|Sunday, July 7
Too much is never enough for Yankees
By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Joe Torre listened to the question -- "Do the Yankees have any remaining weaknesses?" -- and let five seconds of silence fill the room.
That, in effect, was the manager's answer and a telling moment in the Bronx Bombers' never-ending quest to build The Greatest Roster Ever.
Has George Steinbrenner finally reached the mountaintop? He'd never say so, but after adding Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver in a stunning five-day span, the Yankees are deeper than they've been at any time since Torre's reign began in 1996.
The crush of talent is almost overwhelming -- enough for Torre to admit he now has too many qualified starting pitchers. Weaver's presence swells the rotation to six, and that's not even mentioning Sterling Hitchcock, who's on the DL.
"It's a headache, no question. A good headache, but something I'm going to have to deal with," Torre said. "Right now, I have no idea what I'm going to do."
Lucky for him there's a short-term answer available: Weaver took Roger Clemens' start Sunday against the Blue Jays, thanks to an accumulation of minor injuries -- including one to his right shoulder -- which have sabotaged the Rocket in his last four appearances.
But skipping Clemens once in the rotation is just that, a one-time reprieve for Torre. The All-Star break will buy him three more days, and just to give himself the more breathing room, Torre may use all six starters in succession when the second half begins.
Despite these creative options, though, Torre is hoping GM Brian Cashman makes a trade -- people within the organization hint strongly it will be Orlando Hernandez who'll eventually go -- to ease the overcrowding. Indeed, Cashman indicated on Saturday he has "several deals I could pull the trigger on right now," although he said none were imminent.
Perhaps it's because the Yankees have no apparent deficits. Not anymore. A trade? For who? For what?
The Bombers acquired Mondesi because he hits home runs -- even though they were already leading the AL in homers, not to mention batting average and runs scored.
And the Yankees picked up Weaver in exchange for Ted Lilly not because they really needed him, but because ... well, they could. The A's actually snared the right-hander first from the Tigers, but Oakland GM Billy Beane knew all along he'd never be able to afford the back end of Weaver's contract, which will pay him a combined $15 million in 2004-2005.
Beane said, "I'm going to need that money to eventually pay my top three starters (Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder)."
So he picked up the phone and called Cashman.
"I think I can get Weaver," Beane said. "If I do, do you want him?"
Cashman couldn't say yes fast enough. The Yankees had been trying to snare Weaver since spring training, since he's only 25, and the front office has been trying to build a staff beyond the eventual retirements of Clemens and David Wells. But the Tigers lost interest when the Yankees' best prospect, pitcher Brandon Claussen, underwent elbow surgery.
The money was never an obstacle.
To the Yankees, Weaver's salary -- just $1.1 million for the rest of 2002 and $4 million next year -- hardly raises Steinbrenner's eyebrows. Not when the club's payroll is already at $134 million. It's the A's who have to sweat the dollars, which is why Beane is equally ecstatic about Lilly's arm and his mere $237,000 salary.
But the question, of course, is how much more talent do the Yankees really need to win the pennant? It's true, they're playing by the rules, and it's Steinbrenner's own money. He has the right to spend it how he pleases. And to be fair, the Yankees spend wisely. They pick the right targets.
But the irony is that, on the day when Weaver joined the Yankees, the club was hosting Old Timers' Day, honoring the 1977 club which beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Those were days when the Yankees won, not because they were richer or had a huge talent advantage over the rest of the American League, but because they were simply tougher.
Goose Gossage recalled, "We didn't understand pressure. I mean, nothing bothered those guys -- Thurman (Munson), Reggie (Jackson), Gator (Ron Guidry). It was a thing of beauty."
These days, the Yankees are far richer, thanks in part to the revenue of their own cable network, and are flourishing through overwhelming firepower. Those who hate the Yankees and their wealth are burning in resentment today, and even in the clubhouse, it didn't go unnoticed that The Boss never, ever relents in his pursuit of perfection.
"Even from a baseball standpoint, I couldn't understand this deal," Lilly said quietly. "I mean, we were winning. I was pitching well. I thought I was helping."
One by one, the Yankees said goodbye to Lilly. Everyone liked the soft-spoken left-hander, but now he was just another good guy swallowed up by The Boss' appetite for something newer and better. First Mondesi, now Weaver, both in less than a week.
Of course, no one disputed how gifted Weaver is, and no one denied the Yankees are a stronger team today than a week ago. That's why Torre almost laughed out loud when asked if he felt guilty about his in-house All-Star team.
"Guilty? No," Torre said. "I don't feel guilty."
The manager is paid to win, not to feel sorry for the Red Sox.
In fact, Torre would gladly sign off on another Yankee trade, although the question would be: For whom? For what?
Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.