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Bridge year isn't going to cut it in Boston; Red Sox need to win now

Red Sox-Yankees.

For more than a century it's been one of the best rivalries in sports. It's been Athens-Sparta, Celtics-Lakers, Texas-Oklahoma and Harvard-Yale.

From 1918 until 2004 it was pretty one-sided. We compared Sox-Yankees with the hammer and the nail. The Sox and Yankees had tradition, but not much competition. In a span of eight and a half decades, the Yankees won 26 World Series while the Red Sox won zero.

Everything changed in 2004. The Red Sox won their first World Series since Babe Ruth called Fenway home and they did it at the expense of the Yankees, coming back from a 3-0 deficit against New York in the American League Championship Series.

We had some legitimate role reversal for a few years. The Sox evolved into baseball's model franchise, developing young talent and winning a couple of World Series. Boston fans became arrogant and entitled, just like their Yankee cousins always were. Meanwhile, the Yankees spent buckets of money and won nothing.

Now the old world order has been restored and folks in New England are worried that the Boston brass is abandoning its century-long quest to compete with the Bronx Bombers.

Last week at the annual meetings in Indianapolis, the newly-crowned World Champion Yankees acquired 30-homer leadoff man Curtis Granderson from the Tigers in a three-team, seven-player deal. The Sox came away from Indy with pitcher Boof Bonser and Max Ramirez

Ouch.

Making matters worse for New Englanders was this statement from Boston GM Theo Epstein:

" ... We're kind of in a bridge period,'' said Theo. "We still think that if we push some of the right buttons, we can be competitive at the very highest levels for the next two years. But we don't want to compromise too much of the future for that competitiveness during the bridge period.''

This is not what Red Sox fans want to hear. Not when the Yankees are getting a 30-home run leadoff hitter. Not when the Sox are in need of a boost of offense.

In the wake of Theo's unfortunate "bridge" comment, Sox officials tried to assure Boston fans that the team would remain competitive. Their track record is pretty good. John Henry and Co. bought the franchise in 2002 and the Sox have been in the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons.

But there seems to be new resignation in the Boston front office. Sox owners continue to remind fans that the Yankees are in a league of their own when it comes to spending.

This stuff started last winter when Henry botched the Mark Teixeira negotiations. Convinced they were being used by Scott Boras, the Sox pulled out of the Teixeira sweepstakes and Henry e-mailed Boston writers telling them that the Sox could not afford the switch-hitting first baseman. New York wound up with Teixeira and won the World Series. Now the Sox are telling fans that this is not a good free agent market. So don't expect any big splashes.

Making matters worse for Boston, the Sox may lose leftfielder Jason Bay, who hit 36 homers and knocked in 119 runs last year. Boston has offered Bay $60 million over four years, but Bay's agent says Bay is ready to move. The Mets have offered Bay $63 million over four years and any team that comes in with five years will probably land the 31-year-old outfielder.

This is bad news in Boston. Sox fan worry that Bay will sign with the Angels, Mets or Mariners, then the Yankees will bag Matt Holliday.

This would widen the Boston-New York gap considerably.

Everyone agrees that the Yankees can spend the most money. It was no fun watching New York commit a half billion dollars to messrs.Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett last winter. But the Red Sox are not a team that can complain about Yankee spending. The Sox are a Have team, not a Have Not team. Boston is not Oakland, Pittsburgh or Kansas City. Through the years the Sox have been able to take players from other teams (Curt Schilling and Victor Martinez come to mind) because they can afford to pay.

They dished out millions for Johnny Damon, Keith Foulke, Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew. They raided rosters of the Have Nots. Now they are complaining about Yankee payroll?

It's absurd. Epstein, like Brian Cashman, can afford to make mistakes. Edgar Renteria and Julio Lugo are examples A and B of Theo's biggest blunders. This year the Sox will pay $18 million to have Lugo and Mike Lowell (trade pending with the Rangers) play for other teams.

Epstein is touting organization prospects named Jose Iglesias, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Westmorland, Casey Kelly and Lars Anderson, but they are a couple of years away. In Boston the message needs to be "win now.''

And that means "Beat the Yankees.''

Now.

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