NEW YORK - Once Alex Rodriguez came to the decision that he would change positions during the prime of his career, a blockbuster trade possibility quickly turned into a virtual certainty.
Rodriguez, 28, last year's American League Most Valuable Player with the Texas Rangers and baseball's highest-paid player, is headed to the Yankees - for whom he'll play third base, not shortstop - in return for second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named.
As first reported by Newsday yesterday, the Yankees and Rangers have an agreement in principle on the deal, with an announcement expected in the next few days.
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.
To even out the enormous disparity of dollars in the deal - Rodriguez is owed $179 million over the next seven years, while Soriano is signed only through this year at $5.4 million - the Rangers will provide the Yankees about $40 million in cash over the next seven years.
The Rangers also will assume all of the deferred payments on Rodriguez's contract, which make for about $24 million. So Texas will clear roughly $120 million from its ledger with this transaction.
"Without going into specifics, I can acknowledge that trade discussions are taking place with the Texas Rangers," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement. "In fairness to all parties involved, I cannot comment further.
Said Rangers general manager John Hart: "It's about flexibility. We're trading the best player in the game and we're getting tremendous financial flexibility.
"We're in a very sensitive stage [of trade negotiations] right now," he added. "A deal of this magnitude, with all the moving parts, it takes time."
However, Rodriguez already has begun making travel plans to Tampa, Fla., as the Yankees' position players are scheduled to report to spring training a week from today.
The two clubs need only to sort out some minor technical details, according to multiple sources, before announcing one of the biggest trades in baseball history, a deal that likely will frustrate the Boston Red Sox and their fans.
The Red Sox spent much of November and December trying to trade for Rodriguez, ultimately failing to seal the deal because of a disagreement over about $12 million. And now, their top rivals are about to acquire him.
Even though Rodriguez has two Gold Glove awards at shortstop compared with Derek Jeter's zero, Rodriguez would shift to third base, leaving the Yankees' team captain at shortstop. Rodriguez would take the place of third baseman Aaron Boone, who suffered a likely torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee last month while playing basketball - a violation of his 2004 contract.
Boone's 11th-inning home run off Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of last year's AL Championship Series put the Yankees into the World Series. Now, his probable season-ending injury opened the door for Rodriguez to put on pinstripes.
The Yankees' void at third base seemed huge, as no one was available who could match Boone's defense and speed. Cashman, who prides himself on investigating every option, called Hart recently, proposing a swap of Soriano and other players for Rodriguez. Hart turned it down, citing his desire to keep Rodriguez in Texas. Three weeks ago, the Rangers named Rodriguez captain.
When the Yankees were negotiating a one-year contract with first baseman Travis Lee last week, the subject of Rodriguez in pinstripes came up, as Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, also represents Lee. At first, Rodriguez was reluctant to give up his shortstop job. But his apparently poor relationship with Rangers manager Buck Showalter, and the Rangers' possible destination for another last-place finish in the AL West, persuaded Rodriguez to make the switch to New York and third base.
At that juncture, Rodriguez went to Rangers owner Tom Hicks and communicated his desire to leave Texas. Hicks personally conducted the bulk of the negotiations on the Rangers' side.
The trade largely relieves Hicks of the record-setting, 10-year, $252 million contract Rodriguez signed in December 2000. The Rangers can move forward with a far smaller payroll and try to re-invest in young pitching. The player to be named will come from a list of players the Yankees provide, and New York will allow the Rangers to scout the players on the list and make a selection.
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.
For the Yankees, the deal was a no-brainer. For all of his potential, Soriano, 26, disappointed the team last year with an inconsistent regular season and awful postseason.
And the arrival of Rodriguez, probably the best player in baseball, gives the Yankees a monstrous lineup that should trump the Red Sox's dangerous group. Right-handed-hitting newcomers Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield can protect the left-handed-hitting Jason Giambi in the middle of the order.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Questions and answers on the Rodriguez deal
What will Alex Rodriguez's impact be on the Yankees' infield defense?
Rodriguez has such great range, arm strength and hands that he instantly will become a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, even though he is switching from his natural shortstop position. His range will allow Derek Jeter to "cheat" up the middle, preventing more balls from getting through for hits.
Second base candidates Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo are adequate infielders who likely will be more consistent than Alfonso Soriano was at that position. When Travis Lee plays first base and Jason Giambi serves as DH, the infield defense will go from a distinct question mark to an obvious strength, which will delight the pitching staff.
Will there be much difficulty in making the transition from shortstop to third base?
Not really. Rodriguez has sharp reflexes and excellent hands, so the fact that balls will get to him more quickly off the bat should not be much of a factor. He has one of the strongest arms of any infielder in baseball. Rodriguez undoubtedly will spend time in spring training learning to field bunts and where to position himself on cutoffs, relatively minor issues.
What about the relationship between Rodriguez and Jeter?
By all accounts, the one-time buddies have patched up their differences and even made a commercial together. Jeter never has joined in the debate over who's the best shortstop among himself, Rodriguez and the Red Sox's Nomar Garciaparra. In an interview on ESPN Friday night, Jeter reiterated his mantra: "I don't care about stats. I only care about winning."
Why didn't the deal that would have sent Rodriguez to the Red Sox for Manny Ramirez work out?
Rodriguez was willing to give the Red Sox some financial relief from his contract, but the players' union said he was giving up too much, and all parties were not able to work out a new deal. Boston, one of baseball's big spenders, was not willing to assume all of Rodriguez's contract. If the Red Sox had known he would wind up with the Yankees, they might have found a way to close the deal.
- Bob Herzog, Newsday