reduction the Sox had sought in a restructuring that was rejected by Orza, is signing off on the $13 million reduction, according to an industry source.

Hicks and the union see this as a wash, according to industry sources. The $13 million savings the Sox will realize in Rodriguez's contract is money they can then send to Hicks, everyone is happy, and the best player in baseball will be wearing a Red Sox uniform next spring.

"This deal can get done from Texas's standpoint," an industry source said last night. "Texas will take Manny, the pitcher, and $13 million and the deal is done."

But that's not how the Red Sox see it, according to industry sources, which is why Werner rejected that proposal yesterday. The Sox have told Rodriguez, his agent, and the union that without the $28 million reduction, Rodriguez's contract was untenable. "Theo [Epstein] told them that given the total resources he had, he couldn't put a competitive product on the field if he committed too high a percentage to one player, and the Red Sox would be in the same position as the Rangers are," one management source said last night.

The Red Sox were asking Rodriguez to reduce his salary by $28 million, an average of $4 million for each of the last seven years of his contract, according to a management source. No deferred monies were involved; this was an actual reduction. In exchange, the source said, the Sox were prepared to give Rodriguez a signing bonus, plus the right to become a free agent after each of the remaining seven years of his contract. In his current contract, Rodriguez had the right after the 2007 season to void the last three years of his contract, which called for him to be paid $27 million a year, and become a free agent.

The union rejected the Sox proposal -- one to which Rodriguez had initially agreed -- on the grounds that it did not give the player sufficient added value as required by the collective bargaining agreement in any contract restructuring. The Sox argued that the signing bonus, accelerated free agency, and the opportunity to play for a perennial contender in a great baseball market satisfied the "added value" stipulation.

"Alex was prepared to take less money," the management source said, "because it was a benefit to him to have the right to pick where he wanted to work."

The Sox also have not budged from not wanting to give Hicks another cent, arguing that Texas is already saving close to $80 million, the difference between what is owed Rodriguez and Ramirez in their respective contracts.

Rodriguez remained in New York yesterday on vacation with his wife, Cynthia, though sightseeing and shopping opportunities have been few as he monitored the status of negotiations.

He and his wife are due to return home to Miami tomorrow, and while Rodriguez declined comment yesterday, sources close to him said he remained hopeful that an agreement could be reached that would put him in a Boston uniform. Lucchino, who had declared the deal dead on Thursday after commissioner Bud Selig closed the window on direct negotiations between Rodriguez and the Sox, flew to Pittsburgh yesterday on family business.

Selig was not available for comment yesterday, but management sources said he was still steaming at the union for not OK'ing the original restructuring deal made by Rodriguez and the Red Sox, and that litigation by Major League Baseball was still a possibility. It was never Selig's intention, the source said, even if his words suggested otherwise, to prohibit any further discussion between Hicks and Rodriguez or the Rangers and Red Sox; he was prohibiting any further contact between the Sox and Rodriguez only.

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