Rodriguez-for-Ramirez deal would bank on strange logic

Huge salaries make them a match for possible trade

Analysis

December 09, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Superstar Alex Rodriguez earns an average of $25 million a year and generally is considered to be the best all-around baseball player on the planet.

Superstar Manny Ramirez earns $20 million a year and generally is considered to be a major league pain in the ... well, you get the idea.

So why is the baseball world awash in speculation that the Texas Rangers will trade Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox for the troublesome Ramirez?

The answer is simpler than you might think. They are a match made in baseball's economic purgatory, because their huge contracts make it impossible to trade either one for anybody else.

The Red Sox recently placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, which means that any other team could have had him just by agreeing to take on the final five years of his eight-year, $160 million deal. The guy is 31 and has driven in an average of 119 runs over the past nine seasons, and nobody placed a claim.

The Rangers have come to regret giving Rodriguez that garish, 10-year, $252 million contract, but not enough to give him away on waivers. They say they are happy to keep him, but if the Red Sox want to pick up about a quarter of Ramirez's remaining guarantee, the Rangers might be willing to make the most expensive swap in baseball history.

It seems crazy at first blush. Rodriguez's contract has been credited with throwing baseball's salary structure so far out of whack that it shocked baseball owners into adopting a sweeping new revenue-sharing and luxury tax plan aimed at narrowing the competitive gap between the richest and poorest teams. If the Red Sox agreed to subsidize Ramirez's contract to make the deal, it would - in effect - raise the actual price of Rodriguez well above $25 million a year. It would also force the club to deal popular shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to make room on the infield for Rodriguez.

But there is a strange logic to it. The Red Sox would get the most popular player in the game and get rid of a player who became a clubhouse liability during their wild-card run this past season. The deal, including subsidies, would increase Boston's payroll by up to $10 million a year, but that would be offset by a deal to shed Garciaparra and his 2004 salary of $11.5 million.

The Rangers would gain payroll flexibility and cut their long-term obligation by two years, because Rodriguez's contract is guaranteed through the 2010 season and Ramirez's deal ends in 2008. The trade would leave them with more money to upgrade an unproductive pitching staff.

The major issue appears to be the subsidy. The Rangers probably won't make the deal unless they get Ramirez at a $5 million per year discount, and an unnamed Red Sox official quoted in The Boston Globe insisted the club is not interested in paying Ramirez to play elsewhere.

Maybe there's room for compromise, but deals involving big-name players and big-money contracts always are very difficult to consummate, and this likely would be the biggest and most complicated one-for-one deal in the history of the game. In short, it remains a long shot.

Rodriguez probably would have to be willing to restructure the remainder of his contract to make it more palatable for the Red Sox to subsidize Ramirez. Even then, the Red Sox would face a significant drop in offensive potential, because both of the rumored deals involving Garciaparra call for the club to get a front-line starting pitcher in return.

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino obviously understands the intense interest in a Rodriguez-Ramirez deal, but he declined to comment yesterday after the team released a statement over the weekend refusing to confirm or deny any trade speculation.

"We appreciate the inquiries and interest, but we are trying to adhere to a policy of not commenting on trade rumors," the Red Sox said in that statement. "Public speculation about player transactions, while a natural part of the hot-stove season, can be offensive and hurtful to our players. We respectfully can't participate in the process of confirming or refuting trade rumors."

Indeed, the rumors were not received well by Garciaparra, whose agent, Arn Tellem, called the talks between the Red Sox and Rangers "a slap in the face" in an interview with the Globe. Garciaparra told the Globe he is happy in Boston and hopes to sign a long-term deal to finish his career there, though he rejected a long-term contract extension earlier this year.

"My heart and my first option have always been [with Boston], and it hasn't strayed from that," Garciaparra said. "The ball's really in management's court. But if there is any question about my unhappiness, that's been answered."

Rangers general manager John Hart has confirmed that the deal is a possibility, but he said over the weekend that he needs to know one way or the other quickly so that he can move ahead with other possible offseason transactions.

"As long as this potentially is alive," he said, "it precludes us from having a road map of what we can do with anybody else. The sooner we have resolvement, the better."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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