Commentary

Can Yanks be like BoSox? Lotsa luck

Boston's blueprint gives Bombers some hope. Fans, keep your fingers crossed.

Updated: October 31, 2013, 3:15 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- A year ago, the Boston Red Sox were licking their wounds after a nightmarish season in which they managed to win just 69 games and found themselves a last-place team for the first time in two decades, nearly as far behind the Yankees in AL East -- 26 lengths -- as Sham was behind Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont stakes.

[+] EnlargeRodriguez, Sabathia, Teixeira
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesCould the Yankees unload aging stars Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira? The Red Sox won the World Series in part because they unloaded three payroll albatrosses on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Today, they are drinking champagne again after having beaten the St. Louis Cardinals for their third World Series championship in 10 seasons, a run of dominance second in recent baseball history only to the Yankees' four titles in five seasons around the turn of the millennium.

This turn of events is endlessly disheartening to Yankees fans. Just when they thought the big bad wolf had been run out of town for good, he returns to their door bigger, badder and hungrier than ever.

But it doesn't have to be all bad news. It's not like the AL East suddenly got tough; even without the Red Sox, the Yankees already had their hands full with the Rays, the Orioles and even the disappointing Blue Jays.

If anything, the quick turnaround by the Red Sox should give Yankees fans some hope that miracles can happen in the Bronx, too.

But not too much hope.

Because for all the superlatives being heaped upon Ben Cherington for rebuilding his team from bottom-feeder to penthouse dweller in less than a year, remember this: He never could have done it without the help of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Red Sox made some terrific short-term acquisitions this season, from Mike Napoli to Jonny Gomes to Shane Victorino to Stephen Drew and Jake Peavy, most of whom will be free agents this winter and only one of whom, Victorino, is signed beyond 2014.

They don't have the long-term entanglements that are strangling the Yankees' payroll and clogging their roster; even David Ortiz is signed only through next season. The only player guaranteed to be with the Red Sox for the long haul is Dustin Pedroia, signed through 2021, and try telling me he isn't worth the investment.

But none of those acquisitions would have been possible if the Red Sox and Cherington hadn't found themselves a pigeon willing to take three onerous contracts off their books: Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.

It would be the equivalent of Brian Cashman finding someone to dump Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira on.

And then, finding relatively low-cost replacements for them either on the free-agent marketplace, through trades or in their farm system.

Lotsa luck.

That's what Cherington had when he found Napoli, coming off an injury-shortened season in which he had batted just .227, willing to play for short money ($5 million plus incentives) in return for a chance to rebuild his own marketability. It's what he found when he took a gamble on Drew, coming off a lousy season split among Arizona and Oakland. Drew rewarded him by rebounding for 13 homers and 67 RBIs.

Same goes for Gomes, who kicked around on four other teams. All he did was hit the home run in Game 4 that turned the Series around.

And luck was what Cherington had when he found the Dodgers. But how many more pigeons like that are out there?

What the Red Sox were able to do over the past year was similar to what the Yankees were forced to do when much of their starting lineup was decimated by injuries last season. The Yankees, too, took flyers on guys such as Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds. None of them really worked out, and now the Yankees are stuck with Wells -- and 40-year-old Ichiro Suzuki -- for one more season.

And unlike Boston, they didn't have a stud like Jon Lester at the top of their rotation, or kids like Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks ready to step in and play important roles.

So what the Red Sox did this season proves that, yes, it can be done. Recovery can happen in a hurry in this game, with the right acquisitions and a healthy dose of luck.

The question is, are the Yankees capable of duplicating it?

Their farm system is devoid of prospects even close to major league-ready, which greatly reduces their chances of making a meaningful trade. Their pitching staff is suspect, from Sabathia on down, and next year will be the first in nearly 20 years in which someone other than Mariano Rivera will be asked to close out their games. (And even if David Robertson makes a successful transition in replacing Mariano, the Yankees still have to find someone to replace Robertson).

Robinson Cano, the Yankees' Pedroia, is a free agent this winter and might well wind up elsewhere. And with Hal Steinbrenner's $189 million "goal" hovering over their payroll, they still have nearly $80 million tied up in four players (Rodriguez, Sabathia, Teixeira and Derek Jeter), all of whom are aging, suspect or both.

This club needs a thorough housecleaning and remodel, similar to what the Red Sox did last year and are likely to do again this winter, and maybe next winter, too.

Napoli, Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury are free agents. Lester and closer Koji Uehara have club options that will certainly be picked up. Ortiz, Peavy, Gomes, John Lackey and Ryan Dempster all have contracts that will expire after 2014. Having already proven that a roster can be turned over successfully and just about anyone can be replaced, the Red Sox are unlikely to blink when it is time to make a tough call on any of them.

Can the Yankees say the same? That is for Cashman to answer this winter, and judging by the amount of parts on his roster that need replacing, for several more to come.

He needs some help from Fredric Horowitz, who could relieve the Yankees of A-Rod's $25 million salary, and it wouldn't be a bad thing if Curtis Granderson accepted a qualifying offer to stick around for one more year, providing power without being an anvil to the roster or the payroll.

Beyond that, who can say if there is a Napoli or a Gomes out there for the Yankees to avail themselves on a short-term basis? Don't ask me who they are; even the guys who are highly paid to locate those types of players really have no idea how any of them will perform in any given season. Once again, Cashman will have to roll the dice and hope they don't come up craps.

It might seem like a daunting task, but the 2013 Red Sox at least provide him, and you, with a sliver of hope.

No team had more work to do than they did at the end of the 2012 season, and they got it done, spectacularly well.

A year later, the Yankees find themselves in a similar position. What we write about them a year from now will tell us if they even came close to matching it.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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