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In the old days, the axiom that you should never trade a quality every-day position-player for a quality every-fifth-day pitcher was virtually set in cement. The ultimate affirmation of that thesis coming when the Reds traded premium outfielder Frank Robinson to the Orioles for premium pitcher Milt Pappas to their everlasting regret. If Montero fulfills his fabulous promise, Pineda must annually flirt with 20 wins in pin-stripes until further notice to make this deal equitable.

Still more to the point there's that near-psychic thing having to do with the burdens of pitching in New York. While hardly flawless, Kevin Brown, Jeff Weaver, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez, and AJ Burnett all had varying degrees of high achievement by the time they landed there only to have their dignity stripped in short order and eventually depart as laughingstock. The question of whether young Pineda can handle this oddly eerie business remains huge until he answers it resoundingly. Brian Cashman, the beleaguered puller of the switches in the Bronx, has every right to be scared witless, as he awaits that answer.

The Yankees are no lock. If I were them I'd be greatly concerned their allegedly omnipotent offense -- which again failed so miserably in the playoffs -- is on borrowed time. There's no logic in assuming they can get as much from Brothers Jeter, Teixeira and A-Rod, let alone more. A total breakdown by one of them (A-Rod?) would hardly surprise. Cashman, whose mind might be elsewhere these days, is delusional if he thinks the 40 year-old Raul Ibanez can give him a fraction of the production he'd have gotten from Montero. Can Robbie Cano and Curtis Granderson get still better? It's an unreasonable demand. Cashman is a concern too. His personal problems ought not be lightly dismissed.

And so you ask, might the waverings of the AL East behemoths from Boston and New York open the door to Tampa? It's pretty to think so if you're keen on the David and Goliath scenario and it certainly played out amusingly last year. But I wouldn't bet the ranch on a reprise. Joe Maddon may be the league's best manager and the Rays' pitching -- now graced by lefty Matt Moore who could be the best of them all -- will carry them a long way. But in the end, their anemic offense -- hardly improved by replacing Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman with Luke Scott and Carlos Pena -- will sink them. Again!

The balance of power shifts westward! Era's end! The AL East no longer inevitably yields the wildcard! It'll be harder making the playoffs this year!

Such premises begin to get tested at the leisurely, timeless watering holes of the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. Let the fun begin.

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