(Editor's note: This blog post first ran in February, when 'The Deal' debuted. It will be replayed on ESPN on Wednesday night at 10 p.m. after the Red Sox-Yankees game.)
ESPN’s latest “30 for 30 Shorts” (above) tells the story of two epic rivals battling over the best player in baseball.
“The Deal” details how the Red Sox first failed to land Alex Rodriguez in a trade that was vetoed by the MLBPA and then lost the superstar to the rival Yankees. And this was just weeks after Boston lost to New York in a devastating Game 7 walk-off homer in the ALCS.
After that crippling loss in the Bronx, the Red Sox were as determined as ever to catch the Yankees. Three days after that defeat, Tom Hicks, then owner of the Texas Rangers, called Red Sox president Larry Lucchino about the possibility of a trade involving A-Rod.
“We wanted to be bold, we wanted to win. So here was a chance after the near misses of 2002 and especially 2003 to give life to that boldness,” Lucchino says in the documentary.
So the sides began talks and eventually worked out a deal in which the Red Sox would essentially trade Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra and a young Jon Lester and get in return A-Rod, White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez and pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
The hangup, however, was the seven years and $179 million left on A-Rod’s contract.
Theo Epstein called that money a “non-starter,” so the Red Sox explored whether A-Rod would be willing to rework the deal. Rodriguez was amenable, but was told by the MLBPA that he could only rework it within the parameters of the CBA. What that meant was if he agreed to take less money, he would need to get something of equal value in return.
“When we brought up dollars and we said, ‘Alex, we need you to walk away from X, he said ‘Yeah, I can do this. We can make this happen,’” Epstein said.
Soon after, the sides had a deal. Alex was reducing his salary and the Red Sox would give him the benefit of the rights to his likeness. They also built in more flexibility into an out that was already in his deal.
A-Rod even signed on the dotted line.
“Somewhere in my files is a signed Red Sox contract by A-Rod,” said Jed Hoyer, who was Epstein’s assistant at the time.
On Dec. 17, the union announced the restructured deal would not be approved.
“A-Rod doesn’t operate in a vacuum,” explains ESPNBoston.com’s Gordon Edes in the documentary. “If he takes less money, it’s going to impact the financial futures of so many players coming after him.”
The deal was officially dead. Enter the Yankees.
Third baseman Aaron Boone, whose extra-inning homer in Game 7 of the ALCS sent the Red Sox home, felt his knee pop in mid-January while playing basketball and would be lost for the season.
Suddenly, the Yankees needed a third baseman.
Six days after losing Boone to injury, Yankees GM Brian Cashman and A-Rod sat next to each other at a baseball writers dinner in New York.
“So I spend the entire night siting having dinner with Alex on the dais and talking to Alex and what happened and why Boston didn’t happen,” Cashman explains in the documentary. “Between the Red Sox and the Rangers negotiations, the union’s involvement, and it turned into a little bit of a road map. And that’s when I started to get the idea, that evening, ‘We might have something here we can do.’”
The Red Sox were thinking the same thing.
“We looked at each other in the office and said, ‘If A-Rod’s willing to play third he’s a Yankee,’” Epstein says.
And when it soon-after leaked out that A-Rod was willing to play third?
“It was just a matter of time,” Theo said. “We were just waiting for the ax to fall.”
The Yankees and Rangers began talking. Alfonso Soriano was the players the Yankees wanted to move, along with another player from a list of several possibilities. Texas chose Joaquin Arias, passing on a young second baseman named Robinson Cano.
The deal was done. The Yankees would pay $112 million of the $179 million remaining on A-Rod’s deal and the Rangers would pay the rest.
The Red Sox were devastated.
“Not only had the deal fallen apart for us to get the best player in baseball, but he just landed in the Yankees’ lap,” Hoyer said.
After his introductory press conference at Yankee Stadium, A-Rod told ESPN he “almost felt like I had one foot in a Red Sox uniform.”
In hindsight, the deal falling through was a blessing for the Red Sox. The next season, they would erase a 3-0 ALCS deficit against A-Rod’s Yankees and go on to win their first World Series in 86 years and then two more over the next nine seasons.
And A-Rod, of course, became embroiled in a PED scandal that has followed him for years. He will be suspended for the 2014 season.
(Editor’s note: Edes wrote on this topic late last year as well. You can read the piece HERE.)