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Plenty of takers for A-Rod

Dodgers, Angels would lead list of superstar's suitors

Posted: Wednesday September 27, 2006 12:50PM; Updated: Wednesday September 27, 2006 5:27PM
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It's been a bizarre season for Alex Rodriguez, who accidentally smacked umpire Eric Cooper in the mouth while running out an infield hit last week.
It's been a bizarre season for Alex Rodriguez, who accidentally smacked umpire Eric Cooper in the mouth while running out an infield hit last week.

Also in this column:
• Girardi was "fired"
• Biggio to return in '07
• Padres make a run
• More news and notes

If the Yankees decide to put Alex Rodriguez on the trade market this winter, they'll have plenty of takers. At the very least, A-Rod's availability would likely inspire a massive bidding war between the two Los Angeles teams.

Angels owner Arte Moreno is on record as saying he will be aiming to make "major" moves this winter. Plus, two people familiar with the Dodgers' thinking told SI.com that L.A. is  determined to add a power hitter, have followed with interest what's going on with Rodriguez and would love to be in the A-Rod ball game.

That is, of course, if A-Rod is available. One Yankees person insisted "A-Rod isn't going anywhere," and Rodriguez has continued to say he loves New York and wouldn't even consider waiving his no-trade clause. But what if? What if A-Rod has a bad postseason after the heat's been turned up on him another several degrees? Under those circumstances, you'd have to begin to wonder whether Yankees general manager Brian Cashman would begin listening to inquiries on the most talented player of this generation.

Tom Verducci's wonderful article on Rodriguez titled "The Lonely Yankee" exposed a lot of raw nerves inside the Yankees clubhouse and may encourage interested baseball executives to monitor the A-Rod situation closely. Those execs understand that A-Rod is a major bargain at $16 million annually, which represents the part of his historic $252 million contract that's not being paid by beleaguered Rangers owner Tom Hicks. (Texas contributes $9 million annually through the end of the contract in 2010.) Even in his off year, Rodriguez has hit 34 home runs and driven in 117 runs.

The Dodgers and the Angels are both badly in need of offense and could use Rodriguez at third base. The Dodgers' Bill Mueller is expected to have to retire due to a ravaged knee, and the Angels don't have a proven third baseman; Dallas McPherson has yet to pan out and they've determined that Chone Figgins is probably best suited for second base. The Dodgers are 27th in the majors in home runs despite their recent barrage, while the Angels are 25th.

If A-Rod's on the block, he jumps ahead of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Lee and Aramis Ramirez as the top available slugger and the likely top target of both L.A. teams and others (the Cubs, Orioles, Tigers and even the Padres might show interest). Frankly, there'd be a feeding frenzy. Cashman said there were multiple calls of interest when Rodriguez was in a funk and those crazy rumors about an A-Rod deal for Bobby Abreu surfaced (the Yankees did get Abreu, but for reliever Matt Smith and minor leaguers), and he told them all "no."

But a lot has happened since then. As detailed in Verducci's article, Rodriguez irked some teammates by carrying himself with a "false confidence" (Jason Giambi's phrase) and was challenged by Giambi to show what he's made of this October. A-Rod countered by pointing out that others inside the Yankees clubhouse have slumped. But it should be noted that there's no evidence that Rodriguez bought the illegal, bottled brand of confidence that benefited Giambi, who is also ring-less.

Rodriguez is right in a lot of what he says. Yet it's a losing battle. It's true what he implies, that unlike the others, he isn't allowed to slump. He had to know that mentioning past struggles of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera wasn't going to help him, but it's a fair point to note how much higher the standards are for him than anyone else. And I don't blame him for bringing up Mike Mussina, who gets whiny whenever anyone makes an error behind him but usually doesn't attach his name to his whines.

As for Joe Torre's role in this, and his possible motivation for revealing things about A-Rod and their so-called "pep talk," perhaps Torre is annoyed that Rodriguez isn't clicking with hitting coach Don Mattingly. Perhaps it's that A-Rod sought refuge earlier with Lou Piniella, the very man who was rumored to be in line for Torre's job last year before the manager led the Yankees back into the playoffs. Or maybe Torre's lips were just loose those days. In any case, Torre clearly was frustrated to be overseeing an all-time great's worst season -- he was even thinking of dropping Rodriguez to No. 7 or No. 8 in the order.

That A-Rod isn't best buddies with most of his high-profile teammates is not a surprise (although Rodriguez appears friendly with Johnny Damon and, yes, even Giambi). It is generally a clubhouse of corporate entities, anyway, nothing like the place Damon left in Boston. The Yankees are about the furthest thing from a close-knit band of idiots there is; besides Giambi and Damon, two of the players closer to A-Rod, and a few others, they're as staid and stolid as you'd expect.

One part that isn't so surprising to those who've been around that clubhouse is Jeter's continuing refusal to get involved. Jeter generally likes to avoid controversy (although he was notably front and center as a defender of Giambi during the BALCO days). No matter Jeter's personal feelings -- and the belief here is that he still isn't quite over that infamous 2001 Esquire article in which Rodriguez foolishly diminished Jeter's role -- he would have looked better had he come to A-Rod's defense.

As for A-Rod, I think he's right that the main reason he's judged differently is his eye-popping contract. He hasn't done anything so wrong beyond acting like things are going well when they're not, and if anything, he's a positive clubhouse influence. Last year, for instance, he took then-rookies Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang on a shopping spree, buying them suits so they could look like big-leaguers. He did the same this year for Melky Cabrera. Yet somehow, Rodriguez's good deeds don't ever seem to get attention. Unlike in the case of his gigantic contract, he is getting a raw deal in the court of public opinion. The bigger question is whether he might start to feel at some point that he'd get a better deal somewhere other than New York.