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Thursday, December 26
Updated: December 27, 1:22 PM ET
Lucchino fires shot at Yanks after losing out on pitcher news services

Their last five runner-up finishes in the AL East standings would suggest the Red Sox have become familiar with playing on-field second fiddle to the Yankees.

But Red Sox team president Larry Lucchino just couldn't stomach coming up short to New York and owner George Steinbrenner in the courtship of free-agent pitcher Jose Contreras.

The bitter relationship between Lucchino and Steinbrenner came into unquestionable focus this week after the Yankees and Cuban defector Contreras agreed to a four-year contract Tuesday worth $32 million.

Yankees' payroll over the years
1985: $15.40M (1st in majors)
1986: $17.25M (1st in majors)
1987: $18.57M (1st in majors)
1988: $21.52M (1st in majors)
1989: $18.48M (4th in majors)
1990: $20.59M (7th in majors)
1991: $31.94M (7th in majors)
1992: $34.90M (8th in majors)
1993: $46.59M (3rd in majors)
1994: $47.51M (1st in majors)
1995: $58.17M (1st in majors)
1996: $61.51M (1st in majors)
1997: $73.39M (1st in majors)
1998: $73.96M (2nd in majors)
1999: $91.99M (1st in majors)
2000: $113.37M (1st in majors)
2001: $109.79M (1st in majors)*
2002: $125.93M (1st in majors)*
* Opening Day payrolls, all others are Sept. 1 totals
Source: Doug Pappas' Business of Baseball pages

After the agreement had been reached, Lucchino initially offered a brusque "no comment" when reached by The New York Times. Then he pulled a 180 with his position.

"No, I'll make a comment. The evil empire extends its tentacles even into Latin America," Lucchino told The Times.

Now that baseball owners are operating in the times of a luxury tax, Lucchino called the Yankees' acquisition of Contreras ludicrous. According to a report in Wednesday's New York Times, the Yankees' payroll now stands at $158 million -- well above the $117 million tax threshold.

The Yankees current tax on their $158 million payroll would be $7.2 million (The tax rate on the first time over the threshold is 17.5 percent).

"Steinbrenner has aimed all his venom at Lucchino," a baseball official told The Times. "He told his people, 'Lose Contreras and you're done.' "

New York last week agreed to a $21 million, three-year deal with Hideki Matsui, who left the Japan League to join the Yankees, and the club reportedly is nearing a deal in the $8 million range with Roger Clemens.

"We couldn't, the right word is we wouldn't, sacrifice the opportunity to sign these talents on the basis of reducing payroll first,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said after Contreras' deal was sealed.

The Yankees thought Boston offered more to get Contreras, but Red Sox spokesman Kevin Shea said Tuesday that wasn't the case.

"We made every reasonable effort and then some to sign Jose Contreras," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. " ... We went to the limit of fiscal sanity with our offer and would not go beyond."

But, according to The Times, the Yankees were prepared to trump whatever offer the Red Sox made to get Contreras.

"(Steinbrenner) is just unbelievable," an agent told the Daily News. "He just doesn't give a (damn). God bless him. He's obviously gonna spend whatever he feels like to win. He's unbelievable."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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