LAS VEGAS – This is what the New York Yankees miss most about George Steinbrenner, a long-time associate said Tuesday evening.
"George would have had the [CC] Sabathia deal done three weeks ago," he said. "He was one of the greatest closers in the game. He had an unmatched ability to sell a player on what it meant to play for the Yankees, what it meant to play in New York, and if it took an extra $10 million to cinch his case, he'd throw that in, too."
Brian Cashman, the last Yankee general manager hired by Steinbrenner before his son Hal officially took over the reins this year, took his best shot at closing Tuesday, leaving baseball's winter meetings to meet with Sabathia in San Francisco, near the pitcher's hometown of Vallejo, Calif.
The Yankees, preparing for the possibility that they might whiff on CC, have accelerated talks with starters A.J. Burnett, Derek Lowe and Ben Sheets, and have sufficient resources to sign one of them even if Sabathia elects to come to the Bronx. If he doesn't, they might chase all three.
It marked the third day in a row Cashman met with Sabathia, which would suggest the Yankees are about to get their man, or that they are becoming increasingly desperate.
For weeks, the Yankees have had a six-year, $140 million offer on the table for Sabathia, easily eclipsing the only other known offer the left-hander has received, $100 million over five years from his last team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Sabathia has left both offers dangling, and with each passing day the chorus grew that the native of Northern California was inclined to eschew pinstripes for the chance to pitch for a West Coast team, and might take a discount to do so.
But so far, an offer from the Angels, Dodgers or Giants has yet to materialize. The Dodgers have been busy re-signing third baseman Casey Blake, adding utility infielder Mark Loretta and pursuing shortstop Rafael Furcal, while a huge decision – whether to bring back Manny Ramirez – looms. They do, however, need at least one starting pitcher since Lowe and Brad Penny have departed via free agency.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, asked about GM Ned Colletti's (erroneous) remark the day before that Sabathia told him he wanted to pitch for the Dodgers, said: "You know, you hear rumors, the fact [that he wants to pitch on the] West Coast, the fact that he makes a statement like that teases you. But again, there's a long way between wanting to and going to.
"He's pretty special. And in our league, I wouldn't mind giving him a bat every couple of innings. … He's obviously the pearl right now."
Yet Torre, famous for making recruiting pitches when he was with the Yankees, acknowledged he has not been asked to contact Sabathia.
Meanwhile, the Angels maintain their top priority is to re-sign first baseman Mark Teixeira, and while owner Arte Moreno downplayed the team's interest in Sabathia Tuesday night, the pitcher remains a tantalizing alternative. Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, here to announce a charity venture, said he has called Sabathia regularly, lobbying him to sign with the Angels.
"If you want to look at what an impact a guy like Sabathia has in your rotation and how everyone else is going to be better, and if you look at Sabathia, how he fits in with [Joe] Saunders, [Ervin] Santana and [Jered] Weaver and [John] Lackey, that's a pretty good rotation," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Tuesday.
And finally there are the Giants, GM Brian Sabean finally acknowledging that there is mutual interest. Sabean told reporters Tuesday that the Giants would not be willing to give Sabathia a sixth year on his contract, which would appear a likely deal-breaker. But if it was all about money, Sabathia had every incentive to already sign with the Bombers. And Sabean made it clear he does not have a meeting set up with the pitcher.
The Giants' message to Sabathia: Listen to the Yankees, listen to whomever you want, and if you're still interested, we're here.
Cashman, confident that no one will match the Yankees' offer, made his pitch Tuesday to Sabathia and his wife, Amber, by meeting them on their preferred turf. We'll soon learn just how persuasive he can be. And whether Sabathia's eventual turf will be in the Bronx.
- George Steinbrenner