Big spending doesn’t mean payoff for New York Yankees 

click to enlarge Masahiro Tanaka
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  • Starter Masahiro Tanaka was one of the high-priced free agents the Yankees signed this offseason.
Baseball has evolved into a game where you can’t just outspend everyone and hope to win a championship. You also need to develop players, which can’t happen if you continually lose draft picks while signing premium free agents.

But in their desperation not to fall behind the rival Boston Red Sox and the penny-pinching Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East, the New York Yankees did what they do best: opened their wallet and let the money fly.

Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million), catcher Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) and right fielder Carlos Beltran (three years, $45 million) cost the Yankees draft picks, while pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (seven years, $155 million) came over from Japan and made New York’s offseason price tag for those four players $438 million.

Even with the losses of second baseman Robinson Cano (Seattle) and outfielder Curtis Granderson (New York Mets) to free agency, Mariano Rivera to retirement and Alex Rodriguez to a seasonlong suspension as a result of the Biogenesis drug scandal, the Yankees are better. But is it enough to send captain Derek Jeter out on a high note?

The Red Sox won their third World Series title in the last decade after retooling their philosophy with smart spending and a productive farm system. They return virtually intact, with the notable exceptions of Ellsbury and Ryan Dempster (sitting out due to personal reasons), and will battle the Rays for supremacy in the East. If anyone falters, the Baltimore Orioles are waiting to pounce.

In the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers remain the class of the division, while the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox have made various moves in order to knock off the three-time defending division champs. Detroit’s questions will be whether ace Justin Verlander will bounce back from a subpar season, can ace-in-waiting Max Scherzer repeat his AL Cy Young season and will the Tigers miss first baseman Prince Fielder’s bat behind two-time reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera.

The West figures to be the most interesting race. The A’s have won the last two division titles and are always tinkering with their roster. The Texas Rangers may be at a crossroads and went out and added Fielder’s massive bat and outfielder Shin-Soo Choo’s ability to get on base at the top of the order. Pitching will remain an issue. Derek Holland is already hurt, Matt Harrison is coming back from an injury and closer Joe Nathan signed with Detroit.

The Los Angeles Angels are enigmatic, with center fielder Mike Trout shining among a slew of fading stars. The Seattle Mariners threw their hat into the ring by signing Cano (10 years, $240 million), closer Fernando Rodney and outfielder-first basemen Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.

PREDICTIONS

West

1. A’s

2. Angels

3. Rangers

4. Mariners

5. Astros

Central

1. Tigers

2. Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

East

1. Rays

2. Red Sox

3. Yankees

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

PLAYOFFS

Wild card: Red Sox def. Royals

Division series: A’s def. Tigers, Rays def. Red Sox

League championship series: Rays def. A’s

World Series: Dodgers def. Rays

AWARDS

MVP: Prince Fielder, Rangers

Cy Young: David Price, Rays

Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees

5 things to watch

Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols were signed by the Los Angeles Angels to be the face of the franchise and be dynamic offensive forces. Thank goodness for Mike Trout. Hamilton, entering his second season with L.A., and Pujols, his third, have been huge disappointments for owner Arte Moreno. A repeat could mean big changes in Disneyland, starting with popular manager Mike Scioscia.

With Mariano Rivera sailing off into the sunset, the bullpen is a big question for the New York Yankees. Not only do closing duties get turned over to Dave Robertson, who struggled in the role when Rivera was hurt two years ago, but who will fill Robertson’s setup role? Matt Thornton is a left-handed specialist who could be pushed into that role.

This figures to be a make-or-break year for the Kansas City Royals. Each of the past two seasons, K.C. has been considered an AL Central dark horse with tons of potential. But how long does Cinderella get to find her glass slipper before Prince Charming moves on? Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and the rest of the young Royals need to show that their minor-league success wasn’t a fluke.

Could this be the best Tampa Bay Rays team? With only a change at catcher (Ryan Hanigan) and closer (Grant Balfour), the Rays were quiet this offseason after they were able to re-sign first baseman James Loney. But with Will Myers coming off his AL Rookie of the Year season and David Price surprisingly back to anchor an always-deep rotation, the Rays might be the class of the AL.

The Seattle Mariners won the offseason, but as the Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins found out the last two years, that doesn’t mean a thing over a 162-game schedule. Robinson Cano is the biggest new fish in Seattle with his 10-year, $240 million contract. Cano and Corey Hart should boost an anemic offense, but will that be enough to contend in the tough AL West?

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Steve Drumwright

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