Now that we know Cliff Lee is not headed to the Bronx, how do the Red Sox and Yankees stack up based on what they've done so far this offseason? Here's a position-by-position breakdown:
FIRST BASE: Adrian Gonzalez vs. Mark Teixeira
I started to write this story Monday as if Lee had gone to New York with "The Red Sox have to be the big-time favorites ..." until I got curious about some stats. I love Adrian Gonzalez and think he is will do some incredible stuff in Boston. I had figured he was a far better hitter than Mark Teixeira, but a look at the numbers shows he isn't. These guys are insanely similar players. Taking away some partial stats for Gonzo, he's a 32-homer, 35-double guy with a career .284 average. Teixeira is a 34-homer, 38-double guy with a career .286 average, and they're both legitimate Gold Glove first basemen. On-base percentage? .377 for Teixeira, .368 for Gonzo. Teixeira has a higher slugging percentage by about 30 points.
Here's where the huge change is for me: Teixeira has acquired those numbers playing 81 home games in as hitter-friendly a park as you could hope for. That's taking nothing away from him, but that's fact. Gonzo has acquired those numbers in a pitchers' park in San Diego. Plus, Teixeira has had lineup protection, while Gonzo has never had such a luxury.
If you were to bet which player would have better numbers in the next five years, you could make an argument either way, but I'd bet on Gonzalez. However, I don't think the gap will be big enough to make a difference. These are two premier hitters and Gold Glove defenders, and to me, the Red Sox's move only allowed them to make up the ground they lost when they missed out on Teixeira.
EDGE: Tie to slight edge to Red Sox in the next five years
SECOND BASE: Dustin Pedroia vs. Robinson Cano
Two studs. Nuff said.
SHORTSTOP: Marco Scutaro vs. Derek Jeter
I've always thought Jeter received his Gold Gloves because he played right and because he hit well. That's in no way a knock; he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But Jeter is not the best shortstop in the league, and I don't think he has been the six times he's won a Gold Glove. (For what it's worth, Alex Gonzalez had the best defensive season I have witnessed from a shortstop, here in Boston in 2006.) Scutaro had a good season, hitting .275, while the world was up in arms because Jeter "stunk" at .270. He'll give the Yankees their money's worth as he always has, and he'll be closer to 200 hits than 150 again.
THIRD BASE: Kevin Youkilis vs. Alex Rodriguez
Call me crazy, but I still believe that Kevin Youkilis is a top-five offensive player every year. The only people I've seen even in his universe for grinding out at-bats were Gregg Jefferies and Pedroia. He's a legit 25-homer, 100-run, 100-RBI, .320-average and .410-OBP guy every season.
I don't think A-Rod is, not at this point in his career. He's now a .270, 30-homer and 100-RBI player at best. He doesn't run like he used to and is an average defender. Meanwhile, Youk will compete for a Gold Glove at third base next year.
As pitchers start to see A-Rod's holes, which I thought really showed last year, his OBP will end up closer to .340 than .400. Don't forget he's 35 years old, too. That's not an excuse, but I do believe it has contributed to the drop in numbers along with other factors.
EDGE: Red Sox, recognizing my bias ...
OUTFIELD: Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew vs. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher
Someone can do the composites and how they'll fare against right-handed and left-handed pitching, but that's one of those "on paper" no-brainers that might not be as clear-cut once the numbers are out. On paper, how can you not laugh at the advantage that Boston seems to have?
The potential for the Red Sox to really play with opposing pitching and defenses if Ellsbury and Crawford are in that lineup will border on maddening. The huge pothole could potentially be the lack of a right-handed-hitting option for the Red Sox, who will have three lefties in the outfield. On any given night, you are looking at Pedroia and Youkilis as the only real threats from the right side. They'll have to offset that issue, or teams will force-feed them left-handed starters, bullpen arms and closers.
That's not to say the Red Sox can't hit lefties, but they aren't going to be nearly as good, consistently, at hitting lefties as they will be at absolutely crushing right-handed pitching. I'd go so far as to bet right now, if that lineup stays healthy, that no right-handed starting pitcher will complete a game against a lineup of:
Against right-handers I'd swap Youk and Gonzo in the 3-4 hole; against lefties I'd lead off Pedroia, with Crawford second and Youkilis third.
EDGE: Red Sox
DESIGNATED HITTER: David Ortiz vs. Jorge Posada
The huge unknowns are at DH and catcher. You can joke all you want, think all you want, but I'd bet Ortiz will end the 2011 season somewhere near .275 with 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. If he resurges, he could be a .295, 35, 125 guy once more, but I think that will have more to do with how protected he is against lefties next season.
As for the Yankees? Jorge Posada has to DH, in my opinion. I think he stopped having a defensive impact behind the plate a while ago. I still think he can hit .275 with 20 homers and drive in a bunch, depending on where he is in the order. He's 39 years old, and that's in "catcher's years," so his legs are like 132.
EDGE: Red Sox
CATCHER: Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek vs. Russell Martin/Posada/Francisco Cervelli
It looks as though the Yankees are set to land catcher Russell Martin, according to reports, a move that shows their desire to answer a huge question they had at the position. The Red Sox, who were also in on Martin, appear to be headed into the season with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek behind the plate.
With these offenses, both teams should be hell-bent on having someone behind the plate who is better at managing a staff than hitting home runs. Given that a power-hitting catcher isn't out there anyway, that's not a real reach.
STARTING PITCHING: Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, ?
Now, the X factor: pitching. If Boston gets 130 total starts from Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz, they'll win the East going away. I think Lester will continue his gains and maintain a run of top-10 Cy Young finishes for the next five to seven years. Beckett will be better next season; he has to be. I think Lackey got that taste of AL East baseball, and he'll measure up, eat his innings and win his games pitching in front of this offense. If Buchholz picks up where he left off, things will be really good for this team. Next year will be huge for him. He had a great 2010 season, but 2011 will tell you far more about the kid as a player and a man than 2010 ever could. Will he work to improve on what he did (I think he will), or will he become complacent and worry about other things?
The Yankees are far more concerned, as they should be, about their rotation than they were 24 hours ago. Twenty-four hours ago, Lee was sliding in behind CC Sabathia and ahead of Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, and the Yankees were likely to take a flier on Rich Harden, Brandon Webb or some other low-risk, high-reward guy. That would have been a huge swing in this division.
Instead of running Lee out against the left-handed-heavy Red Sox five to six times per season, it will be someone else. In the end, it is only five or six games, but those are huge games. The Yankees were considering to have 35-45 innings in those games pitched by Lee, with the other 10-20 taken up by Joba Chamberlain, Mariano Rivera and some left-handers in the New York bullpen. Those 54 innings are now "staff" innings, and they'll be taxing innings, too.
I think using Chamberlain anywhere but the 'pen is a mistake for New York. I don't think his makeup or his stuff will ever shake out to make him a front-line starter. I do think the kid has the mindset and stuff to take over for Mo (when he turns 72 and retires after a 50-save season).
Give me Sabathia at the top of any rotation, and I'm OK there. This kid will take the ball, give you very good innings and win a lot of games. Despite what you might think, the kid I knew worked his tail off and wants the ball. That's what I want from my ace.
Burnett? Another year, another year of what-ifs. He could go out and win 22, lose four and strike out 255, and anyone who's pitched for a living would say "What's taken so long?" He's a great kid, respectful, nice, but damn. Since his rookie year in Florida, when I thought he had the best pure arm in the game of a starter or reliever, I've waited for him to "turn the corner." He's 33; he's not turning the corner. At this point, he is what he is. To have that arm, that stuff, and be 10 games over .500 at this point in his career is personally disappointing. He was marked for some special things with that arm, in my mind, anyway. I don't think he'll go 10-15 again next season, but then again, I don't know what he'll do. I would bank on the fact that he's made 33 or more starts three years in a row, pencil him in the 3-hole in the rotation and hope it works out.
Hughes is a big X factor this year. He had that "first year" every starter needs to have to know what he's up against. That 29-start season is an enormous learning tool. I've never met him and don't know anything about him, but his numbers scream "ace." His ERA is a bit high, but that's OK, it will come down. The WHIP and strikeout-to-walk ratio are numbers you can get excited about. If Hughes gains some command in addition to maturing physically (he's only 24), he'll continue his ascension to the head of the class. I can see him and Lester battling it out in late October six years from now.
EDGE: Red Sox
BULLPEN: Jonathan Papelbon Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefield et al vs. Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain et al
What can you say about the bullpens? Mariano is Mariano, and he'll be Mariano until he decides to stop being Mariano. He's the greatest closer ever to pitch, period. The distance between him and the second-best closer is some number, some piece of quantifiable data close to infinity in my best guess. After that, it's anyone's guess. I still think Chamberlain setting him up gives the Yankees their best chance to shorten a game, but both teams are going to spend a lot of money in the next seven days on pitchers whom not many folks have heard about.
Don't downplay the Rivera-to-Sox rumor. Jonathan Papelbon is emotional if anything, and I don't know how that will play out this year. In a contract year, he's going to be hell-bent on proving something. Proving what, I'm not sure, but something.
Here's the amazing thing: In my opinion, if you asked every manager of every team in the major leagues whether he'd want Papelbon or Rivera closing his team's games in 2011, all of them would take Mo. He's a 41-year-old, 15-years-in-the-big-leagues front-line guy who, by the way, sported a 0.83 WHIP and a 1.80 ERA in the AL East last year. Simply amazing.
The Boston bullpen is Paps, Bard and whomever the front office scrambles to sign in the next seven days. (I think the Yankees are going to throw a ton of money into the reliever market starting Tuesday.)
EDGE: Yankees in closing and Bard over Chamberlain in setting up, but the Red Sox don't have enough in the bullpen to edge the comparison back to a tie. The tiebreaker here will be decided by the three or four arms these 'pens fill out with. New York, as well as any and every other AL East team, will have to have at least one, if not two, left-handed relievers.
Right now I give the Red Sox the edge. It's partially on bias, I guess, but initially I thought, "Holy cow, the Red Sox just totally took control of this division!" when in reality, I think they closed the gap more than anything. If the Red Sox get healthy years from Beckett and Lackey, they could win 110 games. Do you see Burnett winning 20? Can Hughes make 30-33 starts? If he does, will it be with 24-25 quality starts? In December, every answer to every comparison starts with if. It's always been that way.
Curt Schilling, who pitched for the Red Sox from 2004 to 2008, is a three-time World Series champion, six-time MLB All-Star and founder of 38 Studios. He and his wife, Shonda, have raised money to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) through Curt's Pitch for ALS and have encouraged awareness for sun protection through the SHADE Foundation. They recently announced their support for the Asperger's Association of New England after their third child was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.