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Sunday Baseball Notes

Alex Rodriguez a sad case of baseball innocence lost

Alex Rodriguez’s $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers changed him, and not for the better.

Reuters/File

Alex Rodriguez’s $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers changed him, and not for the better.

Let’s go back to the days of innocence, and a young Alex Rodriguez.

Have you ever seen a young player that was more spectacular? Recently, you’ve seen Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Yasiel Puig, and you may say they looked better.

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No way. There was nobody better than a young Rodriguez, who could play shortstop smoothly and could hit for average and power at age 19. Don’t even go there with Manny Machado, as good as he is.

“I filed a scouting report on him when he was 15 years old where he was playing in a tournament in Waterbury, Conn.,” recalled veteran Astros scout Paul Ricciarini, who was then working for the Braves.

“He was the best young player — high school, college, amateur — I’d ever seen and will probably ever see. I saw [Ken] Griffey, too, and he was tremendous, so natural, but to this day I always answer A-Rod,” he said.

And yet the innocence ended when Rodriguez got to Texas. The $250 million contract, which was probably warranted for a player who supposedly was going to break every record in the book, certainly changed him, and not for the better.

His need to be the best, the pressure to live up to the biggest contract in baseball history, consumed him. And that’s when he admittedly turned to performance-enhancing drugs and his problems began.

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If there was anyone you’d say wouldn’t need to take steroids, it was A-Rod. Why? So much natural ability, one of the most complete five-tool packages you’ll ever see, turning to this junk for a boost?

Why? Hitting 700 or 800 homers wouldn’t have been enough?

The Red Sox’ new ownership group of John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino tried to consummate a deal with the Rangers for Rodriguez, but fell short when they were unable to work out a snafu in which A-Rod’s deal would be modified and reduced slightly, and to this day, they thank the baseball gods it never got done.

Fast forward. How has it come to this?

We’re talking about a player with 647 home runs (fifth all time) and 1,950 RBIs (seventh), along with three MVPs, one batting title, 318 stolen bases, and a .300 batting average. In 2007, he hit 54 home runs and knocked in 156 runs for the Yankees. In 2002, he hit 57 homers and drove in 142 runs for the Rangers.

He achieved everything all of us thought he would.

And last week, while rehabbing in Tampa after a hip operation, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Rodriguez to “shut the [expletive] up” after he tweeted, without first consulting the team, that his doctor had cleared him to play in extended spring training games.

Meanwhile, the Biogenesis scandal hovers over Rodriguez, and if Major League Baseball has enough evidence, he likely will be suspended for 100 games.

How could this have happened, where his whole career would be viewed as a joke? All of the “wow” numbers he accumulated and the hard work he put into being the best (and nobody can deny the work he put in) would be blown up? That’s what we’d be left to think.

To think he held that press conference at Legends Field in Tampa and admitted he’d dabbled in steroids as a young player in Texas, but then never used again. And all along he did? That’s what the Biogenesis findings will tell us.

When Rodriguez came up and played the game with such ease and hustle, you hoped this was the next legend. Rodriguez wanted that, too. Of all the players I’ve met through the years, there was never one so in tune with baseball history as A-Rod. Some players have no idea who Roberto Clemente or Willie Mays were. They have no link with the past. But Rodriguez loves baseball history. He loves playing baseball. Loves being the superstar, whose talents were second to none.

Certainly, none of us know how this will end. He could retire because of a physical disability and collect the remaining $114 million on his contract. He could be in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup after the All-Star break, providing the righthanded bat they sorely need.

Derek Jeter is rehabbing with Rodriguez in Tampa, and denouncing those who believe A-Rod would be a distraction upon his return. The public perception always has been that Jeter and Rodriguez weren’t tight, but as one Yankees official put it, “Derek admires Alex’s perseverance and will to be the best. Whatever has happened with Alex, and whatever things may come out, Derek gives him his due for a great career.”

It’s true. When A-Rod was healthy, he played the game the right way. He always hustled, always ran out ground balls. That doesn’t sound like much, but watch some of the game’s biggest stars and see how often they run out a ground ball.

It all goes back to Rodriguez’s love of baseball. He almost loved it too much. Because being the best was never good enough for him. He will have all the money he ever needs, but the baseball legend we thought we were seeing at age 19 will never be viewed that way again. That’s the saddest part for anyone who saw him at 19, and those like Ricciarini, who saw him at 15, during his innocence.

DEAL WITH IT

Epstein has the pieces to make things happen

Theo Epstein’s Cubs may be in the best position to make deals at the deadline, but it appears he is ready to strike with Matt Garza sooner rather than later.

Given the way Garza has pitched lately (two earned runs in his last 22 innings over three starts), it appears he will be dealt well ahead of the deadline, according to major league sources. The Orioles seem to be a very good fit, given that Garza is battle-tested in the AL East.

The Cubs were hoping to trade Garza by spring training, but then he suffered an oblique injury and couldn’t start the season on time. He had to go through rehab starts, and then go out and show he was healthy.

He’s shown that, and it might behoove the Cubs to deal him before there’s another setback.

One NL GM said, “There’s a lot of competition for him. I think Theo is getting inundated with calls for him, so he’s probably the hot name.”

Garza should bring the Cubs three players, including two top prospects.

Besides Garza, there’s been a lot of interest in Nate Schierholtz, who entered Saturday with a .284 average, 11 homers, 33 RBIs, and 19 doubles. Schierholtz also has played an excellent outfield. The Cubs signed Schierholtz to a one-year, $2.25 million deal last offseason, and it appears the flip price is going to work in their favor.

The Cubs also have veteran righthander Scott Feldman, whom they also plan to trade after signing him to a one-year, $6 million deal. Feldman is 7-6 with a 3.46 ERA. Look for the Orioles to be a bidder for his services. And there’s always Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus, and out of the bullpen, Kevin Gregg and James Russell.

You don’t hear much about Soriano anymore, but he’s in the mix if someone wants him. The Cubs are hoping to get pitching prospects in these deals. While they appear to be set for good positional players in the minors, they lack pitching depth, and that’s where Epstein would like to score a bonanza with his veteran players.

Apropos of nothing

1. Ryan Sweeney has hit four homers for the Cubs.

2. Mauro Gomez leads the minors with 24 homers for Triple A Buffalo. Why can’t the Red Sox get a player like this?

3. So what do you think, is Jeff Kent a Hall of Famer? Starting to make my case that he is.

4. Jim Rice and I agree, Wil Myers reminds us of a young Dale Murphy.

5. Are the Pirates for real after 20 straight losing seasons? Always hate to stick my neck out like this, but yes, they are. They entered Saturday with the best record in baseball. I know June isn’t over, and the Pirates have broken hearts before, but there’s something there now. Good young veterans, Gerrit Cole, and a good back end to the bullpen.

6. Michael Cuddyer would be a good fit for the Yankees, but the Rockies, who looked terrible against the Red Sox and Blue Jays, probably feel they can contend and won’t deal him.

7. I am curious to see the moves made by Brian Cashman, Ben Cherington, Theo Epstein, and Ruben Amaro Jr. at the trading deadline.

8. Does anyone else envision a Red Sox infield of Xander Bogaerts (3B), Jose Iglesias (SS), Dustin Pedroia (2B), and Will Middlebrooks (1B) next season?

9. Bartolo Colon has 11 wins. He has discovered the fountain of youth.

10. Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen and Tampa Bay’s Fernando Rodney lead the majors with five blown saves. Twelve are tied with 4, including Andrew Bailey and Jonathan Papelbon.

11. The Tigers have good starting pitching and offense, but their defense and bullpen will kill them. They can’t catch much, and that taxes their pitching staff. We’ll see if rookie reliever Bruce Rondon can do the job.

12. The Giants are getting destroyed on the road. They were 14-26 heading into Saturday, and have lost seven of 11 road series. They’ve also been swept five times on the road, and since starting 5-2 on the road, they’re 9-24.

13. The Dodgers are paying Carl Crawford $20 million and the guy just can’t stay healthy.

ETC.

Updates on 9

1. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, RHP, Cuba — The Red Sox are one of the teams extremely interested in the 26-year-old righthander, but they won’t break the bank for him, according to a team source. The Sox were also in on Yasiel Puig, but would not pay the $42 million required to sign him, and he went to the Dodgers. The Sox were certainly burned by the Daisuke Matsuzaka signing and don’t want to get burned again. Gonzalez seems to be the real deal, though past injuries seem to be giving some teams pause. Ben Cherington and eight Red Sox scouts have watched him, but the competition is fierce.

2. Carlos Marmol, RHP, Cubs — The Cubs had received a few nibbles on Marmol after designating him for assignment. According to one National League GM, “A change of scenery would do him good. He was being booed quite a bit in Chicago and he had to get out of that environment. He still has very good shutdown stuff that could play well in another environment.”

3. Chris Carter, 1B, Astros — Carter is an interesting righthanded bat the Astros would move for the right package of young players. The Yankees are a possibility since they need a righthanded hitter who can play first base and the outfield. Carter strikes out a ton. He led the AL with 109 whiffs entering Saturday, but also had hit 15 homers and knocked in 40 runs. At 26, Carter could be an intriguing option.

4. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies — One of the toughest decisions the Phillies face is whether they should deal Utley, re-sign him, or let him go as a free agent. One team that at least has discussed him is the Royals, who would love to stabilize their lineup and/or second base situation with someone of Utley’s caliber.

5. Ricky Nolasco, RHP, Marlins — The Marlins are a quick-strike team when it comes to trades, so once they have the deal they like they’ll move, which is the reason why most baseball people think Nolasco will be the first major pitcher to go in a deal. But as we pointed out, the Cubs might beat them with Garza. The Dodgers, Rockies, Orioles, and Giants are the teams most prominently mentioned on Nolasco.

6. Jesse Crain, RHP, White Sox — As we pointed out in this space a couple of weeks back, Crain will be a sought-after reliever. Don’t rule out the Red Sox on this one. Pitching coach Juan Nieves coached him in Chicago and he’s a stable force at the end of games, particularly in a setup role if the Red Sox stick with Koji Uehara as closer. But there will be others vying for Crain, including the Orioles and Yankees.

7. Michael Young, 3B, Phillies — The veteran righthanded hitter makes sense for the Red Sox and Yankees and perhaps even the Rays if Evan Longoria’s injury persists, but Sox and Yankees officials confirmed there haven’t been any substantive talks. But they could change their minds, considering the Rangers are footing most of the bill for Young this season. He is batting .289/.348/.412 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 74 games. Young has a full no-trade clause.

8. Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford, RHPs, Brewers — Rodriguez has six saves and a 0.55 ERA in his first 16 innings. He seems to have some life back in his fastball, and could be a good gamble for a team like the Tigers. Axford, once a very good closer, has tried to work his way back to that role, but would be someone to look at in middle relief or setup.

9. Glen Perkins, LHP, Twins — Perkins had 20 saves entering Saturday, and teams have been poking around about his availability. The Twins are saying publicly that Perkins is not available or that he would be hard to deal, but GM Terry Ryan should expect that some team — maybe even the Tigers — will try to package something substantial. While it’s tough to deal within the division, teams do it more often than they used to, particularly if there’s overpayment involved.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck file — “Raul Ibanez is chasing the ghost of Ted Williams. In 1960, Williams hit 29 homers, the most for anyone 41 or older. Ibanez, 41, has 18 already, nine this month.” Also, “The first batters a Boston reliever faces are hitting .315, the worst number in baseball. They’ve also allowed 12 homers, the most in baseball.” . . . Happy birthday, Mike Carp (27), Drew Sutton (30), and Mitch Maier (31).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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