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The empire strikes back?

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  November 4, 2008 06:02 PM

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The Tampa Bay Rays were a nice story, but don't fool yourselves. In the games played off the field, no one is a greater threat to the Red Sox than their egocentric rivals from the Bronx.

MAZZ'S HOT STOVE SERIES: Continuing today and ending on Nov. 13, the day before free agents can sign with any team, the Globe's Tony Massarotti will tackle an offseason topic of interest to Red Sox fans each day. Check out the schedule below.
  • Tuesday, Nov. 4:
    Shortstop in focus
  • Wednesday, Nov. 5:
    Yankees: Under contruction
  • Thursday, Nov. 6:
    Manny of the moment
  • Friday, Nov. 7:
    Top prize: Mark Teixeira
  • Tuesday, Nov. 11:
    Potential Sox trade partners
  • Wednesday, Nov. 12:
    Big-ticket starters and the art of building a bullpen
  • Thursday, Nov. 13:
    Tony's best- and worst-case offseason scenarios for the Red Sox and Yankees
  • MORE FROM MAZZ:

  • Sox' 5 biggest offseason questions
  • Player-by-player Sox overview
  • Big names in play
  • Agent could Boras to death
  • Red Sox aren't afraid to be bold
  • Sox look soft in the middle
  • Especially now.

    Even before the start of this week's general managers' meetings in California, Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner gave every indication that New York will leave no stone unturned this winter as the Yanks try to rebuild their deteriorating roster. The Yankees are moving into a new stadium next season and have money to spend -- even more than usual. Prince Henry clearly intends to preserve everything he can from Big Daddy's kingdom, from the rhetoric to the results.

    "There's nothing we are not looking at," Steinbrenner told the Associated Press when asked specifically about the club's interest in Manny Ramirez. "Personally, I like Manny. He's one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game. He's a free spirit for sure, but he knows how to win. We like some of the other guys, too. We just don't know yet."

    We just don't know yet. Does any phrase more accurately describe the current state of affairs in New York? The Yankees missed the playoffs this past season for the first time 1993, snapping a streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances. (Baseball's historic work stoppage wiped out the postseason altogether in 1994.) Depending on the formula, the Yankees squandered a payroll of between $210 million and $220 million, an awful lot of cake for a team as ordinary as vanilla ice cream.

    Here's the catch: The Yankees are now moving into a new home that will generate perverse amounts of money, beginning with the 300 seats (yes, a mere 300) that alone will generate more than $60 million in revenue next year. Since the end of last season, the Yankees have erased from their payroll a group that includes Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano and Andy Pettitte, among others. Regardless of whether the Yankees re-sign anyone from that group specifically -- Mussina, Pettitte and Abreu are possibilities -- those five players alone will give general manager Brian Cashman about $70 million to spend.

    Know what that means?

    It means that if the new stadium affords the Yankees, say, an extra $20 million-$50 million to spend -- not out of the question -- New York has more money at its disposal (a combined $100 million-$120 million) to make roster upgrades this winter alone than most major league clubs invested in their entire payrolls last year.

    As a result, it is entirely conceivable that the Yankees could keep Pettitte, Abreu, and Mussina (if they choose) while adding any combination of free agents from the group that includes Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Derek Lowe. Cashman could approach each of those players in the same way that Danny Ainge approached Kevin Garnett -- what if we add you and Ray Allen? -- which could easily make the Yankees a juggernaut again.

    Sure, the Yankees need help is lots of areas. But they also have the resources to get it.

    "Every team in baseball wants Sabathia," Steinbrenner said in the same interview with the AP. "That's the bottom line. It's not a real secret. Pitching is in the forefront for everybody, not just us. That's why starting pitching is at a premium."

    You'd be missing the point if you think the Yankees merely will be committing the same sins as in years past by freely spending on the open market. For all of the problems New York had in 2008, the Yankees still won more games than any American League team but the Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and Tampa Bay Rays. Chien-Ming Wang and Jorge Posada were hurt for much of the year. Even if Posada cannot reclaim his place behind the plate -- and the Yankees believe he can -- New York could improve tremendously by adding Sabathia and, say, Teixeira, the latter of whom is easily the best long-term investment available in this year's market.

    With those two additions alone, the Yankees could have a rotation that includes Sabathia, Wang, and Joba Chamberlain with a bullpen anchored by Mariano Rivera. The middle of their lineup could feature Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, who remains one of the most elite run producers in the game. Robinson Cano is more likely the player of 2006-07 (.322 batting average, with an average of 17 homers and 87.5 RBIs) than the player of 2008 (.271, 14 homers, 72 RBIs). And for all the talk that Derek Jeter is starting to show the signs of age, the Yankees captain batted .344 over the final two months of the season to finish at a tidy .300.

    And please don't suggest that the numbers didn't mean anything because the Yankees were out of the race.

    This is Derek Jeter we're talking about, and his ability to perform in meaningful situations is beyond questioning.

    With regard to Teixeira, in particular, there has been some suggestion that the Red Sox' interest in him is merely an attempt to drive up the price for the Yankees, who are in more desperate need of the slugger's services. That is nothing but hogwash. A year ago, when the Red Sox got in on the bidding for starter Johan Santana, the circumstances were entirely different. Santana was available by trade, remember, and New York has a limited number of resources in terms of young talent. To give away young players for Santana would have stripped the Yankees of the few prospects they possess, which would have been damaging to New York's long-term operations.

    Of course, that is precisely why the Yankees did not make the deal.

    But money? Please. The Yankees have enough to overpay Teixeira and Sabathia and turn a sizable profit. The Red Sox are not going to do any damage to the Yankees by upping the ante in any pursuit of a free agent. The way the Red Sox can do damage is by beating the Yankees to the punch the way they did with Curt Schilling in 2003, and it certainly seems as if the 28-year-old, switch-hitting Teixeira is among the primary targets for both teams.

    In this case, all it will take is money to get him.

    And the Yankees now have more than they ever have had before.

    Tony's Top 5

    Favorite blog entries

    5
    The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
    4
    For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
    3
    Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
    2
    Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
    1
    You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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    Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

    About Mazz

    Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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