A-Rod, Yanks in cleanup position

THE BALTIMORE SUN

If there were ever any doubt, the New York Yankees have proved that money is no object in their continuing effort to maintain dominion over the American League East.

Alex Rodriguez, the most expensive player in baseball history, is a rubber stamp away from joining the most expensive team in history. The Yankees need only the approval of commissioner Bud Selig - expected today - to complete a deal that would send power-hitting second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named to the Texas Rangers for the reigning American League Most Valuable Player.

What a way to one-up the rival Boston Red Sox, who tried to get Rodriguez for $20 million outfielder Manny Ramirez, only to have the deal fall apart when the Major League Baseball Players Association refused to approve the financial terms of the deal. The union approved the Yankees-Rangers trade yesterday after the teams completed the final details of an agreement reached over in the weekend.

What a way to send a message to the improved Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays that it's going to take a lot more than one good offseason to change the balance of power in the division.

The Yankees were about to open spring training with a big hole at third base after playoff hero Aaron Boone suffered a severe knee injury playing pickup basketball. Instead, the best all-around shortstop in the game has agreed to move to third to play beside friend and sometime rival Derek Jeter.

The dynamic deal could push the Yankees' payroll past $200 million but leaves them to fill a new hole at second base. It appears they'll go with one of the players who were headed to spring to compete at third, either young Erick Almonte or veteran Enrique Wilson.

The Rangers insisted after the Red Sox deal fell apart that they were happy to hang onto Rodriguez, even naming him captain to demonstrate their commitment to keeping him. But when another opportunity arose to rid themselves of his record contract, they agreed to pay $67 million of the remaining $179 million guaranteed in the 10-year deal he signed three years ago.

Rangers owner Tom Hicks was all smiles in December 2000, when he signed Rodriguez for $252 million, twice the size of the largest contract ever before awarded to a pro athlete (the NBA's Kevin Garnett), but Texas will end up paying $140 million for just three seasons - an average of $46.7 million a year.

The Associated Press reported that the Rangers will pay $43 million of Rodriguez's remaining salary over the next seven seasons. Texas also will pay $24 million in deferred salary at a slightly lower interest rate than the 3 percent called for in the original deal.

The Red Sox appeared to have closed the gap with their historic rival with the offseason acquisition of starting pitcher Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke, but even chief executive Larry Lucchino had to acknowledge that the Yankees have responded with stunning resolve. They traded for starting pitcher Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez to offset the loss of free agents Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens and signed power-hitting outfielder Gary Sheffield. Now this.

"It's clearly a blow," Lucchino told The Boston Globe. "A-Rod's an exceptional player. Any team would be stronger for getting him. There comes a time when you have to tip your cap to your adversary.

"What can you say? Money talks. It is a bit of a shock to the system. But we've been trying to say we play the game in the field, not during the winter. One thing, I'll pay to see these teams go toe to toe."

Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie spent some time yesterday considering what the trade could mean to his ballclub's hope of making significant gains in the AL East.

"I'm trying to look at it rationally, rather than just saying, 'Oh, my gosh, what are we going to do? They've added another great player,'" Beattie said.

"I just took a look at what it meant both offensively and defensively. A-Rod is a great player, no doubt about it, but now you take him out of shortstop and put him at third base. They still have to come up with a double-play combination.

"The other part of that is [the Yankees] traded a guy who was a big part of their offense. So, it's not a net gain. The net gain is much less than just bringing over A-Rod. They're going to lose Soriano, who's a big part of their offense, as well as the speed, on their club.

"So, when you break it down that way, it kind of brings it down a little bit, and you feel a little bit better about it. But, at the same time, he is a great player."

If the Yankees are dissatisfied with their double-play combination, they possibly could speak to the Orioles about a deal for one of their second basemen, Jerry Hairston or Brian Roberts. However, the Orioles could be reluctant to trade with a team in their division.

At FanFest on Feb. 7, Beattie said the Orioles' goal this year should be to make the playoffs, regardless of what the other teams in the division do.

"We're still going to need things to break right for us," Beattie said. "I still continue to say there are scenarios where we could have a very successful year. But this is certainly an eye-opener, that's for darned sure.

"You just kind of watch, and I think we stay focused on what we're able to do, what we can do and what we should do and not let all this other stuff distract us too much. [The Yankees] still have to go out and play the games, but offensively they certainly look quite strong."

Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi also tipped his hat to the Yankees for the impressive acquisition.

"A-Rod is a big, big get for the Yankees," Ricciardi told the Globe. "Listen, before this I thought the Red Sox had the best offseason of any team in the league.

"Acquiring Schilling and Foulke are two gigantic moves. But now you're talking about one of the top one or two players in the game. From our point of view, it doesn't change much. We thought it would be Boston and New York that we had to find a way to beat. And that's still the same climb for us."

The deal even got the notice of the nation's chief executive, who just happens to be the former owner of the Rangers.

"I was just as surprised as the Yankee fans and the Boston Red Sox fans when I opened up my paper today," President Bush told NBC at the Daytona 500. "It, obviously, is a big deal. ... A-Rod's a great player, and the Yanks are going to be a heck of a team with him in the infield."

The Associated Press and Boston Globe contributed to this article.

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