As Yankees, Red Sox suffer injury losses, one rival feels secure atop the pack

TAMPA, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 26: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees in the dugout during the spring training game against the Washington Nationals at Steinbrenner Field on February 26, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla. — By first pitch on a warm Tuesday afternoon here, the New York Yankees general manager had from the shade of his dugout acknowledged that neither Aaron Judge nor Giancarlo Stanton is likely to be game-ready in three weeks, a problem when the season is to start in three weeks and two days, and his Boston Red Sox counterpart from the shade of his dugout had revealed ace Chris Sale had an MRI of his elbow forwarded to Dr. James Andrews, and not to be autographed.

This would, of course, be worse news for Chaim Bloom, who in four months as chief baseball officer in Boston has been tasked with firing his manager, trading his best player and now, in the best case, identifying someone in the short-term to stand in for Sale. Again, generally speaking, teams do not send MRIs to Andrews for the applause. Also, by next week Bloom could have clarity on what he’ll have to live with as a result of the league’s sign-stealing investigation into his club, Bloom twice a victim in the underhandedness that also cost his 90-win 2018 Tampa Bay Rays.

Perhaps Tuesday’s baseball game would free him from the daily traumas of a fraying roster, and indeed it may have, until Martin Perez, Bloom’s only notable free agent signing, failed to clear the first inning.

So, yeah, he asked if he couldn’t scoot a bit further into the shade.

“I think it’s fair to say there’ve been a few more challenges than I thought,” he told reporters, “since when I met you guys four months ago.”

He smiled.

What are you gonna do? You’re going to go find some more pitching, probably. Or not. You’re going to tell yourself life can’t keep on like this. Unless it does. You’re going to show up in three weeks and two days, without Mookie Betts and David Price and Alex Verdugo and probably Chris Sale, see how it goes. You’re going to worry a little more about pitching, because that’s the job every day, every year, no matter what the last four months have looked like.

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“Even before this,” said Bloom, looking surprisingly chipper in spite of all the before this, “we were not going to stop looking around outside. It’s an area where even when we have five guys you know you can lean on, you’re still never satisfied with the depth.”

FORT MYERS - FEBRUARY 20: Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom attends Spring Training workouts at the Jet Blue Park complex in Fort Myers, FL on Feb. 20, 2020. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom already spent most of the offseason answering uncomfortable questions about firing manager Alex Cora and trading Mookie Betts. Now he must face the possibility of losing Chris Sale to injury. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Losing Sale for significant time — he made 25 starts last season, posted a career-worst 4.40 ERA and the Red Sox clunked into third place — is very likely how their 2020 season will be remembered. That and playing it without Mookie Betts. And whatever comes of the investigation. The Red Sox, as 2020 goes, are not gaining momentum, which, at least, is good news for the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays, for whom Bloom has no real affinity.

None of which would register much with Brian Cashman, himself having one of those weeks.

The beauty of the Yankees, what makes them them and why they are revered (and reviled), is their assumption they are better. Just better. From the players to the ballpark to the city they play in to the uniforms they wear to the checks they write, better.

This comes honestly. From the heart. The way a hawk knows it cannot be taken from above. Until, you know, a bigger hawk. But what are the chances of that?

Granted, they’ve not actually participated in a World Series game in the absence of George Steinbrenner, but a dry decade or so does not dull the majesty of them being them.

The Red Sox occasionally have assigned themselves the part of the bigger hawk, diving from the sun field. The first 20 years of the century have been theirs. But, then, so were the first 20 years of the last century. By appearances this will not be one of those seasons.

While the Yankees had their own issues getting into March — Luis Severino had Tommy John surgery, Judge had shoulder/pectoral complications, Stanton strained his calf, James Paxton underwent back surgery and Domingo German has 63 more games to serve on a domestic violence suspension — they remain secure in what lies ahead. That’s today’s assessment.

For, in spite of the Severino/Paxton/German things (and Gerrit Cole has a cold, if you’d like to go deeper on the trainer’s report), Cashman said Tuesday he’d try to hold steady for now, at least in part because swinging a deal for pitching three weeks and two days before opening day is near impossible. Maybe, also, it helps when the Red Sox would have to overachieve to press the Yankees in the AL East. The Yankees could ride the likes of Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green and Michael King for long enough to get Paxton upright again. Assuming Paxton is pitching again in May, the greater danger could be lengthy recoveries of Judge or Stanton. Or both.

“We have not talked to anybody,” Cashman said about acquiring pitching. “We have not reached out to one club looking for anything. We have not engaged with any team about, ‘What’ve you got available? What are you trying to do?’ It’s pretty early and we might very well have all the answers in camp. Doesn’t mean we will, but we’re still trying to determine what we have and what we don’t have in terms of the alternatives. And we like what we see.”

On a day that counted only for the repetitions over three hours and the work done around them, that meant rest for Stanton and batteries of tests for Judge, that otherwise held no consequence for what will come in three weeks and two days, it seemed the Yankees had held their ground. This was not insignificant.

The alternative, you see, and perhaps your fear, was unfolding in the dugout opposite theirs. The Red Sox had no ground to give. No more, anyway. And now even the teams standing still seem to be pulling away.

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