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BOB RYAN

Sox just may be better off

It's dead, huh? But tell me: Why should we believe anything anyone says in the matter of Alex Rodriguez/Texas Rangers and Manny Ramirez/Boston Red Sox?

 

But they all say it's dead, so, for the time being, it's dead. Billionaires fought, and the only good thing is that there were no real casualties, unless you count Rodriguez, who wanted to come to the Red Sox, and Nomar Garciaparra, whose feelings had to have been hurt to some degree. Manny? Are you serious? Does he even know what's been going on? Does it really make any difference to him where he gets his 4.5 at-bats a game in 2004? If he ever had any remote idea what's good for him, he would have stayed in Cleveland. Manny is Manny is Manny, now and forever.

For the Red Sox and their fans, this was always a win-win. What was the worst that could happen? The worst that could happen was the deal with Texas falling through and the Red Sox going to battle next season with Garciaparra playing short and batting third and Ramirez playing left field and batting fourth. But don't worry about Manny. All he wants is his at-bats.

Would Rodriguez have been an upgrade at short? Well, yeah. He is the best every-day player in baseball. He may very well be the best shortstop who ever has lived. On what could be argued was an off year, he walked away with his first Most Valuable Player Award. He is only 28. By every measure, he is a better player than Garciparra. He has more power, for sure, and he is a more reliable fielder. How could anyone reasonably argue to the contrary?

But Nomar is very, very good. He has endeared himself to Red Sox fans for both his productivity and his industriousness. He has run out every ground ball and aerial out for seven years, and that counts for something. We know that he has prepared assiduously for every game he ever has played, and he has made himself available to his fans when he is at the ballpark.

There were many people who felt he was being treated in an undignified manner by the Red Sox. Those people were undoubtedly thrilled to hear that the deal with Texas is done, and that Garciaparra will not be part of what we shall refer to as the collateral damage.

The simple truth is that the Red Sox already have had a fabulous offseason. Getting Curt Schilling, a veteran pitcher who knows what it's like to have scaled baseball's mountaintop, would have been a great enough move. Signing Keith Foulke, the best closer on the market, made it a spectacular winter. Signing Pokey Reese makes the team much better on defense. With Todd Walker, they would haved scored more runs. With Reese, they won't need as many runs. Nothing in the Great Book of Baseball says a team must score 950-1,000 runs in order to win a pennant or World Series. Preventing runs is still the preferred way to go, and the Red Sox have taken steps to prevent runs -- lots and lots of runs.

All right, so what happened? We'll probably never know for sure, but at least one reputable source speculates that the Red Sox were, in the final analysis, very afraid of getting into luxury tax territory. There are always going to be people who will finger Gene Orza and the Players Association as the prime villain(s), and Orza knows that. But he is here to say that his stance was all about principle.

"I've heard people say I'm a Yankee fan," he says. "The truth is that I openly rooted for the Red Sox last year. I wanted the Red Sox and Cubs in the World Series, and I have many witnesses. And I have one picture of a player in my office, and that is A-Rod. We just couldn't sign off on the deal we were given. The only player who said otherwise, and I talked to 50, was Curt Schilling."

Orza has his guesses as to what came down in the end, but he says he spoke to no one yesterday, so he wasn't going to speculate publicly.

The only loser here is A-Rod, who remains in Texas, where he and manager Buck Showalter have their publicized differences and where it appears he will be marooned in his unhappy state for a very long time. This was his one chance for escape. Where else is a $20 million-a-year player such as Ramirez going to surface?

As for Garciaparra, the fact is he has no reason to pout. He has something to prove, having hit .196 after Sept. 1 of last season and having driven in one run during the postseason. Something was amiss. Either he was hurt or he had personal problems. A player of his caliber does not go six weeks batting .196 otherwise. At any rate, that was our last look at Nomar. He can't come back and be haughty.

Say he is unhappy about being dangled out there by the Red Sox. Fine. Then just go have a big year. Put up the numbers, and when the time comes, give them the Johnny Paycheck routine as you file for free agency. If he happens to wind up playing for a team that brings the Red Sox the first world championship since 1918, do you really think people will be all that exorcised if Nomar seizes the opportunity to leave town? Most people I know wouldn't mind dealing with that problem.

With or without Rodrigiuez, the Red Sox are a significantly better team than they were the night of Game 7 in Yankee Stadium. That's a non-negotiable premise.

But is this thing with Texas really, really, really, really, really dead? Let me put it this way: Opening Day is April 4. If A-Rod is still in a Texas uniform, then OK, it's dead. Right now, there is no reason to believe anything any of the principals say. The reasons why both sides wanted to make this deal haven't changed.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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