Yanks-Sox battle far from complete

In acquiring Javier Vazquez, the Yankees wasted little time in responding to their hated rival -- the Red Sox.

Originally Published: December 4, 2003
By Bob Klapisch | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- In only the narrowest sense, the blood war between the Yankees and Red Sox ended in the 11th inning of Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Truth is, ever since Aaron Boone's home run went hurtling into the left field stands, the Yankees and Sox have become the Kremlin and the White House of the '80s -- obsessed with each other, willing to empty their coffers to control the balance of power in the East.

The cost? Who cares? Certainly not the Yankees, who may balloon their payroll close to $200 million, just to neutralize the Sox' growing threat.

Javier Vazquez
APJavier Vazquez had a career-best 3.24 ERA last year for the Expos.

The latest sequence in this offseason dance occurred Thursday, when the Bombers acquired Javier Vazquez from the Expos. But the war isn't close to being over. The Bombers are days away from unveiling Gary Sheffield as their new right fielder -- a three-year deal that's so ready for its final signatures, Sheffield has already been working out at the club's spring training complex in Tampa, and will soon be taking a physical.

The Red Sox have more moves of their own, too: they're lasered in on free agent closer Keith Foulke, are talking seriously to the Rangers about a Manny Ramirez-for-Alex Rodriguez swap, and are contemplating a subsequent trade that would send Nomar Garciaparra to the Dodgers, for Kevin Brown among others.

Of course, the Yankees have their own interest in Brown, and have spoken internally about trying to move Jeff Weaver in exchange for the veteran right-hander. Either way, there's no mistaking why the Yankees and Red Sox are moving so frantically this winter: each team has decided to do whatever it takes -- spend, trade, sign -- to emerge as the superior 2004 entity.

That mindset acted as the catalyst to the Yankees' trade with Montreal, as they picked up a younger version of Curt Schilling. Vazquez, only 27, gives the Yankees a bona fide strikeout machine (9.4 per nine innings) who understands the strike zone (4.2 K's-per-walk ratio).

Assuming Andy Pettitte returns to the Bronx -- and there's every indication the lefty will make his decision by next week -- the Yankees have, in their minds, sufficiently responded to the immediate crisis that Schilling's arrival created. That is, even though they lost Nick Johnson and his .422 on-base percentage from last season, Juan Rivera and Randy Choate to the Expos.

Just how high are the stakes in the arms race with the Sox? The Bombers are prepared to suffer a dropoff in defense, evidenced by the fact that Jason Giambi, coming off recent knee surgery, will serve as the every day first baseman with no real backup. The Bombers seem equally unperturbed about their aging lineup; with the exception of Alfonso Soriano, every one of their position players will be 30 or older at some point in 2004.

These are all issues that'll be dealt with -- later. In George Steinbrenner's universe, time is measured in 24-hour cycles only, beginning and ending with one critical question: what are the Red Sox up to?

Steinbrenner was, in the words of one club official, "absolutely livid" that Boston GM Theo Epstein was able to snare Schilling for so much less than what Arizona had asked of the Yankees -- Johnson and Soriano. Despite what Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo claims to the contrary, the Boss remains convinced that Arizona was seeking revenge for losing David Wells to the Yankees in 2002, after Boomer had reached a verbal agreement on a two-year deal with the D-Backs.

The Yankee Response
Since the Red Sox announced the completion of the Curt Schilling deal on Nov. 28, there has been a flurry of activity from the Bronx. Here's what the Yankees have done in the last week:
PLAYER COST
Dec. 4
RHP Javier Vasquez 1B Nick Johnson
OF Juan Rivera
LHP Randy Choate
Dec. 3
RHP Paul Quantrill *2 years, $6.8M
LHP Felix Heredia *2 years, $3.8M
Dec. 2
IF Enrique Wilson *1 year, $700K
Dec. 1
RHP Tom Gordon *2 years, $7.5M
3B Aaron Boone *1 year, $5.75M
Nov. 30
OF Gary Sheffield #3 years, $36-38M
* -- agreed upon terms
# -- deal has not been completed

Colangelo thinks Steinbrenner stole his offseason prize, getting Wells to go back on his word, and finally wounded the Yankees in return. Sending Schilling to Fenway Park gives the Red Sox a front-three that so worried the Yankees that ... well, they haven't stopped spending since.

Just this week, the Bombers added $7 million in relief pitchers alone, signing Felix Heredia, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill. Never mind that Steve Karsay is still on the payroll for nearly $4 million a year; he's still recovering from shoulder surgery, and may not be ready by Opening Day.

Even if he claimed he was healthy, however, patience is in short supply with the Yankees. They'll deal with rebuilding Karsay's fastball -- later. It's the kind of rapid-fire, move-countermove activity that's left other GMs in awe.

As the Mets' Jim Duquette said the other day, "I watch what the Yankees are doing, and you know you can't compete with them. It's not realistic to think that way. No one in the game can complete with them, the way they spend."

The Red Sox might think otherwise, however. They've added starting pitching, are exploring the possibility of adding the game's best hitter, and apparently intend to outbid the market for Foulke. You don't have to ask the Yankees if they feel the rising temperature in the East. Their mantra is already in place:

Keep shopping. Keep spending. The dollar-war has only begun.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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