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Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Updated: December 15, 7:50 AM ET
Brian bruised, battered -- but not broken

By Andrew Marchand
ESPNNewYork.com

With Red Sox GM Theo Epstein owning the American League hot stove title, Yankees GM Brian Cashman turned to the lessons he learned from George Steinbrenner.

"The one thing the Boss has taught me personally is the fact you have to get in the arena and fight," Cashman said as he publicly addressed for the first time the Yankees' being TKO'd by the Phillies for free-agent ace Cliff Lee. "Sometimes you win the fight, and sometimes you lose the fight. You get knocked down, but you have to pick yourself up and keep fighting. The Boss is a fighter. The Yankees are a fighter. We are not down-and-out at all."

Brian Cashman
Brian Cashman has until the 2011 trade deadline to take his revenge on Theo Epstein and the Red Sox.

But as the snow hits the ground in the mid-December, they are behind Boston in the AL East. Red Sox Nation is crushing Yankees Universe in the offseason and will head into spring training as the clear favorite in the division.

Cashman is preaching a very un-Boss-like quality to try to win the overall fight. He says he is going rope-a-dope.

"Plan B is patience," Cashman said.

Privately, Cashman is probably relishing the opportunity to be known as more than just a cash man. He is proud of all the young pitchers the Yankees think are around the corner. He is squarely under scrutiny as he turns to his first developed starter, Phil Hughes, a potentially revitalized A.J. Burnett and his second young starter, Ivan Nova, behind CC Sabathia. If Cashman brings back Andy Pettitte, the Yankees have potentially a very good rotation.

But really, Cashman has until July 31, the 2011 trade deadline, to match Epstein.

Epstein added the two best offensive players on the market, Adrian Gonzalez via trade and Carl Crawford through free agency, while the Yankees have gotten into a very public war of words with maybe their most popular player of the past half century (Derek Jeter) and Epstein pushed them along in giving 41-year-old closer Mariano Rivera a two-year deal.

Long-term, missing out on Lee may not be the worst thing. History shows that contracts of four or more years for starters usually don't work out.

In the short term, in 2011, the Yankees are worse off. There is no Lee replacement on the market right now. There are no more aces left in free agency, and teams generally don't trade No. 1 starters in December when they are trying to sell season tickets.

Other GMs are going to sense "blood in the water," Cashman said. So the Yankees may not act immediately to strike back at the Sox.

Patience could lead to someone like Felix Hernandez. Seattle isn't trading Hernandez right now, but if the Mariners have another bad season, could they make him available in July? The Yankees, with their farm system, have the prospects to potentially acquire a Hernandez or the next available ace.

The 2011 season is not over before it starts. The Red Sox aren't perfect. There are questions about Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Yankees have questions in their rotation, starting with how many innings Burnett, Hughes, Nova and possibly Pettitte can give behind Sabathia. They also don't know how the left side of their infield will age. If Jeter and Alex Rodriguez look old, the Yankees could be in real trouble.

"We have a terrific future," Cashman said. "We have a tremendous present."

He may be right, but he is going to need to do some work between now and July 31 for the Yankees to catch the Red Sox in 2011.

"We recognize there are a lot of ways to climb that mountain," Cashman said. "We have to climb back down the mountain and get a new trail."

Cashman will need to find another route because the Red Sox have climbed all over the Yankees thus far. Cashman has a chance to go with brains over bucks.

He will be patient, but midnight strikes on improving the club for 2011 on July 31. By then, the Yankees likely will need to have matched Boston's brilliant offseason, or Cashman's Bombers might not get up from Epstein's knockout punch.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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