The Christmas shopping season starts earlier every year. It started three days before Halloween this year, when Scott Boras stuck a big red bow and "For Sale" sign on Alex Rodriguez.
And, on the first day of the A-Rod shopping season, an executive with one American League team interested in signing him let out a sigh, a herald of the off-season to come, full of juicy rumors and outrageous dollars and mystery teams.
"The circus has begun," the executive said Monday.
A-Rod Nation turns its eyes to Southern California, home to two teams big on bucks and short on power. The early line: The Angels make a modest play for Rodriguez, the Dodgers make a token play, and Rodriguez plays somewhere else next year.
And not necessarily as a third baseman. Boras, his agent, plans to sell Rodriguez as a shortstop too, enhancing his marketability to such teams as the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. Rodriguez was a Gold Glove shortstop in 2002 and 2003 for the Texas Rangers, then joined the New York Yankees and moved to third base to accommodate Derek Jeter.
The numbers that A-Rod put up this year, the ones that will earn him his third most-valuable-player award in five years: 54 home runs, 143 runs scored, 156 runs batted in. Those numbers are astounding for any player, historic for a shortstop.
You might think any team would want this guy. You should have been at Coors Field as Sunday night turned into Monday morning, with the Red Sox prancing around the diamond, celebrating their World Series championship. In the stands above the visiting dugout, thousands of Boston fans chanted in unison.
They had two chants, the first in honor of World Series MVP and third baseman Mike Lowell: "RE-SIGN LOWELL!"
The other chant, delivered at an even higher decibel level: "DON'T SIGN A-ROD!"
For all his individual brilliance, Rodriguez never has played in a World Series, even though he joined the Yankees expressly to do so. And the team with the highest paid player has not won the World Series in 21 years.
The Yankees wanted to try again anyway, to extend the contract of Rodriguez, to guarantee him some $25 million to $30 million each year through age 40: Negotiate with us now, while your current contract remains in effect, and we'll both take advantage of the Rangers' $21-million subsidy.
"Does he want to go into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee," Hank Steinbrenner told the New York Times on Sunday afternoon, "or a Toledo Mud Hen?"
Within hours, Boras invoked the opt-out clause, telling the Yankees they could bid just like any other team. Steinbrenner then invoked his opt-out promise: Rodriguez had opted out of pinstripes as soon as he opted out of his contract.
The bottom line, according to two baseball executives: Boras already has a deal lined up with another team, or Rodriguez simply wants out of New York. The response, from an associate of Rodriguez: No deal is in place, but he wants to exercise his right to test the market. He would love to return to New York and can't believe the Yankees would let $21 million stand in their way.
Take the Yankees at their word. They're out.
The Red Sox nearly traded for Rodriguez -- and the contract that came with him -- four years ago. Since then, they have won the World Series without him, twice. They're a maybe.
If the Yankees and Red Sox are out, then the market would exclude baseball's two biggest spenders, and the price could drop to the point where the Angels are in. Owner Arte Moreno has said he does not envision paying any player $20 million per year. With a new contract for Rodriguez and an extension for Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels could have $50 million tied up in two players, a dubious proposition as pitching depth thins in the organization.
But, a baseball source said Monday, the Angels have considered various permutations of a payroll that includes Rodriguez, and Moreno is expected to talk with Boras. Neither Moreno nor Boras returned messages Monday.
The Dodgers are a mess, with ownership flirting with replacements for a manager while they already have one. In the final week of the season, General Manager Ned Colletti said he would not talk about Rodriguez until he opted out. But Colletti did not return calls Monday and has not returned calls since the end of the season, so you wonder if ownership might be flirting with replacements for him too.
As a power hitter and third baseman, Rodriguez would fill two areas targeted for upgrades. But Boras is believed to consider the Dodgers a more serious contender for center fielder Andruw Jones than for Rodriguez.
The San Francisco Giants could plug Rodriguez into the Barry Bonds role. The New York Mets could move David Wright to second base, for a monster infield that would include Rodriguez, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado. The Detroit Tigers could add Rodriguez to a stable of Boras clients that includes Magglio Ordonez, Ivan Rodriguez and Kenny Rogers.
And then there are the mystery teams. Boras has a knack for finding them, as he did when the Rangers signed A-Rod. How about the Florida Marlins, Rodriguez's hometown team? They could trade third baseman Miguel Cabrera for three top players, build around A-Rod and shortstop Hanley Ramirez and contend in the National League East.
So A-Rod might cost $30 million a year. The Marlins receive about $30 million a year in revenue sharing. Imagine that, Hank Steinbrenner: You could be paying Rodriguez to play for the Marlins.