Twinkling Yankees lack star no longer

On Baseball

February 21, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Give New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner credit. He could have kept last year's world championship club intact and cruised back into the World Series, but that would have been, well, boring.

Instead, Steinbrenner put his team's outstanding team chemistry at risk to add some more star power when he acquired future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens from the Toronto Blue Jays for starting pitcher David Wells, reliever Graeme Lloyd and infield prospect Homer Bush.

The Boss has always loved a good headline, but this deal had dynasty written all over it. Steinbrenner has had some good teams over the nearly three decades that he has owned the Yankees, but the current version of the club has a chance to go down in history with the Murderers' Row clubs of the 1920s if it can sustain last year's success for any length of time.

That's why Steinbrenner went against one of the first rules of good management -- if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The addition of Clemens adds an idol to a team that won an American League-record 114 regular-season games last year without a consensus MVP or Cy Young candidate. The '98 Yankees were a marquee team with a surprising lack of marquee names.

Clemens should give the club some more personality, but it doesn't come without some downside potential. The Yankees were so much better than the rest of the American League East last year that other clubs may welcome any possibility of a change in team chemistry.

Orioles manager Ray Miller echoed that on Thursday, wishfully wondering aloud if the Yankees had fiddled too much with their winning formula.

"It will change the chemistry," Miller said. "Any time you add a Roger Clemens, you're getting a dominating starter, but you're also subtracting a pretty good left-hander."

Two of them, actually. The Yankees, who play in a stadium that is made for left-handed pitching, gave up their best left-handed starter and a solid left-handed setup man.

It won't matter if Clemens is as dominant in '99 as he was the past two years, but any drop-off in his performance could turn the deal into a disaster.

Of course, that possibility also existed with Wells, who is coming off the best year of his career. Maybe the Yankees' front office was simply taking the advice of legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey, who was fond of saying that it is always better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late.

Either guy could go either way.

"If you told me that Roger Clemens and David Wells would win 25 games this year, I'd say, `That's possible,' " Miller said. "And if you told me that either one of them broke down and won eight or nine games, I'd say, `That's possible,' too."

But Clemens has the track record and the star power. Steinbrenner couldn't resist.

Brown's regret

New Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown was all smiles on the club's first day of workouts on Friday, and why not? He's only the highest-paid player in the history of the game.

But Brown -- whose record $105 million contract was the story of the off-season -- does have some regrets about the way the 1997 Florida Marlins and 1998 San Diego Padres downsized after reaching the World Series.

"The fans didn't really get to enjoy the World Series last year or the year before," Brown said. "Obviously, it was more [pronounced] in Florida, because we did win the World Series and the breakup was so swift and so complete, but the fans in both places didn't get to enjoy it."

Brown left behind a lot of friends on those teams, but he'll have seven years to forge some more permanent relationships in Los Angeles.

"If I'd kept up that pace a little longer, half the league would have been ex-teammates," he said, "but we've taken care of that here."

Malone on Clemens

Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone applauded the Yankees for making the Clemens deal, even though it figures to make the Yankees that much tougher to unseat as world champions.

"You've got to tip your cap to [GM] Brian Cashman," Malone said. "He took a championship club and made it better. That's hard to do."

Malone downplayed any chance of a chemistry crisis.

"They'll need Roger when they play us in the Fall Classic," Malone said with a wink. "That'll be fun. It will be nice to see Kevin Brown and Roger Clemens match up."

Here comes the judge

The clubs have dominated the players in salary arbitration this year, which may be an indication that the owners were on to something when they pushed for three-man arbitration panels.

The owners believed that multiple arbitrators would be less likely to hand out outrageous or illogical awards than a single judge, who might be more likely to side with a popular player over a nameless club executive.

They may be right, but it's also possible that the owners just did a better job of preparing their arbitration presentations this year.

Boston bummer

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