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Thursday, January 29, 2004 - Page updated at 12:17 A.M.

Mariners
Pudge too much to budge on for M's

By Bob Finnigan
Seattle Times staff reporter

Ivan Rodriguez
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Apparently, none of Kazu Sasaki's legacy to the Mariners' 2004 payroll will be going to Ivan Rodriguez.

Seattle officials got word late yesterday that the free-agent catcher had turned thumbs down on their brief and belated entry into negotiations for him, delayed until late Tuesday while they waited for Sasaki to sign off on his contract.

Rodriguez is on the verge of taking an offer from Detroit, in which he reportedly can earn $10 million a year for four years.

The 10-time all-star was to be examined today in Texas by Dr. Andrew Dossett, the Associated Press reported. Dossett is the spine consultant to the Rangers and has treated Rodriguez, 32, for many years.

If all goes well in the exam, the agreement could be announced tomorrow.

The deal would move Rodriguez from the World Series champion Florida Marlins to a team coming off a 43-119 season, one of the worst in major-league history.

The agreement contains a team option for 2008 that could make the contract worth $50 million over five years, AP reported.

"We've heard that Pudge has agreed with Detroit," Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said last night. "If so, my reaction is not one of surprise. And it's hard to be disappointed when you know that you're getting into it late after things elsewhere have gone down the road.

"For us, the timing of this was odd."

The timing was terrible. Had Sasaki, who was rumored to have had talks with the Yomiuri club as early as October, notified the team a month or two sooner of his intention to play in Japan in 2004, it could have made a big difference in the Mariners' offseason.

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"If we knew in October that we had that much room on our payroll, we'd be a lot different team today," a club official said.

With the Mariners out to increase their offense, Miguel Tejada might be at shortstop, or maybe Vladimir Guerrero would be in right field.

Incidentally, the Mariners thought enough of the rumor that Sasaki had talked with Yomiuri to check it out, and were told it was not so. Sasaki now might re-sign with Yokohama, his old club, possibly for about $2.5 million.

Although Sasaki walked away from $8 million guaranteed for 2004, the Mariners figure there is only $7 million available to spend on player acquisitions. The Mariners say they were $1 million over their projected $95 million payroll budget before Sasaki made his decision.

Subtract from that $2 million for use on possible in-season acquisitions, it leaves $5 million for immediate additions to the payroll via trade or free-agent signings.

Subtract $1 million to $1.5 million for a reliever to replace Sasaki — with left-hander Ron Villone thought to be a likely possibility — and there is $3.5 million to $4 million for offensive help.

With Rodriguez off the table, Bavasi declined to say what might come next.

"We prefer not to get into that sort of thing," said the GM, who was open Tuesday about trying to land the catcher, a client of Scott Boras. "We were only willing to talk more publicly about Rodriguez because it had become such a topic and we knew it would come to a quick head."

Bavasi said he had spoken with Boras about possible contract terms, but it is not likely Seattle was going much more than $6 million to $7 million a year, while Detroit's offer is apparently much more.

If they missed out on Rodriguez, it means the Mariners will also miss out on the debate about the catcher, whose personality and playing style are different enough that Tigers pitching coach Bob Cluck allegedly spoke recently about preferring to stay with Brandon Inge behind the plate, rather than sign Rodriguez.

"It might not have worked out in Seattle," said a baseball official familiar with the Mariners. "Pudge is a quality player, but the Mariners have developed an effective style of preparing pitchers for each game, in which they meet with (pitching coach Bryan) Price and (bench coach Rene Lachemann) and all the catchers. Pudge doesn't like to do it that way, so it might not have worked."

There is no timetable for Seattle's next move — adding a reliever and/or help on offense. It could come before camp or they could make a move in March, after the Mariners get an idea of their needs in spring training.

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or bfinnigan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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