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Rodriguez is named AL MVP

Yet he'd welcome deal

No sooner was Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez named the American League's Most Valuable Player yesterday than he indicated he would welcome playing elsewhere next year, with Boston considered high on his list.

"I just want to be in a situation where I have a chance to win year in and year out," Rodriguez said after he joined Andre Dawson of the 1987 Cubs as the only players to win MVPs with last-place teams.

Rodriguez said the Rangers have held trade talks with three or four teams since Texas owner Tom Hicks approached him about moving the balance of his 10-year, $252-million contract, the richest in baseball. The Rangers owe Rodriguez $189 million over the next seven years, and the Sox would rank among a handful of teams that could afford him, particularly if they shed the $95 million balance of Manny Ramirez's contract over the next five years and moved Nomar Garciaparra, who is due to earn $11.5 million next season before he becomes eligible for free agency.

"They presented me with some options, and my reply to them was, `I'll leave the door open,' " Rodriguez said of the request to explore a trade.

Rodriguez, who has considerable leverage because he has a no-trade clause, has made no secret in recent years about his fondness for Boston. The Mets, Orioles, and Dodgers also appear interested in acquiring him.

"It's been a rough three years," he said of his tenure with the pitching-poor Rangers. "But as far as the other stuff that's out there right now, I'm just going to keep an open mind."

He left little doubt, though, that his relationship with Texas manager Buck Showalter may be seriously damaged. Though Rodriguez repeatedly praised Hicks during conference calls from his vacation spot in Mexico, he declined numerous requests to address his relationship with Showalter or general manager John Hart.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Rodriguez has not returned Showalter's calls since the season ended and is angry about the firing of a clubhouse attendant.

Rodriguez, 28, who is considered the best all-around player in the game, acknowledged it would be "very hard" to move a marquee player with a contract as exorbitant as his, as Ramirez learned when the Sox placed him on irrevocable waivers and got no takers. Yet Rodriguez seemed intrigued by the possibilities, even if he is prepared to have the last word.

"Obviously, I'll have to approve [a trade]," he said. "If I don't like the move, then I'll exercise my rights." . . .

While Rodriguez received 242 points in the MVP balloting to outdistance Toronto's Carlos Delgado (213), New York's Jorge Posada (194) and Minnesota's Shannon Stewart (140), the Sox had more players receive votes (six) than any other team, perhaps hurting any individual's chance of prevailing. The Sox had not placed as many players on an MVP ballot since seven appeared in 1978.

David Ortiz, who led the Sox in game-winning RBIs (16), go-ahead RBIs (24), and two-out RBIs (42), finished fifth with 130 points, denying Ramirez a $50,000 bonus he would have earned for a fifth-place showing. Ramirez was sixth with 100 points, just ahead of Nomar Garciaparra (99) in seventh place. Ortiz received four first-place votes while Ramirez and Garciaparra each received one, equaling Rodriguez's total of six. In all, 10 AL players picked up first-place votes, matching a league record set in 1977, when Rod Carew won the MVP award.

No other Boston player received a first-place vote, though Bill Mueller, the AL batting champion, picked up two third-place votes as he appeared on nine of the 28 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America and accumulated 45 points. Pedro Martinez received 7 points for a sixth-place vote and ninth-place vote, while Jason Varitek received a seventh-place vote for 4 points.

When the Sox placed seven players on the ballot in '78, Jim Rice won the MVP. The others receiving votes were Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Fred Lynn, Bob Stanley, Dennis Eckersley, and Rick Burleson. . . .

Add Mike Timlin to the list of Sox players defending former manager Grady Little since Boston's Game 7 collapse against the Yankees in the AL Championship Series. Timlin, who was ready in the bullpen as Martinez blew a 5-2 lead with the Sox five outs shy of clinching their first World Series berth in 17 years, has continued to replay the scenario in his head.

"Sure, I reflect on it," he said in a conference call after signing a one-year, $2.5 million contract to return next year with a $2.75 million option for 2005. "I'm like everybody else. I could go, `What if? What if?' "

Little's sticking with Martinez ultimately cost him his job. He had Timlin and Embree ready to pitch the eighth, with Scott Williamson poised to serve as the closer in the ninth. The Yankees won in the 11th on Aaron Boone's homer off Tim Wakefield.

"What if I go in in the eighth inning and give up a two-run homer and Scott Williamson goes in in the ninth inning and gives up a two-run homer, and we lose by the same amount?" Timlin said. "It could happen. You don't know. That's the real cool thing about baseball. You don't know. I'm not going to second-guess what Grady did. He was between a rock and a hard place. I guarantee there is no person in this country who would want to sit in that seat and have to make that decision."

Timlin expressed regret at Little's departure, though he was optimistic the next manager could match, or exceed, Little's job performance. The Sox have interviewed Glenn Hoffman, Terry Francona, and Joe Maddon and are expected to consider additional candidates this week.

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