Yankees are still baseball's evil empire

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
4:28
PM ET
This is the New York Yankees organization we love to hate: spending $155 million on Masahiro Tanaka and $153 million on Jacoby Ellsbury and at least $85 million on Brian McCann and another $45 million on Carlos Beltran, plus some pocket change on the likes of Matt Thornton, Kelly Johnson and Brendan Ryan. Not to mention re-signing Hiroki Kuroda and Derek Jeter. The Bronx Bankrollers have spent $491 million this offseason. It's almost like George is back in charge.

As baseball fans, this is what we need. Last year's version of the Yankees was an embarrassment. Sure, they somehow scratched out 85 wins, but they played guys like Jayson Nix, Vernon Wells, David Adams and Zoilo Almonte. Ten different players started at third base, including Luis Cruz, Chris Nelson, Brent Lillibridge and Alberto Gonzalez. You can't dislike that kind of team. That kind of team is boring and irrelevant.

That's not what we want from the Yankees. We need reasons to despise, reasons to cheer when they lose, reasons to rant and rave that our favorite team can't compete on the same level. Money is the root of all evil. In baseball, in sports, we need the bad guy. The Yankees are the bad guys.

Why did we all love the Pirates so much last year? Because they weren't the Yankees.

Without payroll disparity, we can't fawn over the genius of Billy Beane or romance about how smart the Rays are.

Without the Yankees signing all these free agents and making the postseason, we're reduced to watching the playoffs without a rooting interest unless our team is in it.

So now we have reasons to care. We'll be anticipating every Tanaka start. How good will he be? Is he really some cross of Yu Darvish, Curt Schilling and Zack Greinke? Is he merely a slightly better version of Hisashi Iwakuma? Will the pressure and big money get to him? Every start will be worth watching.

Jeter is back, maybe for one last season. He's been a great player, an all-timer, a Hall of Famer. And we'll get to hear it all season long. By June, we're going to be so sick of Jeter -- whether he's hitting .185, .255 or .325, he'll be a huge story -- that we'll be yearning for those days when he was but a young kid without celebrity girlfriends and those shots of his parents in the stands were cute and an endearing.

There's Ellsbury. The new Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon. The traitor who turned his back on Boston.

There's McCann, a guy who takes the whole "play the game the right way" approach to obnoxious levels. Braves fans loved him, NL East rivals loathed him. Can't wait to see the first time he yells at Joe Maddon.

The best thing about all this? The Yankees aren't even a lock to make the playoffs. CC Sabathia wasn't that good last year. Kuroda turns 39 next month. The bullpen has some gaps after the retirement of Mariano Rivera. Jeter turns 40 in June. You can guess how many teams have made the playoffs with a 40-year-old shortstop. Ellsbury has been injury-prone. Mark Teixeira has to come back from his wrist injuries. Are the Yankees really counting on Brian Roberts to play second base? It's a good team but one with flaws.

But the expectations, even without Robinson Cano, are now sky-high. Anything short of a division title in the regular season will be a disappointment. It's World Series or bust. Just the way George would have wanted it.

Here's the best thing about baseball in 2014: The Yankees aren't the only evil empire. We have the Red Sox, coming off their World Series title, hailed as the smartest kid on the block because they traded away a bunch of high-priced players. We have the Cardinals, and, yes, Cardinals fans, you may not spend money like the Yankees or Red Sox, but you're now on their level. Hold your heads high. It's an honor to be resented by other fans. And we have the Dodgers and all their money and perfect weather and Dodger Dogs and Magic Johnson smiles.

But the Yankees remain No. 1. Especially today. Admit it: You're happy they signed Tanaka.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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