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I was reminded of the game Go when the Red Sox and Yankees got into again over who’s the worst evil.

John Henry, who made his fortune trading stocks and commodities on the free market, argued in favor of market restrictions to restrain his rival, while Steinbrenner fired back standard Boss comments. I was thinking of a shicho, where one side, trapped, continues to spend resources as they race towards the edge of the board, where they’re caught and lose everything they expended, and everyone else watches them chase. Curt Schilling to Alex RodriguezJose Vidro next? Then what, Alfonso Soriano to Boston? Can these two teams run up on $600 million in combined payroll before spring training’s out? How would Bud Selig pocket all that revenue-sharing money? Will he have to buy a new coat?

Henry is clearly both wrong and right. Baseball does not, as he said, have an answer for the Yankees. Or, at least, not one they’re willing to consider. They could allow other teams into the New York metro area to compete for media dollars, or implement a workable revenue system that compensates the other teams for the immense advantages MLB’s territorial restrictions place on them compared to the Yankees, who share more than 20 million fans with the Mets.

This isn’t the end of baseball, though. As much as I was looking forward to seeing the Yankees try and find a third baseman while the Boss’ head scalded unfortunate bystanders with its gigantic steam emissions with every Mike Lamb error, it doesn’t really mean that much if the Yankees or the Red Sox got Alex Rodriguez.

It doesn’t eliminate “hope and faith” as Bud Selig was fond of saying. I get in this argument all the time, in part because I’m a sucker, but also because I think predictions are folly. They’re fun folly, sometimes, and it’s interesting to ask good questions, but no one thought the Marlins would be your 2003 World Series winner, or that the Angels would take it in ’02. And if someone today wants to give you even money it’ll be Yankees-Phillies in the 2004 matchup, take their money and try not to seem too anxious about it.

Do two-thirds of clubs really have no chance at the title? Eliminating even the candidates to be total surprises, the Marlins of 2004, we see competitiveness is as healthy as ever.

In the American League West, three teams–the A’s, the Angels, and the Mariners–are all going to field teams that can compete for a division title. Even with Darin Erstad playing first, the Angels should be back. In the AL Central, the Twins, White Sox, and Royals all could play better than .500 ball and win a berth. The AL East offers the likely division-winner and Wild Card team between the Yankees and Red Sox, and it’s unfortunate that looking strictly at playoff berths I’m not going to count the Blue Jays as a possible playoff team.

And in the National League it’s almost as good. While Philly is a clear favorite in the East, the Braves have a chance at 85 wins, and trailing a Bowa team, you have to believe that’s title contention. In the Central, there are three tightly-packed teams up for the division title in the Cubs, Astros, and Cardinals. The West is a race of badly flawed teams–Padres, Giants, Diamondbacks–and whoever gets to 85 wins may get the pennant.

That’s eight teams plus eight teams…16 teams, even now with the doom predictions splashed across every local sports page, who can look at this year and think they’ve got a decent shot at it, because anyone–the Angels, the Marlins, the Diamondbacks–can and do beat anyone–the Yankees–in a short series. More than half the teams in baseball still looking for the ring. And then there’s at least one total shocker team that’ll burn brightly–maybe the DePodesta-led Dodgers find some bats to go with those arms, maybe the talented Jays find a way in, maybe the Marlins do it again. Someone’s going to collapse that we wouldn’t expect…

Players are reporting to spring training and I can’t wait for this season to start.