Eighteen years into a Hall of Fame career, Ivan Rodriguez still displays a rookie's enthusiasm for crouching behind home plate on a regular basis.
So it was no surprise he was dropping off his gear at Yankee Stadium long before most of his new teammates were around to greet him.
Rodriguez arrived in New York at 10 a.m. Thursday, just hours after he was acquired by the Yankees from Detroit for reliever Kyle Farnsworth. It was business as usual for a player who was treating his 2,235th career game as if it was his first.
"I'm a player that loves to play the game. It doesn't matter what uniform I put on. I always go out there and play nine innings hard," Rodriguez said before he started for the Yankees against the Los Angeles Angels. "I'm a winner. I come to win and I'll always be like that."
That's just fine for the Yankees, who are trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since 2003, when Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star, was guiding a young Marlins' pitching staff to the title.
Rodriguez made himself familiar with the Yankees' clubhouse, got fitted for his new catching equipment and jumped right in to learning the signs _ both for offense and defense. He also found time to arrange for his family to come from as far away as Colombia and Puerto Rico.
The Tigers, in need of a reliever and looking to get Brandon Inge more time at catcher, sprung the idea of the trade on the Yankees early Wednesday, and New York was quickly amenable, hoping to fill the gaping void created by Jorge Posada's season-ending shoulder injury.
Backup backstop Jose Molina has already caught 68 games this season, eight less than his career high, and the defensive specialist was batting only .226. Manager Joe Girardi said Molina will still be Mike Mussina's personal catcher and that the amount he catches on other days will depend on how Rodriguez feels.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman saw the deal as a no-brainer because Molina was never a full-time catcher and Rodriguez was a huge improvement on offense. The 36-year-old Rodriguez, a career .302 hitter, was batting .295 in 82 games this season.
"In theory I think we upgraded offensively. Pudge is obviously still having a tremendous year, one of the top catchers in the game today," Cashman said. "We signed Molina, obviously, to be a backup catcher and he's one of the premier backups in the game today.
"He stepped up and did a tremendous job here to hold the fort down while we were going through our stuff with Jorgie."
The Yankees, three games back in the East and a game behind Boston in the AL wild-card race entering Thursday, did not make a blockbuster deal as they did in 2006 to get Bobby Abreu, preferring to protect their farm system as has been Cashman's preference.
But they made a couple of less splashy moves in the days leading up to the non-waiver trading deadline to fill holes created by injuries.
The Yankees signed righty hitting Richie Sexson after he was released by Seattle for another option at first base and DH. And they acquired left-hander Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady from Pittsburgh. Nady can play left field with Hideki Matsui out with a knee injury and Johnny Damon limited because of a shoulder injury.
Marte's arrival made it easier to deal Farnsworth, but the Yankees failed to land a starting pitcher to help the back end of the rotation.
"There were things I was not comfortable with. It's a seller's market. If you want to meet the sales price then obviously you can get a deal but I wasn't willing to do that," Cashman said. "I'm ready to rock 'n roll if we could match up with somebody. We just couldn't match value for value in the marketplace."
The addition of Rodriguez made backup catcher Chad Moeller expendable. He was designated for assignment, and the Yankees recalled right-handed reliever Chris Britton from Triple-A Scranton to fill the spot in the bullpen. It's Britton's fifth stint with the Yankees this season. In seven innings over four appearances he has a 1.29 ERA and no record.
The Yankees did make one minor trade Thursday before the deadline, sending infielder Alberto Gonzalez to Washington for 22-year-old right-hander Jhonny Nunez.
New York also signed free agent Victor Zambrano, who has been working out at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Fla. The right-hander, who signed as an amateur free agent with New York in 1993, last played in the major leagues in 2007, when he played in 13 games for Toronto and Baltimore. He is 45-44 with a 4.64 ERA. His last full season was with the Mets in 2005.
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