Friday, December 14, 2001

Filling up at trough of free agency

Gannett News Service

        Hoping to keep order in this baseball free agent signing period, may we suggest one simple rule?

        Could the other 29 teams stay to the back of the line until the New York Yankees are finished helping themselves?

        It shouldn't be long now. Even George Steinbrenner has a budget. Presumably.

        Jason Giambi officially became a Yankee Thursday.

        It was pitcher Steve Karsay earlier, left fielder Rondell White any day now.

        Perhaps we should just admire the patriotism of all this. What could be more American than the Yankees buying a lineup?

        Mom, apple pie and a 40-homer man now playing first base in the Bronx. Tino Martinez is discarded, like an expired license plate. Business at Yankee Stadium is business.

        Let us review a few figures. Giambi reportedly signed for seven years and $120 million, White two and $10 million, Karsay four and $23 million.

        Then there's pitcher Sterling Hitchcock, who re-upped for two years and $12 million. In a brief stay last year, he had a 6.49 ERA. Twelve million doesn't buy what it used to.

        It is easy to keep forgetting this is a troubled industry, strapped for cash, facing financial Armageddon.

        What would the Yankees buy if times were good? The Dominican Republic?

        Yankee-haters, having seen this movie before, undoubtedly once again are feeling nauseous. Especially the jilted in Oakland.

        Here's another gaudy example, they will mutter, of baseball decadence. No wonder the Yankees need an extra storage shed to fit in all the World Series trophies. When in doubt, they spend. When they lose the World Series in Game7, they spend some more.

        Actually, the response here is more of a bemused chuckle. The Yankees shop with such bold and single-minded determination, it is like watching a mall the day after Thanksgiving.

        Know what? They're pretty good at it. Lots of owners spend money like the bills just came out of a Monopoly game. And lots of them still lose.

        The average salary for a Yankee last season was $3.9 million. For that, they'd better be good. And they were.

        Plus, winning begets winning, because it attracts players who know how to do it.

        “It's hard to pass,” Giambi said of the Yankees at his press conference Thursday, “when they come knocking at your door.

        “The things they do here mean a ton to me. You have the best of all worlds.”

        Really, how was anyone else going to lure Giambi, and him raised by a devout Mickey Mantle fan?

        “Well, Pop, it's not 7,” Giambi nodded to his father as he was handed No.25 Thursday. “But it's pinstripes.”

        There is every reason to think Giambi will be an enormous addition. He is a powerful left-handed hitter with MVP numbers, and Yankee Stadium's right-field foul pole is a chip shot. The last Yankee to lead the league in home runs was Reggie Jackson, 20 years ago.

        So the faces come and go in the Bronx, as a dynasty seeks to reload. Out with David Justice, Paul O'Neill, Chuck Knoblauch and Martinez, freeing some spending cash as they leave. In with Giambi, White, Karsay and new trades Robin Ventura and John Vander Wal.

        We will see if the chemistry works, and the pieces fit. There are musings that Giambi will be the most potent Yankee first baseman bat since Lou Gehrig. That is giving the new kid on the block a tall order. The customers in New York never forget a promise.

        “You have the most incredible surroundings to succeed,” Giambi said of New York.

        Which is what must be most galling to everyone else. You don't always get what you pay for in baseball. But the Yankees usually do.

        Mike Lopresti writes for Gannett News Service.


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