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Money for nothing with Yankees

Special to

Feb. 16

TAMPA, Fla. -- Fairness is not the issue because the rules are the rules. When the Red Sox worked their deals with Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, they did what the Blue Jays or the Indians or the Padres couldn't afford to do. Just as what the Yankees did to get Alex Rodriguez was something only they could afford. That's just the way it is, good old-fashioned Republican baseball, and six strikes haven't changed the fact that the Yankees are in a different world from the Red Sox, who have a huge advantage over the Rangers or the A's, just as George W. Bush and John F. Kerry were born with an advantage because they were born rich.

Alex Rodriguez
The Yankees did what the Red Sox couldn't -- close the deal.

Boston felt it had to get money back from Rodriguez, the Yankees did not, and getting money back involves the rules. So when Boston had its window -- that time when Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admitted he was "scared" because of Theo Epstein's remarkable complementary move to get Magglio Ordonez to replace Manny Ramirez -- the Red Sox made their decision that the additional $4 million to $6 million difference between Rodriguez and Ramirez was not worth it. When the Yankees had their window, well, it was like the Jackson Browne line, "It ain't like him to argue or pretend. Honey, let me introduce you to my redneck friend."

So A-Rod is the Yankee third baseman because he so wanted out of Texas he was willing to either throw away $28 million of his contract or switch from the position where he's arguably the best that ever played. Rangers owner Billy Sol Estes, er Tom Hicks, is happy. George Steinbrenner is cackling happy because he's Boone-d Larry Lucchino and the Red Sox.

Of course, talk is cheap, A-Rod isn't and the $72 million infield isn't, and the Diamondbacks, Angels and Marlins have won the last three World Series.

Yankee officials have taken pains to point out they were fortunate in that several circumstances just happened here: Aaron Boone's rebound playing hoops could clear more than 80 percent of his salary off the books, Drew Henson went off to be the next Tom Brady clearing another $10 million to $14 million, and with the Rangers chipping in $40 million over seven years (as well as picking up the $27 million in deferrals, which Rodriguez restructured so the pay schedule doesn't start until 2016), the cost to Steinbrenner was calculated as $90 million for seven years. Hey, he already had five of the 12 biggest contracts in the sport ... why not take a sixth, when it's the best player on the planet.

What they don't point out is how fortunate Steinbrenner is to have one of the game's best general managers, one who works through the beating he takes. When Boone went to the hoop, Cashman called Oakland about Eric Chavez. No harm, no foul. He called the Cardinals about Albert Pujols. He called the Rangers about Rodriguez. But unlike the other rejections, the player and his agent got involved, and when A-Rod found out the Yankees were interested, he and Scott Boras pushed for it knowing that Steinbrenner wouldn't do what Boras claimed the Red Sox did, namely "walk away from the best player in the game."

What the Yankees privately say they learned from the Red Sox-Rodriguez negotiations was how not to handle them. "Those negotiations were all public, on both sides," says one New York official. "When a deal like this is negotiated publicly, it has too many ways for it to fail. So we tried to keep it under the radar screen, and work it privately, and nothing came out until the last 48 hours."

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman kept the talks under everyone's radar.

The Boston-Texas negotiations did turn into a fiasco, between Billy Sol Estes, er Tom Hicks, leaks to the Metroplex papers, meaningless deadlines and statement after statement by both sides, including the infamous Lucchino reaction to Gene Orza's initial rejection of the contract adjustment agreed to by Epstein and Rodriguez, which personally assaulted Orza and separated A-Rod from his fellow guild members and essentially eliminated what both Boras and Rodriguez believed would be a difference-splitting compromise between the original $28 million agreement and Orza's $12 million suggestion.

The Yankees also knew that at the end of the season, if Boston bid adieu to Nomar Garciaparra, that the Ramirez-Rodriguez deal could be re-addressed. Steinbrenner had an opportunity to "Evil Empire" the Red Sox, which to him makes priceless sense. "The two key issues were the union signing off on the new deferrals and Alex agreeing to move to third, because Derek Jeter wasn't going anywhere," says a Yankee official. The folks at The Stadium believe Bud Selig is fielding a blitz of protests from a couple of owners -- especially those on Yawkey Way, Boston -- but there's not a lot baseball can do about the dichotomy between rich and poor. Steinbrenner will just hand out a ton of luxury tax money that owners in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh can put in their pockets.

Does this mean the Yankees are going to win the World Series? Of course not. Considering that they scored 877 runs (won 101 games and the pennant) with Jeter, Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams hurt much of the season and without any bridge from the starters to Mariano Rivera tells you that they should challenge their own record of 1,067 runs scored, and that they should be in the playoffs. But the Red Sox also have a very good team, one that can score 900 runs and this time has a 1-to-10 pitching staff capable of winning anything, anytime. Oakland's pitching could beat anyone in October. A lot can happen.

No one in Boston can accurately forecast whether or not there will be residual damage from the attempted swaps of Garciaparra and Ramirez, of the potential booing of Ramirez because of the revelation that he wanted to play for the Yankees, or the wear of having a half-dozen key players headed for free agency.

And no one in New York can forecast what could be an insane summer. Jason Giambi wins the home free prize, because he's out of the spotlight, but there will be simmering pressure on this team. Lose four of six? How will the excitable boy upstairs react? If he rubs a pot roast all over his chest, fine, but if he messes with Joe Torre, it won't be, because it could be that Torre is the one saint -- OK, manager -- on earth that could handle all these personalities. How will Gary Sheffield and A-Rod react to WFAN and the Back Pages? How will the excitable boy react if Jeter is hurt for 10 days and Rodriguez shines at short? Is any town big enough for both? The excitable boy says the plan is for Kenny Lofton to play center, Bernie Williams says the plan is for him to play center. Hmm. And that's before one addresses the questions surrounding Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber, as well as having an all right-handed rotation starting 110 games in Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Camden Yards.

Still, those who dismiss the Yankee rotation because of the exiles of Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells may vastly underestimate Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez, or the importance of having Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon leading into Rivera. It is also February, which gives Cashman 5½ months to go get Jarrod Washburn, Odalis Perez, Al Leiter, Mark Buehrle ...

The same 5½ months Epstein has to decipher what the Red Sox will need. Because the Yankees-Red Sox war has escalated to an unprecedented level, both in terms of rivalry, ownership vitriol and their own neighborhood -- where Boston's payroll is 20 percent higher than 28 other teams, and the Yankees are close to 50 percent higher than the Red Sox, it has become a show separate from those other 28 teams.

Whether the Red Sox this season win it all or not, they can retool. Say they re-sign Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. For about the money it would cost them to re-sign David Ortiz and two potential Hall of Famers, Pedro Martinez and Garciaparra, they may be able to sign Eric Chavez (especially with A-Rod in The Stadium), Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera and Matt Morris. They don't think that way in Oakland or Minnesota, Florida or Atlanta. That's just the way it is.

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