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Sports Commentary 12/18/13 THRUST, PARRY, GAME, SET

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(Photo credit: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo credit: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

THRUST, PARRY, GAME, SET

Baseball.  What a game.  Not the game within the foul lines, the game within the game.

If you don’t think there are as many games going on in baseball this time of year as there are between April and November, you’re not paying attention.  At this time of year in Major League Baseball there is as much thrust and parry as you’re likely to find in Olympic fencing, as much game and set as there is a grand slam tennis match.  And it’s not always a game between teams.  Right now Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees are engaged in one of the best hot stove battles of will that we’ve seen in many an off season.

As I’ve outlined in this space before, the Yankees set two off season objectives, outbid other teams for the posting rights to Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and stay under the salary cap to avoid the luxury tax.  Major League Baseball devised two ways of hampering those efforts, a new posting system that makes the money that counts against the salary cap a greater amount than the amount that doesn’t, a 180 degree reversal of the long standing system, and a delay in the Alex Rodriquez suspension appeal, keeping the Yankees from knowing, possibly until the bidding is over, how far below the cap they’ll be when the bidding on Tanaka begins, in a system that now becomes a wide open affair designed to drive up salary costs.  The change in the system came just over a week after the Yankees freed up a considerable sum of salary cap money when Robinson Cano signed with the Mariners.

Yesterday the Yankees got their luxury tax bill from Major League Baseball, $28 million, one of only two teams to be imposed with a luxury tax for 2013.  They quickly responded with two moves right out of their new austerity handbook, and the Red Sox recipe for a World Series championship, signing second baseman Brian Roberts for one year, two million dollars, and former Red Sox lefty reliever Matt Thornton for two years, seven mil, moves that make sense while barely making a dent in their war against the salary cap.

Roberts is a legitimate major league second baseman who just needs to stay healthy.  If he does that, he could be the bargain of the year.  The Red Sox didn’t use Thornton in their post season run, but with lefties hitting just .235 against him he’s just the cure for what ails the Yankees bullpen since the free agent departure of Boone Logan.  If Roberts stays healthy the Yanks have more than replaced Cano’s defense at second base.  With Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran they’ve replaced his offense.  If they’ve countered baseball’s new rules enough to bid on Tanaka and stay under the cap, they’d be left with one move to make.  A pitcher of greater quality than what’s available on the free agent market to fill the rotation.

With the interest already expressed in outfielder Brett Gardner, who becomes disposable only at the right price with the acquisition of Jacoby Ellsbury, a Cadiallac version of Gardner, the Yankees can put together the kind of package, with new depth to add a catcher and/or an infielder to the deal, that pries quality pitchers loose.

Unless this is all just a coincidence the next move belongs to Major League Baseball, with one card left to play.  The A-Rod card.  The Yankees are pretty much expecting to get about $30 million of his salary back, even if his suspension is cut in half.  While it isn’t likely, it also wouldn’t be surprising if a ruling comes down that returns at least half of that amount to count against the Yankees salary cap.

Thrust, parry, game, set.  59 days to pitchers and catchers.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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