Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Gammons [Print without images]

Sunday, November 23, 2003
Pitching comes first for Yankees

By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com

Nov. 23

The 2000 World Series was one game old, and on the afternoon of Game 2 several Yankee officials were sitting around their offices throwing ideas around. By then, one idea had already been decided upon as their primary course -- get Mike Mussina. And before they got to the victory parade, players and even Joe Torre had planted the seed in Mussina's head that they wanted him to join the team that had just won its third straight World Series.

Andy Pettitte
Brining back Andy Pettitte has been a priority for the Yankees.

By the time the Red Sox and Mets bid above the Yankees and drove up the price, Mussina had made up his mind. That, in times of rational leadership, is the way the Yankees have operated. And even when times have gotten on the irrational side, the let-the-Red-Sox-eat-Manny-Ramirez-cake sentiment has prevailed. "It's always pitching first here, from George Steinbrenner to Joe Torre to everyone up and down the line," said GM Brian Cashman. "That's how you win. We got to the World Series this season and lost because of some gifted young pitchers."

Will the Yankees sign Gary Sheffield? Probably. Will they move Alfonso Soriano to center field, move Bernie Williams to DH and find a second baseman? Likely. There were rumors out there at the end of the week that Sheffield and Steinbrenner were nearing a de facto agreement (to be announced Dec. 8), rumors that Cashman refuted, saying, "we haven't even talked to him about money, yet. The only player to whom we've made an offer is Andy Pettitte."

And when Pettitte is done and back in pinstripes, they will move on to Curt Schilling, Bartolo Colon, Javier Vazquez, Eric Milton, David Wells & whomever. Then they will continue to talk to Tom Gordon, LaTroy Hawkins and other power middle relievers. Because it's always about pitching, first.

Now, Schilling won't be that easy. Diamondbacks GM Joe Garagiola has been talking to the Phillies, Yankees and Red Sox all week about Schilling, who can block any deal. The sense is that since Jerry Colangelo said he wanted and expected Soriano and Nick Johnson in a Schilling deal, Steinbrenner's thirst for the man who helped beat the Yankees in Game 7, 2001 abated. The Phillies rejected the initial D-Backs proposal, then offered a couple of players this week and essentially said, "take it or leave it." The way they look at it, the Phillies would like Schilling back, but they think that Kevin Millwood may take arbitration and come back on a one-year deal for $12 million to $13 million.

The Phillies players that Arizona originally requested were thought to be headed to Milwaukee for Richie Sexson, as the Brewers cannot take on salary for their slugger. The Red Sox don't know if Schilling would agree to a deal to Boston, but while he is wary of Fenway as a fly ball pitcher, Fenway is one of the three worst home run parks in the American League (far better than The BOB). If Schilling ever won a World Series in Boston, it would catapult him to Cooperstown and he would be pitching for Terry Francona.

The White Sox are reportedly zooming back in on Colon, and Omar Minaya is trying not to trade Vazquez.

So if all that happens? The Yankees will still be out there looking for one or two starters after Mussina, Pettitte, Jose Contreras, Jon Lieber and Jeff Weaver, because while they may spend more than anyone else, they always spend first on pitching.

Around the majors
  • Marlins GM Larry Beinfest hasn't yet been given his final budget, but he assures anyone and everyone that he is keeping that pitching together, and teams that think they're going to steal A.J. Burnett because he's arbitration eligible and unlikely to pitch until June probably had better look elsewhere. Derrek Lee clearly is going to be traded, with the Orioles standing at the head of the line, with the D-Backs, Giants and others involved. The Phish want to try to get Luis Castillo re-signed, then determine whether or not they can keep Mike Lowell, which is unlikely. After getting Scott Boras' first request for Ivan Rodriguez, the Marlins seem to be inclined to turn the page. We'll see where the market goes on that one.

  • Two clubs insist that Vladimir Guerrero's initial asking price is eight years. No harm in trying. One GM suggests that if Sheffield goes to the Yankees, the Braves will figure out some way to sign Guerrero. They also are reportedly in the Doug Mientkiewicz market.

  • Bill Bavasi flew to Los Angeles to meet with Arn Tellem about both Kaz Matsui and Korean first baseman Seung-Yeop Lee. The Mariners still hope to re-sign Mike Cameron, and have been in the Joe Randa market. They eventually have to swallow Jeff Cirillo's contract. That would allow him to sign with the Rockies for $300,000 and re-establish his career.

    Foulke
    Foulke

  • Boston is bringing Keith Foulke in this week and trying to coax him into a three-year deal. There seems to be some feeling that the ice is beginning to melt on their Manny Ramirez-Alex Rodriguez offer, which would save the Rangers $96 million in present-day value. Ramirez, Rodriguez and the Red Sox want the deal, and the way the A-Rod-Buck Showalter-John Hart freeze is going, if they don't do the deal, they might not be there at this time next year.

  • One deal floating out there has Eric Milton going to Boston, but the Twins would have to eat the $3.5 million coming to Ramiro Mendoza.

  • The Twins have to pare payroll so they can try to re-sign Shannon Stewart and either Everyday Eddie Guardado or Hawkins. They have talked to Toronto about Orlando Hudson, as have the Indians, Red Sox and several teams. The Jays have patched their pitching well with Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen, but want more young pitching, even with Dustin McGowan, Jason Arnold and David Bush scheduled for September arrivals.

  • The Orioles are moving Melvin Mora to third base, opening a spot for a free agent outfielder. They are looking to get into the Kaz Matsui-Miguel Tejada races. Remember, there's someone named Rich Aurilia out there, but he will wait until Matsui and Tejada have signed.

  • Montreal likely will move Orlando Cabrera, who could make $6 million in arbitration. The Expos asked the Padres for Ramon Vazquez, but were told they are holding onto him, for now. The Red Sox were interested in Vazquez for a second-base platoon.

  • The Giants are nervous about payroll, and have been making Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo available because of their contracts. But they also have been calling on Derrek Lee and Jim Edmonds, so never count them short.

  • The White Sox have been looking for a shortstop so they can move Jose Valentin to second. Whither Roberto Alomar?

  • If the draft were held today, the Padres would make Old Dominion RHP Justin Verlander the No. 1 pick.

  • The Players' Association is suggesting that its membership support the Southern California supermarket strike.

  • The Player Relations Committee wants to make a major issue of forcing 20 percent cuts in arbitration on Burnett, Tony Armas and other players coming off injuries. That will be a war.

  • David Wells is having an MRI on Monday, probably will have the back surgery, be ready by mid-February and go to spring training on a non-guaranteed deal. The Yankees and Padres are always the favorites, although San Diego has been entertaining Chuck Finley's comeback.

  • Francona worked in the Indians' front office with Mark Shapiro after leaving the Phillies, and Shapiro thinks he'll be a success in Boston. "For one thing," said Shapiro, "Theo [Epstein] will make him better, because Terry listens and responds to bright people and their ideas. His aggressiveness, feel, positiveness and energy will make him a success in that market with that team."

    Click here to send Peter a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.