This has been a trying Christmas season for everyone involved in the Alex Rodriguez trade talks, because after days and weeks of negotiations, the deal might be dead. Or maybe not. So we must be generous in our holiday gift list for those involved directly or peripherally.
If the trades fall apart, Nomar Garciaparra gets his old job back, an autographed copy of "The 10-Step Guide To Conquering Bitterness," and a locker on the far side of the clubhouse from teammate Kevin Millar, who indicated earlier this week that he prefers A-Rod.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, having tried and failed to land Garciaparra and Magglio Ordonez, will get another chance at the wide range of free agents to bolster their pathetic offense. Not to worry: if they don't sign Ivan Rodriguez, there is always Rey Ordonez.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig gets many more chances to demonstrate that there is absolutely no true structure in the sport.
Remember that 72-hour negotiating window once granted by Selig? That turned into about 272 hours. Thursday's 5 p.m. ET deadline had about as much teeth as a jaywalking warning. And how is it that Selig became such a strong advocate for the completion of this trade? Executives with other teams were privately appalled. Wonder if Selig will make a similar effort to facilitate deals next summer, when the Yankees or the Blue Jays are attempting to make trades as well ...
Gene Orza, general counsel for the players' union, gets a free tutorial on logic. On one hand, the union provides a vigorous stance against aggressive testing of steroid users, who effectively present a threat to their brethren by forcing the others to make a competitive choice to take supplements or fall behind.
At the same time, the union insists that Rodriguez surrender nothing from his $252 million contract -- a deal Rodriguez wants to restructure -- in the name of protecting his peers. As if any other player would ever be in a comparable situation. In effect, the union has temporarily made Rodriguez -- the game's best player, and a solid citizen -- a prisoner of his mega-deal. No wonder Curt Schilling and other players are confused about the union's decision.
The Chicago White Sox get a free pass. They might've swapped Magglio Ordonez and then spun off Garciaparra to the Dodgers, but if the White Sox had kept Garciaparra, they might have fielded the most miserable player in baseball. Garciaparra would have been upset about being dumped by the Red Sox, and unhappy that he didn't wind up with Los Angeles. The collapse of the trades might be the best thing that happened to the White Sox.
With the A-Rod deal on hold, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner gets a temporary reprieve, and nothing more than a little coal in his stocking. There has been wide speculation that Steinbrenner would respond strongly to an A-Rod deal -- and perhaps he'll have a few choice words about Selig's role in these negotiations -- but he can't really do anything with his personnel. The Yankees are locked in now, and will rely heavily on a staff that includes an injury-prone rotation and five seriously deficient fielders. With A-Rod and Ordonez, the Red Sox will have dominated the offseason.
Even if Manny Ramirez is traded to the Texas Rangers, he will be allowed to continue residing in oblivion, rent-free. That will be the best possible place for him when the dwindling Texas crowds start booing.
There will be no presents for Rangers owner Tom Hicks, only cash folded inside a card, the way the grandparents do it. Maybe a little extra money will help Hicks dig out from the monumentally insane contract he signed with Rodriguez three years ago.
If he keeps A-Rod, the team's roster will continue to be inflexible, because of the huge financial obligation to one player. And on the other hand, if the trade is completed, then Hicks will have to convince fans that trading the game's best player is a good thing. By the way, this is a strategy that devastated the Edmonton Oilers (who dealt Wayne Gretzky), Milwaukee Bucks (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Boston Red Sox (Babe Ruth) in the past.
If Alex Rodriguez stays with the Rangers, we will provide a vault, where A-Rod will effectively be held captive over the remainder of his contract, and a lifetime supply of earplugs, whenever he ventures into The Ballpark At Arlington. Fans always love it when you make clear that you want to play someplace else.
And if A-Rod goes to Boston -- with all of that money he'll never spend, fully protected by the vigilant union -- he won't need anything from us.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.