Heaven and earth - A-Rod may ask for it
Seattle Times staff reporter
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. - The most compelling figure at the annual General Manager's Meetings at the Ritz-Carlton resort here won't be a general manager.
It won't be any of the six new field managers who will be making their first public outings with their ballclubs.
It won't be any of the small contingent of glamour free agents who will rock baseball's economic world this winter but will monitor these festivities from afar.
This agent is anything but free.
Scott Boras is coming to town, and he's got visual aids.
Boras commands three of the premier free agents on the market, as well as Kansas City outfielder Johnny Damon, whose trade status will be one of the major subplots of this winter, and these meetings.
But while Damon and other Boras clients Juan Gonzalez and Darren Dreifort are major players, it is Alex Rodriguez who has baseball spellbound with anticipation about his future - and his ultimate asking price.
Boras' appearance here - he's expected to arrive today - marks the opening salvo in the great A-Rod Sweepstakes. Boras, who will distribute a glossy brochure extolling Rodriguez's virtues, said he'll begin preliminary discussions with teams that covet Rodriguez.
"We'll let them know the lay of the land as far as what Alex's goals are, what his economic minimums are," Boras said. "If the clubs are serious and committed to doing the sorts of things Alex wants done, we'll move on with those teams."
At that point, the GMs can slip off into the background. "This is a situation where owners call; not GMs, owners," Boras said. "He's one of the most coveted athletes of this generation. Never has one athlete had so much to offer and been subject to such a great demand."
While teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until Nov. 11, all teams are allowed to express their interest in particular free agents, as well as discuss general economic parameters, such as length of contract.
Boras says 16 teams have already contacted him to express interest in pursuing Rodriguez. Included in that list, Boras said, is "one major surprise." The teams that are regarded as the most serious suitors to woo Rodriguez away from Seattle are the New York Mets, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Colorado, Cleveland and perhaps the Chicago White Sox, with the Chicago Cubs and Arizona being possibilities. There are some rumblings that Baltimore, which can offer proximity to Rodriguez's hero, Cal Ripken Jr., may enter the fray.
Apparently, you can cross the New York Yankees off the list. Rodriguez said Friday he has no interest in playing in the Bronx, and Boras, when asked if Rodriguez would consider changing positions to accommodate Derek Jeter, replied: "I don't think you recruit Alex Rodriguez and expect him to move; you recruit Alex and say, `We'll move heaven and earth.' "
The Mariners are the team Rodriguez, as recently as Game 4 of the World Series when he made a conspicuous appearance at Shea Stadium, still lists as the favorite to retain him.
Boras said he has had three lengthy conversations with GM Pat Gillick and team president Howard Lincoln since the Mariners' season ended. Nothing formal with them is scheduled during these meetings concerning Rodriguez, but shortly after - in mid-November - Boras said he will meet with the Mariner executives.
"Communication with the Mariners has been consistent and will continue to evolve," Boras said. "The Mariners have indicated they want to have the next round of talks after the GM meetings."
Gillick pronounced himself optimistic about retaining Rodriguez, an upgrade from the "hopeful" status he espoused during the American League Championship Series.
"We brought Lou back, and (Edgar Martinez is) coming back. All the things we've done so far are positive signs for Alex," Gillick said. "Hopefully, that's part of the mix, and some of the reasons for him to come back here."
One huge reason for Rodriguez's decision, obviously, will be money, and with Carlos Delgado receiving $17 million a year from Toronto and Manny Ramirez reportedly asking Cleveland for $20 million a year, the grandeur of Rodriguez's ultimate contract is rising in scope.
It has long been speculated that A-Rod would reach the $20 million barrier, but that might just be the starting point. The figure $25 million is starting to be tossed about, along with escalator clauses that ensure he remains the highest-paid player. There are also indications that some clubs are willing to offer a 10-year contract.
"I've heard a lot (of speculation), and nothing I've heard is untrue, from what I know," Boras said. "Everyone wants to say he's a great hitter, like Delgado, but can you imagine Delgado playing shortstop, or Ramirez playing shortstop? Then you get a vision of Alex's completeness, Alex's value."
To those who question whether any single player is worth such a monumental contract, and how many teams could afford to pay it, Boras answers, "You'd be surprised. A lot of teams realize one player pays for himself and increases the value of the franchise. In certain instances, he'll not only pay for himself but make them millions of dollars."
The Dodgers and Mets, for instance, are facing negotiations for new television contracts, and the presence of Rodriguez would hugely raise the bidding.
"Put A-Rod on the team, and what you have is someone we've proven to be the best player in major-league history at age 24," Boras said. "That would promote substantial revenue - as it did for the Mariners."
After the Mariner season ended, Boras flew to Miami, and he and Rodriguez spent five days evaluating every organization in baseball - "major-league and minor-league personnel, ownership, the whole thing," Boras said. "We've been very thorough. Alex has narrowed the process down. I can tell you Seattle is a principal player in this. Whether that will be the choice depends on Alex's final evaluation."
-- According to the Baltimore Sun, the Mariners are one of at least 10 teams who have communicated a desire to bid for Oriole ace Mike Mussina. Gillick is familiar with Mussina from his Oriole days, but it's hard to imagine the Mariners being able to afford both Rodriguez and Mussina, who is expected to approach Kevin Brown's seven-year, $105 million package.
-- The Mariners' offseason priority, besides retaining Rodriguez, is to beef up their left-handed hitting, and so they will be quite interested to see if the Royals put Damon on the trade block, as expected. The Royals are desperate for relief help, so any talks with the Mariners would probably have to start with Jose Paniagua. Another left-handed hitter who could be available is Milwaukee's Jeromy Burnitz.
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