Sox-Yanks rivalry just got more intense

Sox-Yanks rivalry just got more intense

LAS VEGAS -- With the Yankees nearing completion of a mammoth contract for ace free-agent left-hander CC Sabathia, their top rivals are getting ready for an intense battle in 2009.

It was a bit strange for the Red Sox that their fierce competition heading down the stretch and into October was with the Tampa Bay Rays, while the Yankees faded into the background. In 2009, the Bombers figure to be very much front and center again.

The Red Sox, as always, will be up for the challenge.

"We're probably going to face him six times a year for the next seven years," said manager Terry Francona. "There's 42 times. He's one of the premier pitchers in the game. I don't know him well, but I have come across him. I respect him a lot. What he did in Milwaukee at the end of the year, it's hard not to be a fan of his during that time, just because he took the ball every three days and all he had riding on it. He, obviously, put the team first. That was really impressive. Saying that, I hope he doesn't do it again."

American League MVP Dustin Pedroia knows the Yankees have money to spend.

"Their commitment to winning is just as important as ours is," said Pedroia. "We obviously knew that they were going to go out and get some of the top free agents. They definitely got a lot better today. We just have to worry about us and try to win games and keep everything focused on our team instead of other teams."

Then again, Sabathia will now be standing 60 feet and six inches from Boston hitters five or six times a year instead of the one or two when he was with the Indians.

"It definitely doesn't get easier," Pedroia said. "Especially facing a guy like CC -- he's got pretty dominant stuff. He's a bulldog on the mound. There's, obviously, respect throughout baseball of what he brings to the table, so it's definitely going to be a tough challenge every time he faces the Red Sox."

Of course, Boston general manager Theo Epstein is busy plotting his own offseason plans. Reports continue to surface that the Red Sox are heavily involved -- perhaps the favorites -- for Mark Teixeira, maybe the best position player on the market.

Though Pedroia is focused more on working out each day and having another big season, he can't help but keep tabs on the Hot Stove rumblings.

"I think everybody follows it," Pedroia said. "This time of year is a big part of next year and our future. I think everybody follows it, but that kind of stuff is out of our control. The only thing we can worry about is getting ourselves prepared to play a season. Let Theo and management do their job. They do that extremely well. We just sit back and watch and see what goes on."

While the players largely control the fate of the Red Sox from April through October, the front office has the stage in the winter months.

"Regardless of what other teams do, I know how Theo feels about what we're doing," said Francona. "I don't think he would let that affect how we go about our business. I don't think he'd ever do that. If it's right, he'll do what he thinks is right."

"I think that's the fun of the offseason," said Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie. "It's always fun during the year, because you're in the middle of the season, you're battling day in and day out. The fun of the offseason is the unknown -- to see what's gong to happen. Theo has probably got a few ideas up his sleeve, and we'll just all have to wait and see what happens."

One of the most bizarre occurrences of last season was when the Yankees finished the 2008 season with a three-game series at Fenway Park in which they were playing out the string. It's hard to imagine that type of scenario repeating itself with Sabathia on board and several other big additions likely to follow in a year the Yankees will be opening their new stadium.

"Obviously, the rivalry is more intense when both teams are competing for the AL East title," Lowrie said. "Clearly, with that size of contract, you're going to have a lot of responsibility coming into New York to pitch well for that team and especially coming off a year where they had so many injuries, just for him to stay healthy would be a big thing. There's no question that a guy like CC Sabathia coming in with the track record and the history that he had in the American League will be big. He's a quality starter that will make the Yankees a better team."

Not that the Yankees -- who missed the postseason for the first time since 1993 last season -- serving as a force is going to be any kind of eye-opener for the Red Sox.

"To be honest with you, the Yankees are always going to be there, with their commitment to winning," said Pedroia. "They're always going to be there. The Rays have gotten a ton better, and they went to the World Series last year. I think everybody is trying to catch them right now. The biggest thing is, our division is so tough. If you have a chance to win a game, you better win it."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.