Pudge to play elsewhere next season

Updated: December 8, 2003, 3:30 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MIAMI -- Ivan Rodriguez's last act in a Florida Marlins uniform was kissing home plate at Yankee Stadium. Now, he's kissed the World Series champions goodbye.

Rodriguez and the Marlins failed to agree on a contract Sunday night, meaning the 10-time All-Star catcher will playing elsewhere next season. His previous contract prevented Florida from offering salary arbitration, which could have extended negotiations through Jan. 8.

Instead, the Marlins ran out of time, despite all three of their top executives -- owner Jeffrey Loria, president David Samson and general manager Larry Beinfest -- negotiating with Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, Sunday and increasing their multiyear contract offer.

"We tried very hard to bring Pudge back," Beinfest said early Monday. "It didn't work out."

The Marlins upped their offer to about two years and $16 million, added incentives based on health and added a vesting option year that would have brought the three-year total close to $25 million, reports ESPN.com's Jayson Stark.

Rodriguez and Boras said they needed a four-year deal, worth a guaranteed $40 million because they can get that elsewhere. But Florida would not agree to a deal of that size, and so Rodriguez will be wearing a different uniform next season, Stark reports.

"I would like to thank the Florida Marlins' fans," Rodriguez said in statement issued late Sunday night by Boras. "We had a great championship season together.

"I tried my best to remain a Marlin by not requesting a salary increase. To my knowledge, I'm the only major leaguer in recent times who won the World Series and received a postseason MVP award, and yet his club did not offer a higher salary."

Rodriguez signed a $10 million, one-year free agent deal with Florida last winter. He wanted a four-year deal to match the length of the $32 million contract the Marlins gave third baseman Mike Lowell last week, but did not ask for a raise over the $10 million annual average salary.

Beinfest, speaking shortly past midnight on a conference call, said the team offered a package with an annual salary "in the range" of $7 million annually, but that Boras and Rodriguez were "immovable" off the $10 million request.

Rodriguez was the NL Championship Series MVP and had a team-best 17 RBI during the Marlins' World Series run.

"It was a privilege to be a part of this world championship team, and it is unfortunate the ownership chose not to keep the club together, as I felt we had the players to repeat as world champions," Rodriguez said.

After the two sides broke off talks Friday, it appeared they might not speak again before Sunday night's deadline. But the Marlins initiated the resumption of negotiations by calling Boras late Sunday afternoon, Stark reported.

It's believed they then upped the Marlins' two-year offer to about $16 million. There also were indications they offered a vesting option that could have brought the value of the total package close to $25 million. In addition, there were performance incentives that could have increased Rodriguez's dollars even more if he stayed healthy over the life of the contract.

But after receiving the offer, Boras didn't call back until 11 p.m. At that point, he told the Marlins that Pudge was still looking for four years, $40 million. Beinfest said Boras told him that Rodriguez "has offers like that elsewhere."

"I'd like to think we're creative," Beinfest told ESPN.com. "I'd like to think we were open to any number of scenarios to bridge the gaps and try to make this thing work. But he was immoveable off any type of pay cut."

It's not certain where Rodriguez can find that $10 million a year. Teams looking for catching include the Cubs, A's and Tigers. And the Dodgers have been trying to deal Paul LoDuca, which would open a catching vacancy in Los Angeles. One team to watch is the Tigers, who have been aggressively chasing Miguel Tejada and clearly are trying to make a splash by adding a big-name player.

Last year, the Marlins already had maxed out on their payroll budget before they found what owner Jeffrey Loria called "special money" to sign Rodriguez. But Beinfest said that the team couldn't afford to go beyond the amount offered on a long-term deal.

"That money last year was purely money that Jeffrey approved, over and above the budget," he said. "But in a deal like this, we have to look at everything, both now and in the future."

The Marlins' intention, for now, is to have this year's backups, Ramon Castro and Mike Redmond, share the catching job next season. They will evaluate this week how to spend the money that would have gone to Rodriguez.

"We'll be looking at everything," Beinfest said. "We have so many balls in the air. I'd like to address our bullpen. But there are some other things we need to look at, things we still need."

Asked if he would regard losing Rodriguez as a major disappointment, Beinfest said: "We would have loved to have Pudge back, but it's not going to happen. So we're prepared to move on."

Redmond hit .240 with no homers in 125 at-bats in 2003; Castro hit .283 with five home runs in 53 at-bats. Castro's situation is a bit uncertain, though, as he still has a pending legal battle surrounding a rape charge filed by a woman after an alleged attack in Pittsburgh last summer.

"We're certainly monitoring Ramon's pending legal situation," Beinfest said. "We are comfortable with the two catchers. We were comfortable with them both a year ago."

Florida also strengthened its bullpen Sunday, agreeing with reliever Chad Fox on a $1.2 million, one-year deal. Fox, who played at a Houston-area high school, had a 2.13 ERA after joining Florida as a free agent in August, and could move from setup man to closer, since the Marlins were not expected to offer free agent closer Ugueth Urbina salary arbitration before Sunday's deadline.

Also Sunday, the team formally announced the signing of second baseman Luis Castillo to a $16 million, three-year contract. Castillo passed his physical to complete the deal, team spokesman Steve Copses said.

Florida also did not make arbitration offers to another pair of free agents, outfielder Todd Hollandsworth and right-hander Rick Helling, before the deadline.

Urbina was 3-0 with six saves and a 1.41 ERA during the regular season for the Marlins, when he served primarily as the setup man for Braden Looper. After Looper faltered late in the year, Urbina became the closer and saved four of the Marlins' 11 wins en route to the World Series title.

It's unknown if the Marlins will offer Looper, who was the closer for much of last season, salary arbitration which could result in a significant raise over his $2.4 million deal for 2003.

The Marlins have until Dec. 20 to offer deals to their arbitration-eligible players, including Looper, Redmond, outfielder Juan Encarnacion, shortstop Alex Gonzalez, and pitchers Carl Pavano, Brad Penny, Mark Redman and Michael Tejera.

"We still have some balls in the air that we need to attack," Beinfest said. "We'll start tomorrow."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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