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Hicks sets new deadline

The deadlines just keep on coming in the Alex Rodriguez trade talks. The latest was issued by Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, who told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram yesterday that if a deal isn't struck by 5 p.m. tomorrow -- two nights before Christmas -- he will instruct Rangers general manager John Hart to proceed under the assumption that Rodriguez will be wearing a Texas uniform next season.


The Red Sox, meanwhile, have not moved publicly from their position that the deal already has expired -- "dead as a doornail," one Sox executive said yesterday -- even as team chairman Tom Werner has continued talking with Hicks.

Werner did not respond to an e-mail for an update, but Hicks said there were no talks yesterday.

"If we don't have anything done that's to our satisfaction by [5 Eastern time] Tuesday, I've instructed John Hart to go ahead and do what he needs to do to put a team together, assuming that Alex is our shortstop and team leader," Hicks said. "This has been a very complex process . . . But I've been very consistent throughout. We love Alex Rodriguez. I've made it clear that the only way we would trade Alex is if it would make us better faster, and if it would give him a faster chance of being on a pennant contender.

"Alex is the best player in baseball and we want to build a team around him. We have the best young infield in baseball. It may take us a little longer on the pitching side if we don't do this but that's all right. We'll see what happens between now and Tuesday."

The Rangers were hoping that in exchange for Rodriguez, they would acquire not only Manny Ramirez and pitching prospect Jon Lester, but they could squeeze enough cash out of the Red Sox -- the latest figure was $13 million -- to sign a free-agent pitcher, with Sidney Ponson reportedly the most attractive target. So far, the Red Sox have not shown an inclination to feather their offer with that kind of dough, arguing that by taking Rodriguez, they've already relieved Hicks of an $81.5 million financial burden -- the difference between what is owed A-Rod and Ramirez.

By now, those financial numbers have become almost as well known as the stats on the back of the baseball cards of the five All-Stars whose futures are in limbo until this matter is resolved -- Rodriguez, Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Scott Williamson (1999 National League All-Star), and Magglio Ordonez. Garciaparra and Williamson were supposed to be shipped to the White Sox for Ordonez, with the possibility that Garciaparra would then be traded to the Dodgers.

Rodriguez returned home yesterday to Miami from New York, where he had been involved in intense negotiations with the Red Sox and the players' union regarding the restructuring of his contract. The union rejected the Red Sox proposal in which Rodriguez had agreed to reduce his contract by $28 million in exchange for a signing bonus and free agency after each of the last seven years of the contract, on the grounds that it violated a collectively bargained rule stipulating that a contract could not be restructured unless there was an added benefit to the player. The Sox rejected a counterproposal from the union that reduced the contract by $12 million, mostly through deferred money; agent Scott Boras said the union has since agreed to add an additional million, but that was after commissioner Bud Selig cut off talks between the Sox and Rodriguez last Thursday, the last previous deadline in these talks.

"I haven't heard anything differently from Saturday," Boras said from his home in Southern California yesterday. "Again, Alex has cooperated in good faith. He has contributed $13 million in an effort to try to move this deal forward, the maximum allowable money that can be put forth.

"Whatever happens, Boston fans will know he certainly made a good-faith effort to try to work this thing through."

And so, the next deadline beckons. Will the Sox attempt to re-sign Garciaparra to an extension if the A-Rod deal is indeed DOA? They haven't contacted his agent, Arn Tellem, about doing so in recent days, according to an industry source. Maybe they're waiting for the newest deadline to pass.

"If the [A-Rod] deal gets done, then we'll know it's over," one industry source said yesterday. "But if it doesn't get done, how will we know it's done? This has been going on nonstop for a month. A whole industry has developed around this. How will we know that it's really over?"

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