Originally created 03/31/04

Yankees expect, and get, best



TAMPA, Fla. - Kenny Lofton was eight outs away from a World Series title with the Giants in 2002. His Cleveland Indians made it to Game 6 of the Fall Classic in 1995.

But with his new team, the New York Yankees, coming close counts for nothing. "This team is expected to win," Lofton said. "Everywhere else I've been, we just hoped to win."

If Lofton needs a reminder of the task at hand, he can glance at any of several large billboards with inspirational, if bombastic, sayings hanging in the Legends Field clubhouse corridors. One simply reads, "Accountability."

And if that's not enough of a reminder, Lofton can look left and spot Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, who hit 127 home runs combined last season. He can look straight ahead and see Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina.

Sitting at his locker in one clubhouse corner, Sheffield, who joined the Yankees after two seasons with the Atlanta Braves, said it's simple for winning clubs to keep winning.

"There's really no secret to it," he said. "You keep a core of players each season that you've drafted, then surround them with guys who can help keep it going."

Easy enough. At least if you have upwards of $190 million to spend, the anticipated Yankees payroll this season. By comparison, consider that the A's are expected to spend nearly $58 million on players, team co-owner Steve Schott said.

Last season, Brown - a former Los Angeles Dodgers ace - watched the Dodgers struggle to score while the pitching staff led the National League in ERA. This winter, when Aaron Boone injured himself and created a gap at third base, the Yankees not only acted quickly, they acquired Rodriguez, the game's preeminent player.

"That's the difference here," Brown said. "They've consistently shown their willingness to go out and get a player and do what you have to do to win it. It was a little different situation in L.A. You felt like that (roster) was it, there wasn't much that was going to happen."

Something did happen over the winter: The Dodgers traded Brown to the Yankees, largely to dump his salary as he enters the final two seasons of his seven-year, $105 million contract.

When Brown signed his current deal after the 1998 season, he became the majors' first $100 million man. Including Bernie Williams and the $252 million Rodriguez, the Yankees have four of baseball's eight players with contracts topping the century mark.

"It was pretty remarkable," Brown said of the latter deal. "... You're controlling what you can control and going after it by being aggressive and putting guys on the field."