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By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 10, 2010

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It remains to be seen whose roster — the Red Sox’ or Yankees’ — is better, but in terms of who has significant players heading into their prime years, the acquisitions of 28-year-old Adrian Gonzalez and 29-year-old Carl Crawford seem to put Boston in a better position for the next few years.

“This was a great time for the Red Sox to spend the money they did on the players they did,’’ said Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers. “With the Rays going through a transition with losing some of their players and some of the Yankee roster getting older, if you had the chance to load up and take advantage of those things, you should do it. And the Red Sox did it.’’

Gonzalez and Crawford join Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis as players heading into their prime years. Likewise Jacoby Ellsbury, who at 27 is hoping to put behind him a season lost to injuries. The Yankees have young veterans in Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner.

But the Yankees seem to be getting old fast. Alex Rodriguez, 35, has a hip condition that may not get any better. Derek Jeter will be 37 in June. And the 41-year-old Mariano Rivera, though still at the top of his game, is at the stage of his career where his skills could slip in a hurry.

The Sox now have six players (Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Youkilis, Crawford, and David Ortiz) earning more than $10 million per year; the Yankees have eight.

A-Rod remains the Yankees’ highest-paid player at $31 million, and they have $20 million-plus stars in Teixeira ($22.5 million) and CC Sabathia ($23 million). The Sox have one player over $20 million in Crawford, but Gonzalez will surpass that when he signs his extension.

The Sox will be paying Gonzalez until age 37, Crawford until 36. The Yankees will pay A-Rod until he’s 42, Jeter until he’s 40, and Rivera until he’s 43. The Yankees also have a year left on Jorge Posada, who is 37.

Whom would you rather be right now?

“Definitely the Red Sox,’’ said a National League GM. “Both teams have a lot of money to spend, but the Red Sox have a roster with players who could all come together in the prime of their careers all at once. That’s pretty impressive.

“The Yankees are still a great team, and if they get a pitcher, they’ll be tough again.’’

A closer look at how the teams match up:

FIRST BASE: Adrian Gonzalez vs. Mark Teixeira. The feeling is the Sox will eventually win this battle. Gonzalez is two years younger and has a .904 career OPS to Teixeira’s .913. Teixeira has put up 30 homers seven times and 100 RBIs seven times. Gonzalez’s numbers should rise in Fenway Park. Advantage: Red Sox.

SECOND BASE: Dustin Pedroia vs. Robinson Cano. Two of the best in the game. Pedroia is coming back from a broken foot and looking to regain his MVP form. Cano finished third in MVP voting this past season, with a .319 average, 29 homers, and 109 RBIs. Cano is a tremendous hitter with power, a much different player from Pedroia, though his defense is also superb. Advantage: Even.

SHORTSTOP: Derek Jeter vs. Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie. Jeter won the Gold Glove, but come on, he has little range. He had his worst offensive season, but no one would be surprised if he returned to the form he showed two years ago, when he had one of his best seasons. Lowrie remains an intriguing player because of his bat; he could be a force at the plate if he gets playing time over Scutaro. Advantage: Red Sox.

THIRD BASE: Kevin Youkilis vs. Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod may have had his worst season, hitting .270 with 30 homers and 125 RBIs — but it’s still better than most. Youkilis is returning from thumb surgery and will embark on a new challenge as the starting third baseman for the entire season. Youkilis is an on-base machine and probably is in a better place in his career than A-Rod. But you can’t ignore the ungodly production that one of the greatest players ever still gives you. Advantage: Yankees.

CATCHER: Jarrod Saltalamacchia vs. Jesus Montero. The Salty experiment is based purely on his potential. Montero is a rookie who could be a monster hitter but is a potential liability behind the plate. Montero’s upside as a hitter may be higher than Salty’s, but right now Salty has the defensive advantage. Advantage: Even.

LEFT FIELD: Carl Crawford vs. Brett Gardner. Crawford is an elite all-around player, and while Gardner is a very good base stealer and hitter, he can’t match Crawford as a pure hitter or a power hitter. Advantage: Red Sox.

CENTER FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury vs. Curtis Granderson. It’s difficult to judge Ellsbury coming off an injury-filled season, but if you judged him coming off 2009 — 70 steals, a .301 average, spectacular defense at times — he wouldn’t be far from Granderson in terms of all-around effectiveness. If Ellsbury gets it back, he’s a game-changer, but until he shows he can, Granderson, as much he struggles at times, can be the more effective player because of the power aspects to his game. Advantage: Yankees.

RIGHT FIELD: J.D. Drew vs. Nick Swisher. You’d prefer Drew to Swisher as your defensive right fielder, even though Drew didn’t have that good a year on defense last season. Offensively, Swisher has become the better offensive player (29 homers, 87 RBIs), while Drew had his worst season since 2002 with the Cardinals. Advantage: Yankees.

DH: David Ortiz vs. Jorge Posada. Ortiz is a pure DH and had a good season after a poor start, hitting 32 homers and driving in 102 runs. Posada will have to get used to a new role, while Ortiz is an old pro at it. Advantage: Red Sox.

STARTING PITCHING: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova. Obviously, adding Andy Pettitte and/or Cliff Lee will greatly improve the Yankees’ situation. But right now, this could spell New York’s downfall. On the flip side, Boston’s resurgence seems very much tied into whether Beckett and Lackey can return to their prominent status. Advantage: Red Sox.

BULLPEN: Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard vs. Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberlain. Both teams need to add a couple of middle relievers. It could be the strength of those pitchers that determines how good these bullpens will be. Papelbon had a poor season while Rivera may be better than ever. Advantage: Yankees.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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