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Stacked Yankees can't play the underdog card when talking Red Sox

TAMPA — They’re the Evil Empire, not the Bad News Bears.

Yet when asked if his team was on equal footing with the Red Sox after they countered Giancarlo Stanton with J.D. Martinez, Brian Cashman — who just stated his goal was another ring — played the underdog card.

“They’re the AL East champs, so we’re not on equal footing,” Cashman said Wednesday. “We were the Wild Card. They had the title within the division last year. I don’t know if they’re putting a flag up for it or not, but they are the AL East champs, we are not. So we are not on equal footing until we take that away from them, while at the same time preventing anybody that finished behind us from surpassing us and joining the fray.

“Toronto’s done a lot of work on its roster. Baltimore is starting to make some signs. So, no, we’re not on the same ground because they are the AL East champions, and until someone takes that away from them, you’ve got to pay homage.”

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Brian Cashman says the Red Sox are still the favorites after winning the division last season.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Hey, maybe it’s the payroll disparity.

Boston’s goal is to be under $ 237 million while New York’s goal is to be under $ 197 million.

In all seriousness, it’s understandable why Cashman would want to be respectful and not give them any extra motivation.

This feels like the two teams trading compliments about which one is the “Warriors of Baseball” last season when Boston got Chris Sale in the offseason and New York got Sonny Gray at the trade deadline.

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Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who thought they were better than the Bombers in 2017 — aside from those two extra regular-season wins. The formerly young and “likeable” Yankees won the season-series 11-8 and advanced farther in the playoffs, surprising and getting within a victory of the World Series.

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The Yankees prepare for the 2018 season at spring training

Then they went out and added Stanton, the reigning NL MVP/MLB home run leader, to a lethal lineup that already included Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. The Yankees’ farm system is the envy of several teams, and they’ve still got funds leftover to upgrade their starting pitching — whether that comes now via free agency or later via trade.

Plus, as Cashman was talking in the dugout, a Home Run Derby was taking place at Steinbrenner Field in the form of Stanton, Judge and Sanchez exchanging tape-measure blasts in BP.

As far as the rest of the division is concerned, the Rays have blown up their roster, the Orioles still have concerns with their pitching — as well as Manny Machado’s future (which could very well be in The Bronx) — and the Blue Jays pretty much need everything to break right to surprise this year.

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Thanks in large part to Cashman and all the resources at his disposal, the Yankees are star-laden, relevant and printing money while operating smarter. They’re back to being the hated team again, and, as CC Sabathia said this offseason, that’s the way they like it.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are a formidable power duo, but Brian Cashman believes the Yankees still have something to prove.

Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are a formidable power duo, but Brian Cashman believes the Yankees still have something to prove.

(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Even Aaron Boone has told his team repeatedly to embrace championship-or-bust expectations.

Evil Empire? Absolutely.

Underdogs to the Red Sox? Nah.

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