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If Epstein had remained, the team would have continued on a more conservative and -- and in the long run, perhaps more effective -- route of player development, with the budget constraints hardened. But now the Red Sox ownership, the Yankees' executives agreed, will be more aggressive, in the wake of Epstein's departure. They'll take more chances, perhaps expand their budget, do more to make sure the team will win in 2006, the first year A.T. (After Theo).
Now the Red Sox are moving close to a first big strike, with the impending acquisition of Josh Beckett, and we are accustomed to seeing the Yankees hammering away in response. However, what the Yankees might do is bite the bullet, instead of firing back.
The Yankees could have dived into the Josh Beckett sweepstakes and could have lost, anyway, given Boston's willingness to dangle top prospect Hanley Ramirez. But once the Marlins asked for Chien-Ming Wang and other prospects, the Yankees checked out. They want to keep Wang, top pitching prospect Philip Hughes and second baseman Robinson Cano, and right now, they don't have the depth in their farm system that the Red Sox have to even consider those types of trades without further damaging the organization long-term.
In addition, the Yankees would've had to absorb Mike Lowell, who would've been just one more high-priced older player thrown onto the pile of similar players the team has accumulated -- and the Yankees wouldn't have even had a natural place for Lowell to play.
That could mean going into next spring training with Bubba Crosby penciled in as the center fielder. That could mean Jaret Wright will be switched into middle relief, with the Yankees hoping that either Wright or Tanyon Sturtze or Scott Proctor develops into the needed frontline set-up man. That could mean "operating like Billy Beane runs the Athletics -- finding solutions in spring training, or during the season," says one club official.
After getting such surprising results from Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon last season, club officials feel better about taking chances like that. Right now, the team is not operating with the manic need to fill every roster spot with an ex-All-Star.
They've still got a deep wealth of talent, that lethal lineup of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and the developing Cano, and whether or not they spend money this winter, the Yankees will still be in position to make midseason deals (for a Mike Cameron, for example).
But for once, the Yankees might actually pass on the compulsion to immediately fire back in their war against the Red Sox. They're trying to build and save their ammunition for another day.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is available in paperback and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.