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243 million rea$ons to fear New York

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff December 18, 2008 05:59 AM

Once home to baseball’s two greatest superpowers, the American League East has been redrawn. The Tampa Bay Rays are now division champions. The New York Yankees are back in business.

For the Red Sox, the challenge is growing more difficult.

Winners of two world titles in the last five seasons and postseason participants during five of the last six Octobers, the Red Sox recently returned from Las Vegas trapped in an unusual place. The Sox had yet to gain on the small-market Rays and had lost ground to the big(ger)-market Yankees, who fortified their rotation with the acquisitions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. The AL East looked to be growing even more competitive, a fact that will make any future trips to the postseason all the more grueling.

Of the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees, after all, at least one of them will miss the postseason in 2009.

And if the division proves as competitive as many believe and fear it will be, the wild card may come from the Central or West.

Bang for the buck
For obvious reasons, let’s start with the Yankees. New York committed $161 million to Sabathia (over seven years) and another $82.5 million to Burnett (over five years). Sabathia has an escape clause that could allow him to leave New York after his third season, but the Yankees have no ability to truncate either contract.

Did the Yankees spend too much? That is irrelevant. For all of the talk that the Yankees spent a quarter-billion dollars on two pitchers, nobody has taken the time to point out that those expenditures are broken up into 12 parts (seven for Sabathia, five for Burnett). The more relevant math is that the Yankees will pay Sabathia and Burnett an average of $39.5 million over each of the next five years, leaving the club with somewhere in the range of $200 million to spend on the balance of its roster each year.

Understand?

If you’re going to say that Sabathia and Burnett cost the Yankees $243.5 million, you need to note that those expenditures may constitute less than 20 percent of what could be more than $1.5 billion in player salaries over the next seven years.

And then, of course, there is this:

Because the Yankees are the Yankees, money is never an object.

In the short term, New York’s pitching needs are indisputable. As much difficulty as they had in generating offense for long stretches of the 2008 season, the Yankees finished the season ranked eighth in the American League in pitching, with a 4.28 ERA. New York’s starters finished ninth, a fact that becomes of even greater concern (for the Yankees) when one considers the top three rotations in the league.

Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Boston, in that order.

Consequently, thanks to unbalanced scheduling, the Yankees played roughly one-third of their 2008 schedule against teams with far superior starting rotations. The addition of Burnett alone should help the Yankees while simultaneously hurting the Blue Jays, who also must endure the losses of injured starters Shaun Marcum (for the season) and Dustin McGowan (for roughly half the year). The end result is that the Yankees have improved their pitching staff more than any other club in the division, regardless of what they paid.

In New York, after all, money is no object.

Catch some Rays
For all that the Tampa Bay Rays accomplished in 2008, this went overlooked: The offense was stagnant at times. Tampa finished the season ranked ninth in the AL in scoring, just behind the Baltimore Orioles. The Rays won largely with pitching and defense, despite the aberration of Games 2 through 5 of the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox.

Two spots in the Tampa lineup were more worrisome than any other: designated hitter and right field.

Given Tampa’s economic issues — the payroll last season was roughly $45 million, not much more than the Yankees will pay the tandem of Sabathia and Burnett in 2009 — the Rays cannot find fixes like Sabathia and Burnett on the free agent market. More frequently, Tampa must solve its problems internally or through trading, both of which ultimately reflect on a Rays farm system that is among the most talented in baseball.

Thanks to the presence of someone like left-handed pitcher David Price, Tampa recently was able to trade right-hander Edwin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for outfielder Matt Joyce, who should help solve the Rays’ issues in right field. In 92 games last season, Joyce batted .252 with 12 home runs, 33 RBI, and an OPS of .812. Lest anyone think those numbers unimpressive, consider that they are in line (per game) with what J.D. Drew gave the Red Sox during his first season in Boston.

OK, so maybe that was Drew’s first year in the AL.

But Joyce is 24.

Beyond that, the Rays certainly can expect offensive improvement from other positions in their lineup, from catcher to third base to center field. The team’s pitching staff is deep. The Rays look as if they will be just as good in 2009 as they were in 2008, which should prompt concern among those who watched last year’s ALCS.

At the time, after all, most everyone agreed the Red Sox were losing to a better team.

Suddenly human
For the Red Sox, the writing was on the wall at season’s end. Minus Manny Ramirez and a fully healthy David Ortiz, Boston’s lineup suffered considerably. The injury to Mike Lowell certainly didn’t help. But other than Jason Bay, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis, the last two of whom finished first and third in the Most Valuable Player award balloting, the lineup seemed void of consistent threats.

Unsurprisingly, at the start of the postseason, all of this had the Red Sox focused on Mark Teixeira, whose importance to the club only grew in the wake of the Yankees’ maneuvers. If the Red Sox had the pitching to compete with New York, after all, they may no longer have possessed the lineup. Tampa was better than the Red Sox to begin with, defeating the Sox during both the regular season and the postseason, removing any doubt that the ALCS was some kind of fluke.

Last season, in games against Tampa, New York, and Toronto — their three primary competitors in the AL East — the Red Sox went 26-28. Add the seven-game ALCS against Tampa to their slate, and the total was 29-32. The only divisional foe that the Red Sox posted a winning record against last season was the Baltimore Orioles, against whom the Sox were 12-6.

Entering 2009, it seems, the AL East stands to be even tougher.

But then, look at the bright side.

If the Red Sox can make it here, they can make it anywhere.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti

37 comments so far...
  1. If Beckett were healthy in the playoffs, the underlining assumptions of Tony's post might be incorrect.

    Posted by Ira Greenberg December 18, 08 09:42 AM
  1. So what, the Yankees had Pettite and 20 game winner Musina last year. These two pitchers are slightly better based on their age and potential but they both have questions. Sabathia has been over worked and Burnett is injury prone. The Yankees haven't addresses what their real problem was last year starters 3,4,5 and long relief. NY hasn't gained any ground and their lineup is even older. Jeter isn't the same, Posada was hurt, Mariano is another year older. They are a dead franchise, that will make a little noise in the race and fall off due to injury and lack solid pitching when they need it most. Give them 85 wins. Here's hoping they sign Manny as well. That'll make for a functional season.

    Posted by David December 18, 08 10:56 AM
  1. It might be enough ifcertainplayersdont comit their selves to be a winning
    team player. I dont understand why Burnett was signed is he that good !!!!

    Posted by Paul December 18, 08 12:44 PM
  1. is he that good? Look at Burnett's record against the Red Sox, maybe that will answer the question.

    Posted by nol December 18, 08 02:13 PM
  1. Congrats, the Yanks effectively replaced Pettitte and Mussina. That's all the CC and Burnett additions did...is replace their production almost exactly.

    The real question is what do they get out of Wang and Joba. Those two are the real keys to the Yankees success (if they are to have any), not the two big name additions. Of course, the media will fawn all over the Big Two if the Yankees turn it around (or blame them if they don't), just like they're drooling over Favre and the Jets and ignoring the guys that are actual upgrades from last year like Faneca and Jenkins.

    Posted by CC's Stomach December 18, 08 02:58 PM
  1. Something I haven't heard mentioned yet is that with Mussina retired, New York will have lost a 20 game winner. Of course, they've replaced those 20 wins with Sabbathia, but they've paid through the nose to do it, and still they're not ahead of the game compared to '08.

    Posted by Travis W. December 18, 08 03:04 PM
  1. They could spend a billion dollars a year and would have a tough time competing with the Sox and Rays. It`s the farm system and pitching. Problem is the Yankees don`t know a good pitcher when they see it. They had the same opportunities as the Red Sox did (See Dice K and Beckett and Schilling) through the years. They counter with Pavano, Burnett and CC. Sox are smarter with the dollar.

    Posted by Steve December 18, 08 03:13 PM
  1. Sox/Rays ALCS was marred by the fact that we had a banged up Beckett and Ortiz was a shell of himself because of his bum wrist. You'd have to think that at least one of those two issues will correct themselves this season.

    My only problem is that if you're intent on having Tek as a starting catcher and Ellsbury as the starting CF - you have a hole at the bottom of your lineup most of the time (unless Ellsbury can improve significantly from last season's performance). The Sox need more pop in the middle of the order to make up for the lack elsewhere.

    Posted by J.P. December 18, 08 03:19 PM
  1. All the Yanks have done so far is replace Musina and petite wins, they have done nothing to replace Giambi's and Abreu's Home runs,so after spending $243 million, there still a worse team than last year when they ended up third

    Posted by gazzzmann December 18, 08 03:27 PM
  1. Why, then, didn't the Yankees sign Santana last year? Makes no sense.

    Posted by jkstraw December 18, 08 03:29 PM
  1. The Yankees are not learning from their mistakes. "Buying" a championship hasn't worked for them. They've strayed from what made them champs in the late 90s and that's mixing in home-grown talent and some outside help.

    Posted by Jerry December 18, 08 03:42 PM
  1. what good is Burnett if he isn't healthy? and that is why the Sox didn't go after him. Let him be the next Pavano for the Yanks

    Posted by mixjuan December 18, 08 03:49 PM
  1. Also remember, there is no "$243 million" in T-E-A-M.

    Posted by Bob December 18, 08 04:03 PM
  1. I still think that Theo and the Red Sox brass are the smartest in the business. I remember when no one had faith in Dustin Pedroia. The Steinbrenner family would have traded him off. Lets see what Big Papi and Mike L have in Spring Training. Get the catcher and CF that we need. Eric Byrnes, Brad Penny and a couple of players are easy pickings in the trade. Rocco, Salty and Taylor T can also be had. However, good pitching beats good hitting. Lets not become the Yankees with their buy the planet.
    k

    Posted by Kent Gompert December 18, 08 04:06 PM
  1. Yes let's all fear the Yankees. They have been buying players for the last decade and have zilch to show for it.

    So now they are back to the same old failed policies they have always employed. Trying to run the team like it's in a fantasy league.

    And they still have yet to win a WS since 2000.....you would think they would have learned from their past mistakes.

    Go figure.

    Posted by Gary December 18, 08 04:12 PM
  1. Okay, Mazz's comments about the improvement in the Yankees have left out the following-

    the Yankees have lost Abreu and Gimabi. Their offense is worse then it was in a very mediocre season last year

    adding Sabathia replaces (potentially) Mussina's win total last year. Adding Burnett replaces (potentially) Pavano's stints on the DL

    Posada is coming back from shoulder surgery. he'll be 38 next year. Are we REALLY to expect that he'll duplicate his career best 2006 season? Why...because he plays for the Yankees...?

    Singing Texiera coupled with a little luck in the way of health for Ortiz and Beckett will have the Sox once again back at the top of the division. How soon we seem to forget that this team won 95 games last year, and, as a hollow, shallow, injured shell of itself, came back from a 3-1 deficit and a 7-0 deficit in an elimination game to force a Game 7 in the LCS.

    Fear the Yankees...?

    please...

    Posted by SteveinMD December 18, 08 04:15 PM
  1. Tony,
    Obviously you weren't a math or accounting major, since you only seem to be doing the addition here without considering the losses. Pettite and Mussina are huge losses as are Abreu and, occasionally, Giambi.
    The Red Sox on the other hand have, thus far, lost nothing except a logjam in CF and gained some relief help that could allow the very talented Justin Masterson to step into the rotation, time for the regulars to get healthy again (i.e. Lowell, Ortiz and Beckett) along with a chance for Jed Lowrie's wrist to heal, and he'll be a huge upgrade at SS over Lugo now that he's healthy. Varitek may walk, but it would be very hard to bring in a catcher who produced less than Varitek last season.

    Posted by Brendan December 18, 08 04:21 PM
  1. I really really respected the Yankees of 1996 - 2000. They had only a handful of truly great players, but they had mostly young guys and just guys who were above average, solid players - Brosious, Tino, Paul O'Neil...guys like that. They played so well together and seemed to embrace the team concept - like The Pats under Bellicheck. But since then, they've been a team of high priced all stars and they've not done much at all! Let 'em spend the money!

    Posted by Mike December 18, 08 04:36 PM
  1. Intelligent Sox fans aren't worried at all. An injury prone pitcher and a fat playoff choke artist? With an aging lineup and crappy bullpen?
    Will the Yanks be better than last year? Probably. Will they challenge for the World Series? No.

    Posted by troop December 18, 08 04:37 PM
  1. Look, I'm a yankee fan, but the fact of the matter was that the yankees had to do something after that debacle last year. Were their moves smart? Time will tell. The real issue here is that if fully healthy, i still take a beckett-lester-dice top three over a cc, burnett, joba/wang top three

    Posted by yankfan December 18, 08 04:59 PM
  1. Yankees. Whatever. Boring. Overpaid. Overrated. Overhyped. I am so over even caring -- let alone fearing - the Yankees. Who cares? Even if they win it all -- they win with a $250M payroll in a $1B new stadium. Yawn.

    Posted by Anonymous December 18, 08 05:22 PM
  1. The Yankees business model of buying up all the top free agents has been a failure in the post Moneyball era. Teams have learned how to win with top young- read HEALTHY talent. The durability of the late twenty somethings signed to long term deals will continue to hobble the Bombers. And as a team trying to please fans how can you sit a $20 million dollar man over a prospect when the $$$ guy isn''t producing? I have to agree with the article- the Yankees have a nearly unliited supply of dollars to dole out, so 'value' doesn't necessarily play into it- 'taint no salary cap- but sometimes the available talent doesn't always match up with your needs. So unless they suddenly figure a way to wrestle Bill James away from the RS they'll remain the team of the last millenium...

    Posted by mynameisbob December 18, 08 05:28 PM
  1. 39.5 million is obscene given the financial difficulties everyone except ball players are having. And I'm a sports fan saying this.

    Posted by ouch December 18, 08 05:40 PM
  1. These signings are the worst signings of the off season so far. Hank has no idea what he's doing. Sabathia MIGHT be OK this year and next but his arm will fall off soon. Burnett is unproven. Also, Sabathia is going to be facing much better hitters playing in the AL East. I hope the Yanks keep this nonsense up...GO SOX!!!

    Posted by YanksAreDone December 18, 08 07:02 PM
  1. "If Beckett were healthy in the playoffs, the underlining assumptions of Tony's post might be incorrect. "

    Absolutely. Boston was one pulled oblique from their third WS championship in 5 years.

    Posted by Link December 18, 08 08:55 PM
  1. Must be hard checking your sense of reality at the door when legitimately throwing millions of dollars around as if it was nothing. Bunch of buffoons that spend money following these overpaid men playing a kid's game. If I could check an unsubscribe box on every item I use that subsidizes this ridiculous industry I would gladly do it. Take NESN and everything else away. A quarter of a billion on two players. Insane.

    Posted by Reality Check Needed December 18, 08 10:45 PM
  1. Listen to all the whining going on over here.
    Lets stop all this "Our GM and front office is smarter than everyone else" nonsense. Yes, the Red Sox have made some good moves but they've also made some bad ones. Julio Lugo anybody? Also, for the record, Theo cant even hang his hat on one of the best moves the sox have made, (Lowell,Beckett) he was hiding in a gorilla suit somewhere. I also find it EXTREMELY ironic that the dead behind the eyes "Red Sox Natiion" is crying poverty when their team is readying a 200 million offer for Texiera. Lets stop making excuses for Beckett, he is either healthy enough to pitch or he figures a way to gut it out. Either way stop crying over SPILLED MILK.


    Posted by William Q Loomis December 18, 08 11:00 PM
  1. 26 times. Goodnight!

    Posted by Pablo December 19, 08 02:42 AM
  1. Sox were lucky to get to ALCS with that lineup. Given there will be no Texieria, expect them to battle the Jays for AL East 3rd.

    Posted by Anonymous December 19, 08 10:11 AM
  1. CC is a fat horse and will crap out halfway thru the season. Burnett is OK. Sox fans, don't sweat the small stuff. We'll be ther in October.

    Posted by Arthur Shuman December 19, 08 03:54 PM
  1. why sign burnett?? well lets see hes lost to the sox once in his career so maybe thats a start.

    Posted by Annonymous December 19, 08 06:03 PM
  1. It is true that the Yankees have not won a World Series since 2000. That should be the objective of every ball club. However, what have they done since 2000? In 2001, they came 1 inning from winning the World Series again, in 2003, they lost the World Series in 6 games and in 2004, after being up 3-0 in the ALCS, even Red Sox fans believed they were going to lose before the Yankees were unceremoniously bounced in 4 straight. Excluding winning 89 games in a 3rd place finish in 2008, for the 14 year period of 1994 through 2007, the Yankees have 11 first place finishes, 3 second place finishes and 6 World Series appearances. How many teams can spout such a resume? Yankees fans certainly talk trash but have the history of winning to do so. That is why so many other cities, including Boston, despise their notoriety while playing in the biggest market in the country. Without question, they loom to again have a very productive 2009. Even if they don't win it, that does not make their team a failure but certainly they will be among the favorites, if not the favorite to win it all.

    By the way, I'm not from New York but the City of Brotherly Love. It took our city 25 years to win a title in any major sport but it felt good to finally win again. Hopefully we'll have another parade down Broad Street in 2009. We expect to be there again. Will the Sox???

    Posted by John December 19, 08 06:46 PM
  1. All this talk about the Yankees buying a title is a little silly coming from Sox fans. Beckett was bought from somewhere else. Matsuzaka was bought. Ortiz was bought. Schilling was bought. Manny was bought. Drew was bought. Lowell was bought. Okajima was bought. Lugo was bought. Where are all the important home grown Sox who have led them to a title?

    This is how the game goes now. And, like it or not, the Sox do exactly what the Yankees do, their fans just pretend they don't.

    Posted by Anonymous December 19, 08 09:16 PM
  1. Look couple of points to make.

    Mussina has a career year. 20 game winner yes but would you have expected that the way pitched the two previous seasons. Sabathia is almost 8 years younger and yes he was a horse last year but so was moose for most of his years.

    Petitt was a .500 pitcher who is on the wrong side of 30. Yes he can give you a 6 innings every 5 nights but at what a 4.50 ERA. Burnette is 6 years younger and should give NY 3 good years. Did the Yanks over pay, they sure did but they will be more competitive witht he Sox now on the pitching front.

    Wang up to last year was good for 19 wins. Before his freak injury he was 8-2 on to another 19 to 20 game win season.

    Joba will be a stud. He will see 160-180 innnings this year and most of them as a starter. He is the real deal and has Josh Beckett stuff. Yes he may have a little Roger Clemens stuff too ask Youk....

    5th spot Pettit, Sheets maybe Phil Hughes. If they sign Pettit which I believe they will
    then they will have on paper won of the top 3 pitching staffs in baseball. That said, thats why we play the game so we will see.

    Posted by Sal from the ATX December 21, 08 12:08 PM
  1. Anonymous,

    If you are going to post, please at least have your facts straight, and have the guts to post your name.

    Beckett and Lowell were not bought. They were acquired in a trade with the Marlins, in which the Marlins got Hanley Ramirez and Anibel Sanchez, among others. Most would call it a trade that has worked out for both organizations, and one that could only be made because of the farm system Boston has developed.

    Schilling was not bought - he was acquired in a trade with Arizona in which Arizona got Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyon, among others. Again, young pitching that the Sox developed (something the Yankess have not had as much success with in the past few years).

    Ortiz was signed as a free agent, but bought probably would not be how most people would characterize it. He had been released by Minnesota and was signed for about $1.3 million by the Sox. Not exactly a major signing at the time - even the Sox thought he would back-up Jeremy Giambi and Shea Hillenbrand.

    At least you got the others right (although bought is a bit strong for Okajima as well - the Red Sox have a strong presence in Japan that enables them to get players over there - where are the Yankees?).

    As for home-grown talent, how about Pedroia (AL MVP, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove winner), Kevin Youkilis (3rd in MVP voting, Gold Glove winner), Jonathon Papelbon (3-time All-Star, 2nd in ROY voting), John Lester (won clinching game of World Series, threw no-hitter), Jacoby Ellsbury (3rd in ROY voting, led league in steals, errorless for his career to date), Justin Masterson (solid pitcher that can start or relieve)?

    Do the Red Sox have significant financial resources? Obviously. Have they bought their way to titles? Actually it was not until they changed their focus to building from within wherever possible (particularly pitching) that they actually won it all. Something the Yankees have strayed from recently.

    Should be an exciting year in the AL East - three very strong teams - should be fun.

    And since there seems to be a problem with the submission, and my name might not get added, I will let you know it is Jim.

    Posted by Anonymous December 21, 08 01:54 PM
  1. Tony,,,,,enough of you already, you are insulting, I honestly believe that most baseball fans realize that the Yankees are not paying 240 million dollars each year to CC and AJ but that is paid out in annual installments during the life of the respective contracts, but honestly MAZZ, dont join the Globe and start insulting the intelligence of its devoted baseball readers, because that is really Herald, I mean isn't that the reason you left....

    Posted by redsox1975 December 22, 08 12:42 PM
  1. Only the "writers" fear the Yankees, the ball players do not. They operate with a far different fortitude.

    Posted by dolph December 24, 08 09:41 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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