Sunday, February 15, 2004

Bronx bombshell in works


Yankees close to deal with Rangers for MVP Rodriguez, reports say

By JOHN DELCOS
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

After a tumultuous offseason, the New York Yankees, baseball's premier franchise, are on the verge of opening spring training with the blockbuster move of bringing Alex Rodriguez, the game's premier player, to the Bronx.

The Yankees and Texas Rangers reached agreement in principle on a trade that would send Rodriguez to George Steinbrenner's galaxy of stars for All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later.

The trade, which could be announced as early as Sunday, and coupled with the Yankees' earlier acquisitions of slugger Gary Sheffield, and pitchers Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown, would seemingly make them prohibitive favorites in the American League East over rival Boston, and push their payroll to over $190 million.

"I heard it's a done deal," one major league official told the Journal News. "They have a few things to work about, but George won't let them get in the way of doing this. The only thing Larry Lucchino accomplished was to get George mad. George is a warrior. George is a fighter. If he wants something, he's going to go out and get it. If he's going to pay the luxury tax, he might as well get something for it."

Lucchino, Red Sox president and author of the "evil empire" quote last winter, upgraded his team with starter Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke, and clearly annoyed Steinbrenner by his play for Rodriguez in December.

However, what Lucchino couldn't do, Steinbrenner will after the final issues are resolved of how much of the remaining $189 million of Rodriguez's record $252-million contract will be deferred, and how much is to be assumed by the Rangers.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, "I won't comment on specific trade rumors or rumblings. It's my job to float ideas, weather balloons out to my counterparts. Ninety-nine percent of them fall to the ground helplessly."

Cashman's Texas counterpart, John Hart, was more forthcoming, telling reporters Saturday: "We have continued to talk to the Yankees following initial discussions. There's nothing to report at this time. It's premature to talk about any potential transaction, especially since our owner Tom Hicks has been reluctant to reopen this issue.

"Discussions about players are difficult and sensitive. From the Rangers' standpoint, any deal would have to meet a lot of conditions and requirements in order to be accomplished."

The Rangers tried in December to work a deal involving Rodriguez with Boston in exchange for Manny Ramirez, but it fell through after the players association objected, claiming the proposed restructuring of Rodriguez's contract lowered its value.

Soon after, the Rangers launched damage control and named Rodriguez team captain, and the seven-time All-Star said just last week, "I feel like we have a great plan in hand. I feel very comfortable about where the Texas Rangers are going."

However, not so comfortable were the Yankees, who, with Aaron Boone possibly out for the season following a knee injury while playing pick-up basketball in mid-January, inquired into Rodriguez's availability last week.

After Rodriguez, who hit .298 last year with 47 homers, 118 RBI and 17 stolen bases, agreed to waive his no-trade clause and defer shortstop to Derek Jeter by saying he'd play third base, talks progressed swiftly.

The hole that was once third base is now at second with Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo and possibly Erick Almonte competing to replace Soriano, who hit .290 with 38 homers, 91 RBI and 35 steals last season, but frustrated the Yankees with his lack of patience (130 strikeouts and 38 walks), which played part in the free-agent signing of Kenny Lofton for the leadoff spot.

The Yankees finished third in scoring and home runs last year in the American League, and the additions of Rodriguez and Sheffield, plus anticipated healthy seasons from Jeter, Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams, should make them more formidable.

Murderers' row?

Here's what the Yankees' lineup will be if the deal is made:

CF Kenny Lofton

SS Derek Jeter

3B Alex Rodriguez

1B Jason Giambi

RF Gary Sheffield

DH Bernie Williams

C Jorge Posada

LF Hideki Matsui

2B Miguel Cairo

Yankees' current payroll: $170.3 million.*

Yankees' payroll if deal is made: About $190 million.

*Not including LH Gabe White, who remains in arbitration and will earn at least $1,825,000.




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