Perhaps nothing in sports is more motivating than having to watch your archrival succeed.
That's just what the New York Yankees spent this past October doing, though, as the Boston Red Sox won it all after dominating the Yankees and the rest of the American League East during the regular season.
While the Yankees decision-makers would almost certainly never admit it, the fact that the Red Sox did what they did this year in such surprising fashion—remember, they finished last in the division in 2012—has to be motivating and even inspiring the Bronx Bombers this offseason.
Motivating because, well, when a team you play 19 times a year and have a long, long history against gets the better of you, it's only natural to want to strike back.
And yet inspiring because of how Boston was able to turn things around so quickly by reloading and restocking via free agency—in came Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and David Ross—which is what it seems the Yankees themselves are intent on doing this winter.
While there are certain, shall we say, ongoing distractions and that whole $189 million luxury-tax threshold that the Yankees have to be aware of as they attempt to remake an aging roster that experienced an injury-riddled 2013 campaign, it's become quite clear that general manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner have a desire to address a great many problems and issues this offseason.
"The only thing I can confidently tell you," Cashman told Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News back in October, "is when the last name is Steinbrenner, the effort is going to be there in terms of making a full push for having the best team on the field you can possibly have."
Already, in fact, we've seen what seems to be the start of a return of the Yankees of old, as they handed out the largest free-agent contract so far in giving catcher Brian McCann $85 million last week. In one fell swoop, that move more or less announced that the Yankees mean business.
And in case you haven't noticed, they've been linked or tied to or mentioned as suitors of just about every big name on the open market, from outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran to starters Masahiro Tanaka, Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza to infielders Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta (who has since signed with the St. Louis Cardinals).
(Rumors courtesy of Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan and the New York Post's George A. King III.)
And of course, there's also Robinson Cano, the second baseman who's grown into one of the best players in the sport over the past handful of seasons with the Yankees. The latest, from Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, is that the two sides remain far apart, with Cano's camp still clinging to the 10-year, $300-plus million pipe dream of a contract.
But as Mike Bauman of MLB.com wrote following the McCann deal:
The McCann signing should be just the beginning for the Yankees. They have their own incumbent second baseman, Robinson Cano, to sign, and he will doubtless be the most expensive free-agent signing, the only question being how expensive. It is difficult to imagine another club prevailing in a bidding war with the Yankees over Cano's services.
Of course, there is the potential Alex Rodriguez problem alluded to above, as the Yankees may not know for sure how much, if any, of the third baseman's $31 million contract (including incentives) will count toward their 2014 payroll until a decision is handed down—perhaps as late as January—on Rodriguez's 211-game suspension for his alleged involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
But even that doesn't seem to be stopping the Yankees from enacting their plan to go big or go home. As Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York pointed out, the club's proposal to Cano may not stay on the table forever, especially if it precludes the team from going after and signing another top target or two:
While the Yankees want Cano to stay, they have already agreed with Brian McCann on an $85 million contract and are engaged in talks with a number of other free agents, which is chipping away at their goal of lowering the 2014 payroll to under $189 million to cut their luxury tax burden.
If some of the Yankees' targets agreed to deals before Cano decides, then Cano -- who most believe wants to remain in the Bronx -- runs the risk that the Yankees could lower their offer or move on.
While a source emphasized there is no "ultimatum," the Yankees feel they only have so much wiggle room above their initial seven-year, $160-plus million offer to Cano, in the context of their $189 million goal.
If that's true, Cashman and his cohorts appear to be executing a selectively aggressive approach toward this offseason. And that's because this offseason is perhaps the most important for the Yankees franchise in the past two decades, as the holdovers on the roster are dealing with age and/or injury issues and the team is coming off a playoff-less season for just the second time in the past 19.
As if that weren't enough, the Yankees also have a bad taste in their mouths from sitting home in October and watching the Red Sox win a championship after an offseason of roster-maneuvering the Yankees can only hope to match this time around.
Whether you want to call that motivation or inspiration—or both—it seems to have brought the Yankees back to life.
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