12/18/08 4:53 PM EST
Yanks welcome CC, A.J. to New York
Prized free-agent acquisitions meet media at Yankee Stadium
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The white message board and its familiar black font still stared down at the Major Deegan Expressway, relaying just the words a passing fan would want to see: "Let's play two -- CC and A.J."
Side by side, it was a 2-for-1 deal -- a pair of talented arms, with just four letters needed to identify them. As the Yankees introduced CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in a dual ceremony, the organization spoke optimistically about an upcoming return to dominance.
Representing the organization's top offseason priorities, the Yankees trotted out the top pitching prizes of this year's free-agent market in what may be the final news conference at the classic facility.
"I think it adds an urgency to get back to where this organization is supposed to be," Sabathia said. "I wouldn't say it's pressure. I would just say that people will play with a sense of urgency in the new stadium, getting back to that. It's definitely exciting."
They shed their jackets for pinstriped jerseys at the downstairs Stadium Club -- Burnett's a snug No. 34, Sabathia's a very baggy No. 52 -- across 161st Street from where both pitchers will ply their trade next season.
"People are excited, that much is obvious," Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said. "People are excited about this new stadium. Going out and getting these two great guys is going to be exciting, too."
Such was the vision. General manager Brian Cashman had been plotting the image of Sabathia in a Yankees uniform since last winter, when the club shunned a chance to trade for Johan Santana. Cashman vowed to have patience then, and push aggressively now.
"The one thing that I think today represents is just another example of that we're going to keep swinging for the fences," Cashman said. "We're going to keep trying. We're going to keep finding people and the right circumstances for a group that can make it happen."
With an 18-win season for Toronto, Burnett soon shot to the top of New York's list as well, boosting a club aimed to upgrade after missing the postseason in the old ballpark's farewell season.
"This is a dream come true," Burnett said. "I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be a fun ride. I want to pitch in the postseason, and I'm here to win. I think both of us are dedicated to winning, or else we wouldn't be here."
Both hurlers agreed to wear pinstripes last week, with Sabathia agreeing to terms on a seven-year, $161 million deal and Burnett accepting a five-year, $82.5 million pact. The pitchers were in New York to complete physicals and finalize paperwork this week.
"We got the two gentlemen we really wanted," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I'm proud to say they're Yankees."
The concept of family, specifically as it relates to the Yankees, was a prominent piece of the introduction. Girardi lent his 6-year-old daughter, Serena, to the process, presenting wives Amber Sabathia and Karen Burnett with bouquets of red roses in a photo opportunity.
"We're all family now," A.J. Burnett said.
It was a bond that the Yankees had hoped to affirm for some time. The club left no doubt of its intentions with Sabathia, leaping to offer him a six-year commitment on Nov. 14, the first day it could do so.
But the California-born left-hander waited, holding a short list of three clubs close to his vest. The Yankees easily bested the Brewers' five-year, $100 million proposal, a deal that New York financially blew away.
Yet Sabathia said he held off on accepting the pact until he knew for sure that California would not enter the fray -- the Angels were his remaining club and never really seriously materialized, aiming to retain first baseman Mark Teixeira.
With the Yankees' needs in focus and negotiations stalled for weeks, Cashman took the initiative. Using Reggie Jackson as a pitchman during their first get-together at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Cashman was later invited to the hurler's home in Vallejo, Calif., approximately 30 miles outside of San Francisco.
There, Cashman met with Sabathia's wife and his young family to "educate." That included discussing entertainment options, educational opportunities and the leafy suburbs from which to commute.
The sales pitch clicked. With another year and $21 million placed on the table, Sabathia not only agreed to wear pinstripes, but he will also move his permanent residence to the New York area.
"It was kind of a stressful deal," Sabathia said. "I was just trying to make sure I made the right decision. Being here now and coming here and seeing the way people are, I definitely made the right choice."
With their top target in the fold, the Yankees then moved quickly to secure Burnett, who was weighing an offer to join the Braves. But Sabathia's signing put the market in motion, and Burnett liked the idea of being No. 2 behind an ace, the way he was with Roy Halladay in Toronto.
"This is a dream come true. I'm looking forward to it; it's going to be a fun ride. I want to pitch in the postseason, and I'm here to win. I think both of us are dedicated to winning, or else we wouldn't be here."
|-- A.J. Burnett|
New York agreed to commit a fifth contractual year to the right-hander, and that was enough to land Burnett. Geographical proximity played a large role: Burnett's wife dislikes flying. New York is only a three-hour ride away from the couple's home in Maryland, and now New York will become an in-season weekend home.
The Yankees held Burnett in high regard, especially this season, when he went 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five starts against them. Just as importantly, Burnett is 5-0 lifetime against the Red Sox; in 10 big league seasons, Burnett is 87-76 with a 3.81 ERA.
"You've got to keep your perspective," Cashman said. "It's great and I'm happy. But at the same time, we haven't won any games. It's nice print, but everybody's got to come together to form a team and go up against some stiff competition."
On adjusting to life in New York and dealing with the increased media scrutiny, neither pitcher felt they would have trouble making the transition.
"I've talked to guys like [Derek] Jeter, guys who have been here," Sabathia said. "I'll answer questions whether there's 100 reporters at my locker or five. I'm not afraid of telling you how I feel, whether I pitched good or bad."
"I think I'll fit right in," Burnett said. "I grew up in this game. You don't point fingers, you take the blame like a man and be accountable."
Following the introductory news conference, there was a photo opportunity across 161st Street, where Sabathia and Burnett will catch some of their first glimpses at the Yankees' new home -- rising quickly in anticipation of its first game action in April 2009.
After that, both players said they'd be on their way to complete house-shopping in the New York area, weather permitting. Though snow may be in the immediate forecast, Spring Training is just eight weeks away.
"Enjoy them now," Girardi told the wives, "because I get them pretty soon."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.