The Yankees spent $471 million this offseason on free agents. The Red Sox spent about $425 million less. The Yankees added Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka, three All-Stars and the top starting pitcher on the open market -- some serious A-list stuff. The Red Sox re-signed Mike Napoli, brought in a 37-year-old catcher (A.J. Pierzynski) and a reliever (Edward Mujica) who lost his job as closer in St. Louis last September -- not exactly an overwhelming response to the Yankees going full nuclear after missing the playoffs last season.
But it was the right one. There's no question the Yankees should be better in 2014, but it is at least equally obvious that the Red Sox had the superior offseason by just staying out of the way. The difference is clear -- the Red Sox get it and the Yankees don't. Overpaying for short-term deals can work (see Red Sox 2013), handing out six and seven-year deals to guys with injury histories and zero major league experience is going to fail. Raise your hand if you thought Ben Cherington was anything but thrilled when he saw the Yankees spend $300 million bucks on Ellsbury and Tanaka. And there's not going to be a Dodgers trade looming for the Yankees -- good or bad, they are stuck with what they've got.
I'm still amazed that Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners watched what the Red Sox managed to do last year and decided that the right answer was to do the exact opposite. And I'm amazed that the Yankees witnessed an on-field decline occur because of bloated salaries to guys in their 30s and spent this offseason attempting to solve it by signing guys in their 30s to bloated contracts. The payroll of the Yankees in 2016 is $145.3 million. The Red Sox in 2016? $13.3 million. The philosophical divide has never been wider between the two organizations, and the Red Sox are on the correct side of it, which seemed impossible pre-Dodgers trade.
But for 2014? Yup, the Yankees will be improved. They should be in the mix for a spot in the playoffs, and could challenge the Sox and Rays for the AL East title. They finished 12 games behind the Sox last season, which raises the question: Have they done enough to make the case that they will be the better team in 2014? Let's take a look and see if we can figure this out …
Advantage: Yankees. This is what I was talking about earlier. Now, is Brian McCann better than a combination of A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross? Sure. He's hit at least 20 homers in seven of the last eight seasons and has a career OPS of .823 (73 points higher than Pierzynski, 67 points higher than Ross). All things being equal it's not really a debate. But would you rather spend $85 million over the next five years on McCann (with a potential $15 million in 2019 if McCann has at least 1,000 plate appearances combined in 2017 and 2018, has at least 90 starts at catcher in 2018 and doesn't end the 2018 season on the DL) or $11.3 million on Pierzynski and Ross for just this season?
Put it another way: Pierzynski was significantly better than McCann two years ago (a .501-.399 edge in slugging percentage and a .827-.699 OPS edge). Would anyone be stunned if that happened again? And for that -- not even the guarantee that he'll be A.J. Pierzynski -- the Yankees are going to pay a catcher (a position whose occupants generally age about as gracefully as Tonya Harding) $17 million a year in his mid-30s? Lunacy.
Advantage: Red Sox. Mark Teixeira's OPS has gone down in each of the last five seasons. He played 15 games last year -- torn tendon in his wrist -- and that was following a 2012 season that was the worst of his career. Oh, and that followed a 2011 season that was, at the time, the worst of his career. Did I mention that he'll turn 34 in April and is due $67.5 million over the next three years? Mike Napoli has his flaws, of course, but right now he's a safer bet to give his team 20-25 HR and 80-85 RBIs.
Advantage: Red Sox. On its own, the Yankees did the right thing by not even trying to get into a bidding war over Robinson Cano. But if it came down to having to pick one or the other, I'd much rather overspend on Cano than sign Ellsbury and McCann. Cano is a Hall of Famer, an MVP-level player in his prime. Ellsbury and McCann are at least one level below that, and both are much greater injury risks. The once entertaining Cano vs. Pedroia debate is gone for good; instead we get Brian Roberts, who has played a total of 192 games since 2010 and is a year removed from a .182 slugging percentage. Pedroia will have more extra-base hits in April than Roberts will in his Yankees career.
Advantage: Red Sox. I know, I know. Career hits: Derek Jeter 3,316, Xander Bogaerts 11. Runs: Jeter 1,876, Bogaerts 7. Look, I think Derek Jeter takes so much grief in some circles that he might actually now be underrated in a historic context. This is one of the, what, three dozen best players in history? As it was with Greg Maddux and will be with Mariano Rivera, the day Jeter isn't a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame will be a total embarrassment. It's easy to slap Jeter around -- and the extreme wing of the pro-Jeter Party is as hard to take as the anti-Jeter crowd -- but look at his career and tell me that you can definitely name 30 better players over the last 50 years. The knock on Jeter is that he's a compiler, never the best player in baseball. That's true enough, but was he a great player in 1999 (219 hits, 134 runs, 102 RBIs, 91 walks, .349 batting average and a .989 OPS)? How about 2006? At age 32, he was runner-up in MVP voting with 214 hits, 118 runs, 97 RBI, 34 steals in 39 attempts, a .343 batting average and a .900 OPS.
But ask this: Forgetting who Jeter is and what he represents, if the Red Sox called the Yankees today and offered to switch shortstops for the 2014 season what do you think the answer would be? How about if the opposite occurred? Bogaerts is going to be great -- MVP kind of great -- in the future, but this year you'll have to settle for Rookie of the Year. That means .280/.360/.470 with 18 homers and solid defense in his 155 games. That's too much to ask from Jeter, who turns 40 in June of his last season.
The reality is that Jeter should be at third base and Stephen Drew (much better defensively than Jeter now at shortstop, though to be fair Greg Oden would be better defensively than Jeter now at shortstop) would be a perfect two-year option at short, but that won't happen because Jeter won't abdicate the throne and the Yankees are too scared to call him on it. This is a grown man, paid over $250 million in his career and he won't move 30 feet to his right because he used to be a good shortstop. And the Yankees know this and do nothing because it might hurt his feelings. I'm the first to blast David Ortiz for his endless pity parties, but isn't this worse? Jeter has allowed his pride to get in the way of success and the Yankees have been enablers in this charade.
Advantage: Red Sox. Slight. I'm not a Will Middlebrooks guy -- low OBP, hideous K/BB ratio, the kind of numbers that almost never lead to productive careers. If A-Rod had been back I might have even given the edge here to the Yankees -- but I'll take the very real possibility of 30 home runs over whatever Kelly Johnson is going to "produce."
Advantage: Red Sox. Again, not by much, if you think Daniel Nava takes a step or two back from last season. Brett Gardner will be OK -- I'd rather pay him $5.5 million for one season in center than pay Ellsbury thirty times that to be, I don't know, 15 percent better for the prime years of the deal.
Advantage: Yankees. I'm still in semi-shock over Ellsbury -- 28th in the American League in OPS last season, the second-best season of his career -- landing a $150 million contract. Please tattoo this behind behind your eyelids: There is no way he will come close to justifying that investment. Impossible. And what's truly frightening is that the Yankees know this and still signed him. But for years one, two and three he'll be what he is -- a B+ kind of player if healthy, and right now that's better than what we've seen or should expect from Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore.
Advantage: Yankees. Easily could've called it a push, I suppose. I've never been more wrong about a player than I was with Shane Victorino -- I thought he was a glorified platoon player at best when the Red Sox signed him. But as good as he was in 2013 -- and he was terrific -- he still slugged 40 points lower than Beltran. Beltran has a career .854-.774 OPS edge and is going to hit 30 homers playing half his games in that park.
Advantage: Red Sox. Alfonso Soriano had his best half-season in half a decade after joining the Yankees. His best month was August, hitting 11 homers with 31 RBI in 28 games. His OPS for that month -- the absolute peak of his ability, something he won't come close to in 2014 -- was 70 points less than David Ortiz's for the season. I think Ortiz is going to have some decline this year -- it has to happen at some point, regardless of whatever he is or isn't doing to stay more productive in his late 30s than any player in the post-BALCO era -- but he'll still be the best DH in the league by 20 lengths.
Advantage: Red Sox. It's all about the unknown, isn't it? If Tanaka is Dice-K (even early Dice-K), it's not a game-changer. If he's Yu Darvish, the Yankees suddenly have the best pitcher on either staff and the kind of guy that can potentially carry a team through a postseason.
(Yes, it's lazy to compare Tanaka to Dice-K and Darvish. I get it. But this is very true: If Darvish had been a wipeout with the Rangers, Tanaka's deal would have been for about $80 million, even $90 million less.)
Let's operate under the assumption that Tanaka is a 15-10, 3.60 kind of guy this season. Am I taking that and CC Sabathia (34 in July, coming off by far his worst season and with nearly 3,000 innings pitched in his career), Hiroki Kuroda (4-10, 4.05 in the second half last season, turned 39 this week), Ivan Nova and either Michael Pineda or David Phelps over Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy? If you remove Tanaka and draft the other guys I'm taking Lester, Buchholz, Sabathia, Lackey, Kuroda, Doubront, Peavy and the remaining three Yankees. Three out of the first four and five out of seven. Again, if Tanaka is a Cy Young candidate this all could change, but right now this isn't really a tough call.
Advantage: Red Sox. The Yankees have a bunch of question marks (Shawn Kelley, Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Dellin Betances) getting to David Robertson, who you might have heard is taking over for Mariano Rivera as closer. Bullpens are impossible to predict, but on paper this is a real weakness for the Yankees and strength for the Red Sox.
So there you go. An 8-3 edge for the Red Sox. Matching up the teams, the two biggest edges are DH for Red Sox and bullpen for Red Sox. What does that mean on February 14th? Zero, particularly when you consider the source is someone who had the Red Sox winning 76 games last year and the Yankees winning 94. Whatever prescient is I'm not and will never be it. This year? The Yankees improve to 88 wins and the Red Sox drop to 94, two games behind the Rays.