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If Rodriguez walks, the Yankees are the losers

The Yankees simply have to show Alex Rodriguez the money. Every penny that big-mouth agent Scott Boras asks for. If that means $30 million to $32 million a season, so be it. They could take the hard line, refuse to negotiate an extension and tell him to take his contract or leave the $81 million that's left on it. But A-Rod will simply exercise his right to opt out of the $10-year, $252-million deal he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2000 if that's the case.

When the Rangers traded Rodriguez to the Yankees after the 2003 season, they agreed to pay a percentage of what was left on his deal. Once A-Rod opts out, Texas is off the hook for the $30 million it still owes him. So, the Yankees have said they won't get into any bidding wars because they would no longer be paying him partly with the Rangers' money. But the way Rodriguez is going this season, can they really just let him walk away?

A-Rod entered the weekend with 92 RBIs in 92 games. Aside from Magglio Ordonez, there are no other candidates for the American League's MVP award. If the Yankees go nowhere in October, A-Rod is still going to win it at this pace.

Rodriguez has until Nov. 10 to decide if he wants to exercise the opt-out clause. It would seem he would exercise it only if he had another deal ready to go from his likely suitors: the Angels, Dodgers, Red Sox or Mets.

If the Yankees don't make the playoffs, they'll have more than a month to negotiate before opt-out day. Boras is the kind of agent looking for the biggest bang for his buck, no matter where it is. If the Yankees step up and deliver, he'll probably deliver Rodriguez.

But there are other factors here. Maybe A-Rod is serious when he sends up trial balloons about opting out of the deal. Maybe the glare of the New York tabloids is too strong, the chill with Derek Jeter too frosty to fix. Maybe he's content putting up big numbers and not winning as he's done in Texas and New York.

Everyone seems to think he'll sign with the Angels or Dodgers but neither seems to be that interested. Angels owner Arte Moreno, in fact, said last month that he's worried about offending Vladimir Guerrero, who is making only $14 million.

Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino apparently still covets A-Rod, even though the Sox were jilted by him during the winter of 2003. That, however, would be an odd marriage.

A-Rod represents everything that's changed in the Sox-Yanks rivalry, how the pendulum has finally turned Boston's way and produced a World Series title in '04 and perhaps another one this year.

Along with Jason Giambi, A-Rod has also come to represent the soul-less Yankees at the end of the Joe Torre era. The character that we saw from Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius has been replaced by players more interested in their bank accounts than their championship rings.

Watch what the Yankees do as the trade deadline approaches. If they make a deal for a third baseman, your antenna should go up.

GM Brian Cashman is building this team around pitching and the days of 10-run games needed to win may be gone in the Bronx in the next couple of years. Maybe the thinking is the Yanks can win with a lot of pitching and a lot less offense. But the way the offense has been most of this year, can you imagine how bad it would be without A-Rod?

A-Rod and Jeter have to be the face of the Yankees the rest of the decade and beyond as they move into their new ballpark. Rodriguez should someday approach whatever home run record Barry Bonds leaves behind. A $30 million deal today might seem like an outrage but it might be a good deal by say, 2012.

If A-Rod wants to stay -- and that's still a question -- the Yankees should be getting their offer ready to make as soon as the season is over.

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>Boras the boor

As an agent, Boras has no match. But he needs to remember his role and stay out of other people's affairs. During All-Star week, he was taking grief from Bud Selig & Co. over his suggestion to extend the World Series to a best-of-nine affair with the first two games at a neutral site to give baseball a Super Bowl-style fix.

Last week, the Red Sox got chafed with him when he started griping about Daisuke Matsuzaka's occasionally high pitch counts. Seven times in eight starts, Dice-K had gone over 110 pitches and approached 120. Boras told the Boston Globe he'd prefer to see that number stay around 100.

Manager Terry Francona wasn't amused with the meddling.

"I've got a lot of respect for Scott," Francona said. "He can run the pitching when he lets me run the contracts. How's that? Is that a fair trade-off?"

The Sox should be given some leeway with Matsuzaka, who routinely went over 140 pitches in Japan and threw 171 in a 2003 complete game. They're not going to abuse him like that and Boras should know better.

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>Phillips in four-hole

Ex-Bison Brandon Phillips has surprised the Reds so much with his power that manager Pete Mackanin has used Phillips in the cleanup slot in the batting order during the team's recent road trip.

Phillips entered the weekend seventh in the NL with 19 home runs while batting .284 with 59 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. Nice call by the Indians last year keeping Ramon Vazquez (who?) over him.

"Hitting fourth is a privilege, and it shows that he trusts me hitting in the four-hole," Phillips said. "I'm just up there swinging, and I've been blessed in that I'm not only getting hits, I'm hitting over the fence."

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>Around the horn

The Angels couldn't wait for Ervin Santana to figure out what was wrong on the road and sent him packing to Triple-A after he allowed seven runs and 14 hits Tuesday night at Tampa Bay. A 16-game winner last year, Santana is 5-11, 6.22 this season -- 4-2, 3.42 at home but just 1-9, 8.79 away from Angels Stadium.

Maybe you're going to be paying attention to Barry's return home Monday against the Braves. For my money, the best series this week is Boston's four-gamer in Cleveland that opens Monday night in Jacobs Field. An ALCS preview?

Shouldn't the Mets have made the NL East a runaway already? Pedro Martinez might make a difference but it's hard to ask that of him when he hasn't pitched in nearly a year. And it's hard to imagine this team surviving October with this kind of pitching.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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