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Say what you will about the New York Yankees -- Red Sox officials had plenty to say about their divisional rivals after Team Steinbrenner outbid them for Jose Contreras -- they are committed to doing whatever it takes to win.

"Evil Empire" isn't my choice of words; that's what Boston CEO Larry "Sour Grapes" Lucchino called the Yanks. Compared to the true emerging power in the AL East (your Toronto Blue Jays) both the big-budget free-spenders are losing their grip on baseball reality. The Red Sox, in fact, may have "won" by losing out on Contreras; they are now forced to look elsewhere to keep up, and may return their attention to the less-risky, similarly-priced Bartolo Colon. Here's another Daily News article about the newest Cuban superstar in the Bronx. The $32 MM investment won't bankrupt George if it doesn't work out, nor will the $21 MM he threw at Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui. But if both players turn out to be just average, or either is really disappointing, that's a lot of money down the drain, especially considering the tax ramifications and other liabilities like Rondell and Raul.

It's a huge roll of the dice by the Yankees, and I wonder if the decision to commit $15 million for each of the next three seasons to two unproven big-league rookies was made by Brian Cashman or his Boss. Even if Matsui hits .300 with 40 HR and Contreras wins 20 games (I will bet against both propositions) there are question marks in the Big Apple. The bullpen, with one-year-wonder Chris Hammond replacing old reliable Mike Stanton, plus the highly combustible Steve Karsay and the suddenly fragile Mo Rivera, is no longer an automatic strength. The rotation will depend on Mike Mussina, who wasn't very good last year. The rapidly aging Rocket could be another costly mistake, and despite all his physical talent, Jeff Weaver can charitably be described as a head case. If Contreras finds big-leaguers harder to get out than Taiwanese amateurs, this team could lose a lot of high-scoring games.

The Red Sox are committed to a committee -- last year's closer Ugie Urbina, the newest overpaid Ranger, wasn't exactly automatic in the late innings, but guys like Mike Timlin, Alan Embree and Bob Howry are going to blow a lot of saves, and despite what Bill James' stats indicate about "proper" use of relievers, there could be some confusion and finger-pointing among the athletes. (My hero Whitey Herzog -- get well, Rat -- agrees with the stathead gospel; he believes in using an ace reliever for two innings every other day, not one inning every day.) It's rather obvious that your best short man is far more valuable in the seventh or eighth inning of a tie game than in the ninth with a three-run lead, but in Boston, "best" may be a relative term. Still, the hitters can produce runs, so if Pedro's arm doesn't fall off, and if AL hitters keep swinging at the low Lowe slider, and if the BoSox land a third solid starter, they might survive a shaky 'pen to make the divisional race close.

What should be encouraging to Blue Jays fans is that neither expensive powerhouse is built to last. The farm system cupboards are bare of immediate help, and there are a lot of increasingly creaky wheels in the lineups. It's "win now or else" in Beantown and the Bronx, while Toronto can focus on improving and maturing in 2003, then taking advantage of their newly-flexible payroll (and just as important, lack of ties to mediocre players) to add the right finishing touches for a serious pennant drive the following year.
The Evil Empire Strikes Back | 4 comments | Create New Account
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_R Billie - Friday, December 27 2002 @ 04:09 PM EST (#100493) # much as I'd like to believe that the Red Sox and Yankees will just fade away in 2004 and 2005, there are some very strong and relatively young free agents due up in those seasons. And despite having to pay an extra $8 million or so in tax this season (oh the pain), I don't think the Yankees will shy away from opening the coffers.

The Jays will have their work cut out for them. But of course they can counter that free agent spending by getting more value out of their farm system at a faster rate than those previous two teams. The Jays have a nice collection of young arms in the low minors that figure to be ready around 2005. And they should do alright in position players where they already have a number of long term solutions.

It all depends on what JP can do between now and 2005. And how the Blue Jays handle the loss of Carlos Delgado after 2004...both a large production loss and a large opportunity considering freed up payroll. I don't expect the Jays front office will be idle very often.
_jason - Friday, December 27 2002 @ 04:49 PM EST (#100494) #
If you have a look at the Yanks and BoSox lineups this year they both look really good. And both their rotations will end up having at least three good starters. I dont see how the Jays will compete with them this year, as much as Id like to see it, I think realistically I'd just like to see the team continue to rebuild and mature heading into the 2004 season when it will be more realistic to talk about the Jays contending. If they finish at or above .500 this year I think that would be really great as long as it doesn't come at the expense of the long-term plan.

Plus, the Yanks and to a lesser degree the Red Sox, have tied themselves up this offseason with more longterm contracts making their payrolls for the 2003/2004 offseason pretty inflexible. (The BoSox will have to worry about resigning Nomar and Pedro as well.) And the 2003/2004 offseason promises to be much more talent rich than any in recent memory. Perhaps the Jays can take advantage of that when the time comes.
Coach - Friday, December 27 2002 @ 05:07 PM EST (#100495) #
I don't expect the Yankees or Red Sox to disappear, but if/when their superstars decline, while too expensive to move, they might find it difficult to retool quickly. Pressure always exists in both markets to trade away the future for immediate help, so even prize Boston prospect Hanley Ramirez may find a new home. That's one thing the Ash years accomplished in Toronto -- expectations were lowered, so the Jays' imminent success will be a pleasant surprise to the casual fan.

It would appear that Baltimore, even if two-headed GM Beat-agan turns out to be smarter than Syd Thrift, is many, many years from contention, and while Tampa has a nice collection of young talent, it will take time for all those kids to mature. Unless MLB realigns, those franchises will prop up the division for the foreseeable future, but I expect the Jays to be legitimate contenders in 2004 and beyond.

The gap is huge between the AL haves and the have-nots. My impression was that the Angels, Twins, A's and Yankees could all have won the 2002 World Series, and two teams that missed the postseason (Boston and Seattle) were on a par with some of the NL playoff clubs. But the bad AL teams are terrible; at least four -- the Tigers, Royals, D-Rays and Orioles -- resemble the Brewers, and the second-worst NL team is respectable by comparison. Cleveland may be poised to turn it around in a couple of years, but in the short term, they're going to be awful, so 5 of the 6 weakest teams in 2003 are in the AL.

The Blue Jays are heading in the right direction, on the verge of joining the game's elite, and while the senior circuit is deeper and better-balanced, the best NL teams remind me of the Yanks, Boston and Seattle -- the success window is beginning to close.
_Kent - Sunday, December 29 2002 @ 04:14 PM EST (#100496) #
The Boss implores his shortstop and his manager to focus.
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