Yankees embracing their underdog role

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez runs New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez runs drills on the field after reporting for spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. (Feb. 19, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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TAMPA, Fla. - After the fact, Mark Teixeira realized it didn't sound quite right.

Still, he said it.

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"It's a lot of fun because we're the underdogs this year. I love it," Teixeira said Saturday, which was report day for Yankees position players.

"No one's picking us right now and everyone in here should be looking forward to winning a championship. You put on the pinstripes, that's exactly what your goal should be every year, and I think everyone understands that. Just because the public might not be picking us doesn't mean we don't believe it in here."

But let's back up.

The Yankees? Underdogs?

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"We didn't win last year, we played terrible in the playoffs, we didn't win the division," Teixeira said in defending the we're-the-underdogs remark. "We have to reprove ourselves this year, which is going to be fun for all of us."

Asked if he really believes that the Yankees, still with the highest payroll in baseball, can be looked at as underdogs, Teixeira smiled.

"No one's going to feel sorry for us," he said. "No one's going to say, 'Poor Yankees, they didn't get this guy, they didn't get that guy, they didn't win the World Series.' We always have a bull's-eye on our back, and we should. We should expect to win every single year. When teams are trying to beat us in the offseason, that's good, because we are the gold standard in baseball and we have to live up to that."

The Red Sox, of course, made the biggest splashes during the offseason, with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford the headliners of their Hot Stove season.

"That's going to be talked about a lot in the next five, six weeks, about being an underdog," Joe Girardi said. "People look at the winters that teams have, the additions and subtractions, but the bottom line is you have to go out and play whether you're an underdog or not. We have high expectations for this team, and that's not going to change whether we're picked to finish first, second, third, fourth or fifth."

General manager Brian Cashman raised eyebrows several weeks ago when he said the Red Sox should be considered the favorites. He didn't back off that Saturday, saying "on paper," Boston is better.

"I have more work to get accomplished," he said, a reference to the holes in his team's starting rotation. "They've accomplished all their roster goals. I have yet to accomplish all of our roster goals. So with that, I think everybody who's being objective would say, on paper, if this was a horse race, they would have the inside lane as the race starts. But that doesn't mean you win the race."

He added: "How many years have we been picked first by Vegas and we didn't cross the finish line? Some years you do, most you don't. There's 29 other teams you have to do battle with. And you saw last year, and in many years, it's not just about Yankees-Red Sox."

As he's said throughout the offseason, and again this past week, Cashman said he's open to bringing more help into camp. Within reason.

"If I feel someone's out there who can help and the price is right, I'm not afraid of it," he said. "But I have nothing I'm involved with right now. Zero."

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Leaving, apparently, the Yankees in that unfamiliar underdog role.

"I would say don't count us out," Cashman said.

Yes, he laughed when he said it.

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