Amid a peculiar winter in which marquee free agents such as Barry Bonds, Chan Ho Park and Juan Gonzalez have had surprisingly few offers and the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins don't know whether they're coming or going, it has been business as usual for the New York Yankees.
Showing no patience for losing--even if it took a two-run Arizona rally in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 of the World Series to dethrone them as champions--the Yankees bagged one of baseball's top sluggers Wednesday, putting the finishing touches on a highly anticipated deal for Oakland first baseman Jason Giambi that is worth about $120 million over seven years.
According to baseball sources, Giambi, who has been targeted by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner virtually since the last out of New York's World Series loss to the Diamondbacks, will be introduced at a Yankee Stadium news conference today. Arn Tellem, Giambi's agent, traveled to New York on Wednesday to be in town for the announcement.
Giambi, who hit .342 with 38 home runs, 120 runs batted in and led the American League in on-base percentage (.477) and slugging percentage (.660) last season, is the centerpiece of a roster overhaul that should make the Yankees heavy favorites to win their fifth consecutive AL pennant in 2002.
First baseman Tino Martinez (free agent), third baseman Scott Brosius (retired), right fielder Paul O'Neill (retired), designated hitter David Justice (trade) and left fielder Chuck Knoblauch (free agent) have departed in recent weeks.
But entering through the revolving door is Giambi, the 2000 AL most valuable player and 2001 MVP runner-up, free-agent outfielder Rondell White, who reached preliminary agreement Wednesday on a two-year, $10-million contract, third baseman Robin Ventura, who was acquired in a trade with the Mets, and reliever Steve Karsay, who signed a three-year, $22.5-million deal. The Yankees are also close to retaining pitcher Sterling Hitchcock, who has agreed to a two-year, $12-million deal.
Add those players to a familiar nucleus that features shortstop Derek Jeter, center fielder Bernie Williams, catcher Jorge Posada, second baseman Alfonso Soriano, starting pitchers Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, and closer Mariano Rivera, and it's clear the Yankees are not rebuilding; they're just reloading.
"I'm not a good loser," Steinbrenner said moments after Game 7 of the World Series. "I believe in what Ernest Hemingway said: 'The way you get to be a good loser is practice, and I don't want to practice."'
Giambi had more than enough practice losing to the Yankees, who eliminated Oakland in the division series in 2000 and 2001, with both series going the maximum five games. Though New York won its third consecutive World Series in 2000 and upset Seattle for the 2001 AL pennant before losing to Arizona in the World Series, the Yankees had aged considerably in recent years and were lackingpower.
That's why they put the hard sell on the 30-year-old Giambi, who received recruiting calls from Yankee Manager Joe Torre, Mussina, Hall of Famer Yogi Berra and New York Mayor and Yankee fan Rudolph Giuliani, and whose left-handed stroke should be ideal for Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch.
And it's why the big-market Yankees barely flinched at paying Giambi an average of about $17 million a year, which will make him the fifth-highest paid player in baseball behind Texas shortstop Alex Rodriguez ($25.2 million), Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez ($20 million), Jeter ($18.9 million) and Chicago Cub outfielder Sammy Sosa ($18 million).
"He's just an outstanding hitter," Seattle Manager Lou Piniella said. "He had some monster years in Oakland. He would help any ballclub. Giambi is one of the dominating hitters in the game today."
Piniella is probably glad to see Giambi leaving the AL West. And so are the Angels and Rangers. Giambi's departure will leave a gaping hole in an Oakland lineup that was considered one of baseball's best and a huge void in a loose but close-knit clubhouse that included his younger brother, Jeremy.
The possible loss of center fielder and leadoff batter Johnny Damon to free agency could take another bite out of the A's offense. Oakland still has three of the game's best young pitchers in Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, but Jason Giambi was the heart and soul of the team, and it's doubtful the A's can win 102 games again without his power and presence.
\o7 The Associated Press contributed to this report.\f7
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Tale of the Tape
The Yankees let first baseman Tino Martinez, 34, become a free agent, and are replacing him with Jason Giambi, 30. A look at their average numbers over the last three seasons:
155 Games 156
535 At-bats 582
111 Runs 84
176 Hits 156
37 Doubles 29
38 Homers 26
127 RBIs 103
124 Walks 54
95 SOs 83
.329 Average .268
.458 OB% .333
.620 SLG% .460