Commentary

Because they're the Yankees

Originally Published: December 10, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- The Yankees never sleep.

That's official now. They wrapped up CC Sabathia in the middle of the night. And here's the scary part for the rest of their sport:

They're not done.

Far from it. Even as they were wrapping up the loose issues still dangling in the Sabathia negotiations, they were already working on cornering the rest of the big-time starting-pitching market.

Derek Lowe. A.J. Burnett. Ben Sheets. Andy Pettitte.

[+] EnlargeDerek Lowe
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireDerek Lowe, 35, went 14-11 with a 3.24 ERA in 35 starts for the Dodgers last season. He held opponents to a .246 average.
The Yankees are in hard on every one of them. They started out this winter determined to sign three major free-agent starting pitchers. And being the insatiable beasts they are, they obviously aren't bothered by the possibility they could wind up signing Sabathia and Lowe and Burnett.

The price tag on all three could average $55 million, maybe more. And if you're thinking, "Hmmm, that's a lot of moolah," well, yessiree, you're right.

In fact, it's more than the Nationals, Pirates, A's, Rays and Marlins paid their whole teams this year. But hey, these are the Yankees. So suffice it to say they're not a prime candidate for the next round of federal bailouts.

"How could they afford all three of those guys?" asked one GM on Wednesday morning, as he tried to digest the CC news and his morning beverage in one indigestion-inducing gulp.

And the correct answer is the usual answer:

They're the Yankees.

They have 88 million bucks or so coming off their payroll. They have a spectacular (and, in a related development, lucrative) new ballpark set to open in four months. Their TV network seems to be selling an ad or two.

En Español
Read Jayson Stark's column in Spanish on ESPNdeportes.com.
So whatever economic pressures are tugging at the rest of the industry, this is one team that clearly has been granted economic immunity by the proper authorities -- not to mention the baseball gods.

Officials from other teams have been shaking their heads over that terrifying development all week. But now it's time for those other teams to kick-start into action before the Yankees swallow up all their prime free-agent targets.

One source said reports that the Yankees are close to signing Lowe to a four-year deal are "incorrect." The Red Sox are also focused heavily on Lowe, and they're not going to just sit around the slot parlors all day and let their big pitching target waltz into New York. So add one more chapter to the never-ending Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

[+] EnlargeBen Sheets
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe oft-injured Ben Sheets, who struggled down the stretch last season due to elbow soreness, has a career mark of 86-83 with a 3.73 ERA.
Agent Scott Boras has been seeking a four-year, $72 million deal for Lowe, who turns 36 next June. But his offers aren't believed to be quite in that range from either team. Nevertheless, with both clubs now apparently focusing their starting-pitcher shopping heavily on Lowe, it looks as if he'll be able to afford that new iPhone after all.

On the Burnett front, the Braves had appeared to be the leaders in the winter-meetings clubhouse a couple of days ago, with a reported four-year, $60 million offer with a vesting option for a fifth year. But the Yankees have been "very aggressive" in their efforts to top that offer, according to one source familiar with those negotiations. And they appear ready to guarantee a fifth year if Burnett's side tells them that's what it would take to close the deal. Their total offer could reach $80 million for five years.

Realistically, the Yankees don't expect to sign both Lowe and Burnett. But if they can reel in Sabathia and Lowe, plus either Sheets or Pettitte, they could haul out a rotation of Sabathia, Lowe, Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang and that free agent to be named later -- with Phil Hughes biding his time in Scranton.

In other words, Sidney Ponson won't be working in the Bronx anymore. And the over/under on Kei Igawa starts next season is somewhere in the neighborhood of zero.

That's not a pleasant thought for the rest of the American League. But if the rest of the AL didn't see this coming, it's just because they weren't paying attention. This is always going to be how life in the old Junior Circuit works.

These are people who never relax, never settle for anything less than the biggest trophies, never even sleep.

After all, how can they? They're the Yankees.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com