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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Sox-Yankees flurries make for wild winter

The proposed deals are so enormous, the stakes so high, it is almost beyond the comprehension of the baseball mind.

Let's see if we have this straight. Soon after trading for Curt Schilling, the Red Sox are about to trade Manny Ramirez for Alex Rodriguez, then turn around and deal Nomar Garciaparra to the Angels for Jarrod Washburn and Troy Glaus. Oh, and on the side the Sox will sign free agent closer Keith Foulke. And how about Robbie Alomar at second, just for laughs?

The Yankees, naturally, will counterpunch. They've already traded Nick Johnson for Javier Vazquez, have agreed to terms with Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill and are closing in on Gary Sheffield. Who's next on the train to New York? Vladimir Guerrero? Kevin Millwood?

Folklore holds that Tom Yawkey and Yankees co-owner Dan Topping got drunk one night and agreed to swap Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. The clarity of the morning light eventually KO'd that deal. Too bad there was no such sanity when Harry Frazee thought it would be a good idea to sell the Big Fella to the Yankees.

But not since the Babe Ruth deal and the Ted-Joe rumor have there been transactions of this magnitude here in the hardball hub of the universe.

With another 70-plus days before pitchers and catchers report, it's pretty clear the Sox and Yankees have created their own little platinum-level division. Sure the A's, Mariners, Giants, Cubs, and Braves have great players and good teams, but the Sox and Yankees are inching toward $150 million-$200 million payrolls and have the potential to field All-Star teams every day. The 19 regular-season Boston-New York meetings promise to entertain and exhaust us. It's like Texas and Oklahoma playing 19 football games, then a seven-game playoff. It's almost too much.

Amazingly, the biggest booster of this exclusive mega-league is none other than commissioner Bud Selig. Bud orchestrated the bag job that delivered the Sox franchise to Messrs. Henry and Werner, and now he's given the Sox permission to negotiate with the best player in the game -- a player who is employed by the lowly Texas Rangers.

Clearly, Major League Baseball wants A-Rod as part of this Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Baseball wants its best player on the biggest stage -- not playing in 105-degree heat in front of a few thousand fans in last place in July and August.

We'd love to know what George Steinbrenner thinks about the Commish helping along a deal that would bring A-Rod to the Red Sox, but the Boss's PR office said yesterday that Mr. Steinbrenner is not doing interviews at this time. Too bad.

A guy who is doing interviews is Garciaparra. He called WEEI yesterday to again claim that he loves Boston and wants to keep playing here. He said he was hurt when he learned that John Henry had met with Rodriguez. He indicated that he wishes he'd heard about it first from the Red Sox.

The Sox don't want to further alienate their star shortstop, but they scoff when Nomar's agent, Arn Tellem, talks about "a slap in the face to Nomar."

Garciaparra is scheduled to make $11.5 million in this final year of his contract with the Sox. Tellem told the Sox it would take more than $60 million over four years to keep him, according to a Red Sox source. This misreading of the market served only to push the Sox harder in the direction of A-Rod. Now Garciaparra and his agent are telling us how much Nomar likes it here, which flies in the face of the shortstop's actions in dealings with the Boston front office. We all know that Nomar plays hard every day, but the new ownership has seen no demonstration of Nomar's love of the Boston baseball experience.

The Red Sox brass rolled their eyes at the comments by Tellem and Garciaparra. The Sox continue to pursue A-Rod but recognize the obstacles presented by Texas owner Tom Hicks, Rodriguez's agent (the intransigent Scott Boras), and the Players Association. Don Fehr and Gene Orza would view a restructuring of Rodriguez's contract as the first step on the road to perdition.

Any way it plays out, this winter is going to be fascinating, and the 2004 Sox season will open to the greatest of expectations. The Hub's hot stove is positively scalding. This region has what looks like the best team in pro football, apparently Super Bowl-bound, and yet baseball continues to grab headlines and dominate conversations. This is not a good time to be promoting the Bruins or Celtics.

The Red Sox' 2003 season was one of the most magical in memory, rivaling 1967 and 1975 in many ways. The stardust summer ended abruptly with the stupefying Thursday night Game 7 loss in Yankee Stadium. In a concentrated effort to erase that nightmare, the Sox' front office is hell-bent on winning everything in 2004. If it can provoke Steinbrenner to spend himself into oblivion, all the better.

It is the ultimate trading card extravaganza. A-Rod, Manny, Nomar, Vlad. The mind reels as Theo deals. It's the wild winter of 2003-04, and there's no way of predicting what might happen next.

Gotta go now. There's a call from Manny on Line One. He wants to talk about these trade rumors and about how he's really happy in Boston . . .

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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