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New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman thinks his team can compete for another division title this season, but until that potentially happens, he only sees them one way.

“We’re the Little Engine that Could,” he said Wednesday as a guest on ESPN New York’s “The Michael Kay Show.”

The statement was accompanied on air by laughter.

Cashman compared his team to the persistent train engine of children’s book lore after being asked how he viewed the Yankees in relation to their American League East rival, the Red Sox. Boston – which won the division last season, forcing the Yankees to settle for a wild-card playoff berth – signed free-agent power hitter J.D. Martinez earlier this week, a move that followed New York’s own offseason trade for slugger Giancarlo Stanton.

The big-money additions of Martinez and Stanton have been viewed as a sign the rivalry between the old AL East powers has re-intensified.

“I look at them as the defending American League East champions. We have to find a way to close the gap on them,” Cashman said. “They just added another piece to improve on what they already had. So we already know who they are and what they are. And our job is to find a way to figure out to somehow get past them, and at the same time keep Toronto and Baltimore and Tampa behind us.”

The comments echoed others Cashman made earlier in the day to reporters at Yankees spring training batting practice in Tampa.

“Until someone takes that away from them,” Cashman said to reporters of the Red Sox’s division title, “you’ve got to pay that homage.”

Cashman wasn’t the only one chatting about the teams’ rivalry at spring training Wednesday. Red Sox pitcher David Price chimed in about it following a series of questions about the Yankees during a media availability. He was specifically asked about whether Martinez’s addition could be viewed as a counterpunch to New York’s trade for Stanton.

After downplaying any suggestions that the rivalry was ramping up again, and even after claiming that the Red Sox don’t perceive the Yankees much differently than any of the other teams in the AL East, Price, at last, gave in.

“Sure, yeah,” Price said with a smile. “You guys want it. Let’s do it. We hate the Yankees. We hate the Yankees. Hate ’em!”

ESPN’s Scott Lauber contributed to this report.

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Grading the Yankees' offseason? All depends on whom you ask

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Some rival evaluators like what the Yankees did. Some think they could have done more. Some just aren’t sure. All of that makes it even more interesting to see what happens when the season starts.

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Masahiro Tanaka returning to Japan after 7 seasons with New York Yankees

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After seven years with the New York Yankees, free-agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka announced Thursday he will return to Japan to pitch for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in the Nippon Professional Baseball League.

“I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season,” Tanaka wrote on Twitter. “I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons.”

“I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. it has been an honor and a privilege! Thank you so much!!”

The 32-year-old, coming off a season in which he missed some time after being hit in the head by former Yankees teammate Giancarlo Stanton‘s shot during live batting practice, just completed the final year of a $155 million, seven-year deal.

A two-time All-Star selection, the Japanese right-hander spent all seven of his MLB seasons as a Yankees starter from 2014-20 and has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the majors over that span, going 78-46 in 173 starts.

Tanaka posted a 3-3 record with a 3.56 ERA — down from 4.45 in 2019 — in 10 starts during the pandemic-shortened season of 2020.

Tanaka was found to have a partially torn ligament in his pitching elbow during the 2014 season, and from then on the Yankees tried to give him extra rest between starts at times. He made a $22 million base salary in both the 2018 and 2019 seasons and $23 million in 2020.

Tanaka pitched well in the playoffs during his time in the Bronx, going 5-4 with a 4.18 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 15 walks in 10 starts over 54 innings. He had his best postseason run in 2017 when he went 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA, 18 strikeouts and three walks in 20 innings during the Division Series against Cleveland and League Championship Series versus Houston.

Prior to joining the Yankees, Tanaka was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in seven seasons with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, striking out 1,238 in 1315 innings.



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Toronto Blue Jays finalizing trade for New York Mets’ Steven Matz

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The Toronto Blue Jays are finalizing a trade to acquire starter Steven Matz from the New York Mets for three prospects, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Matz, a 29-year-old left-hander, agreed to a $5.2 million, one-year deal with the Mets in December.

That deal came after he had the poorest of his six seasons, going 0-5 with a 9.68 ERA while earning $1,851,852 in prorated pay from a $5 million salary. He was dropped from the rotation after starting 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA in five starts, then made three relief appearances along with a spot start.

Matz is 31-41 with a 4.35 ERA over 107 career starts and five relief appearances.

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