New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi,...

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi, and Billy Eppler watch pitchers throw in the bullpen. (Feb. 15, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. - Brian Cashman stood behind his opinion that the Red Sox, as of now, are better than the Yankees and didn't even claim anything he said yesterday to be a euphemism.

The general manager, speaking publicly for the first time since Hank Steinbrenner's blustery remarks Monday and Tuesday, said, if anything, his observation that the Red Sox were better - on paper - should be taken as him critiquing himself, not his players.

On Tuesday, Steinbrenner, while defending his mansion remark - saying it was a euphemism for complacency and not a shot at Derek Jeter - took a not-so-veiled swipe at Cashman later in the interview.

"On paper, I'm not going to say that about our players," said Steinbrenner, asked about Cashman's repeated assertion that the Red Sox, on paper, are the AL East favorite. "That would be insulting our players."

Cashman at first declined to answer, then answered for nearly four minutes.

"If you're asking me the same question, I'm giving you the same answer," Cashman told a small group of reporters on the field as the Yankees worked out. "I think we're the hunter. At the end of the day, listen, no one's conceding anything. No one's conceding anything. But as I described the other day in full force, if this was the start of a race . . . from their winter, they [the Red Sox] qualified for the pole position. Their pole position right now is better than ours because of the winter that they had compared to the winter that I personally had."

Cashman gestured toward the field, where one of the organization's top prospects, 19-year-old lefthander Manny Banuelos, had just impressed him.

"That doesn't discount anything I've got here," Cashman said. "It's just that I have more work to do. I might have the answers right here in front of me. I like what we have coming. Is it ready right now or not yet for an American League pennant race? We're going to find out and weigh that versus what becomes available over time. But what I do have, I'm very proud of. And what I do have is going to compete for that title. Can I make it better? I can make it better."

His opinion that, as of now, the Red Sox are better, is shared by most in baseball and hardly anyone saw it as an insult.

Except Hank Steinbrenner.

"When you guys are looking at me straight-faced in the eye and [say] what did you think about their winter and where does that put them compared to you, I think they're the hunted, we're the hunter and that's as simple as that and I don't think anybody would disagree with that," Cashman said. "You can make with it whatever you want, I don't really care, but that's not selling us short. I like our talent. I like our talent a lot. I give myself an incomplete. Simple as that. If you want to insult anybody . . . I'm insulting myself. It's as simple as that. I have more work to do."

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