By now, everyone knows it's there, and it's real. Alex Rodriguez, the best player in the game, has made it clear to Red Sox owner John Henry that he would move deferred money around in his contract and would love to play in Boston. Manny Ramirez, the best right-handed hitter in the American League, wouldn't mind going to Texas, although he's recently told his agents that he wouldn't mind staying in Boston if he can't play for the Yankees.
Everyone in the stuffed offices of the baseball people on Yawkey Way, Boston, wants the deal to be made, and the Red Sox marketing and television people -- and remember, the 2002 purchase was very much a media buy -- are dying to have the game's premier player to sell corporate sponsorships and partnerships.
But no one knows if or when it will happen, because it is completely in the hands of Henry and Tom Hicks, A-Rod and Scott Boras. Yes, in present-day value, the trade would save the Rangers $96 million, which, in payroll-cutting times, could allow them to purchase additional pitching. Yes, Hicks feels because of the difference between the players' talent and marketability, that Henry and his group should pay some of Ramirez's contract.
So now it all comes down to how each ownership values this trade. "It's way above John Hart and Theo Epstein," says one Boston official. "They are not part of this."
On Friday night, things had begun to fall apart, because the Red Sox say they cannot make the deal unless Rodriguez downsizes his contract. And now Boras is in it, and not in favor of re-doing any of the contract. "If Alex doesn't take some of the money back, this thing is dead," says one person close to the deal. "If he wants this to happen, he is going to have to make it happen."
Hicks argues that since the Red Sox would then trade Nomar Garciaparra, they would be saving more than $6 million, which Rodriguez notes. However, that fails to address the fact that Boston would then have to find a left fielder as well as a second baseman, which would eat up the short-term difference, before adding up the remaining obligations.
And then there's the trading of Garciaparra. There is an assumption that Anaheim will jump at a local, star shortstop, but that hasn't been the case to this point. General manager Bill Stoneman has made it clear that he wouldn't even consider trading Garret Anderson for Garciaparra; so far, he has rejected a concept of Adam Kennedy and a top prospect, be it Earvin Santana (perhaps the best pitching prospect in the game) or power hitter Casey Kotchman. In fact, Stoneman thus far has indicated that he has only passing interest.
With Kaz Matsui headed to the Mets, the Dodgers are clearly interested, but Dan Evans isn't prone to parting with his pitching prizes (Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller), so Epstein will have to figure out how he could spin Odalis Perez and/or Paul LoDuca to other teams. Perez might bring J.D. Drew, and LoDuca might fetch Joe Blanton, from Oakland, who could possibly be spun to bring Orlando Hudson from Toronto. But those are a long, long, long way off.
What happens to the signing of Garciaparra if the Rodriguez deal falls through? He has had his eyes set on a Rodriguez/Jeter era contract, something in the $15-17 million range. The Red Sox look at the $6.7 million Matsui is getting from the Mets and the $8-10 million Miguel Tejada is expected to net and figure Garciaparra in the $10-12 million range. That could mean an unhappy Nomar in 2004, from the start of spring training.
Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino are very wary of the A-Rod contract, and they know there's only so much he can do to restructure it as long as the shortstop is part of the Major League Players Association and represented by Scott Boras. Still, their marketing folks remind them that their three current stars --Garciaparra, Ramirez and Pedro Martinez -- are reluctant to schmooze the potential clients from Fleet Bank (re: Bank of America), Ford, Volvo, Bob's Stores, etc. They know that Alex can be the face of the franchise for the next seven years, during which time he may well be heading for 600 homers, which may not sell tickets for a franchise that sells out most games, but becomes the frontpiece of NESN as that local sports network gets overhauled. What they don't know is whether they can re-sign Garciaparra at an average of $11 million annually, and whether the $15 million a year difference is worth it.
Rodriguez understands what it means to be A-Rod in Boston, to his wife (whose family is from New England) to his personal marketability to the concept of having Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez squaring off as part of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.
"There are a lot of rivers to cross," says one Red Sox official. "No one really knows if it will happen. But it's worth the time we've taken working on it."
The Red Sox hope to hear from Keith Foulke this weekend. The star closer is deciding between a three-year, $19 million (with a vesting option that would make it four and $26 million) offer from Boston and a four-year offer from Oakland that the Beverly Hill Sports Council calculates as four years and $22 million.
Omar Minaya figured he had to get some offense, and Nick Johnson was the best hitter he could get for Javier Vazquez. Most other teams consider Juan Rivera a 4-A player, not quite Shane Spencer, but Minaya went on the recommendations of Phil Regan, who has watched Rivera in Venezuela and is convinced he is an everyday big leaguer.
The Yankees, while waiting to see whether they get Andy Pettitte, got an extraordinary starter in Vazquez, as well as one of the finest human beings in the game.
Vazquez is the only pitcher in the game to pitch 200 innings, strike out at least 170 batters and have an ERA under 4.00 each of the last three seasons. He has been the victim of terrible support: Over the last four seasons, he has 83 quality starts and 50 wins, and those 33 quality starts that did not result in a win are the most of any pitcher in either league.
The 2003 breakdown, Pettitte vs. Vazquez:
Pettitte: 21-8, 4.02 ERA, 208.1 IP, .272 opponents BA, 7 run support.
Vazquez: 13-12, 3.24 ERA, 230.2 IP, .229 opponents BA, 4 run support
The Detroit Tigers have been very aggressive in the market. They were the first team in hard on Tejada. They are close to a two-year deal with Fernando Vina. Why, all of a sudden? Consider this speech by Mike Ilitch this week, which clearly puts the heat on Dave Dombrowski:
"This is a key year for us, right here," Ilitch said about a possible turnaround. "After this year, we'll know a lot more. We played all those rookies last year, and we've seen the results [43-119] of that. Integrating that with the free agents we're going to bring on board, we'll see how that jells.
"Dave has a lot of pressure on him now. He has to get some good players in here. I don't want to hear anymore that we're two or three years away. We have to have action, factual results.
"Last year was very painful and embarrassing. So it's up to all of us to come together. I have to provide the financial resources, and [the front office] has to prove it has the wits and knowledge to understand our needs and fill them. That just hasn't happened in the past.
"Talk is cheap, though. I'm not in a position to do much talking. It's why I don't talk a lot now. You have to get out there and get the job done. If you can't get the job done, I just have to keep plugging away, making sure I have the right people in the right places. Hopefully I do now. If I don't, I just have to keep making changes."
Obviously, Ilitch has forgotten the horrific mess he asked Dombrowski to clean up, a mess that requires no less than four years before one can see light at the end of the Windsor Tunnel.
Boston's search for a second baseman thus far has been a series of dead ends -- the Red Sox didn't have enough to get Junior Spivey from the Brewers or Hudson from Toronto, and the Phillies indicated they have no interest in trading Chase Utley for Scott Williamson or Byung-Hyun Kim.
Few GMs have had a better month than the Cubs' Jim Hendry, who got Derrek Lee for Hee Seop Choi and signed LaTroy Hawkins. Next, he has to work out second base if there is no Mark Grudzielanek signing Sunday; and, he has tinkered with a Jason Kendall deal if the Pirates will pay half his salary. Ironically, Lee's father, Leon, signed Choi for Hendry.
Incidentally, Hendry expects Angel Guzman to be back pitching early in the season, adding one of the best arms in baseball to a dominant staff. And then there's Juan Cruz. "We've got him starting this winter," says Hendry. "I think he's going to be like Carlos Zambrano. People were suspect of him, then when he got his chance to pitch regularly in a starting rotation, look what he did. I think Cruz will do the same."
The Indians have been looking at a trade for Spivey. Then, when and if Brandon Phillips is ready, he can play shortstop. Speaking of Spivey, the consensus is that Doug Melvin made a terrific deal for Richie Sexson, who would be gone at the end of the 2004 season. "Doug got a prime left-handed pitching prospect in Jorge De La Rosa, a fourth starter in Chris Capuano, a good young everyday second baseman, a catcher [Chad Moeller] and a first baseman [Lyle Overbay] who may turn out to be pretty good," noted one baseball person. This is the beginning of the overhaul, with shortstop J.J. Hardy, the first of a very good group of young players coming up in the Brewer system, taking over this season.
Dozens of current and former teammates came from all around the country to Fresno Friday for the funeral of Lori Gardner, Mark's wife who battled a rare form of liver cancer for more than six years before finally passing away. She lived longer with the disease than anyone, ever, a testament to an extraordinary person.
The Twins are trying to re-sign Shannon Stewart, but appear to have a long way to go.
The Pads are trying to get Rod Beck signed this weekend to go with Japanese reliever Akinori Otsuka, trade for another lefty in the pen, then go to work on starting pitching. The Pads would like to free some cash by trading Terrence Long and Kevin Jarvis to the Mets for Roger Cedeno, and have been talking to Kenny Lofton, although if the Yankees want Lofton -- and they're talking -- they'll get him. San Diego and Greg Maddux? Only if the market never develops, and the Hall of Famer wants to be home.
The Cardinals are shopping hard for starters, and have interest in Scott Williamson. If the Red Sox deal Ramirez and Garciaparra, they may try to get J.D. Drew.
One esteemed scout says, "the story in Puerto Rico is Alexis Rios (Toronto CF). He is not far away, and he's going to force them to move Vernon Wells to right field. He's a very good center fielder, old style in that he gets great breaks and busts it to where he thinks the ball is going to be so he's always in position to throw. He hits the ball very hard, like a Dave Winfield. Tim Wilken deserves more credit than he received in Toronto. He got Rios and Wells in the first round when most teams had them lower. Roy Halladay. Dustin Magowan. Tim did a great job."
Anyone who knows Bobby Valentine knows he is indefatigable, and he is off in the Caribbean scouting for the Chiba Lotte Marines. They are signing Korean first baseman Seung-Yeop Lee, who has been sought by several U.S. teams.
If I were to look back at the single greatest injustice in postseason awards, it would be that the Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez didn't win a Gold Glove.