The Boston Red Sox apparently are intent on overthrowing the "Evil Empire" that has controlled the American League East for much of the past decade. Either that or they will soon collapse under the weight of the trade rumors that are piling up around them.
It was Red Sox president Larry Lucchino who made headlines when he likened the free-spending New York Yankees to the forces of darkness, but in this strange and eventful offseason, it is Boston that has become the center of the baseball universe.
The on-again, off-again pursuit of superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez has signaled the Red Sox's intent to do and spend whatever is necessary to displace the Yankees at the top of the division standings and win the World Series for the first time since 1918, but it also has become a multi-regional obsession that has spawned its own domino theory.
Newsday reported yesterday that the Red Sox had tentatively agreed to trade marquee shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago White Sox for power-hitting outfielder Magglio Ordonez, with the deal contingent on the completion of the long-rumored trade that would send Red Sox superstar Manny Ramirez to the Texas Rangers for Rodriguez.
The Rodriguez deal, however, was thrown into serious doubt late yesterday afternoon, when the Major League Baseball Players Association rejected a plan to restructure the rest of Rodriguez's $252 million contract. The trade still could be completed if the Red Sox are willing to absorb the contract in its original form, if commissioner Bud Selig intervenes or if a more acceptable restructuring plan can be completed by today's 5 p.m. deadline that was imposed on the trade talks by Rangers owner Tom Hicks and Selig.
The Ordonez rumor makes sense, because the Red Sox would have to unload Garciaparra to make room in the infield for Rodriguez, and they would need to replace his bat because they would already be giving up one of the top run producers in the game in Ramirez.
The original multi-deal scenario had the Red Sox completing the Rodriguez deal and sending Garciaparra to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a package that included promising 12-game winner Odalis Perez. There even has been speculation the three teams could make a trade that would send Perez and pitching prospects to the White Sox, Ordonez and one of those pitching prospects to the Red Sox and Garciaparra back to his West Coast roots.
If that sounds complicated, imagine what it must have been like yesterday in New York, where Red Sox officials huddled with Rodriguez, agent Scott Boras and representatives of Major League Baseball and the players union to look for a way to restructure baseball's biggest contract before the deadline.
The Rangers want the Red Sox to take on Rodriguez's remaining $179 million guarantee and subsidize a portion of the $97.5 million left on Ramirez's contract. To consider that, the Red Sox would like to restructure Rodriguez's deal to include more deferred money. The union would not sign off on a deal that would reduce the overall value of Rodriguez's contract, even though Rodriguez was willing to allow that to jump to one of the sport's best teams.
"The issue continues to be the essential difference between restructuring and reducing," union counsel Gene Orza told The Boston Globe. "We don't authorize reducing; we authorize restructuring. There has to be some added value to the player."
Rob Manfred, baseball's top labor lawyer, challenged the union's interpretation.
"The basic agreement contains a rule that requires any special covenant to be an actual or potential benefit to the player," Manfred said. "In a situation like the current situation, where there was a restructuring, where the player was getting something and the club was getting something, Gene Orza is not the final arbitrator on whether the restructuring provides an actual or potential benefit to the player. The commissioner currently is considering his legal options in consultation with the two teams."
If Selig approves the restructuring and the union files a grievance to block it, the case would go to Shyam Das, baseball's arbitrator.
The contract restructuring would appear to be a major stumbling block in the Red Sox's bid to take down the Yankees.
Boston already has acquired power pitcher Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks, bolstering a starting rotation that includes Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.
The Yankees haven't been idle. They completed a three-year, $39 million contract yesterday for Gary Sheffield, who drove in 132 runs last season, and already have answered the Schilling deal with the recent acquisitions of emerging starter Javier Vazquez and $15 million-a-year veteran Kevin Brown. They also have a two-year deal with veteran outfielder Kenny Lofton that hasn't been completed.
They should be done, but a Rodriguez deal could prompt another big acquisition by Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who might be able to rationalize further spending because of the big salaries that dropped off the payroll when Roger Clemens retired and fellow starting pitcher Andy Pettitte signed with the Houston Astros.
Though it seems unlikely that the Yankees would re-emerge as a bidder for free-agent outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, they could make another move to deepen their rotation.
Wire reports contributed to this article.