Teixeira might be the highest-paid ﬁrst-baseman in baseball, but he’s not the best. (That would be St. Louis’s Albert Pujols, who won’t be a free agent for at least two more seasons.) He’s still a relatively safe bet for eight seasons because he’s a switch-hitter, he’s consistent, he’s rarely injured, and he’s playing a position that allows you to age gracefully. But he’s a notoriously slow starter—something he’s fully aware of: “It’s not something I’d like following me around the rest of my career,” he says, grimacing as much as a robot can grimace—on a team that, without A-Rod in the lineup for at least a month, will need him to hit early and often. But don’t expect him to become any sort of fan folk hero: Boras has not wired a “charm” function into his hardware.
CC Sabathia, on the other hand, is in the grand tradition of lovable baseball lugs like John Kruk, Rich Garces, Babe Ruth, and David Wells: He’s fat. (After he was traded to the Brewers last season, joining equally rotund ﬁrst-baseman Prince Fielder, The Onion memorably uncorked a “CC Sabathia, Prince Fielder Keep Imagining Each Other As Giant Talking Hot Dog, Hamburger” headline.) Sabathia is gregarious, emotional, and community-conscious (he has implored Major League Baseball to improve its inner-city youth programs in the wake of dwindling numbers of African-American players in the bigs). He’s also nearly as rich as Teixeira: Sabathia signed a seven-year, $161 million deal, making him the highest-paid starting pitcher in baseball (currently, for the record, the Yankees have the highest-paid starting pitcher, closer, ﬁrst-baseman, shortstop, third-baseman, and catcher in baseball). After his dominant run with the Brewers last year, there was considerable wangling for other deals and an unconvincing “I don’t want anybody to think that I didn’t want to come here” statement from the native Californian at his press conference. Many have questioned the deal, not because of Sabathia’s body of work but because of his body of, well, body. Sabathia really is huge. He is listed at 290 pounds, but that is being exceedingly kind. After every start, pitchers wrap their throwing arm in ice, gauze, and padding to soothe the violence they put it through. On most pitchers, it looks like a huge elephant tusk. On Sabathia, it looks like dandruff.
Sabathia seems to have overcome any inner turmoil he might have had about coming to New York. “We’ve got a chance to be a real special group,” he says. “I mean, look at everybody here. That’s Mariano Rivera over there. Come on, man.” And yes, he ﬁnds the pinstripes slimming. For now, anyway: It’s unlikely Sabathia’s going to lose weight over the next seven seasons—in case he ends up not liking it here, he has an opt-out clause after three years—and pitchers with his girth tend not to have long, healthy careers. Particularly those who have thrown 513 innings over the last two years, by far the most in baseball, many of them under the extreme stress of pennant chases and the postseason. All pitchers are fragile, and if Sabathia suddenly blows a gasket or tears a tendon—and we’ve certainly seen it before, from Jaret Wright to Carl Pavano—the Yankees are on the hook for a lot of empty money for a very long time.
He’s still not the biggest injury worry of the new additions, though: That’s A. J. Burnett, who, when healthy, might have even more overpowering stuff than Sabathia. The problem is that he’s only been upright enough to show it three times, perhaps not coincidentally in seasons right before he was due for a pay upgrade. He won’t be due for another one until 2013 now that the Yankees have wrapped him up for ﬁve years. He has looked outstanding this spring and pitches with an effortlessness that’s beguiling, and misleading. “I’ve grown up a lot since I was young,” he says. “I’m not trying to throw the ball through a wall anymore.” Well, we’ll see.
A lower-proﬁle addition this year, but one who seems determined to make himself into a fan favorite if it kills him, is ﬁrst-baseman–outﬁelder–utility man Nick Swisher, a former hot prospect in the A’s system who hit 35 homers three years ago but stumbled to a .219 average with the White Sox last year. Swisher, unlike the other additions, didn’t choose to come here: The Yankees got him on the cheap in November, giving up one Wilson Betemit. Swisher is, to put it mildly, a dervish of noise and look-at-me-I’m-wacky energy. (Sample quote: “As soon as you wake up, it’s a great day, because, hey, I woke up!”) He has a Twitter page, which he uses to tell the world things like “Went out to dinner with some of the guys. We’re doing lots of running ... more than I ever have done before. So great!” and is doing what he can to become Sabathia’s little buddy Gilligan. (He says he signed up to Twitter “because CC did” and used one of his ﬁrst few tweets to say how much he was looking forward to Sabathia’s arrival in Tampa.) Swisher, sufﬁce it to say, is a ham (and, as the glass of water I was drinking in the Yankees locker room while talking to him can attest, careless with his freshly clipped toenails). Most of the time, reporters follow players around to try to get them to talk to them. With Swisher, the opposite is happening: He’s chasing reporters. He clearly hasn’t been here very long.