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Two aces, plenty of hope for Yankees

Thursday, December 18, 2008

By RONALD BLUM

AP Baseball Writer

NEW YORK -- Most teams triumphantly unveil a new ace. The New York Yankees presented a pair.

The sign board outside old Yankee Stadium beamed with an unusual message Thursday for a ballpark that already has seen its final game: "LET'S PLAY TWO," read the top line. "CC & AJ 1 PM TODAY," said the lower.

For $243.5 million, a lot in most places but a trifle in a city where a financier is accused of swindling billions, the Yankees signed two pitchers they hope will restore the franchise's glory when it moves across the street to the new $1.3 billion Yankee Stadium next year.

There was a Christmas tree on the mound of the old ballpark, Yogi Berra was walking around and down in the cramped Stadium Club, 11 people were seated on chairs beside the podium. Manager Joe Girardi's 9-year-old daughter, Serena, presented roses to the wives of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.

Yankees president Randy Levine called the news conference "one last hurrah" for the 85-year-old stadium, scheduled for demolition starting next summer. Brian Cashman said the teddy bearish Sabathia "lights up a room when he walks in."

"I hope he lights up a city," the general manager said.

Disappointed, dismayed and dissed after their streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances came to an end, the Yankees reversed course after a one-year experiment with young starters and exercised their economic might by finalizing huge contracts Thursday for the two highly pursued pitchers. Sabathia's $161 million, seven-year deal is the highest for a pitcher. Burnett's $82.5 million, five-year agreement would be the highest on many teams.

"We learned last year that injuries can happen across the board," Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said. "There's no doubt pitching is a bit more worrisome, but you've got to live year by year and we're focused on 2009."

New York has used 51 starting pitchers since its last World Series title in 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, tied for sixth in the majors and third in the AL. Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Jeff Weaver, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano have all come and gone. Many of them were introduced with similar hoopla.

"You can't stop swinging for the fences," Cashman said, proudly wearing a World Series ring. "We've been here. We've done this before. How many times, right? And I've got this on my finger from the times where things have worked out. And I've got tread on my back from where I've been hit by a bus when it didn't work out."

Sabathia slipped a large jersey with No. 52 over his dress shirt and Burnett put a trimmer No. 34 top over his. At 6-foot-7, about 300 pounds and with size 15 shoes, Sabathia carries big expectations to go with his big body.

"I'm not the best physique-looking guy," Sabathia said.

To reel him in, the Yankees dazzled the 28-year-old left-hander with fellow Californian Reggie Jackson, tales of how they had coveted him for more than a year and a provision that allows the 2007 AL Cy Young Award winner to terminate his contract after three years.

Derek Jeter made a recruiting call, and Cashman traveled to Sabathia's home in Vallejo, Calif., last week during the winter meetings to assure him and wife Amber that New York was a great place to live and pitch. That clinched it.

"Ten minutes after he left my house," Sabathia said, "I called him and I looked at my wife, I said, you know, 'I'll be a Yankee.' Every time I say that I still get chills thinking about that."

Sabathia said the addition of a seventh season to the original $138 million, six-year offer was important. His wife said Cashman's decision to offer the opt-out provision was key.

"When he said that, I said, 'We're going to love it,"' she recalled.

Already, they spent Wednesday looking at houses in Alpine, N.J. The Sabathias intend to permanently move to the area.

They said the one-month gap between the Yankees' initial offer and Sabathia's acceptance was partly because they have a new child and partly because he wanted to hear from every interested team. He was concerned New York would withdraw its offer and move on.

"I was worried about the public perception here," Sabathia said. "I don't want anybody to think that I didn't want to come here."

Burnett seemed to be the wilder personality. He has a Pisces tattoo on his left hand in honor of his two sons. When asked about his trips to the disabled list (10), he interrupted the questioner.

"You don't have to say the number," he said.

The 31-year-old right-hander even received a recruiting call from Alex Rodriguez. Last September, Burnett got an unexpected recommendation to sign with the Yankees: from Carl Pavano.

His former Florida teammate, maligned for multiple injuries during his four seasons in New York, spoke with him during batting practice at Yankee Stadium.

"It's a great place to play. It's a great place to live," Burnett said Pavano told him. "I was expecting to hear, you know, different things."

Playing near his home in Maryland was important to Burnett. So was the chance to win.

"Of course, money had something to do with it," he added. "How often do you get the chance to put on pinstripes? I mean, whether you want to admit that you love them or hate them, everybody wants to be a Yankee."

Burnett was looking forward to picking out his locker in the oval clubhouse of the new ballpark, where the pair went to pose for pictures after the news conference. Before heading over, he heard a loud noise from above as he spoke with reporters.

"Get over to the new place quick," he said. "We're supposed to get out first."

Notes:

The Yankees still hope to re-sign Andy Pettitte. "He's still excited about coming back," manager Joe Girardi said. ... Steinbrenner said it was possible Joba Chamberlain could wind up splitting time as a starter and reliever. Steinbrenner also wouldn't rule out chances of signing OF Manny Ramirez. "I guess as realistic as any of the other free agents, because we're looking at all of them," he said. "We're just going to have to see what each day brings."



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