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For Sox, deal has give in it

NEW YORK -- John W. Henry takes his fantasy baseball very seriously. When he owned the Florida Marlins and ran a fantasy league in which numerous club employees had teams, according to one of the participants, Henry's favorite player was Alex Rodriguez.

 

For now, however, Henry's dream of making Rodriguez the centerpiece of the team he owns in the real world, the Red Sox, remains a fantasy. Yesterday, Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, who had been here all week meeting with Red Sox, Texas Rangers, and Players Association officials trying to work out the details of a trade that would have sent Manny Ramirez to the Rangers in exchange for Rodriguez, left for his home in California. Before he left, he fired off a salvo at both the Sox and Rangers for not being able to finalize the trade.

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino was spending the weekend with family in Pittsburgh, having already declared the deal dead and placing the blame on union lawyer Gene Orza. Commissioner Bud Selig was back in Milwaukee, publicly holding his tongue but privately, according to those who had spoken with him, raging at the union for blowing up what should have been a win-win situation. Selig had given his blessing to this process only because A-Rod had told him personally he wanted to come to Boston; now, instead of the game's best player going to one of the game's storied franchises to give more juice to the game's greatest rivalry, the deal was dissolving into the kind of Cold War rhetoric between the owners and union that has alienated fans for years, while the futures of four All-Star players -- Rodriguez and Ramirez, and also Nomar Garciaparra and the White Sox' Magglio Ordonez, who were to be swapped in a related trade -- were being held hostage.

Henry was believed to be back in his mansion in Florida, venting much of his anger at Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who in Henry's view should have been grateful to have the Sox rescue him from the enormous A-Rod contract that in Major League Baseball's view was "strangling" the Rangers franchise, according to one high-level major league executive, instead of asking for more money from the Sox. Hicks was in Texas, where industry sources said he had been told by Tom Werner, the new Boston point man in negotiations, that the Sox -- who had been adamant about not surrendering so much as a dime to Hicks -- were now willing to concede that they might have some dough to make the deal work.

The way the Rangers see it, as one industry source explained to T.R. Sullivan of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Red Sox are the only party not making any concessions. A-Rod agreed to reduce his contract -- first by $28 million, which the union rejected, then by $13 million in the union's counterproposal. The Rangers would be giving up the game's best player for Ramirez, whom the Sox were looking to dump, and a pitching prospect, Jon Lester, a one-sided deal in the Sox' favor if that's all it includes.

That's why the Rangers are insisting Boston throw in more dough, which they would use to try to sign free agent pitcher Sidney Ponson. To the Sox' argument that the Rangers are coming out ahead by $81 million, the difference between what is left on Rodriguez's contract and what remains in Ramirez's deal, the industry source says: "Look, $81 million is what Alex is owed for the last three years of his contract. He can opt out of those years and become a free agent, which means he's not happy and the Rangers aren't winning, and we don't have to pay him that money. If he decides to stay, that means we're winning and he's happy, so he'd probably be worth that money."

As of last night, there had been no talk yesterday between the Rangers and Red Sox, and Rodriguez, who had spent a stress-filled week on what was to have been a Big Apple vacation with his wife, Cynthia, was planning to return with her today to their Miami home.

"I talked with Scott today, and he's going back home," Rodriguez said yesterday. "My wife and I will go home for the holidays, and then I'll begin getting ready for the season."

Rodriguez refused to guess where he might be playing next season, but after three last-place finishes in Texas, a strained relationship with Texas manager Buck Showalter that is even worse than advertised, according to one insider, and a fan base that won't take kindly to the revelation that A-Rod wanted out, it will be a blue Christmas for Rodriguez if this deal doesn't get done in the next couple of days.

According to one family friend, A-Rod and his wife plan to take off for Europe for a couple of weeks after the holidays, which would suggest he figures that if a deal hasn't been struck by then, it's not going to happen. You can be certain of this: He's not going to challenge the union position on his contract, even if the Red Sox say that without a $28 million reduction, the contract is untenable.

Sure, it's possible he may agree with new Sox pitcher Curt Schilling that the union worrying about setting a precedent by allowing Rodriguez to give back some dough on his deal is a difficult position to defend, given that A-Rod would still be making far more than the next-highest-paid player (Ramirez) and stands to reap millions more in endorsements by playing in Boston than he ever would in Texas. But, as his carefully worded statement supporting the union Thursday showed, Rodriguez will never say so publicly.

Even a management source conceded A-Rod would be making a mistake if he did otherwise. "My own view is that Rodriguez is smart," the management source said. "The last place you want to be is crosswise with this union on a deal that only affects you. You don't want him to be a pariah among his peers."

The Sox are prepared to crack the luxury-tax threshold of $120.5 million for next season, but according to one source, they don't want to go higher than $130 million. After signing both Schilling and Keith Foulke and with potential arbitration cases involving Trot Nixon and David Ortiz still to be resolved, they claim they need some relief.

Can they squeeze more give-back from the union? Doubtful. At least not much. Can all the big-money players involved in this deal find a way to strike a compromise to make John Henry's reality a fantasy? They have to.

"It's unclear how they're going to make a deal," said one management source directly involved in the negotiations. "But it will be disastrous not to make a deal."

A knockdown pitch

Schilling continues to serve notice there's a new sheriff in town, by his willingness to publicly criticize the union for rejecting A-Rod's restructured contract, then calling WEEI to debate host Glenn Ordway and baseball scribes Sean McAdam and Tony Massarotti on the use of Internet chat rooms for direct player contact with fans. Both Henry and Schilling have been known to post on the website SonsofSamHorn.com. Schilling was diplomatic last week while talking about Garciaparra and Ramirez, saying how much he had looked forward to playing with them. "I feel bad for everybody stuck in the middle of this," Schilling said. "As a human being, you don't want anybody sitting around while somebody is trying to get rid of you." . . . A person involved in the negotiations between the union and Red Sox raved about the performance of Sox GM Theo Epstein. "Gene Orza is a very difficult person to deal with," the source said, "but Theo couldn't have handled himself any better. He really kept his cool, and was extremely well prepared." . . . Ordonez's friendship with Rodriguez -- they're offseason workout partners -- should help the Sox' efforts to sign the outfielder to an extension should the A-Rod deal go through and Ordonez be dealt to Boston as part of a Garciaparra trade . . . While the A-Rod talk has preoccupied New England for weeks, Sullivan of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said it has barely registered in Texas. "I went to my son's basketball game the other day," he said, "and hardly anyone asked me about it. They're much more concerned about the Giants and Cowboys." . . . Lucchino was taken to task in a column in the Rocky Mountain News by baseball columnist Tracy Ringolsby. In the column, entitled, "Who's a Bully Now?" Ringolsby wrote: "He has access to the checkbooks of club owners John Henry and Tom Werner, so Lucchino wants to try to put together a team that can become the first non-expansion club in baseball history to win a World Series with only one organizational player -- Nixon -- in the starting lineup. It's checkbook baseball at its best. This is nothing new. Lucchino is baseball's flip artist. He has no sense of loyalty or long-term stability. When Lucchino ran things in Baltimore, what had been one of the most respected farm systems in baseball went fallow, and the crops have not yet been replenished. During his days in San Diego, the Padres possessed one of the least productive farm systems in the history of the game." In fairness to Lucchino, it's hard to say the new Sox ownership is not committed to developing talent when it's had the club for only two years and has substantially boosted the budgets for scouting and development.

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