- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

NEW YORK — Alex Rod-riguez is just a day or two away from joining the New York Yankees in a stunning trade that will surely rank as one of the biggest in baseball history.

The American League champions and the Texas Rangers agreed yesterday to the outline of a deal that would send A-Rod to the Bronx for second baseman Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named, three high-ranking baseball officials said.

The talks began Wednesday night, and the sides moved to the verge of a final agreement yesterday, the officials told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The sides need to finalize the amount of money Texas will pay New York, and complete an agreement with Rodriguez, regarded as baseball’s top player, on a restructuring of his contract that was described as modest.

Several of those involved said the trade was likely to be finalized today or tomorrow. Approval of both the commissioner’s office and the players’ association is necessary.

As part of the trade, Texas would pay about $67million of the $179million in salary that Rodriguez is owed over the final seven years of his contract. That leaves the Yankees to pay an average of approximately $16million a season.

In addition to the $112million the Rangers would clear off their books, Texas estimated it would save more than $13million in interest for salaries that are to be deferred.

“It’s about flexibility,” general manager John Hart said. “We’re trading the best player in the game and we’re getting tremendous financial flexibility.”

Rodriguez has a no-trade clause but has said he would be amenable to a deal to the Yankees, all the officials said. Rodriguez would be moved from shortstop to third base by New York, filling the hole created when Aaron Boone hurt his knee Jan.16 in a pickup basketball game, an injury that will require surgery. Derek Jeter, the Yankees’ captain, would remain at shortstop.

Hart confirmed negotiations were ongoing, but said it was premature to call it a done deal.

“We’re in a very sensitive stage right now,” he said. “A deal of this magnitude, with all the moving parts, it takes time.”

Hart, though, is excited about what he called a “potential win-win-win situation for the Rangers, the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez.” He emphasized that Texas will benefit from greater financial flexibility, while adding a quality player.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was tightlipped.

“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.”

The deal would require approval of the commissioner’s office because of the money changing teams, and of the union because the deferred money in Rodriguez’s contract would be restructured.

“I can’t comment on the situation,” said Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras.

The talks were first reported yesterday by the New York Post and Newsday.

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 $252million, 10-year contract. The union said the proposal by the Red Sox would have lowered the deal’s value by $30million to $32million.

Boston then rejected the union’s plan to lower the contract by $12million to $13million 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 it was making the seven-time All-Star its captain.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, reached by phone last night, declined to comment on the Yankees’ proposed trade.

In addition to the salary owed the 28-year-old Rodriguez, he is due $4million from his signing bonus and $12million deferred at 3 percent annual interest from salaries during his first three years with Texas. Of the $67million or so the Rangers will pay the Yankees, $24million will go to money the contract called to be deferred in the final seven years.

The deferred money originally was to be paid from 2011-20. Rodriguez agreed to push back the payment schedule by five years and lower the interest rate by what the Rangers believe is a significant amount, one of the officials said. The union was examining the proposed change and didn’t consider it to be a great obstacle, one baseball lawyer said.

In addition, the Yankees would like to defer some of the approximately $112million they will owe Rodriguez.

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

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