In a stunning turn of events that caught major league baseball by surprise, the New York Yankees have acquired Alex Rodriguez, the Texas Rangers superstar shortstop whom the Red Sox spent weeks pursuing before a proposed deal fell apart just before Christmas.
Major league lawyers had yet to see all of the financial details, but sources in the commissioner's office confirmed that the Yankees are sending second baseman Alfonso Soriano to the Rangers for Rodriguez, the 28-year-old shortstop who became the first reigning Most Valuable Player to be traded the following season. Commissioner Bud Selig was expected to sign off on the deal, the sources said.
The trade comes just days before teams were to report for spring training. Red Sox officials, like major league executives, first learned of it through the media (Newsday initially reported the deal) yesterday morning before confirming it with major league lawyers.
"It's clearly a blow," Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said. "A-Rod's an exceptional player. Any team would be stronger for getting him. There comes a time when you have to tip your cap to your adversary.
"What can you say?" asked Lucchino, who was in contact yesterday with Major League Baseball lawyer Rob Manfred to discuss the deal. "Money talks. It is a bit of a shock to the system. But we've been trying to say we play the game in the field, not during the winter. One thing, I'll pay to see these teams go toe to toe."
The Yankees' payroll, by far the highest in baseball, will approach $200 million if it doesn't cross that threshold with this deal, which reportedly will involve Rodriguez agreeing to defer some of the $179 million still due him over the remaining eight years of his contract but will not require the reduction in value the Sox attempted to effect.
Rodriguez, who only two weeks ago was named captain of the Rangers in an announcement made at the New York baseball writers dinner, has agreed to shift to third base from shortstop and will play alongside Derek Jeter, the All-Star shortstop and Yankee captain who had been one of Rodriguez's biggest rivals.
During his negotiations with the Red Sox, Rodriguez had told associates and Sox officials that he did not want to play for the Yankees and was adamant about remaining at shortstop. "That just shows you how much he wanted to get out of Texas," said one high-ranking baseball official with firsthand knowledge of the deal.
The Red Sox deal would have sent outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Rangers in a swap of the game's biggest contracts, but the players' union would not approve a restructuring of Rodriguez's contract that would have reduced its value by $4 million a year. The Sox also would not accede to Rangers owner Tom Hicks's demand for cash relief in exchange for taking on the remainder of Ramirez's deal. On the last day before talks broke off, Hicks dropped that demand, having worked out a private agreement with Rodriguez in which the player would have paid back millions in order to buy his way out of Texas.
That never came to pass, however, because the Red Sox refused to take on all of Rodriguez's salary, which Hicks made a condition of the deal in exchange for not asking for more money.
The acquisition of Rodriguez is certain to be viewed as the latest example of the Yankees responding to their most bitter rival. The Red Sox had made two big moves this winter -- acquiring starting pitcher Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke -- that had swung the balance of power in the eyes of many, including Las Vegas oddsmakers who had made the Sox favorites to win the American League pennant.
But with the Yankees acquiring A-Rod, that would seem to tilt the odds back in their favor.
"I think it clearly keeps the Yankees as the favorite," Lucchino said. "We're the hungry underdogs. This makes us a little more hungry and a little more the underdog."
Said Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi:
"A-Rod is a big, big get for the Yankees. Listen, before this I thought the Red Sox had the best offseason of any team in the league.
"Acquiring Schilling and Foulke are two two gigantic moves. But now you're talking about one of the top one or two players in the game. From our point of view, it doesn't change much. We thought it would be Boston and New York that we had to find a way to beat. And that's still the same climb for us.
"You've got a team spending, what, $200 million? Another team that's $125 million? It seems the Red Sox do have a limit. But it just looks like the Yankees have no limits."
Nick Cafardo and Dan Shaughnessy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.