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Saturday, February 14, 2004
Report: A-Rod willing to play third base

ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Now it's the New York Yankees who are trying to trade for Alex Rodriguez.

The American League champions and the Texas Rangers were closing in Saturday on a deal that would bring A-Rod to the Bronx for second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named, a pair of high-ranking baseball officials told the Associated Press.

Sources close to the talks have told ESPN's Peter Gammons that the deal is close to being completed and could be done as soon as Sunday morning. However, ESPN's Jayson Stark reports that it's not a done deal quite yet. The official said "issues remain" that still could stand in the way of the deal being completed.

Newsday reported on its Web site Saturday afternoon that A-Rod is so desperate to get out of Texas that he'd be willing to switch positions to play at third base, allowing Yankees captain Derek Jeter to stay at shortstop.

Terming Newsday's report "inaccurate," Stark's source said, "Is there a deal yet? No. Could it happen? Yes."

The talks began Wednesday night, and there was significant movement Saturday, the two officials told The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity. As part of the trade, Texas would pay a major portion of the $179 million in salary that Rodriguez is owed over the final seven years of his contract.

One of the officials said the deal under discussion would have the Yankees paying Rodriguez an average of about $16 million annually, which translates to Texas assuming $67 million.

According to Gammons, the Rangers would pay $40 million of the $179 million in salary that Rodriguez is owed over the final seven years of his contract and would pick up $27 million of the deferred amount of that contract, which they do not have to pay for 10-12 years. With those moves, Texas gains about $120 million in flexibility.

If the Rangers can finalize a deal, general manager John Hart believes the team would get back far more than a young slugger in Soriano.

"It's about flexibility," Hart said Saturday night. "We're trading the best player in the game and we're getting tremendous financial flexibility."

Rodriguez, who has a no-trade clause, has said he would be amenable to a deal to the Yankees, one of the officials said. Several baseball officials familiar with the discussions said the talks had gained momentum and that the parties involved were confident an agreement would be reached in the next few days.

Rodriguez, the AL MVP, would be moved from shortstop to third base by New York, seeking to fill the hole created when Aaron Boone hurt a knee last month in a pickup basketball game. However, trading Soriano would create a hole at second base.

Hart confirmed negotiations were ongoing.

"We have continued to talk to the Yankees following initial discussions," Hart said Saturday evening. "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."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman declined to give details about the talks said New York always is exploring opportunities.

"Without going into the specifics, I can acknowledge trade discussions are taking place with the Texas Rangers," he said. "In fairness to all parties involved, I cannot comment further at this time."

Nevertheless, the two teams, as well as Rodriguez and agent Scott Boras, still face some of the same complications that deep-sixed A-Rod's trade to Boston, even after the Red Sox and Rangers reached an agreement in principle. It appears all sides in this new deal are trying to avoid tripping over the same hurdles that torpedoed that deal, by approaching this one as cautiously and quietly as possible.

The deal would require approval of the commissioner's office because of the money involved changing teams, and of the players' association, because the deferred money in Rodriguez's contract would be restructured.

"I can't comment on the situation," said Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras.

Newsday had reported Saturday morning that the Yankees were in serious talks with the Rangers about an A-Rod trade. An American League source told Newsday that the two clubs talked late into Friday night about the trade.

At the same time, the New York Post reported only that the Yankees had asked the Rangers about their interest in making such a trade for Soriano.

Boston, the Yankees' perennial rival, nearly acquired Rodriguez in December, but a proposed deal that would have sent outfielder Manny Ramirez to the Rangers fell through because the players' association blocked Boston's attempt to restructure Rodriguez's record $252 million, 10-year contract. The union said the proposal by the Red Sox would have lowered the deal's value by $30 million to $32 million.

Boston then rejected the union's plan to lower the contract by $12 million to $13 million in exchange for Rodriguez gaining the right to use Boston's logos in merchandise deals.

After the deal collapsed, Hicks said Rodriguez would remain with the Rangers, and the team announced Jan. 25 that it was making the seven-time All-Star its captain.

Rodriguez, 28, is owed $189 million over the next seven years, although he can opt out after 2007.

In addition to the salary owed the Rodriguez, he is due $4 million from his signing bonus and $12 million deferred at 3 percent annual interest from salaries during his first three years with Texas. The deferred money is due to be paid from 2011-20, and Texas wants Rodriguez to allow the team to pay that at a later date, another baseball source said, also on the condition of anonymity.

Soriano, 26, will make $5.4 million this year and has two more years of salary arbitration eligibility remaining. The two-time All-Star can become a free agent after the 2006 season.

Thus, the Yankees would take on an extra $183.6 million guaranteed if the deal is consummated.

New York wants Texas to pick up part of the money Rodriguez is owed and wants A-Rod to make concessions, and according to Newsday's source, the Rangers would be willing to foot some of the bill.

New York's payroll currently is at $170.3 million, not including left-hander Gabe White, who remains in arbitration and will earn at least $1,825,000. A swap of Soriano for Rodriguez would leave New York's payroll at about $190 million.

The Post reported that the Yankees would likely have to give up Jose Contreras as well as minor-league catcher Dioner Navarro in such a trade.

Rodriguez, who was born in New York, lives in Florida. He was disappointed when the New York Mets failed to pursue him when he became a free agent after the 2000 season.

He was frustrated following three last-place finishes in Texas, but has said in recent weeks that he was content to remain with the Rangers.

"I feel like we have a great plan in hand," he said Feb. 6. "I feel very comfortable about where the Texas Rangers are going."

Rodriguez hit .298 last season with 47 homers, 118 RBIs and 17 stolen bases, and Soriano batted .290 with 38 homers, 91 RBIs and 35 steals.

If the deal is made, Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo and Erick Almonte would be among the candidates to play second base for the Yankees.

New York opens spring training Tuesday, and Texas starts two days later.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.