Yanks upgrade rotation; Sox hope for best

BOSTON -- A year ago at this time, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman claimed that the Red Sox had won the winter and had displaced the Bombers as the hunted. Given that the Sox had traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, most people were inclined to agree with him.

That worked out, didn't it?

But that probably was small comfort to Sox fans Friday night upon learning that the Yankees, who had been laying low this offseason, struck suddenly and dramatically, signing free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and making a blockbuster trade with Seattle for another right-hander, Michael Pineda, who is not King Felix Hernandez but is regarded only a cut or two below. Just like that, the Yankees, having retained CC Sabathia, can roll out a rotation to rival any in the American League.

Three immediate reactions:

1. If the Sox knew they were going to be so limited by the luxury tax that they couldn't make a play for Kuroda or, say, closer Ryan Madson, how smart in retrospect was it to give Carl Crawford $20 million a year (not to mention five years and $82 million to John Lackey)? A Sox official acknowledged Friday night that Kuroda, who reportedly signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Yankees, was too rich for the Sox at that price.

2. You can take away the "maybe" on whether Daniel Bard will start for the Sox this season. They're obviously betting big that Bard will not only make the transition from the bullpen, but that he will have star potential in a starting role. They'd better be right.

3. If he hasn't already, Larry Lucchino had better start lobbying Bud Selig hard to add another wild-card team this year instead of waiting until 2013. The Angels, Rangers, Rays, Tigers and Yankees -- in addition to the Red Sox -- all have legitimate aspirations of playing in October.

To be fair, at this time last season the Sox didn't envision they'd be scrambling to upgrade their rotation. They thought Lackey would figure things out in his second season in Boston and that Daisuke Matsuzaka could get by as their No. 5 starter.

Instead, Lackey proved a bust, then blew out his elbow, a fate that had already befallen Matsuzaka. That's the genesis of the plan to switch Bard and Alfredo Aceves to starters, and why the Sox have been bottom-feeding for additional rotation depth with the likes of Carlos Silva. They could still make a play for Roy Oswalt, though at this stage his asking price is still in the Kuroda neighborhood.

Pineda came at a hefty price, costing the Yankees top catching prospect Jesus Montero, though Cashman got a bit carried away in likening Montero to Miguel Cabrera and Mike Piazza. Shoot, there are folks with the Sox who insist that Ryan Lavarnway will outhit Montero in the big leagues, though that opinion is hardly an industry consensus. Baseball America just ranked Lavarnway as only the ninth-best prospect in the Sox system.

The Yankees now have Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett as starters. Quality, and depth. The Sox, at least for the moment, have their fingers crossed.