There probably isn't an "MT Curse" as Red Sox owner John Henry once overzealously tweeted in reference to Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira, but there does appear to be some sort of hex on the House of Steinbrenner this offseason. The damned Yankees are simply damned after pitcher Cliff Lee spurned them for a return to Philadelphia late last night.
Christmas has come early to New England. It has been an accursed off-season for the Bronx Bombers and a correspondingly blissful one for Red Sox Nation.
The Sox made the two most significant moves of the off-season getting All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Meanwhile, the Yankees have gotten...a cast-off catcher.
Sure, the Yankees re-signed two of their own stars, but even that didn't go smoothly. The return of iconic shortstop Derek Jeter was marred by acrimony and public posturing that angered the Yankee captain, and now comes word that closer Mariano Rivera, who re-signed for two years and $30-millon, rang up the Red Sox before returning to the Bronx.
But nothing is worse for the Yankees than the lefthander Lee leaving them at the altar like a stunned groom. Lee strung the Yankees along all along, using them to boost the price knowing he never intended to sign there. Guess it was a bad idea for Yankees fans to expect the Cy Young Award winner to sign up after they expectorated on his spouse.
I think Red Sox fans haven't liked a curveball from a pitcher named Lee this much since Bill Lee.
The loss of Lee for the Bronx Bombers is akin to the Sox losing out on Teixeira. It's a move that shifts the balance of power in the American League East and one that may have a ripple effect in the rivalry for a few years.
Lee was the perfect countermeasure for the Red Sox additions of Gonzalez and Crawford, and it had more to do with his ace status than being a southpaw. Surprisingly, Lee is not statistically tougher on lefties; for his career lefthanded batters and righthanded batters have an identical on-base percentage (.307) and near identical OPS (.712 for righthanders and .713 for lefties).
However, pairing Lee, who posted the best WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in baseball last season at 1.003 and led the AL in complete games (seven), in pinstripes with his former Indians teammate CC Sabathia would have given New York the best one-two pitching punch in the AL and much-needed rotational depth. The latter is a trait the Sox already possess with four pitchers who could be considered frontline starters.
Despite having the highest run support per game in all of baseball (5.4 runs), Yankee starters registered only three more quality starts (six innings pitched, three or fewer earned runs allowed) last season than the Baltimore Orioles. Astonishing, considering Sabathia ranked third in baseball with 26 quality starts. It was their lethal lineup, which produced the most runs in baseball, and solid bullpen that allowed them to reach the magical 95-win mark.
The Sox have now equaled or exceeded that New York lineup with Gonzalez and Crawford aboard.
Lee was a player Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had to have simply because there is no one else like him on the market, unless you believe Zack Greinke and his social anxiety disorder will do well in a place that once booed Jeter and still likes to rankle Alex Rodriguez.
It's seems the Teixeira karma has caught up with Cashman, and now the tables are turned.
The Sox and general manager Theo Epstein absorbed a lot of body blows after the team whiffed on Teixeira two off-seasons ago, the Yankees riding in at the last minute to swoop away the switch-hitting first baseman after Boston upper management/ownership got bogged down with outmaneuvering Scott Boras at the bargaining table.
We know the rest. The Sox made the playoffs in 2009, adding Victor Martinez midstream, but got swept out in the first round while the Yankees won yet another World Series. Then "bridge year" and "run prevention" became part of the local sports lexicon.
Failing to close the deal with Teixeira was a failure that recalibrated the rivalry with the Yankees in New York's favor and restored a level of Pinstripe Paranoia that had dissipated following the Red Sox two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.
But baseball's blood feud has seen the balance of power tip back in Boston's direction during a December to remember.
It started with Epstein orchestrating a trade for Gonzalez without giving up any major league-ready talent. After some tense hours of uncertainty, the shrewd trade went through on Dec. 5. Then came the clandestine courting of Carl Crawford and a seven-year, $142-million deal just past midnight on Dec. 9. Last night came the news that Lee would not be the subject of a Yankeeography or a bad John Sterling sobriquet anytime soon.
Lest we get too gleeful about the plight of the Yankees, remember that Cashman is one of the game's best general managers. Like Epstein, he is creative, resourceful and has a lot of resources. Maybe, he has some sort of ace up his sleeve. But maybe he'll just have to sit tight and wait for his revenge like the Red Sox did.
The Yankees got Teixeira and now the Red Sox are getting the last laugh -- for now.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.