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Change of heart?

Yankees seem more willing to give A-Rod extension

Posted: Wednesday July 11, 2007 1:27PM; Updated: Wednesday July 11, 2007 1:27PM
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Alex Rodriguez has plenty to smile about after a huge first half that could lead to a big payday this winter if he opts out of his deal.
Alex Rodriguez has plenty to smile about after a huge first half that could lead to a big payday this winter if he opts out of his deal.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- George Steinbrenner and other top Yankee decision makers are in agreement: They like Alex Rodriguez very much and now plan to try to do what they can to keep him in pinstripes. And if that has to mean an extension for A-Rod, so be it.

It has been suggested in many circles that Rodriguez is very likely to opt out of the remaining three years and $81 million on his record $252-million contract, and he may still do so. However, the Yankees will still have first crack at keeping A-Rod, and despite a previously stated intention not to extend him, word now is that they will be willing to negotiate if that's what it takes to keep him -- which shouldn't be such a surprise, considering his monstrous first half.

If the Yankees dare try playing hardball now, they understand that A-Rod will turn his unusually beneficial opt-out clause into mega free-agent dollars elsewhere, which is the one thing the Yankees truly can't afford. It is expected that as a free agent A-Rod would have a chance to sign yet another deal for $200 million, or perhaps even more.

Taking a page out of the Yankees' spring strategy not to commit, A-Rod, himself an astute businessman, isn't about to give away his intentions. Upon hearing after Tuesday night's All-Star Game about the apparent shift in the Yankees' thinking, Rodriguez said, "Cool .... I love the Yankees,'' and he left it at that.

A-Rod has suffered through some bad publicity this year, thanks to the New York tabloids, but has seemed more comfortable than ever in the big city and has genuinely appeared to enjoy this season (except for the losing part); he has also thrived like never before, with a league-high 30 first-half home runs and 86 RBIs, plus a .317 batting average, all of which explains why the Yankees have decided they want him back so badly. They also need him: The Yankees will enter the second half with a surprisingly mediocre 42-43 record despite A-Rod's audacious first-half numbers.

Even beyond their tremendous revenue streams, the Yankees possess a slight financial edge in retaining A-Rod, in that Texas owner Tom Hicks has committed to pay $29 million of the $81 million remaining on the current contract, but only if he remains with the Yankees; if A-Rod opts out, Hicks will save the $29 million, giving him a strong rooting interest here. If A-Rod opts out, he is also almost surely gone from the Yankees, since they'd no longer have the benefit of the $29 million Hicks gift.

In assessing A-Rod's chances to stay, know that he generally enjoys the big stage and the benefits that come with an enhanced chance to win from New York's $200 million payroll. Rodriguez has surely thrived at Yankee Stadium, and he is believed to prefer to remain in the American League. There's an extra benefit to the Rodriguezes being on the East Coast, as they're not too far from their hometown of Miami. None of the other potential suitors can provide all those benefits, though perhaps the rival Red Sox come closest.

Of course, with almost countless riches available on the free-agent market, there can be no certainty that Rodriguez will stay in New York. While Rodriguez has spoken only positively about New York -- particularly here at the All-Star game -- when he signed with Texas he went for the best financial package, and he knows that if stays with the Yankees he'll never know whether another team would have bid more later.

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