Well, owner George Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees outbid all of Major League Baseball for another high-priced free agent.

There was no question that second baseman Steve Sax was the premier everyday player available in this year's free agent sweepstakes.And, for once, the Yanks signed a player who is in his prime - Sax, a seven-year veteran, will be 29 in January - and is likely to improve over the life of his three-year, $4 million contract.

Sax, a lifetime .282 hitter who had a career-high 57 RBI in 1988, gives the Bronx Bombers a solid No. 2 batter behind the explosive Rickey Henderson.

The combination of Henderson and Sax should set the table for Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield, Ken Phelps and Mike Pagliarulo in the middle of the Yankees' lineup.

"I did some research," Yankees General Manager Bob Quinn said. "And I found out there were just 15 players - six in the National League and nine in the American League - who had more than 600 at-bats last year.

"And Steve Sax, with just 51 strikeouts in 631 at-bats, was second to Boston's Marty Barrett in strikeout-to-at-bat ratio among the 15. And he was the leader in stolen bases with 42 thefts in 54 attempts."

Sax is a fine contact hitter but he will need time to adjust to the styles and motions of American League pitchers.

The signing of Sax shows that Steinbrenner is willing to let Dallas Green tailor the 1989 Yankees to his specifications no matter what the cost.

With SportsChannel and Madison Square Garden Network fighting over a TV contract that should line George's pocket with nearly $500 million dollars, Steinbrenner certainly can afford the largesse.

This influx of dollars should also keep the Yanks alive in the Bruce Hurst sweepstakes if they want to bolster their pitching staff.

The down side, of course, is that George now has the excuse to fire Green if the Yanks fall short of winning the American League pennant and the 1989 World Series.

"Well, I gave you all the players you asked for," George will wail whenever it becomes most convenient.

While Sax's potential offensive capabilities are unquestioned, this is still the same player who committed 30 errors, mostly throwing miscues, in 1983.

Another side to the Sax signing is just what becomes of Willie Randolph.

Yes, Randolph is 34 and a 13-year veteran. And yes, it was obvious last year that the Yankees had no one in their organization, except Bobby Meacham, who could play second base when Randolph was hurt.

But once again, Steinbrenner, who likes to beat Yankees fans over the head about pinstripe pride and Yankee tradition, has callously tossed a true New York Yankee onto the scrap heap.

"When you think of today's Yankees, you think of Willie Randolph," Quinn said. "Willie is a consummate pro. He's meant so much to New York for 13 years. And there's no question he paid through pain last year.

"But the signing of Steve Sax," Quinn continued, "puts negotiations with Willie (currently a free agent) into a doubtful state."

Randolph's value to the Yankees on the field was obvious the last two years. New York's 1987 pennant hopes ended in August when Henderson and Randolph both went down with leg injuries.

And last season, Randolph elected to play despite a damaged ligament in his wrist when he was told that surgery would keep him out the entire year.

In the 39 games that Randolph spent on the disabled list in 1988 with assorted hamstring, knee and wrist woes, New York was 13-26.

Without Randolph, the infield defense fell apart. Offensively, it was left to Henderson alone to get on base.

And Randolph's leadership in the clubhouse went far beyond his title of co-captain.