x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Writing on the wall for New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox

The unfathomable could happen this baseball season. The American League East could be turned upside-down.

New York Yankees, once formidable, are going down. Matt Slocum / AP Photo
New York Yankees, once formidable, are going down. Matt Slocum / AP Photo

Some sentences seem so far-fetched, you could never imagine typing them. African-American siblings from a downtrodden neighbourhood will become the planet's two best women tennis players.

Tiger Woods went 922 days without a PGA Tour event win. The lights went out - and stayed out - at a Super Bowl.

Now, this: the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox might battle each other to avoid sinking to the bottom of their division.

Say what? The regal Yankees, whose past two decades has seen 14 American League East titles, five runners-up spots and a disgraceful third? A team that acquires pricey free agents like the rest of us buy clothes?

Come again? The imperial Red Sox, who bunched two World Series wins and four other play-off appearances between 2003 and 2009. A team that scoops up the most desirable free agents left behind by New York?

The Yanks-Sox tandem turned the AL East into the most top-heavy division of any American sport. Tampa Bay have lobbied for realignment to save their own skin, given Alex Rodriguez's US$29 million (Dh106.4m) salary amounted to 40 per cent of the Rays' entire payroll last season.

For now, Tampa are content to stay put, although they will feel some heat from the Toronto Blue Jays (seriously) and the Baltimore Orioles (no kidding).

Team Canada, absent from the play-offs since 1993, raided Miami for four one-time All-Stars. Toronto's cost: a few prospects and just one player with big-league stripes.

The Jays broke open a piggy bank to sign the free agents RA Dickey and Melky Cabrera. Just as Dickey was the National League's best pitcher, Cabrera was its premier hitter. (Suspended for 50 games, he declined official recognition of the batting title, seeing as how it was deviously attained.)

Baltimore - known as the O's, not because of zero winning records in the previous 14 seasons - are coming off an O-vation - worthy season -93 wins and advancement to the post-season's second round despite many injuries.

As for the Rays, another MLB low-earned run average is attainable, even with Jamie Shields departing for greener pastures. Seven capable starters remain; one of them will provide trade bait for whatever line-up needs arise.

Fine. The AL East floor is raised. The Yankees would once have responded by lassoing an unattached all-star or two and tapping into their bountiful minor-league system for capable call-ups. The Red Sox of recent vintage would follow suit.

Ah, but the old Yanks have become old Yanks, with so many guys sipping from the fountain of youth that it might run dry and an increasingly barren farm of clubs unable to send reinforcements.

The closer Mariano Rivera is 43, the starter Andy Pettitte is 40. The left-side infielders Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are 38 and 37.

Rivera and Jeter are returning from the type of injuries that shove veterans toward retirement. A-Rod will rehabilitate a repaired hip for at least half a season, which might be a disguised blessing, given his production decline and association with performance enhancers.

The optimism of spring training was doused with the outfielder Curtis Granderson's broken arm in his first at-bat.

The Red Sox, scarred from some free-agent signings that backfired and the failure that was ill-fitting the manager Bobby Valentine's term, will retool with a more modest payroll.

Sometimes, less is more, but not this year. Not in the flip-flopped AL East, which might prompt the typing of this once-unfathomable line sometime in September: New York and Boston are all but eliminated from the AL East race as the NFL opens its season tonight.

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