View Full Version : New York Times: Yankees and Sheffield Far Apart Still On Contract Talks

12-03-2003, 12:48 AM

Unresolved Issues Stall Sheffield Deal With Yanks

Published: December 3, 2003

The Yankees remained active yesterday, continuing efforts to collect arms for what will be a very expensive bullpen and making other minor moves. But they have yet to make a big deal, certainly not one that would rival Boston's acquisition of Curt Schilling, and the one headline-generating move that seemed closest to completion has now encountered some problems.

Substantial issues have developed in the negotiations between the free-agent outfielder Gary Sheffield and the Yankees, one baseball official with knowledge of the talks said yesterday, and a deal that was essentially a certainty only days ago now has something of a question mark attached to it.

George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, is handling the negotiations and, on Monday, he met at the team's Tampa complex with the slugging Sheffield and his agent, Rufus Williams.

The same baseball official said that the two sides remained significantly apart yesterday over the length of a contract and the money. While it had been believed that Sheffield, 35, and the Yankees would agree on a three-year deal, he has been seeking more — a guarantee that would cover at least a fourth year and possibly a fifth one, too. The Yankees proposed adding an option year as a compromise but, as of yesterday, that was not enough to secure a deal.

Sheffield could merely be playing hard to get, knowing that Steinbrenner is perhaps desperate to make a major move quickly to offset the publicity the Red Sox generated in obtaining Schilling. And the Yankees would be better served by signing Sheffield after Sunday, the deadline for his previous team, the Atlanta Braves, to offer him salary arbitration. Any other team that signs Sheffield before then, or after if he is offered arbitration, would surrender a first-round draft pick as compensation. If the Braves do not offer arbitration, the Yankees can sign him without losing a draft pick.

On the other hand, it is not clear how much leverage Sheffield has, despite his stellar offensive numbers last season. Only one other team, Atlanta, is believed to have made him an offer.

As for starting pitching, the Yankees have continued to speak to the Expos about Javier Vazquez. Montreal would want a young player in return and with second baseman Alfonso Soriano's salary expected to be too high, the Yankees will most likely have to assemble a package around first baseman Nick Johnson to acquire Vazquez.

Vazquez is eligible for arbitration and could fit into the Expos' budget for next season, when they are supposed to have a payroll near last season's total, about $50 million. But given the choice of retaining Vazquez or re-signing the free-agent Vladimir Guerrero, Expos General Manager Omar Minaya is said to prefer Guerrero because he is an everyday player. And he may need to trade Vazquez, and his salary, before he can start negotiating with Guerrero on a contract that would most likely be heavily backloaded.

The Yankees toyed briefly last month with another significant pitching acquisition, speaking to the Los Angeles Dodgers about acquiring 38-year-old Kevin Brown, who makes $15 million a year and is an elite pitcher when he stays healthy. The same baseball official said the discussions about Brown were part of a hypothetical four-way trade that "never got off the ground."

A second baseball official said the Dodgers had no interest in the trade, which Newsday reported yesterday as a potential straight-up exchange involving Brown and pitcher Jeff Weaver, who has struggled mightily as a Yankee. That official said that Dodger conversations about trading pitching had centered on adding offense, not cutting payroll, which would be the main benefit of trading Brown for Weaver.

As evidence that the Dodgers could add salary, the official noted that the team spoke to the Florida Marlins about first baseman Derrek Lee before he was traded to the Chicago Cubs last week, and to the Milwaukee Brewers about the slugger Richie Sexson before he was moved to Arizona on Monday. The Dodgers backed out of both deals, the official said, when the asking price, in terms of players, became too high.

The Yankees did move forward on other fronts yesterday. They officially announced the signing of infielder Enrique Wilson to a one-year contract and are expected to introduce the right-handed reliever Tom Gordon later this week. The team remained in "serious talks," one baseball official said, on a two-year, $6 million contract with the free-agent reliever Paul Quantrill, who would join Gordon as a right-handed setup man for Mariano Rivera and provide insurance if Steve Karsay were to struggle after missing last season because of a shoulder injury.

In acquiring Gordon, and pursuing Quantrill, the Yankees seem to be well on their way to assembling the richest bullpen in history — a clear barometer of how badly the Yankees are trying to keep pace with the Red Sox. Boston is hoping to sign the free-agent closer Keith Foulke to join Mike Timlin, Alan Embree, Scott Williamson (if he is offered a contract) and Scott Sauerbeck. In the next week, Gordon and Quantrill could join Chris Hammond ($2.4 million), Karsay ($5 million) and Rivera ($8.89 million) and boost the Yankees' bullpen payroll to nearly $23 million, not counting the left-handers Gabe White and Felix Heredia, whom the Yankees would like to re-sign.

The Yankees auditioned relievers throughout last season, and were unable to find anyone to set up Rivera consistently. Juan Acevedo, Armando Benitez and Jeff Nelson all tried, before Manager Joe Torre began bringing Rivera in repeatedly in the eighth inning. José Contreras pitched well in a setup role late in the season, but he is expected to start next season. And there may not be room for Contreras in the bullpen anyway.