ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.
If you're a Yankees fan, you've seen this movie before. Four years ago, they called it "Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle."
Don't score this a good day for Yankees-haters. Berkman and Kearns will join the defending champions Saturday because the Yankees are picking at the carcasses of fallen ballclubs. Already the owners of baseball's largest payroll, they won't blush over increasing it.
There's nothing illegal about it, and really, nothing immoral, either. As the Yankees played their first game at Tropicana Field since the passing of George Steinbrenner - who, in his final years, was here more than at Yankee Stadium - they exhibited their financial might once more. A bullpen addition still could be coming.
The Yankees would've been World Series favorites without getting Berkman. Despite offseason acquisition Nick Johnson's failure to stay healthy, the Yankees still lead the American League in runs scored. Yet Berkman essentially fell in their laps because they expressed a willingness to pay a nice portion - about $3 million - of the $7.5 million owed the 34-year-old slugger, along with sending Houston minor-leaguers Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes.
The Astros, under the leadership of owner Drayton McLane, never believed in rebuilding. Even with an overall terrible team, McLane gladly paid eight-figure prices to Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Carlos Lee (well, maybe McLane wasn't as thrilled about paying Lee). But if Berkman winds up playing a significant role for the Yankees, the Yankees should pay a commission to Oswalt, who lost his Phillies debut Friday night in Washington.
Oswalt, who had been miserable in Houston pretty much since the ink dried on the five-year, $73-million extension he signed in August 2006, finally wore down McLane, convincing him to release him from the non-contender's dungeon that Minute Maid Park had become. And once McLane dealt Oswalt to the Phillies in a trade of questionable quality, the owner moved forward on Berkman.
I suppose the Astros can try to sell Melancon as a future closer - the Yankees did, for a while - but that won't get them very far. And the Yankees have no qualms about boasting of their ability to maintain their top prospects while improving the team.
Back in '06, this was a relatively new phenomenon for the Yankees. With Brian Cashman in his first season as the team's bona fide general manager - after eight years of largely being susceptible to Steinbrenner's whims - he exhibited patience in looking for outfield help. Even as the Yankees' offense plodded along, missing Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield with serious injuries, Cashman said "no thanks" when Phillies GM Pat Gillick demanded prospects in return for Abreu.
It took until about this time, a day or two before the deadline, for Gillick to show his true hand: He just wanted to dump Abreu's considerable salary. Cashman was willing to give Gillick a hand, in return for a handful of warm bodies and nothing more. Even then, Cashman didn't bite until Gillick threw in Lidle, a serviceable starting pitcher (who died flying his own plane a few days after the Yankees' season ended).
Their choice of barter is money rather than young talent, and that can get you pretty far in their world. Probably all the way back to the Canyon of Heroes.