Friday, December 14, 2001

Yanks 'best fit' for Giambi

Slugger, now clean-cut, adds power to lineup

The Associated Press

        NEW YORK — Jason Giambi became baseball's first big free agent to change teams this year, agreeing to a $120 million, seven-year contract with the New York Yankees on Thursday.

        After days of anticipation, the Yankees announced the deal that brought one of baseball's most feared hitters to a team that has won four of the last six World Series championships.

        “This is my best fit,” Giambi said at Yankee Stadium. “This was the team I was hoping would come after me.”

        Unable to wear No.16 because the Yankees have retired it to honor Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, Giambi put on his new, pinstriped uniform with the No.25. A lifelong Mickey Mantle fan, Giambi picked his new number because the digits add up to the Mick's No.7.

        “You have the most incredible surroundings to win,” the first baseman said. “Besides the money, all the other things, the intangibles.”

        One thing that was very visible: a clean-cut Giambi, who said, “I wanted to make sure (it) was cut and shaved.”

        His hair was free-flowing and hung almost to his shoulders when he played for Oakland. That's not the Yankees' style, and Giambi seemed comfortable with his hair neat and trim, well above the collar, and no goatee.

        “I'm just very happy to have him,” owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement. “He's one great kid and I know he's going to be a great Yankee.”

        After the Yankees lost Game 7 of this year's Series to Arizona, Steinbrenner made clear that anything less than a championship wasn't acceptable in New York.

        The Boss has done his best to make sure it doesn't happen again. New York also reached preliminary agreements on a $10 million, two-year contract with outfielder Rondell White, and a $12million, two-year contract with left-hander Sterling Hitchcock, who joined the Yankees late last year.

        As the Yankees undergo their biggest overhaul in six years, New York also traded reliever Jay Witasick to the San Francisco Giants for outfielder John Vander Wal.

        “I'm not a good loser,” Steinbrenner said moments after Game 7. “I believe in what Ernest Hemingway said: "The way you get to be a good loser is practice, and I don't want to practice.'”

        The biggest move of the offseason is the signing of Giambi, who fits perfectly for the Yankees as they try to add more power and patience to their lineup.

        The 30-year-old Giambi is the perfect combination of the two, leading the American League in on-base percentage (.477) and slugging (.660) last season. He replaces first baseman Tino Martinez, who hit 34 homers but had only a .329 on-base percentage.

        “In Jason Giambi, we have acquired one of the most prolific hitters in the game,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. The deal includes a club option for an eighth year.

        Giambi hit .342 with 38 homers and 120 RBI last season for the Oakland A's, finishing second in voting for the AL MVP award after winning in 2000. His left-handed power stroke is ideal for Yankee Stadium, with its short right field.

        The Yankees have not had a true power hitter such as Giambi for a while.

        “It's going to be a little different this year,” manager Joe Torre said.

        He said he was not sure where Giambi would hit in the lineup.

        The Yankees made Giambi their top target almost immediately after the season. Torre, pitcher Mike Mussina, Hall of Famer Yogi Berra and New York Mayor and Yankees fan Rudolph Giuliani all made recruiting calls.

        Money and the chance to win a World Series also played a factor in Giambi's decision. The Yankees knocked Giambi's Oakland Athletics out of the postseason the past two years.

        At $120 million, Giambi's contract has an average annual value of $17.14 million. That is the fifth-highest in baseball, behind Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez ($25.2 million), Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez ($20 million), Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter ($18.9 million) and Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa ($18 million).
       Last spring, Giambi turned down a $91 million, six-year extension offered by Oakland because the A's refused to include a no-trade clause.

        “The A's never moved where they stood,” Giambi said.

        It's been a busy week for the Yankees, who acquired third baseman Robin Ventura from the Mets for David Justice to replace the retired Scott Brosius, and also signed free-agent reliever Steve Karsay last Friday.
       Outfielders Paul O'Neill and Chuck Knoblauch also won't be back in 2002 as the Yankees try to upgrade an offense that finished fifth in the AL in runs scored last season.

        The Yankees have wanted White since he played with Montreal, and they considered dealing for him before the 2000 trade deadline.

        Instead, White went to the Cubs, where he was a solid contributor when he wasn't hurt. He hit .307 last season with 50 RBIs and 17 homers, but he played in just 95 games, missing most of the second half with a strained groin muscle.

        The 29-year-old White has a history of injury trouble, spending at least three weeks in each of the last four seasons on the disabled list. He has been on the DL seven times in his nine years in the majors.


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