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Going, Going...


The team that observers believe has the best shot is the Cubs. They’re up for sale, but a source with knowledge of the situation says Boras knows which group is most likely to be awarded the team. (That’s not loudmouth Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, by the way; he has no chance.) The source says Boras has already been in touch with that group about the possibility of a contract that could reach $30 million a year over the next ten years while deferring a certain portion of money toward an eventual stake in the franchise. It would be another historically huge deal. Rodriguez would be 42 years old at the end of it; Cal Ripken Jr., the Iron Man, retired at 41.

Regardless—if that’s what the Cubs want to pay, the Yankees will have to match it. But it goes beyond simply deciding they’re going to outbid the Cubs and Red Sox; they have to do it before those other teams bid. The minute that Rodriguez becomes a free agent, the last three years of his contract are void—and the $29 million the Rangers are chipping in over the next three years are gone as well. If the Yankees can extend A-Rod’s deal before the deadline, they can keep the $29 million. If not, it’s gone, and it’s extremely unlikely they will let that money evaporate and then remain in the bidding.

The first day Rodriguez can opt out of the contract is ten days after the World Series ends. The latest the Series should end is November 1. That’s a big decision for the team to make quickly. But who’s going to make it?

It seems odd to have gotten 1,100 words into a story about the Yankees without a single appearance from George Steinbrenner, but thus it goes these days. Steinbrenner was recently described by Portfolio magazine as having little idea what’s going on around him, and his succession plan has been blown up by the pending divorce of Steve Swindal, toppled chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises, and Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. The split has fueled speculation over who will inherit the team, but that’s an issue for a later day with Rodriguez and Boras capable of testing the market this off-season. G.M. Brian Cashman is in charge of baseball operations, and without Steinbrenner to interfere, he’s shown a level of clearheadedness that gives no reason to indicate he’d want to lose the best player in baseball. Cashman doesn’t cut the checks, though it’s not like the money isn’t there, in the form of the YES Network. SNL Kagan has estimated that YES made $136 million in profit last year. The financial decision, insiders say, could be heavily influenced by Lonn Trost, the Yankees’ C.O.O., the guy who knows the true ins and outs of the Yankees’ business. YES, for example, was his brainstorm. In the middle of it all is Randy Levine, the Yankees’ president, who’s known to have difficult relationships with Cashman and manager Joe Torre. Levine has driven the construction of the team’s new stadium; he believes A-Rod is financially indispensable to the franchise, especially given the investment in the new park, and is pushing to re-sign him at almost any cost.

Who has final say? Who knows? With no formal hierarchy in place, it will come down to a Hobbesian knife fight. It could be reminiscent of the power struggle that took place between Red Sox G.M. Theo Epstein and team president Larry Lucchino after the Sox’s 2005 playoff flameout, which ended with Epstein quitting and leaving Fenway Park in a gorilla costume (he returned months later, his position considerably stronger). And that happened with a hands-on owner in firm control of the franchise.

What does the man in the middle think about all this? In most sports-contract negotiations, a player’s input is either negligible (they’ll go where the money is) or predictable (they want to live near home or play on a winning team). But with A-Rod, existing eccentricity (when he was with Texas, a Sports Illustrated profile reported that on a visit to Boston, he’d walked around Harvard Square initiating conversations with students) has combined with massive scrutiny and some ill-timed groundouts to produce a quite unusual situation.

To wit: Since early September, Rodriguez has developed what might charitably be called a “tic.” When he reaches base, he rotates his left shoulder while holding his right hand over his heart. He claims that he’s stretching out a jammed shoulder. It’s an odd maneuver; it makes him look like he’s in pain. As Rodriguez rounded the bases after hitting his 50th home run in early September, becoming the first Yankee to hit that many since Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, the Yankees bullpen, almost in unison, began rotating their left shoulders and holding their right hands over their hearts. When A-Rod reached the dugout, several other teammates were doing the same thing. As the blog Bronx Banter pointed out, an MVP, carrying his team to the playoffs, facing impending free agency, was being mocked for his idiosyncrasies the second he was cementing himself as the team’s best slugger of the past 50 years. However good-natured it was, it’s the kind of thing that does not speak to an undying attachment between player and team.


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