Thursday, December 18, 2003

Players union nixes new Rodriguez deal

Move disrupts trade for Ramirez, but talks continuing

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - The baseball players' union got in the middle of the proposed Alex Rodriguez trade Wednesday, forcing the Red Sox and Rangers to find another way to complete the blockbuster deal.

In a rare move, the union intervened and rejected Boston's proposed restructuring of Rodriguez's $252 million contract. The changes were needed before Texas could send the American League MVP to the Red Sox for Manny Ramirez.

But the deal to swap baseball's only $20 million-a-year players isn't dead. "Dialogue is continuing," Scott Boras, Rodriguez's agent, said.

To make his contract more palatable for Boston, Rodriguez agreed to renegotiate. But baseball's labor deal doesn't allow a reduction unless the player gets something of value in return.

"It was clear it crossed the line ... and by a huge margin," Gene Orza, the union's No. 2 official, said after meeting with Rodriguez, his agent and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "We did suggest an offer the club could make to Alex that would not do that. As was its right, the club chose not to make it.

"The principle involved is a transcendent one, affecting all of Alex's fellow players."

Neither Orza nor Boras would detail Boston's proposal. Red Sox president Larry Lucchino declined comment, and Rangers officials did not immediately return calls.

INDIANS: The proposed shortstop swap sending Omar Vizquel to Seattle for Carlos Guillen is off.

"I expect him to be our opening day shortstop," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said of Vizquel, who had waived his no-trade clause and needed only to pass a physical exam to complete the deal.

After putting Vizquel through some agility drills and a medical checkup Tuesday, the Mariners were concerned about the condition of his surgically repaired right knee and called off the deal.

"There were a lot of complicated issues," Seattle assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas said.

Vizquel, with more than 10 years of big-league experience and more than five straight in Cleveland, could have vetoed the trade but was excited about the chance to go back to Seattle, the team he started his career with. The nine-time Gold Glove winner played for Seattle from 1989-93. He told Shapiro the Mariners were the only team other than the Indians he would play for.

Vizquel, 36, had two operations on his knee last season, but the Indians aren't worried.

"He's 80 percent right now. Our staff says he'll be 100 percent by opening day," Shapiro said.

YANKEES: The first time he goes into a slump, Gary Sheffield knows Yankees owner George Steinbrenner will criticize him in the newspapers and on the airwaves.

"That's part of it. He already told me that's going to happen," Sheffield said Wednesday after finalizing his $39 million, three-year contract with the Yankees.

EXPOS: The commissioner's office finalized an agreement to have the team return to San Juan's Hiram Bithorn Stadium for 22 "home" games next season.

The deal has the Expos playing games against the New York Mets (April 9-11), Florida (April 13-15), Milwaukee (May 18-20), San Francisco (May 21-23), Toronto (July 2-4), Atlanta (July 5-7) and Pittsburgh (July 8-11).

SHORT HOPS: Catcher Eddie Perez agreed to a $1.25-million, two-year contract to rejoin the Braves. ...Scott Spiezio signed a three-year contract and is expected to play third base. ... Detroit signed relief pitcher Al Levine to a one-year contract.

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