Yanks talking to A-Rod; Boras not part of dialogue

Updated: November 15, 2007, 12:24 PM ET
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

The New York Yankees began direct contract dialogue with third baseman Alex Rodriguez on Wednesday.

Rodriguez and his wife, Cynthia, met with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner in Tampa, Fla. Negotiations -- which never really got started last month -- now are progressing, and a deal could be reached within the next few days.

Agent Scott Boras was not part of the initial dialogue and was not present at the talks. Sources indicate he has been acting as an adviser to Rodriguez and likely will become more active as contract terms get ironed out. One source told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick that Boras has been with Rodriguez in Miami for the past several days.

"The past is the past. I don't know what brought about him approaching us," Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said in a telephone interview. "I guess you could say things didn't go the way before that he intended on and weren't handled properly or whatever.

"But the bottom line, the only thing that really matters, is he wants to stay a Yankee. And it could be very well that he's always wanted to stay a Yankee and we just didn't know it."

Rodriguez released the following statement on his Web site:

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"After spending time with Cynthia and my family over these last few weeks, it became clear to me that I needed to make an attempt to engage the Yankees regarding my future with the organization.

"Prior to entering into serious negotiations with other clubs, I wanted the opportunity to share my thoughts directly with Yankees' ownership. We know there are other opportunities for us, but Cynthia and I have a foundation with the club that has brought us comfort, stability and happiness.

"As a result, I reached out to the Yankees through mutual friends and conveyed that message. I also understand that I had to respond to certain Yankees concerns, and I was receptive and understanding of that situation.

"Cynthia and I have since spoken directly with the Steinbrenner family. During these healthy discussions, both sides were able to share honest feelings and hopes with one another, and we expect to continue this dialogue with the Yankees over the next few days."

Yankees executives had tried to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Rodriguez last month, in which they intended to offer Rodriguez, initially, a five-year extension worth about $140 million to $150 million -- on top of the three years and $81 million he still was owed under his previous contract. It was the team's intention to increase its offer, perhaps to nine or 10 years, so that Rodriguez, in the end, would make something in the area of nine years and $260 million, or 10 years and $289 million.

But in response, Boras informed the Yankees that to arrange a meeting they would have to be prepared to offer a deal of at least $350 million. And, about 72 hours later, on Oct. 28, during Game 4 of the World Series, Boras informed the Yankees of Rodriguez's decision to opt out of the $252 million deal he signed with Texas seven years ago.

Hank Steinbrenner, the elder son of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, reacted angrily, saying he didn't want any player who didn't want to be a Yankee. But all along, Yankees executives indicated they would be willing to talk with Rodriguez -- and cut a deal with him directly -- if Boras was not involved. The Yankees have been leery of Boras' taking their offer and using it to gain leverage with another team.

Hank Steinbrenner acknowledged a change in thinking Wednesday.

"Part of it is obviously him proving he really wants to be a Yankee, and I think he's doing that," he said.

Rodriguez, 32, has been heavily criticized after word of his decision to opt out of the contract leaked in the midst of the last game of the World Series. Boras subsquently took responsibility for what happened.

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Some Yankees officials initially believed Rodriguez and Boras had a deal lined up with another team. But since then, many agents and executives have come to believe Boras might have -- for one of the first times in his career -- misread the market. "You look at it, and there simply is not [a team] in a position to pay as much as the Yankees can pay," one high-powered agent said Wednesday morning.

Many possible suitors, from the Tigers to the Marlins to the Giants, either stated flatly that they were not in the A-Rod Sweepstakes or said that it was highly unlikely they would be. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein went to great lengths to make sure nobody read too deeply into a face-to-face meeting he had with Boras at the GM meetings last week in Orlando.

One other team that might have been an option for Rodriguez was the Dodgers.

"I think definitely we would have been involved," new manager Joe Torre said Wednesday evening at a charity event, after learning about A-Rod's chat with the Yankees.

Torre, who managed Rodriguez in New York for the past four seasons, said the two haven't spoken since the end of the season.

"He left me a message, and I left one for him. We never really did talk about anything. Again, once he became a free agent, there are rules, too. I'm with another team, and I had to be careful. So I really didn't reach out that much, just tried to keep track of him through other people," Torre said. "He seemed very comfortable [in New York]; that's why I was surprised he opted out."

Meanwhile, friends of Rodriguez said he has been embarrassed by what has taken place. Last week, one high-ranking official with an AL team made this prediction: "I think A-Rod will go back to the Yankees himself and make a deal without Scott involved. This way, he can get back into the good graces of the fans and still get the biggest contract he can get."

The Yankees probably made it clear to Rodriguez on Wednesday that they expect him to take less money than they would have offered previously, because once he opted out of his previous contract, the team lost a $21.3 million subsidy from the Rangers. It could be that Rodriguez's new deal, if completed, will be something in the area of 10 years and $270 million. "But right now, it's just talk," one source said. "There is no deal."

Said Steinbrenner: "He's willing to make certain sacrifices. It certainly appears that way.

"The biggest thing with me, and it's no secret with all of us, is the money we would have had from Texas that we don't now," he went on. "But he's willing to do something about that, which shows his dedication. And also, the other thing was, me being convinced he really wanted to be a Yankee, and it kind of looks to me like he does."

The Yankees have begun poking around for alternatives at the position, including free agent third baseman Mike Lowell, but all along, retaining Rodriguez has been their preference.

Even if Rodriguez re-signs with the Yankees while retaining Boras as his agent, a negotiation that does not include the high-profile agent will be viewed within the industry as the first enormous defeat of his career, because of how the talks have played out; because of the possible damage to Rodriguez's image in recent weeks; and because Rodriguez will be asked by the Yankees to take some $20 million less than they were willing to pay before the slugger opted out of his previous deal.

Steinbrenner said there was no time frame for the negotiations and it was up to Rodriguez to decide whether he wanted Boras to participate in talks.

"It doesn't really matter," Steinbrenner said. "No matter who's in the room, I'm going to go to a certain point in negotiations, and that's it."

If Rodriguez were to negotiate his deal with the Yankees on his own, it wouldn't be a first for Boras. Before the 2002 season, the Braves bypassed Boras and negotiated a six-year, $75 million contract with Andruw Jones and his father.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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