Because A-Rod agreed to play third base, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman's (search) trial balloon turned into a baseball A-Bomb.

According to multiple sources, the Yankees and Rangers have agreed in principle on a deal that sends Alex Rodriguez (search), the American League's best player, to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano (search) and a minor-league pitcher.

Though one source indicated the Yankees would assume all of the $179 million remaining on A-Rod's 10-year, $252 million contract that has seven seasons left, another report claimed Texas would eat as much as $67 million of the remaining tab. Minor financial details need to be worked out before the blockbuster trade, which will hike the Yankees' payroll to an all-time-high $190 million, is announced.

Cashman simply said the clubs are talking.

"Without going into specifics, I can acknowledge that trade discussions are taking place with the Texas Rangers," Cashman said. "In fairness to all parties, I can't comment further at this time."

Rodriguez, the reigning AL MVP and a seven-time All-Star who led the AL with 47 homers and was second in RBIs with 118, initially balked at moving from shortstop to third base because his dream was to enter the Hall of Fame as a shortstop. But A-Rod, likely bound for Cooperstown, re-thought the issue this week and decided playing to the right of Yankees icon and captain Derek Jeter gives him the best chance to win a World Series, something that never was going to happen if he stayed in Texas, where, oddly enough, he was named the Rangers' captain on Jan. 25.

"It's done. The Rangers get Soriano and a kid pitcher," a person familiar with the Rangers' thinking said.

The Rangers plan to play Soriano in center field, shift Mike Young to short and put Eric Young at second base. Soriano, who signed a one-year deal worth $5.4 million on Jan. 20, could average 50 homers in hitter-friendly The Ballpark at Arlington, but this was a deal the Yankees had to make. Especially since they didn't have to give up Jose Contreras, whom the Rangers were mixed on acquiring.

Early last week, Cashman contacted the Rangers to see what it would take to get A-Rod and had what Cashman called a "weather balloon" shot down. However, when Rodriguez, 28, let the Rangers know he would agree to shift from short to third if traded to the Yankees, the talks rekindled. Late Friday night, the clubs talked again and yesterday reached an agreement that makes the Yankees the team to beat in the AL and nullifies the Red Sox's addition of pitchers Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke.

"There was a lot more movement [yesterday] than Friday," a source said of the talks between the Yankees and Rangers. "There were a lot of things going on Friday and more [yesterday]."

The Red Sox believed they had a deal for A-Rod earlier this off-season only to have the Players Association reject it because the Red Sox wanted A-Rod to renegotiate his contract downward. The union nixed the proposal because it de-valued A-Rod's contract by almost $32 million. The Rangers would have received Manny Ramirez from the Red Sox. Boston then shot down the union's plan to lower the contract by $12 million if A-Rod had the right to use Red Sox logos in merchandising deals.

Because of that prior fiasco, the Rangers didn't petition Major League Baseball for the 72-hour window to talk to the Yankees, as they did with the Red Sox.

Now, after a winter of walking through New England with their chests swollen from the belief their club had passed the Yankees in talent, Red Sox fans can't rationalize that the talent level is higher at Fenway Park than it is at Yankee Stadium.

How can it be when the Yankees' lineup includes A-Rod, Jeter, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui?

Until yesterday, the Yankees didn't know who would replace Aaron Boone at third. Now their biggest headache is trying to see if Enrique Wilson or Miguel Cairo can handle second base.

Scott Boras, A-Rod's agent, refused to comment on the deal that brings a huge star to a city that George Steinbrenner insists is star-driven.