Counteroffer coming; Florida remains an option

It may come down to a bizarre choice for Ivan Rodriguez: stay with the best team in the majors, or go to the worst.

In what appears to be a surprising development, the world champion Marlins have a chance to re-sign the perennial All-Star catcher, according to a published report.

Rodriguez has been negotiating with the Tigers, who lost 119 games last season. But those talks are progressing slowly after the Tigers offered Rodriguez a four-year, $40 million deal earlier this month.

Would Rodriguez really be happy playing for the Tigers? His agent, Scott Boras, is expected to submit a proposal to the Tigers on Friday. Boras denied to the Detroit Free Press that he is using the Tigers to get a better offer from another team.

"I don't want to negotiate in the newspaper," Boras told the Free Press on Wednesday. "But I want the Tigers and their fans to know that despite what they might hear or read that we're serious about this."

But the longer the talks drag on, the bigger the chance other teams -- such as the Marlins -- have to snag Rodriguez. According to the Sun-Sentinel of Florida, it is believed the Marlins' December offer of two years, $16 million, with a third-year vesting option for another $8 million, remains on the table. Rodriguez turned down Florida's reported three-year, $24 million offer earlier in the winter.

A front-office official with one of the teams in the running told the Sun-Sentinel that there is a "25 percent" chance that the National League playoff MVP would play for the Marlins in 2004.

Rodriguez, though, would have to wait until May 1 before signing with the Marlins, unless there is an unprecedented -- and highly unconventional -- sign-and-trade transaction involving a second team.

Rodriguez was terrific in his only season with the Marlins, leading the way during Florida's magical postseason run. He also has a close relationship with Marlins manager Jack McKeon.

"I would hate to see him go to a lousy club and ruin all the good things he did last year that enabled him to have Hall of Fame credentials," McKeon told the Sun-Sentinel of Florida. "That's a decision he's going to have to make. I'm not in his shoes, so I don't know what his thinking is. But I'd love to have him back."

McKeon has spoken with Rodriguez twice over the last couple of weeks, but said he did not openly lobby for his return to the Marlins.

"I called Pudge the other night but he was working out," McKeon told the Sun-Sentinel. "I call him as a friend. I just have tremendous respect for him and like to stay in touch with him. He calls me occasionally and tells me how much fun he had, how much he enjoyed playing for me.

"He says I was the best manager he ever played for. I tell him he was the best catcher that ever played for me. I just loved the way he took charge. I wish him the best. He's a class kid."

The Seattle Times reports that the Mariners may also get involved in the Rodriguez talks. The Mariners, free of Kazuhiro Sasaki's salary, may have some money to spend. However, Seattle is waiting until Sasaki's contract situation is completely resolved before seriously pursuing Rodriguez.

One baseball official close to the Sasaki situation told the Seattle Times that the process of dissolving his contract, which has $9.5 million remaining, could be completed by next week.