One man's look at the position-by-position matchups of the Red Sox and Yankees, written while listening to 'EEI callers in full panic mode. I guess I must've missed it, but it seems the Celtics traded Bill Russell to Oklahoma City for Vin Baker ...
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia vs. Russell Martin
Look, I understand that Theo and his crew really like Saltalamacchia. And I get that these sure aren't dumb baseball guys we're talking about. But until we see Saltalamacchia do something on the field it's kind of tough to give the Sox the edge at catcher. The numbers so far in his (still young, admittedly) career are as ugly as Frank Stallone's IMDB page: In 813 at-bats he has a slugging percentage of .386 -- the same career number as Julio Lugo's. With this lineup, however, I suspect the Sox would be happy if Saltalamacchia plays 110 games with pretty good defense and hits .240 or so. They'll punt the offense for some stability. Jason Varitek has to be mentioned -- he's more than the average back-up, of course. I think his level of production in 2010 has been overblown a little (great start, but he finished with an OBP of .293) but he's good value at 40 games a year.
Take a look at Russell Martin over the last four years and let's see if you bloodhounds can find a pattern:
2007: 19 HRs, .293 batting average, .469 slugging, .843 OPS
2008: 13 HRs, .280 batting average, .396 slugging, .781 OPS
2009: 7 HRs, .250 batting average, .329 slugging, .680 OPS
2010: 5 HRs, .248 batting average, .332 slugging, .679 OPS
Yikes, worst four-year drop since Kathleen Turner. And it would be understandable if we were looking at a guy in his mid-30's, but Martin is just 28 years old (only three years older than Saltalamacchia). If he keeps nose-diving you'll see some Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero (Baseball America's #3 overall prospect in 2011). But I think Martin -- in that lineup -- should be able to at least match his 2008 production, and that's a much higher level than anything on Saltalamacchia's résumé.
1B: Adrian Gonzalez vs. Mark Teixeira
To me, this isn't even close. Assuming Gonzalez is fully healthy by Opening Day (a semi-large leap, I guess) I think he's a significantly better offensive player than Teixeira. Take a look at the road numbers of the two guys in 2010:
Gonzalez: 308 at-bats, 20 HRs, 59 RBI, .315 BA, .980 OPS
Teixeira: 309 at-bats, 14 HRs, 44 RBI, .227 BA, .728 OPS
Too small a sample size? How about the career road numbers?
Gonzalez: .303 BA, .376 OBP, .568 slugging
Teixeira: .267 BA, .363 OBP, .489 slugging
Gonzalez has played in a hideous hitter's park during his career, stuck in the middle of a lineup filled with Tadahito Iguchi's and Jody Gerut's and Chase Headley's. In 2009 Adrian Gonzalez led the National League with 119 walks, finished fifth with 40 homers and fifth with an OPS of .958. He did all this for a Padres team that finished second-to-last in the NL in runs scored. No regular (other than Gonzalez) had a slugging percentage that even equaled the league average. Pretty sure that's not going to happen with this Sox team in 2011. Would anyone be surprised if Gonzalez put together a .300-45-130 season? And this isn't a knock on Teixeira, a lock for 30-100 each year. But I think Gonzalez puts up Albert Pujols numbers this year.
Edge: Red Sox
2B: Dustin Pedroia vs. Robinson Cano
Can't go wrong. You've got an MVP and a guy who has had at least two MVP-type seasons. I'll go Cano here for a couple of reasons: He isn't coming off a broken foot and he's been the better offensive player over the last two years (call it a wash on defense). I'm not sure Pedroia will ever have a season as good as 2008 again in his career, but that's OK. The Pedroia of 2009 and 2010 is still plenty good, a 180-hit, 100-run, .290 kind of guy. But Cano has taken the leap into superstardom the last two years. If we were holding a draft of all the players on both teams, I'm only taking Gonzalez before Cano.
3B: Kevin Youkilis vs. Alex Rodriguez
Another match-up that's surprisingly one-sided. Youkilis had an OBP 70 points higher than A-Rod's in 2010 (.411 to .341) and an OPS 128 points higher (.975 to .847). And look how it's trending with these two -- Youkilis has seen his OPS go up in each of the last three seasons and A-Rod's has gone down in each of the last three seasons.
(Aside: What kind of odds would you have given me in 1995 that Hannah Storm would be more attractive than Cameron Diaz in 2011? Hannah is the Carlton Fisk of cougars -- she has defied the odds and peaked in her fifth decade. Meanwhile Cameron Diaz is kind of starting to look like Ann-Margret when she played Cameron Diaz's mother in "Any Given Sunday.")
Edge: Red Sox
SS: Marco Scutaro vs. Derek Jeter
If he struggles from the start, I wonder how much rope Francona gives Scutaro before going to Jed Lowrie. I know that Francona can be loyal to a fault at times, but I'm thinking Scutaro doesn't have the cache of some of the other veterans (Foulke, Ortiz, Millar) he's stuck with in the past.
Jeter had his worst offensive season by a mile last year and has Joe Paterno's range at shortstop. But I'm thinking it's more likely that we see Derek Jeter -- who put up a .334/.406/.465 all the way back in 2009 -- and not Marco Scutaro with a productive 2011.
(One other Jeter note: It's fun to knock him and I get why, but he's going to get to 3,000 hits this season and I think he's still a coin flip to get to 2,000 runs (he's at 1,685). If he hangs on long enough to get to 2,000 runs he'll be the sixth player in history to do it. The other five? Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Pete Rose and Rickey Henderson. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he had never played a postseason game. And yes, I did pump my fist after writing that.)
LF: Carl Crawford vs. Brett Gardner
Crawford told Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday that the Yankees never offered him a contract. I'm thinking I might know why. Crawford is a good-to-very good player, but just isn't worth anywhere near $20 million a year. He's played nine seasons in the majors and has one top 10 MVP finish. One. In 2010 he was 36th among all players in OPS and 44th in OBP. In 2009? 69th in OPS and 55th in OBP. And he doesn't fit the profile of a guy the Epstein-era Red Sox would usually toss a crapload of dough at -- he doesn't walk much and strikes out a lot (293/768 career BB/K ratio). Crawford clearly makes the Red Sox a better team and he's an easy choice over Brett Gardner -- though Gardner (who had a higher OBP than Crawford last year) is probably better value at $500,000 a year than Crawford at 40 times that much -- but I wonder how the fans are going to feel if he's hitting .296 with nine home runs on August 18.
Edge: Red Sox
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury vs. Curtis Granderson
I'd take the 2009 Jacoby Ellsbury over the 2009 or 2010 Curtis Granderson, whatever that's worth. I think we know by now what we're going to get from Granderson -- 20-plus homers, some walks, triple-digit strikeouts an average around .270 and very good defense. Not Tris Speaker but perfectly acceptable. Also this: He's (fairly, no 18-game seasons in his career) durable. Again, if you tell me both guys are playing 140 game this year I'm taking Ellsbury. But I have serious doubts that Ellsbury is going to make it through the season without a couple of rehab assignments in Pawtucket.
RF: J.D. Drew vs. Nick Swisher
I wonder if it will be Joe Castiglione or Dave O'Brien hosting J.D. Drew Night at the end of the season. I ask only because I believe Castiglione is left-handed, which could lead to Drew going into Francona's office 15 minutes before the ceremony in an attempt to get the night off.
(I'm also half-hoping that the Sox sign Drew to a contract extension at some point this season. I know it'll never happen, but the reaction of the fan base would set a new standard on the Apoplectic Chart. The Sox could announce that they were starting each home game at 3:00 A.M. and replacing Heidi Watney with Jim Corsi on NESN broadcasts and the response wouldn't be close to a new Drew contract.)
Nick Swisher is five years younger than Drew, plays at least 150 games a year and hit more homers, drove in more runs, hit 33 points higher and had an OPS 77 points higher than Drew's in 2010. Drew's a better defensive player, but you need to be Dwight Evans circa 1976 to make up 77 points in OPS, and Drew is no Dewey.
DH: David Ortiz vs. Jorge Posada
Posada is one of my favorite players of the last decade and I think will be a really interesting Hall of Fame candidate when his time comes. A catcher with five World Series rings (in fairness, he was the full-time guy for only the last three), five All-Star Games, five Silver Sluggers, a couple of top-six MVP finishes and a career OPS+ of 123 (higher than Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter and right around Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench's career mark). He's borderline at worst. And he's really aged well as a hitter (as most high-walk guys do) and should give the Yankees a .270/.370/.480 kind of season. That's about 90 cents on the Ortiz dollar, but Posada clearly isn't in the same conversation as a power threat. Ortiz his 23 homers in 2008, easily his lowest total in Boston. Posada has only reached 23 homers once in that same span.
Edge: Red Sox
Again, if we're throwing all the starters into one group and holding a draft, I'm probably taking CC Sabathia first, if we're talking just 2011. For the next decade the only guy in all of baseball I'm taking ahead of Jon Lester is Felix Hernandez, but Sabathia has had a lower ERA and WHIP in each of the last two seasons. It's really close, though, and I can understand the case for Lester.
Clay Buchholz didn't pitch as well as his ERA would suggest last season. He walked more batters per nine innings and struck out fewer batters per nine than Phil Hughes, but had an ERA nearly two runs lower (2.33 to 4.19). Look for that to be much closer this season. As bad as Josh Beckett was last season, A.J. Burnett wasn't far off (5.78 ERA for Beckett, 5.26 ERA for Burnett). And Beckett was much better in 2009 (3.86 ERA, 1.19 WHIP to Burnett's 4.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP).
How many teams wouldn't take Daisuke Matsuzaka as its fifth starter? The Phillies, I suppose. Maybe the Giants with Zito. I'm thinking that's about it. Dice-K had a 4.69 ERA and 1.37 WHIP last year. Not great, but the Yankees would sign for that from the Ivan Nova/Bartolo Colon/Mark Prior group in 2011.
Edge: Red Sox
Jonathan Papelbon said on Tuesday that he feels this Red Sox bullpen has a chance to "go down as one of the best in history." Sure does, if Papelbon pitches like he did in 2006, Bobby Jenks pitches like he did in 2007, Dan Wheeler and Daniel Bard repeat 2010 and Hideki Okajima is the guy we saw in his first two seasons with the club. Yup, if all those things happen than you've got a shot. The reality? This -- on paper -- is a dramatically upgraded 'pen. But come on -- you're telling me that you are absolutely sold on Papelbon (WHIP up in each of the last three years) and Bobby Jenks (WHIP, ERA and hits allowed in each of the last three years)? Wheeler gets about 1/100th the ink (or whatever the internet equivalent of ink is) of Jenks or Papelbon and he's easily been the best pitcher of the three over the last two years.
The Yankees might have the two best (at least in top five) closers in baseball in Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. And this should be a terrific 'pen vs. left-handed hitters with Pedro Feliciano, Damaso Marte and Boone Logan. Joba Chamberlain might have to fly in from Scanton/Wilkes Barre for his July 4 showdown with Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut.
Slight Edge: Yankees