- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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One minute, there it was, splintered into a billion pieces. Broken. Crushed. Beyond repair. And then ...
Suddenly, by Monday afternoon, it seemed practically imminent again. Really. No kidding. This time for sure.
Here is where it stood at last look:
The Red Sox and Rangers began actively talking about this megaswap again late Saturday. A source tells Peter Gammons that the owners have edged closer -- and it's possible the deal could be completed in the next 24 to 72 hours.
It isn't known whether the Rangers would still receive cash in the deal, along with Ramirez. That apparently will be determined by whether Rodriguez agrees to restructure his contract.
Depending on how much cash is involved, the Red Sox also will send one or two prospects to Texas.
Miguel Tejada's contract (six years, $72 million) essentially ended the Red Sox negotiations with Nomar Garciaparra on an extension. The Red Sox apparently weren't prepared to pay Garciaparra significantly more than what Tejada got. (In other words, Garciaparra is still looking for $15 million a year.)
So the Red Sox have resumed exploring possible trade destinations for Garciaparra -- with the Dodgers still the most logical destination.
And the trading of Garciaparra could expand into a three-way blockbuster in which the Red Sox would get one of the Dodgers' starting pitchers -- most likely Odalis Perez -- then spin him elsewhere for a left fielder to replace Ramirez.
The Rangers, meanwhile, actually postponed their departure from the winter meetings Monday to negotiate a quick, tentative two-year contract with Todd Walker to play second base once this trade goes down. They then would move Michael Young to shortstop.
All these pieces still have to fall into place. Many egos have to be mollified. And dollar signs will be dancing across the sky from coast to coast. But given the force with which this convoluted plot abruptly twisted over the last couple of days, it now appears safe -- finally -- to actually expect this trade to happen.
And the biggest reason for that is this:
A-Rod wants it to happen.
"You want your clients to be happy," said Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, as he attempted to edge toward the winter-meetings exit ramp Monday. "You want your clients to be achieving their goals. And one of Alex's goals is: He wants to win. Alex Rodriguez is one of baseball's best, and hopefully, he'll be put in a winning environment."
And by "winning environment," he apparently means: Not Arlington, Texas.
Throughout this wild soap opera, Rodriguez has so openly lusted to be in Boston, he all but rode around in a Duck Tours boat. And from all indications, that is the biggest reason this storm reformed on the Bayou with such vengeance over the weekend.
On Saturday, the Rangers' braintrust got word that A-Rod had told a Miami TV crew Friday how cool it would be to play in Fenway Park. We've yet to locate anyone who has actually seen this tape. But that almost doesn't matter now.
What matters is that the Rangers finally became convinced, at that point, that enough was enough. That they had no choice but to step back on the accelerator and find a way to make this trade happen -- because there was no way they could allow Alex Rodriguez to play one more game as a Ranger.
At that point, the Red Sox were still talking about extending Garciaparra's deal. And GM Theo Epstein was saying that keeping Garciaparra at shortstop "was always our first priority."
But they were also basing their hopes of extending Garciaparra -- at a rate of about $12 million a year -- on the assumption that Tejada was about to sign for about $9 million a year.
Once Tejada got $12 million from Baltimore, it became just about impossible for Red Sox president Larry Lucchino to keep arguing there had been a "market correction" for shortstops -- especially since Tejada and Garciaparra were represented by the same agents (SFX).
So by Sunday afternoon, both sides had shifted their transmissions out of park, and it was full speed ahead on trying to get this mess finished, once and for all. And by Monday, it seemed clear there now was no turning back.
For weeks now, as this talk has raged across the baseball landscape, Epstein has been remarkably low-key in his characterizations of it, when he was characterizing it at all. But on Monday, he was telling the Red Sox press corps: "We have nothing imminent -- but I wouldn't rule things out."
And even Boras was admitting that there had been "an effort made with both parties to try to find a final agreement."
There were rumors at one juncture Monday that Rodriguez was busy meeting with union officials to discuss possible ways to restructure his contract. But Boras said A-Rod was actually on "a three-day vacation," and there had been "no direct meeting that I know of."
It has been widely reported that the union was opposed to any restructuring that would result in a lowering of the total dollars paid out in the contract. But a baseball source with knowledge of these matters says that isn't necessarily the case.
The union, for instance, allowed Mo Vaughn to reduce the dollar value of his contract when he was traded to the Mets two years ago in exchange for a better no-trade clause. So the "value" of a contract, the source said, doesn't necessarily have to translate to the "dollar value." As long as there is some added benefit to the player that can be assigned some reasonably equivalent abstract value, that would be kosher.
What that would mean in the case of Rodriguez, who has a full no-trade clause and whopping incentives for winning everything but a Boy Scout medal of honor, is hard to say. But because Rodriguez does have a clause allowing him to opt out of the final three seasons of his deal, that at least opens the door for some creative negotiating.
So "there's not one simple solution," the source said. "There are probably a whole bunch of things that could be done."
Over the next few hours, or possibly days, you can bet Rodriguez and Boras will be talking about every one of those things. And unless something unforeseen happens, the monster we all assumed we'd locked in the closet for good will not just have broken out. He'll be the talk of the baseball universe.