Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox

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Tomase: How J.D. Martinez very sneakily gives Red Sox a better lineup than Yankees

John Tomase
February 21, 2018 - 12:07 am

The Yankees won the offseason so long ago, we've stopped thinking about them critically. Aaron Judge! Giancarlo Stanton! Gary Sanchez! Not since Monty Burns vanquished his biggest enemy has anyone so effectively blocked out the sun.

But on Monday the Red Sox struck back, agreeing to a five-year deal with slugging outfielder J.D. Martinez. And if one objectively assesses the respective lineups, something surprising emerges -- the Red Sox might very well be better.

This sounds like a strange thing to say after New York outscored Boston by 73 runs last year and then added Stanton's 59 homers to Judge's 52. But match up each team's projected batting order -- or at least my best guess as we sit here in February -- and the result might surprise you. It certainly surprised me. (To be clear, this is a gut-feel exercise, not a rigorous statistical breakdown.)

1. Mookie Betts vs. Brett Gardner

These two were closer to a wash than they should've been last year, but it's hard to imagine that trend continuing with Betts entering his age 25 season and Gardner turning 35 in August. In the last three years, Gardner has won a Gold Glove and made an All-Star team. Betts has won two Gold Gloves, made two All-Star teams, and finished in the top six of the MVP voting twice, too. That gap should only widen as Betts hits his prime and Gardner departs his.

EDGE: Red Sox

2. Andrew Benintendi vs. Aaron Judge

The second spot in the order is stealthily becoming what the three-hole used to be -- the home of a team's best hitter. Stanton actually batted second 110 times last year, blasting 47 homers. Josh Donaldson (27), Manny Machado (21), and Mike Trout (20) also did damage from that spot, albeit on a part-time basis. Judge batted second just 28 times, but he made those starts count with 13 homers. Yankees manager Aaron Boone is already on record that either Judge or Stanton will bat second. We'll bet on Judge, which gives New York a sizable advantage over Benintendi, who nonetheless has the potential to win a batting title.

EDGE: Yankees

3. Hanley Ramirez vs. Greg Bird

Huh? A week ago it would've been hard to imagine either batting third, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora on Monday said that Ramirez would open the season there, and Boone has been hinting that he might split his big bombers in order to maintain some left-right balance. It's easy to forget, but Bird was once considered nearly as bright a prospect as Judge, at least until injuries cost him the entire 2016 season and most of 2017. His solo homer in Game 3 of the ALDS staved off elimination in a 1-0 victory over the Indians, salvaging an otherwise lost season. Ramirez, meanwhile, must prove he's healthy. The fact that he's ready to play first base helps. There's massive boom-or-bust potential with both of them.

EDGE: Even

4. J.D. Martinez vs. Giancarlo Stanton

This one's a slam dunk, right? Stanton blasted more homers last year (59) than anyone since Sammy Sosa in 2001 en route to the National League MVP. But not so fast. Splitting his time between Detroit and Arizona, Martinez delivered a season that was Stanton's equal in basically every way except home runs. Martinez outperformed Stanton in average (.303-.281), slugging percentage (.690-.631), and OPS (1.066-1.007). He actually blasted homers at a higher rate (11.3 percent to 8.5 percent) than Stanton, too, socking 45 in 119 games. Both of them will face pressure unlike anything they've ever seen in their new big-market homes. By virtue of his relative youth, the 28-year-old Stanton gets the nod over the 30-year-old Martinez, but not by much.

EDGE: Yankees

5. Xander Bogaerts vs. Didi Gregorius

Perhaps I am a sucker. Each year, I wait for Bogaerts to explode. The promise he showed during the 2013 postseason suggested a player who'd produce in ways that have since been achieved by Houston's Carlos Correa and Cleveland's Francisco Lindor. Perhaps a better comp is his countryman. Bogaerts and Gregorius have played together for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, and last year Gregorius was clearly the better player, continuing a trend that has seen his production steadily climb in the three years since he joined the Yankees. Bogaerts, meanwhile, has dipped. Like I said: maybe I'm a sucker, because one of these years, Bogaerts is going to put it together from start to finish.

EDGE: Red Sox

6. Rafael Devers vs. Gary Sanchez

We should stop, for a moment, to appreciate Sanchez's 2016. He appeared in only 53 games and still finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting on the strength of 20 homers and a 1.032 OPS. For a time last year, it looked like Devers would make a similar impact. He still finished with 10 homers and an .819 OPS in 58 games at age 20, showcasing the kind of all-fields power that suggests 40-homer potential. There's reason to believe he'll be a better offensive player than Sanchez in the long run, particularly since he's not playing as demanding a position as the Yankees catcher. But for now, Sanchez is the safer choice.

EDGE: Yankees

7. Eduardo Nunez vs. Aaron Hicks

Think the Yankees would like a do-over on Jacoby Ellsbury's monster deal? They owe him $68 million over the next three years, and he enters camp as Hicks' backup. Hicks is an excellent defensive outfielder, but he has never hit higher than .266 or totaled more than 15 home runs. His former Twins teammate, Nunez, meanwhile, made an All-Star team in 2016 and has quietly posted above-average OPS's in each of the last three seasons. He's a more dynamic offensive player, and a weapon low in the order.

EDGE: Red Sox

8. Jackie Bradley Jr. vs. Gleyber Torres

Bradley played hurt last year and it showed. His numbers dropped considerably from an All-Star 2016, to .245 with 17 home runs. But lest we forget, he's only two years removed from 26 homers and an .835 OPS. Torres represents a far greater unknown, and he may not even open the season on the roster. The team's No. 1 prospect missed the final three and a half months after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow. He's a consensus top-five overall prospect, but he's unproven.

EDGE: Red Sox

9. Christian Vazquez vs. Brandon Drury

The Yankees acquired Drury from the Diamondbacks on Monday as part of a three-team trade with the Rays, and the experienced infielder will immediately push prospect Miguel Andujar, who continues to work on his defense at third base. If Drury wins the job, which wouldn't be a surprise, he'll look to build on the 16 homers he produced in 2016 before dropping to 13 last year. Vazquez made surprising strides offensively in 2017, hitting a career-high .290 with a .735 OPS. As far as No. 9 hitters go, they're fine.

EDGE: Even

If we're grading each spot equally, that's four batting order positions to the Red Sox, three to the Yankees, and two pushes. All positions are not equal, of course, and the Yankees own more weapons in the middle of the order, though their advantages aren't as huge as you might think. The Red Sox are deeper, and Martinez gives them a home run threat who rivaled Stanton last year.

So don't sleep on the Red Sox. The Yankees may have won the offseason, but we'll ultimately judge this battle when the games count for real, and the Red Sox are better positioned than you might think.

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