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New York Yankees
Life as the highest of high-revenue clubs is very good, except for the rare mornings when the fresh bagels are a bit tardy. "Where are those bagels today? I'm starved," Yankees rightfielder Paul O'Neill wondered out loud one day at the team's spring training headquarters in Tampa. As if on cue, a door near O'Neill opened and a cart loaded with bagels and fresh fruit was wheeled toward the gleaming clubhouse commissary.
While much of the rest of baseball makes do with crusty doughnuts and cold cereal, George Steinbrenner applies the same philosophy to keeping his team sated as he does to his payroll: No expense is spared. "The hot tub, the masseuse ... it's unbelievable here," says third baseman Dale Sveum, who enjoyed a productive but decidedly coach-class season with the Pirates last year. "Everything here is first-class, right down to the batting-practice pitchers. I've never seen so many quality arms throwing batting practice."
Likewise, Scott Brosius, another third base addition, marvels at the luxuries he never knew with the low-budget Athletics. "Here they drag the infield while you're taking ground balls so that the dirt is always smooth," he says. "I was amazed. And no, we didn't have a masseuse in Oakland."
The Yankees are an embarrassment of riches. Before the first baseball was unpacked or the first bagel sliced, New York's 25-man roster was essentially set. The only competition was conditionaljockeying for playing time in the event of an injury. How loaded are the Yankees? So loaded that the 10th pitcher on their 11-man staff, Darren Holmes, has a three-year contract. So loaded that they have a backup at every position with at least one year of major league experience. So loaded that the three players competing for the leftfield jobChad Curtis, Tim Raines and Darryl Strawberryhave 40 combined years of major league service.
In the past 11 months Steinbrenner has shelled out $9.6 million just to complete four trades (jettisoning lefthander Kenny Rogers and third baseman Charlie Hayes, acquiring Chuck Knoblauch and righthander Hideki Irabu). That's more than the Expos will pay their entire roster to actually play for them this year. The trade for Knoblauch, in which the Yankees sent four prospects and $3 million to acquire a $6-million-per-year player, shows that Steinbrenner pays as much attention to the luxury tax as a New Yorker does to crosswalks. Even after that deal, Steinbrenner courted and signed free-agent pitchers Orlando Hernandez of Cuba and Ricardo Aramboles of the Dominican Republic, swelling the Yankees' payroll to more than $70 million. "At some point, the Boss has got to shut it down," says Mark Newman, Steinbrenner's top adviser.
The reason other clubs lament Steinbrenner's lavish spending habits is not that he can sign free agents, but that he can't be hurt by free agents who go bust. For instance, Steinbrenner is paying the Athletics half of the $10 million remaining on Rogers's contract just to take the pitcher off Steinbrenner's hands. "The rest of us," says one American League general manager, "have to live with our mistakes."
Says New York righthander David Cone, whose surgically repaired throwing shoulder will be closely monitored, "The biggest difference between high-revenue clubs like us and others is depth. This is the deepest team I've been around here."
Spring training for the Yankees is nothing but a six-week sound check. "The only thing I'd like," manager Joe Torre said early in camp, "is for my starting pitchers to be healthy. That's about it." Absent were the typical spring urgencies such as breaking in a young starter or trying to fill a need with a trade. Need? The toughest decisions in Tampa involve sesame or poppy.
by Tom Verducci
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