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Competing interests derail deal



Special to ESPN.com

Dec. 21

The book will be titled, "The Seduction," and as this was written, the ending had not been determined. The seduction of the Red Sox by Alex Rodriguez, aided and abetted by Tom Hicks, became a tapestry of the 30-something years of the labor-management cold war, monumental egos, teammate fragmentation and sports' greatest rivalry played out in New England as the biggest story of the year -- above the incredible run of a local football team that might be the best-run team in any sport.

Larry Lucchino
It's mostly been a tumultuous offseason for Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino.

Understand, this all started with A-Rod's desire to play on a winner, and his understanding that Boston was his best (and perhaps only) alternative. It fit with Hicks' financial stability and his impending problems with the 60/40 debt-equity rule. It fit that the two biggest contracts in sports history could be played against one another, since Red Sox owner John Henry had made a private promise to Manny Ramirez that he would try to trade him.

Rodriguez and Theo Epstein did reach an agreement under which A-Rod would restructure his contract by $28 million. But Gene Orza, still fighting the "30-Year War," nixed it. Then when Larry Lucchino, another cold-war warrior, blasted Orza and made a statement that separated Rodriguez from his fellow players, it blew up any immediate compromise or the hope that someone rational like Michael Weiner and Rob Manfred could be brought into the equation. It should be said that for one man, Orza, to anoint himself with the god-like authority to establish arbitrary valuations of benefits agreed upon by a player and general manager reeks of the height of arrogance. But when Lucchino played his Khrushchev routine there was no chance at an immediate compromise.

Complicating things was Hicks' hopeless leaking of information in Texas, which clearly disgusted Henry, who does his business where it should be done -- in private. Not to mention the still-unexplained notion that Hicks should get paid to save $95 million (present-day value) when everyone from Tucson to Tucumcari knows John Hart and Buck Showalter want to make the deal and move on to Rich Aurilia and Sidney Ponson.

Garciaparra
Garciaparra

While so much has been fixated on Rodriguez's rights, his attempt to make this trade work has essentially pushed Nomar Garciaparra out the door to a place, if the deal happens, that Nomar isn't exactly thrilled about. The South Side of Chicago isn't exactly like the Cape Cod community where he and Mia Hamm have purchased a house. If it falls through, forget Nomar signing long-term because when the Red Sox made a four-year, $48 million offer (with a demand that Garciaparra make at least eight appearances for the club) a month ago, Lucchino told agent Arn Tellem that they went from $60 million to $48 million in seven months because of a market correction that would be defined by Miguel Tejada, whose market value was set by Lucchino at $9 million. That means Garciaparra is worth 33 percent more than Tejada, which now that Tejada is getting $12 million a year from the Orioles, sets Garciaparra's worth at $16 million. Oops.

Then there are the hard feelings in the locker room. Kevin Millar, told that the deal was essentially done, went on ESPN and said he'd rather have A-Rod than Nomar playing shortstop. Garciaparra was not pleased. "I felt like an idiot, I shouldn't have said anything but, 'no comment,' " Millar said. "To say one would take A-Rod is like saying I'd take Mark McGwire -- almost anyone -- ahead of me. Look, I never was being critical of Nomar's game. He's a Hall of Fame player and I love his game. I just bleeped up." They talked it out. But ...

Hey, A-Rod wouldn't exactly be going back to a bunch of jolly fellows with open arms. Rodriguez clearly tried to get out. That led to talks with Todd Walker until Michael Young, arguably the league's best defensive second baseman, said he didn't want to play short, which started the Aurilia talks. Hicks and A-Rod may be fine, but Alex and Buck, Alex and teammates? That may be a rough navigation, as great as he is, as hard as he plays.

The Red Sox understandably were seduced because Rodriguez is the best player in baseball. But when Epstein then made the second deal for Magglio Ordonez, the seduction went further since New Englanders were mesmerized by the image of A-Rod, Ordonez, Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke standing at a podium. Now to just go to spring training with a team that set attendance records, with the addition of two extraordinary pitchers, with an ownership that continually demonstrates its respect for its audience, would be a letdown. At least until the games begin.

As of Sunday afternoon, everything had ground to a halt. The Red Sox apparently will respond when and if Boras has something new to offer them from Hicks and the union, which despite the tireless effort Boras has put into making it happen may not be enough.

Then again, perhaps the seduction will have a happy ending and A-Rod and the Red Sox will live happily ever after. Alex was sincere. So were Henry and Epstein and Boras. But when hundreds of millions of dollars, egos and 30 years of labor-management wars get involved, it's hard to maintain the romantic atmosphere when the soundtrack is "Lawyers, Guns and Money."

News and notes
  • The Red Sox have been working on signing Ryan Dempster, hoping to have him rehabbed by midseason. They won't find many pitchers with better makeups.

  • Is it collusion? Not really, but there are clearly "suggested" guidelines where baseball's chief labor counsel Frank Coonelly and the commissioner's office have steered clubs. How else did Lucchino definitively claim he knew Tejada was going to make $9 million? Why else did so many second-tier outfielders end up with the two-year, $6 million-tastes-like-chicken deals?

  • Actually, Carl Everett got two years, $7.5 million, which is a good deal for the Expos. And hats off to agent Larry Reynolds, who got Everett to a place where he can succeed and no one will concentrate on anything but his production and how hard he plays.

  • Negotiations have been ongoing, but it seems increasingly likely that Vladimir Guerrero will end up with the Orioles.

    Defensively speaking
    More and more teams are using complex systems to evaluate players defensively. "We use our eyes as well as a combination of statistical analyses to rate players," said one general manager. "We feel it tells us a lot."

    Reese
    Reese

    For instance, when the Red Sox were looking for a second baseman, their system showed that Pokey Reese two years ago was far and away the best second baseman in the game, which corroborated the wise eyes of Bill Lajoie. When the Oakland A's were in pursuit of Mike Cameron, it was partially because their complex system showed that he was far and away the best defensive center fielder in the majors, followed by Torii Hunter and Mark Kotsay (before Andruw Jones).

    Another team's system makes the following observations:

  • Doug Mientkiewicz is clearly the best first baseman, followed by J.T. Snow.

  • Mark Ellis and Adam Kennedy ranked 1-2 in the American League at second base, with Placido Polanco right near them.

  • Eric Chavez is the best at third, better this season than Scott Rolen.

  • A-Rod and Nomar are far ahead of Derek Jeter, while Orlando Cabrera is far better than his reputation.

  • Jacque Jones and Garret Anderson are the top left fielders. Ichiro Suzuki the best right fielder.

  • The outfielder who ranks the worst on two different clubs' systems? Juan Gonzalez.





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