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Wanted: Mediocre pitchers who can beat the Red Sox

NY Daily News:

There is a theme to the Yankees' search for starters this winter, so much so that if they were placing a classified ad it would read, "Wanted: pitchers who can beat the Red Sox."

While this is a mandate in George Steinbrenner's world every year, the Yankees recently have allowed themselves to be romanced by hurlers with success in the National League. This year, instead, they are focused on pitchers like free agent Ted Lilly, a lefty who has spent much of his career in the brawny AL East and sports a 3.81 lifetime ERA against Boston and solid numbers against nemesis David Ortiz.

Yanks GM Brian Cashman spoke with Larry O'Brien, Lilly's agent, yesterday and could be making an offer soon. Lilly was 15-13 with a 4.31 ERA last season for the Blue Jays and the Yankees know him well because he pitched in the Bronx from 2000-02.

"I spoke with Brian and Brian indicated that the Yankees are interested in Ted," O'Brien wrote in an E-mail message. "I believe that at the appropriate time that the Yankees will make us an offer. Ted's No. 1 priority is to be a part of a team that he can help win a World Series. He is very much aware of the Yankees' desire to win a World Series. This could be a great fit."

Lilly, who will be 30 in January, has a career mark of 59-58 with a 4.60 ERA. He is 5-6 lifetime against the Red Sox, 3-2 with a 4.33 ERA in nine career starts at Fenway. Ortiz has seven hits in 33 career at-bats against Lilly (a .212 average) with two homers.

By contrast, two other free agents on the market, the A's Barry Zito and Gil Meche of the Mariners, don't fare as well against the Yankees' biggest rival. Zito is 5-5 lifetime against Boston, but his ERA is nearly a full run higher than Lilly's - 4.78. Zito was 2-1 against the Sox last season, but had a 5.51 ERA. Ortiz hits him pretty hard, too - 10-for-24 (.417) with two homers.

Meche, whom the Yankees are interested in, is 3-1 lifetime against Boston with a 4.38 ERA. But he, like most pitchers, has trouble with Ortiz, who has six hits - four of them homers - in 15 career at-bats.

The Yankees are leery of pursuing pitchers with NL backgrounds this winter because of the mixed success they had with Javier Vazquez, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright, who came from the NL. So it seems unlikely they will pursue the likes of Miguel Batista, Adam Eaton, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis.

But they figure to have competition for Lilly. The Cubs likely will get involved, according to a baseball official with knowledge of Chicago's interests. Lilly also wouldn't mind returning to the Blue Jays, who snapped Boston's run of nine consecutive second-place finishes last season.

"Ted likes their chances of getting to the postseason," O'Brien wrote, referring to Toronto. "The Blue Jays are still very much in the picture, so things are going to get interesting."

I don't quite understand it, but mediocre pitching talent seems to be a hot commodity in Yankeeland this off-season.