Steinbrenner: It ranks with Reggie signing

Updated: February 17, 2004, 10:21 AM ET news services

NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez left New York a child, returned as a celebrity and hopes to leave as a champion.

A-Rod is moving onto the biggest stage in town, Yankee Stadium, where he's expected to help New York win the World Series for the first time since 2000.

Baseball's highest-paid player, and perhaps its most talented, was finally and officially dealt to the New York Yankees from Texas on Monday after commissioner Bud Selig approved the record-setting swap.

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"I'm pretty excited. This is a big, big one," Yankees owner George Steinbrenner said at the team's minor league complex in Tampa, Fla.

"It ranks with when we signed Reggie," he said, referring to slugger Reggie Jackson, who became a Yankee after the 1976 season.

Rodriguez, the first reigning MVP to be traded, was to be introduced Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, where the sign board outside proclaimed: "A Rod, Welcome to NY."

Coming up from Florida to attend were manager Joe Torre, who will miss the opening of the team's spring training camp, and Yankees captain Derek Jeter, who will keep his shortstop job. The 28-year-old Rodriguez, a seven-time All-Star, will shift to third base to fill the hole left when Aaron Boone wrecked a knee last month.

Texas gets second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a minor league player to be named, but it will still have to pay $67 million of the $179 million Rodriguez is owed over the remainder of his deal.

The Rangers will pick from a pool of five prospects, four of whom have been determined, according to a Baseball America report that references "baseball sources." The magazine says the four known candidates are: pitcher Ramon Ramirez, outfielder Rudy Guillen, shortstop Joaquin Arias and second baseman Robinson Cano.

Steinbrenner and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman personally assured Jeter that he would keep his position and that Rodriguez would switch to third -- where his only major league experience is one inning during an All-Star game.

"Derek's response to me was he thinks this is pretty cool," said Cashman, who also said moving Jeter was "not a consideration whatsoever."

"You go with the man that brought you to the dance," he said. "You're going to stick with him. You don't mess with success. ... There is no issue there -- who's the starting quarterback? We have arguably the best left side of the infield in the history of baseball."

Fervid Yankees fan and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani couldn't agree more.

"It's great for the city. He's returning home," he told The Associated Press. "This could be another variation of Maris-Mantle, Jackson-Munson, Gehrig-Ruth."

Former Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles will work with Rodriguez on the transition to the position. Steinbrenner doesn't expect controversy over who plays where.

"Jeter is the captain. He's our leader," he said.

The position shift won't be the only change for A-Rod. He won't be able to wear No. 3, his only big-league number so far, because the Yankees retired that number to honor Babe Ruth.

Rodriguez will wear No. 13, according to a New York Times report that cites "a source familiar with the situation." He chose not to take the popular "double" route and wear No. 33, which recently has been worn by David Wells and, coincidentally, by Soriano.

Rodriguez, signed to a record $252 million, 10-year contract by the Rangers in December 2000, grew tired of Texas after three last-place finishes.

He was born in 1975 in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, not far from where Manny Ramirez grew up, just a few miles from Yankee Stadium. And even though his father, Victor, closed his shoe store and moved the family to the Dominican Republic in 1979, his fondness for the city remained.

Rodriguez, whose family moved to Miami in 1983, often talked of watching the '86 Mets on television, of tuning into "Kiner's Korner," their postgame show.

But by Monday night, he was clearly the signed, sealed and just-about-delivered property of the much-dreaded, crosstown-rival Yanks.

Still, Cashman warned, fans shouldn't expect the deal to automatically lead to the Yankees' first World Series title since 2000.

"The competition isn't payroll versus payroll. It's player versus player when they're on that field," he said. "Payrolls don't win championships. If they did, the Florida Marlins wouldn't have won last year, the Anaheim Angels wouldn't have won the year before."

The trade leaves the Yankees' payroll at about $184 million, with reliever Gabe White still unsigned and eligible for arbitration this week.

"To make money, you have to spend money," Yankees president Randy Levine said. "The New York Yankees are in the entertainment and baseball business."

He said the trade will "bring more people to the ballpark, will create more excitement in here and the rest of the country, will improve the New York Yankees brand." By midafternoon, Major League Baseball's Web site was selling Rodriguez's Yankees jersey for $99.99, saying it would be shipped once his number, probably 13, is finalized.

New York has four of baseball's eight $100 million players, and its opening-day payroll will be six times that of some teams. Levine pointed out that the Yankees paid $50 million in revenue sharing last year and another $12 million in luxury taxes.

"There are never any complaints when we write the check for $60 million and that gets distributed," he said. "There are only complaints when we do what is in the best interests of the New York Yankees."

The rival Red Sox nearly acquired Rodriguez, a seven-time All-Star, in December, but that deal fell through when Boston's proposal to cut Rodriguez's salary was blocked by the players' association.

"I think Larry Lucchino is a little disappointed. He had an opportunity," Levine said, referring to the Red Sox president.

Though the Yankees and Rangers finalized the trade Sunday, it needed Selig's approval because of the amount of the contract Texas is assuming.

"I want to make it abundantly clear to all clubs that I will not allow cash transfers of this magnitude to become the norm." Selig said. "However, given the unique circumstances, including the size, length and complexity of Mr. Rodriguez's contract and the quality of the talent moving in both directions, I have decided to approve the transaction."

Mets' pitcher Al Leiter, a member of the executive board of the players association, which approved this deal but not the one with the Red Sox, told the Star-Ledger (N.J.) he was skeptical about how the deal was ultimately approved.

"I don't see how it's a financial gain for a player to get a (hotel) suite on the road," Leiter told the paper, referring to the clause guaranteeing Rodriguez a hotel suite on the road and permission to link his Web site to the Yankees'.

"I don't see where that's a big deal at all," Leiter told the Star-Ledger. "I mean, there was a point where we had about eight guys on the team with suites. That costs a team about $16,000. And the Web site portal? I've had my 'Leiter's Landing' portaled to the Mets Web site at times. That's all run by MLB anyway. I don't get it.

"It's laughable to say that that constitutes a significant financial gain for him. It's comical.

"I find it curious that this was a deal that somehow only the Yankees could get done," Leiter added.

Texas owner Tom Hicks initially opposed the trade, but later relented.

"Both of my baseball experts gave me their advice, and it was that we can build a championship team faster by doing this trade today," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.