Within his first hour in uniform as a New York Yankee last Saturday, pitcher Jeff Weaver shared the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium with some of the greatest living players—not to mention retired Yankees such as Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto, who were there, too, for Old-Timers' Day—held a news conference down the hall in the same room where Old-Timer honoree Reggie Jackson had just wrapped up one of his own and then, upon exiting the interview room into the narrow corridor, bumped into Yogi Berra. Talk about your hall of fame.
Owner George Steinbrenner proudly announced to Berra, "Yogi, this is our new pitcher." Berra looked up at the 6'5" righthander, paused and mumbled, "Looks like a basketball player."
It was one of those only-in-New York moments, and not merely because of the huge turnout of baseball celebs. Only the Yankees could add one of the most-sought-after young arms in baseball just five days after acquiring slugging rightfielder Raul Mondesi and pass it all off as business as usual. When they obtained Mondesi from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees led the American League in runs and home runs. When they acquired Weaver, they led the league in strikeouts and tied with the Seattle Mariners for victories. Imagine Bill Gates hitting a scratch-off lottery ticket, and you understand how the transactions sat with the rest of the AL East.
"The rich get richer," said Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado as he watched the Yankees Old-Timers being introduced. Since the end of last season the Blue Jays have been surrendering to New York, breaking apart a veteran team after years of spending liberally in a futile effort to keep up with their division rival.
"Now we need name tags to know each other," Delgado said. "The Yankees, I think, have a bottomless pit of money. They get whatever they need. They take the Number 1 pitcher off another team and make him their Number 5. I think Mondy's going to do real well for them. He doesn't have to be the main guy. They've got Bernie [Williams] and [Derek] Jeter and [Jason] Giambi for that. He was a big part of our team, and now he goes over there, and he's just another piece to the puzzle."
With the addition of Mondesi, 31, the Yankees boast nine players who have hit 20 or more home runs in a season. With Weaver, 25, they flaunt seven starters who have won at least 13 games in a season. (The Yankees are on the hook for $189.1 million for those seven pitchers, covering a combined 20 years.) Manager Joe Torre said the wealth of arms reminded him of when the Atlanta Braves added Greg Maddux after the 1992 season, prompting Torre, then managing the St. Louis Cardinals, to crack to Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, "Why don't you just stay at the hotel and call in the games?"
At least those Braves had an opening in their rotation, having traded 15-game winner Charlie Leibrandt to make room for Maddux. The Yankees are so flush with pitching and money that free-agent signee Sterling Hitchcock (currently on the disabled list) and his two-year, $12 million deal are as forgotten as loose change under the sofa cushions. They are so flush that Orlando Hernandez, who has won more postseason games for the franchise than any pitcher except Ford and Andy Pettitte, may be jettisoned in a deal. They are so flush that Torre was stumped last Saturday when asked to name his rotation. "We need a plan," he said. "I don't have one."
Weaver, who started on Sunday for the injured Roger Clemens (sore groin), immediately benefited from the Yankees' prolific offense. Except for yielding a pair of three-run homers that put New York in a 6-3 hole in the fifth inning, Weaver pitched well (six hits, one walk, five strikeouts in seven innings) in getting the 10-6 win over Toronto.
The two trades demonstrated why the Yankees have become a monolith that only Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson could dismantle. Their $135 million payroll is the highest in baseball, $27 million more than the Boston Red Sox'. According to a Toronto source, no other team showed interest in Mondesi, not with $18 million due through next season for a career underachiever with a questionable attitude. (The Blue Jays will pick up $6 million of that tab and received a lightly regarded 26-year-old Double A pitcher, Scott Wiggins.) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Mondesi gives his club better defense, better baserunning and better power than the platoon of Shane Spencer and John Vander Wal. Yet Mondesi has never driven in or scored 100 runs in a season, has a pedestrian .333 career on-base percentage and was hitting .224 this season when he switched teams. Before the game last Friday one Blue Jays onlooker gasped at a sight he said he'd never seen before: Mondesi's taking part in team stretching.
In acquiring Weaver, who is in the first year of a four-year, $22 million deal, the Yankees proved once again they don't just out-spend teams, they also outmaneuver them with the help of a savvy front office and a deep farm system. New York gave up lefthander Ted Lilly, 26—whom they had heist-ed from the Montreal Expos in 2000 for righthander Hideki Irabu—and their top two draft picks last year, outfielder John-Ford Griffin and pitcher Jason Arnold. Even Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, whose club trailed New York by two games at the All-Star break, defended the trades. "They think they might run away from us, so I don't blame them for trying," he says. "I actually respect that."