Hank Steinbrenner, Yankees ‘Just Need To [Expletive] Win’ and Eight Other AL East Thoughts

Hank Steinbrenner, Yankees 'Just Need To [Expletive] Win' and Eight Other AL East Thoughts Readers can follow the countdown to the start of spring training right here. For those of you who need a little more, or who missed out on a few of the goings-on of the past week, here is the latest edition of the Red Sox Lineup, nine items to get you into February with baseball on the mind:

1. It’s the ultimate case of keeping your enemies closer than your friends. The signings by Tampa Bay of both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez added instant excitement to a rivalry that tilted heavily to Boston’s side, at least on paper, this offseason. Not that the two old Red Sox outfielders are necessarily going to be enough to keep the Rays atop the AL East, but the best division in baseball got a bit better, and maintained a higher level of interest than anything you would find in the other five divisions.

2. Of course, part of what makes the AL East so fascinating, even when games aren’t being played, is the presence of the New York Yankees. Their offseason has been intriguing, to say the least. From the Derek Jeter contract squabble to the inactivity during the Red Sox’ spending spree to the insistence on the part of general manager Brian Cashman that signing Rafael Soriano was not his idea, it’s been a whirlwind. Hank Steinbrenner said this week that the Yankees "just need to [expletive] win." It will be interesting to see what happens with Cashman if they don’t.

On a related note, here are the top 10 reasons as to why the Yankees are in for a long 2011 season.

3. We knew that those Yankees would be in town to start the home schedule on Friday, April 8. We now know when the first pitch will be thrown. It’s a 2:05 p.m. start, followed by a 1:10 p.m. start on Saturday and an 8:05 p.m. game Sunday.

The Red Sox will play six Saturday afternoon home games and eight weekday matinees, as well as 10 Sunday afternoon games and the traditional 11:05 a.m. start on Patriots Day.

A side note in relation to games and times and all that. I read in a portion of a short story today that the 26-inning tie between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Braves on June 1, 1920, lasted three hours and 55 minutes. Again, that’s nearly three full games in under four hours. In 2010 alone, the Red Sox had 12 games longer than that memorable deadlock, including four that were only nine innings.

4. We learned in the last week that the Red Sox did indeed attempt to trade closer Jonathan Papelbon, which had been discussed both before and after the Bobby Jenks signing. There was also word that Boston made a push for home run king Jose Bautista, the right fielder for Toronto. It’s interesting to imagine what the fans would think of the offseason then. Much of it would depend on what came back in the Papelbon trade, but people seem to be pretty excited about having a loaded bullpen and a multi-dimensional guy like Carl Crawford. With Jenks as the closer and Bard in front of him, the pen would look a lot like it did last year. Bautista instead of Crawford would save some cash but it might not have the same pizzazz.

5. Let’s get into our minor league portion of the week. In case you Mainers missed it, Portland will continue to serve as the organization’s Double-A affiliate through 2014 after a two-year extension was announced. In addition to its proximity to Boston, Hadlock Field has served as a perfect affiliate for the Red Sox, complete with its likeness of the Green Monster. Nice to know it will remain in the fold for at least four more seasons.

6. Moving up one level to some Triple-A news, Red Sox great Wade Boggs will be inducted into the International League Hall of Fame, along with Cal Ripken Jr. and Steve Balboni. Boggs played two seasons with Pawtucket, hitting .306 and .335 in 1980 and 1981, respectively, before getting the promotion. He was also part of the longest game in professional baseball history, a 33-inning affair with the Rochester Red Wings played on two separate dates. That one lasted eight hours, 25 minutes, meaning it lasted four hours, 30 minutes longer than the Brooklyn-Boston game mentioned in the three-hole, despite lasting only seven more innings.

7. More minor league stuff for you. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked the Red Sox’ farm system 11th in the major leagues, not a bad spot for a club that just traded away three of its top prospects in Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes. Law cited the solid 2010 draft and a flood of talent at the lower levels that figures to slowly fill the Double-A ranks in the coming year as reasons for the Sox’ strong standing. Boston figures to do some damage in this year’s draft as well, with a handful of high picks and perhaps another if and when Felipe Lopez signs a deal. Tampa Bay, Toronto and the Yankees each ranked higher, showing the depth of talent in the AL East.

If you are curious as to what those three prospects did for the San Diego Padres system, Baseball America has a look.

8. Our weekly look at the transactions involving former Red Sox players includes guys that came in all shapes and sizes.

Rocco Baldelli is retiring at the age of 29 and taking a job in Tampa Bay’s front office. A class act that was plagued by channelopathy, a condition that caused his muscles to fatigue, Baldelli spent the 2009 season with Boston, batting .253 with seven homers in 62 games.

Also making a move is submariner Byung-Hyun Kim, who will play in Japan with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Kim had about as spotty a major league career as one can have. He had a handful of really solid seasons primarily as a reliever, including in 2003 with the Red Sox, for whom he was 8-5 with 16 saves and a 3.18 ERA. He also had the memorable meltdown in the 2001 World Series and an ERA of 6.08 in 2007, his final season in the majors.

Some of you may not recall that Bartolo Colon had a cup of coffee in Boston once. Regardless, he’s now a Yankee, having signed a minor league deal with New York after a year away from the majors. He was 4-2 with a 3.92 ERA with the Red Sox in 2008.

9. Time for a tiny bit of self-promotion. Not that our daily looks at lineup possibilities for the Red Sox are going to change your lives, but it seems to be a pretty popular topic of discussion these days and figures to gain steam once the season gets under way. If there is interest in playing around with some batting orders, click here and then backtrack through the daily offerings.

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