Return to normal won't be easy

Mending fences won't be easy in both Boston and Texas, if the Alex Rodriguez deal is really dead.

Originally Published: December 24, 2003
By Sean McAdam | Special to ESPN.com

Dead? Let's save that for Marley in "A Christmas Carol," who was "dead ... dead as a door nail.''

Maybe it will take the Munchkins, scurrying out from their hiding places in Oz, to officially declare the Manny Ramirez-Alex Rodriguez deal "most sincerely dead,'' as if a house had landed on it.

Showalter and Rodriguez
It could get awkward in the Rangers' dugout next season.

For now, let's take everybody at their word, a dubious proposition at best. Let's assume that this time, the trade really is dead.

Now what?

There's fence-mending to do for both teams. In Texas, the rest of the Rangers must welcome back a teammate who spent the better part of the last month trying to extricate himself from what he viewed as something of a baseball dead end.

Already, Rusty Greer has said it will be difficult to forget the machinations of this winter and others undoubtedly feel the same. Rodriguez publicly campaigned for this deal, and was willing to waive his no-trade clause and forfeit better than $25 million in order to make it happen.

That can't help but rankle some players in that clubhouse.

Then, there's the already tenuous relationship that existed between Rodriguez and manager Buck Showalter. The two were barely on speaking terms when the season ended and it was Showalter who was most incensed at Rodriguez' unceasing effort to bring about the trade.

Showalter is a dugout throwback and undoubtedly will say all the right things about welcoming a special talent like Rodriguez back, but the possibility exists that the relationship between manager and franchise player has been irreparably harmed. It's hard to imagine the two coexisting for long.

While not as potentially volatile, things are more fragile in Boston.

Twice since the first week of November, the Red Sox have tried to unload Manny Ramirez -- first by placing him on irrevocable waivers, then by including him in this deal. Both times, they were unsuccessful.

Most players would feel slighted by this treatment. But think of Ramirez as a baseball Mr. Magoo, oblivious to the events going on around him. As objects crash around him and he barely avoids catastrophe, Ramirez remains blissfully ignorant. There's a reason Ramirez' most oft-repeated response to questions is, "It doesn't matter.''

Really, with Manny, it doesn't. It wouldn't have mattered had he been shipped to Texas and it won't matter now that he hasn't.

Nomar Garciaparra
AP PhotoNomar Garciaparra parted on uneasy terms with the Red Sox.

Nomar Garciaparra is another matter. If Ramirez is the man-child eager to get his at-bats without regard to locale, Garciaparra can be hypersensitive. Watch him tug at his batting gloves just so or take dugout stairs one step at a time and you know just how important routine is to him.

Garciaparra was always something of an innocent bystander is these complex trade talks, a piece of collateral damage. It wasn't that the Red Sox were intent on ridding themselves of Garciaparra, the way they were with Ramirez.

It just so happened that the only way they could deal Ramirez was to trade him for a shortstop. And, it just so happened that Garciaparra played the same position and played it very well. Just not as well as the player the Red Sox were getting in return for Ramirez.

Hard feelings were already evident when the trade first surfaced publicly. Garciaparra's agent, Arn Tellem, insisted the talk was a "slap in the face,'' to his client. Principal owner John Henry, incensed, labeled that charge the "height of hypocrisy,'' and the Sox made sure to leak that they had offered Garciaparra a four-year, $60 million deal back in the spring.

Not only didn't Tellem accept the deal, but he never offered a counter-proposal.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal's most recent dissolution, a split opinion developed within the Red Sox organization.

Some believe the club should reopen contract extension talks, with Miguel Tejada's deal with Baltimore -- averaging $12 million -- as the benchmark. It's the Red Sox's contention that Tejada's deal is more of an aberration rather than one which sets the market for free agent shortstops. It's doubtful Tellem and Garciaparra see it that way.

Others think there would be nothing wrong with playing the season with Garciaparra unsigned. Any displeasure he feels over the failed contract talks and the aborted trade would be mitigated by his need to re-establish his worth in the final year of his deal. A motivated player is often a successful player.

But there are complications here, too. Garciaparra is just one of many players on the Red Sox entering his walk year -- Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, Trot Nixon and Pedro Martinez are all 10 months or so from free agency -- and the possibility of one-third of the starting lineup and 40 percent of the starting rotation nervously eying their futures could prove a huge distraction.

There's every chance this deal gets re-visited at least once in the next few months. Texas owner Tom Hicks may feel that this is his last best chance to get out from underneath a record-setting contract. Red Sox ownership may feel it can't tease its loyal fan base as it has, then abandon the deal at the last minute.

For now, only one thing is certain: both the Rangers and Red Sox can be grateful that the Rangers now train in Surprise, Ariz., and not, as they had for so long, in Port Charlotte, Fla., a mere 45 minutes up Interstate 75 from Fort Myers and their once -- and future? -- trading partners.

What a spring training that would have been.

Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE