M’s waiting for A-Rod to finish

  • LARRY LaRUE / The News Tribune
  • Tuesday, November 28, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports


The News Tribune

SEATTLE – They have signed outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, bid on free agent pitcher Jeff Nelson, talked to Jay Buhner and offered the San Diego Padres a deal for third baseman Phil Nevin – but what the Seattle Mariners haven’t done yet is speak to Alex Rodriguez.

In an otherwise busy off-season, the Mariners may well be the last team on A-Rod’s free agent tour, a fact that bothers them not at all.

“My position hasn’t changed, I want Rodriguez back,” general manager Pat Gillick said. “And I think I can do what needs to be done for this team and still give him time.

“This is his first dip into free agency; he has the right to look around. He’s only played with the Mariners, and this is a bit like choosing which university to go to. He’s got to gather a lot of information, talk to players he knows on the teams he’s talking about. It’s all healthy – and it hasn’t hindered us a bit.”

Which is not to say Rodriguez isn’t the topic of conversation in the team’s Safeco Field offices, or that the team hasn’t given their situation a lot of thought. If A-Rod’s free agency hasn’t stopped Gillick from pursuing the trades and free agents he wants, it hasn’t been a worry-free November.

“Our No. 1 business objective is to field a team that contends for a championship year in and year out,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said. “If we can accomplish that and accommodate Alex, we will.

“The more fundamental issue is that we have to be assured Alex wants to play in Safeco Field – and that’s a question mark for us at this point.”

Having run through hoops for stars Randy Johnson in 1998 and Ken Griffey Jr. in 1999, only to learn in the end that neither player wanted to stay in Seattle, the Mariners front office understandably would like to avoid a similar situation with Rodriguez.

The 25-year-old All-Star is seeking a long-term contract – perhaps as long as 12 years at $20 million a season or more – and has narrowed the field, according to agent Scott Boras, to eight teams, including the Mariners.

Boras apparently is not seeking special perks as reported two weeks ago by the Associated Press. The AP on Tuesday filed a correction, saying it was wrong in reporting that Boras was demanding a stadium office for the player’s marketing team to handle off-the-field issues, space to sell his paraphernalia and charter jet service for family and friends.

What the Mariners have not been told by Rodriguez is how interested he is in returning to the team that made him the No. 1 draft pick in the country in 1993.

“Before you start throwing money around – before we do anything – we have to know he’s interested. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time,” Lincoln said. “Second, whatever deal we put together has to be such that we can accomplish our first goal. If it’s not possible to do that, then we won’t do it.

“I’m not saying ‘Get prepared, he’s not coming back.’ I’m not saying we won’t try to get him. But there are prerequisites.”

Some of those could be determined this week.

“We’ve talked to Scott (Boras) and he told us he and Alex were going to be making these visits with other teams,” Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said. “He said he’d get back to us, and we expect to talk this week.”

Is Armstrong optimistic?

“I think I’m realistic,” Armstrong said.

For weeks now, one concern – at least among fans and the media – has been that in waiting for A-Rod the Mariners might miss out on signing free agents or making deals that would help the team should Rodriguez not return.

After Seattle met with free agent outfielder Manny Ramirez, for instance, the fear was that if they signed him they couldn’t afford Rodriguez. Or, worse, that by not signing him quickly they risked missing out on both Ramirez and Rodriguez.

Gillick never bought it.

“I like Ramirez, I think he’s probably one of the best four or five hitters in the game,” Gillick said. “If we have Alex and Edgar (Martinez), we have two of the others. I think I’m looking for a little punch in the infield rather than the outfield – with either Alex at shortstop or someone else at third base.”

Gillick’s pursuit of a power-hitting third baseman has led to talks with free agent Ken Caminiti, and to renewed conversations with the Padres about Nevin since San Diego’s deal with Milwaukee for Jeromy Burnitz collapsed.

“We’ve had a couple of conversations with San Diego, and a couple with Caminiti,” Gillick said. “We’ve talked to Jeff Nelson and continue to talk. We’ve talked to Jay Buhner’s people, and in all likelihood that will lead to an offer.

“We have a couple of toes in the water.”

Just as clearly, Gillick knows the off-season’s biggest negotiation has yet to begin.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Alex didn’t sign during the winter meetings in Dallas (Dec. 7-13),” Gillick said, “so obviously we’re going to talk to him before that. But they haven’t set a timetable and we haven’t set a deadline.

“When we do talk, we don’t have to sell Alex on most of our strong points – he knows them.”

Gillick’s sales pitch will be simple, he said.

“I think he likes the manager (Lou Piniella), and that’s a big plus. The fact that we had winning teams in ‘95 and ‘97 and in 2000 helps. The fact that we just signed Suzuki, which shows ownership’s commitment to winning and to improving a winning team …”

And one more point.

“I think Alex likes to lead, I think he wants the role on a team, and in many ways this could be his team,” Gillick said. “If he goes somewhere else, he’s going to find there are already leaders in the clubhouse. If he goes to Texas, it’s Ivan Rodriguez’s team. In Atlanta, maybe Chipper Jones. In New York, Mike Piazza’s. You can’t take leadership from someone who already has it.

“Our negotiations are going to be over the basics, over the financial aspects and the length of the contract. I don’t think we have to sell Alex on the Seattle Mariners.”

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