They’re not the only big dogs in the American League East any longer, but the rivalry remains one of the biggest in sports. Both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees entered the 2013 season with big questions that will be answered as the regular season rolls along. Will a banged-up Yankees lineup that’s not getting any younger lead the Bronx Bombers to another first-place finish in the division? Did the Red Sox retool enough to bounce out of the basement of the AL East? With the season underway, we take a look a look at the 2013 versions of the Red Sox and Yankees and let you choose which team has the edge at each position.
Mike Napoli, Red Sox: Adrian Gonzalez is long gone and hard to find and Mike Napoli was finally signed. Napoli said he never has experienced symptoms from a very serious hip condition known as avascular necrosis, which he says was diagnosed during the physical he took for the Red Sox in December. Napoli, 31, said the condition, which is in its earliest stage, should not affect his ability to be Boston’s first baseman for 2013. On the upside, Napoli does love hitting at Fenway Park, where in 19 career games he has batted .306 with 7 home runs, 17 RBIs, a .710 slugging percentage, and a 1.107 OPS. Last season, Napoli batted just .227/.343/469 with 24 home runs and 56 RBIs. He played in 28 games as a first baseman for the Rangers last season, has spent most of his career as a catcher. The Red Sox are not expecting any Gold Glove awards.
Mark Teixeira, Yankees: Teixeira will start the season on the disabled list because of a partially torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, but said he hopes to be back in the Yankees lineup by May 1. During his absence, it looks like Red Sox castoff Lyle Overbay will fill in at first base, but for Monday’s opener, it’s old friend Kevin Youkilis moving over to first base and batting cleanup.
In his first season with the Yankees in 2009, Teixeira slammed 39 home runs with 122 RBIs while batting .292/.383/.565, giving New York everything it expected when it signed the first baseman to an eight-year, $180-million contract. Since 2009, Teixeira has fought through injuries and slumps as his production dropped off year-to-year, and his .948 OPS in his first year with the Yankees slipped to a career-low .807 last season. Playing in just 123 games in 2012, Teixeira finished the season with a .251/.332/.475 line, 24 homers and 84 RBIs. The 32-year-old slugger will give the Yankees something the Red Sox might not have this season: solid defense. Teixeira won his fifth Gold Glove award last season.
The edge: Yankees. Napoli’s hip issues aside, Teixeira’s still the dominant offensive performer and is in position to return to his All-Star form once he returns to the lineup.
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: The Red Sox are hoping a healthy Pedroia can put up the type of numbers that led to an MVP season in 2008, when he batted .326 with 54 doubles and 17 homers. Since being injured in 2010, Pedroia has struggled to stay on the field and to put up 2008-like numbers. At 29, Pedroia should be in his prime and it’s time for the three-time All-Star to show he can stay healthy and productive for a full season and get back to driving the ball on a consistent basis. His aggressive style of defense at second base remains a strength provided it doesn’t contribute to further injuries.
Robinson Cano, Yankees: This could be the final season for the offensive juggernaut in New York as Cano approaches free agency in 2014. The Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman put up first-rate numbers with a .313/.379/.550 line with 33 homers and 94 RBIs in 2012, finishing in fourth place in the AL MVP vote. On the downside, the 30-year-old Cano struggled with runners in scoring position during the season and endured a record-setting 0-for-29 postseason slump last year.
The edge: Yankees. Cano is the Yankees’ best offensive player and Pedroia has yet to prove he can stay healthy and get back on an MVP track.
Stephen Drew, Red Sox: Stephen Drew, soon to be back in the lineup, is the next player to star in the latest episode of As the Red Sox Shortstops Turn. Jose Iglesias started the season and will also get his share of starts, especially if he bat gets hot. Drew, two years removed from an ankle fracture, started the season on the DL while recovering from a concussion sustained when he was hit by a pitch during a Grapefruit League game. Iglesias, who batted .118 in a stint with the major league club last season is expected to need more time to develop along with 20-year-old shortstop of the future Xander Bogaerts, who will play in the minors for at least one more season. Drew, who will be 30 in March, hit .223/.309/.348 in 2012 and was limited to 79 games with ongoing ankle issues.
Derek Jeter, Yankees: The Yankees captain started the season on the DL after breaking his left ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS on Oct. 13. The 38-year-old Yankee legend had a monster year in 2012, leading the majors with 216 hits to go along with a .316/.362/.429 line with 15 homers and 99 runs scored. He should be a force atop the Yankees lineup again, but it would be a stretch to expect him to repeat his 2012 performance. With Jeter coming on the DL, the athletic Eduardo Nunez started the season at short and will see the bulk of the time there until the future Hall of Famer returns.
The edge: Yankees. The Captain still has punch, as he showed last year, while the light-hitting Drew hasn’t played a full season since 2011.
Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox: Nice rookie season, kid. Middlebrooks made an immediate impact when he was called up early in 2012, taking the third base job from veteran Kevin Youkilis with an offensive punch that could not be denied. The 6-foot-4 righthanded slugger jumped out to a .331 average with 9 home runs in his first 124 at-bats. The 24-year-old rookie predictably slumped after Youkilis was shipped to Chicago and was batting .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs in 75 games before breaking his wrist on Aug. 11. Middlebrooks said he feels “100 percent’’ recovered from his fractured right wrist and is looking to avoid a sophomore slump in 2013.
Kevin Youkilis, Yankees: With the possibility that Alex Rodriguez could miss the entire 2013 season due to surgery the third baseman had to repair a torn labrum and impingement in his left hip, Yankees GM Brian Cashman went out and signed Kevin Youkilis to fill in at third. Youk will also play some first base, just as he did in Boston, with journeyman Jayson Nix getting playing time at third base as well. The former Red Sox hard-nosed infielder, soon to turn 34-years-old, finds himself in the thick of the a Yankees lineup decimated by injuries. As former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine would be happy to inform you, Youk hit .236 after being traded to White Sox in June. He had batted .233 in 42 games for the Red Sox before the trade. His offense appears on the decline, hitting .258/.373/.459 and .235/.336/.409 over the last two seasons, and his injury-prone body could take a beating in a full season manning third.
The edge: Red Sox. Middlebrooks is on the rise and Youk has been on a steady decline no matter who his manager is.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who struggled at the end of the season the last two years, will be behind the plate for the majority of the games as the team’s No. 1 catcher with veteran David Ross filling in part time, mostly against lefties. Ryan Lavarnway remains waiting in the wings in Pawtucket. While Salty turned up the power with a career-high 25 home runs in 2012, he struggled to a .222/.288/.454 finish and became an easy strikeout target as the season wore on. He may be at a crossroads in his Red Sox career if he doesn’t improve his plate discipline and become a consistent offensive force in 2013.
Francisco Cervelli, Yankees: The catching job is up for grabs in New York, but the 26-year-old Cervelli, who appeared in only three games for the Yankees in 2012 after being demoted just before Opening Day in 2012, stared the season behind the dish with Russell Martin gone to the Pirates. Cervelli, the Yankees’ backup catcher from 2009-2011, decided to play winter ball in the Venezuelan league after a disappointing 2012 campaign. For the Triple-A Scranton Yankees, Cervelli batted.246/.341/.316, with two homers and 15 doubles in 99 games. With a reputation for exuberance and a knack for producing in clutch situations early in his career, Cervelli has slipped a bit defensively and remains unimpressive at the plate. Look for up-and-comer Chris Stewart to see significant playing time behind the plate as well.
The edge: Red Sox. The Yankees take the hit taken for trading top catching prospect Jesus Montero.
Jackie Bradley, Jr., Red Sox: “Jackie Bradley Jr. Fever Grips Hub” should have been the headline across the board heading into the season as the biggest story in Fort Myers was the emergence of JBJ. the newly-acquired Jonny Gomes, who hits lefthanders much better than righties, was expected to be the left fielder until David Ortiz had a setback with his injured foot and Bradley, who was slated to start the season in Pawtucket, was the best player in camp and finished the Grapefruit League season with a sky-high OPS of 1.120, showed off his speed, and played a tidy defense all spring long. Gomes has been filling in as the DH in Ortiz’s absence. A role he’s more than comfortable with from his days with the Rays and A’s.
Vernon Wells, Yankees: With Curtis Granderson out for at least 10 weeks with a broken arm, the Yankees went out and traded for 34-year-old former Blue Jays star turned punchless Angels outfielder Vernon Wells. Wells batted just .222 with a .667 OPS in two years in Anaheim. The Yankees will pay $11.5 million of Wells’ $21 million salary this season, then only $2.4 million next season. Light hitting but speedy Brett Gardner will also get ample in left field once Granderson returns to center.
The edge: Red Sox. Especially if JBJ and Wells stay in the same position all season.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: The enigmatic center fielder played in just 74 games last season, batting .271/.313/.370 with four home runs, 26 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases. No matter what happens next season, the Red Sox want the 2011 Ellsbury to resurface in 2013, with his gaudy .321 average with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs in a near-MVP season. If the Sox find themselves out of contention by the end of July, the 29-year-old Ellsbury could be shipped out of town before agent Scott Boras has a chance to relocate him elsewhere in the offseason.
Brett Gardner, Yankees: The Yankees sacrificed some offense when they replaced Raul Ibanez with Brett Gardner in left field … except that Gardner starts the season in center to replace the injured Curtis Granderson while Vernon Wells starts the season in left. The 29-year-old Gardner played in just 16 games for the Yankees last season due to ongoing elbow issues. Gardner’s biggest assets are his defensive coverage and speed. His best season at the plate was in 2010, when he finished .277/.383/.379 line with 32 extra base hits and 47 RBIs and 47 steals. In 2011, the light-hitting but patient Gardner led the AL in stolen bases with 49 while his batting slipped a bit.
It was a season of highs and lows for Granderson in 2012. He belted a career high 43 homers last season with 106 RBIs, but batted a career-low .232 followed by a woeful 3-for-30 in the 2012 postseason. Expected to bat fifth in the order when he returns, Granderson still brings some speed with the power, plating 102 runs last season. The free-swinging center fielder who had 195 strikeouts last season is also known as a defensive liability. Manager Joe Girardi could decide to move Brett Gardner to center if Granderson’s fielding becomes costly. The 31-year-old outfielder becomes a free agent after the 2013 season.
The edge: Red Sox. Ellsbury and Granderson are both in a contract year, and the speedy Gardner has a weak bat. If Ellsbury is still closer to the player who was an MVP candidate in 2011 than he is to the injury-riddled versions of 2010 and 2012.
Shane Victorino, Red Sox: Signed to a three-year deal in the offseason, the nine-year veteran outfielder should give the Red Sox Gold Glove-potential defense in right field. The excitable Flyin’ Hawaiian struggled at the plate in 2012, batting .255/.321/.383 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs between the Phillies and Dodgers. Some reports stated Victorino succumbed to the pressure of performing in his final season before hitting free agency. The Red Sox are hoping Victorino reverts to his 2011 form, when he batted .279/.355/.491 with 17 home runs and 16 triples. The 32-year-old Victorino was the only Red Sox player selected as a member of the Team USA club in this spring’s World Baseball Classic.
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees: The Mariners legend played in 67 games for the Yankees after coming over from Seattle in August, batting .322/.340/.454 in the stretch run. With the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium, Ichiro hit five homers after the deal and still showed flashes of speed on the basepaths with 14 stolen bases in 19 attempts for New York. Look for him to be the starter in right field, batting near the top of the order to set the table for the power bats of Cano, Teixeira, and Granderson.
The edge: Red Sox. Ichiro’s getting a little too long in the tooth.
David Ortiz: Ben Cherington took a bit of a gamble when he re-signed the 37-year-old Ortiz to a two-year deal after the Red Sox DH missed 71 of the last 72 games of 2012 with an Achilles’ injury that started out diagnosed as a “day-to-day’’ issue. And now the the seven-time All-Star is on the disabled list to start the season, with Jonny Gomes getting the bulk of the playing time as the DH. Ortiz played in only 90 games in 2012, batting .318/.415/.611. A healthy Ortiz will be a key to the Red Sox’ viability in 2013.
Travis Hafner: The Yankees signed free agent Travis Hafner as their full time DH on Feb. 1, essentially filling the role slated for Raul Ibanez last season. The 35-year-old Hafner batted .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games for the Indians last season and has struggled against lefthanded pitching. The 11-year veteran has been limited to an average of 86 games per season over the past five seasons. Eduardo Nunez could also get some at-bats at DH. In 89 at-bats for the Yankees last season, the young but defensively-challenged shortstop batted .292/.330/.393 with one home run and 11 RBIs.
The edge: Red Sox. Got to go with Big Papi, America’s DH.
Red Sox: David Ross, Daniel Nava, Pedro Ciriaco, Mike Carp
David Ross is a solid defensive backup catcher and Lavarnway, who struggled in a second-half call-up in 2012, could find a way in the mix if Salty and/or Ross struggle. Nava, who owns a .261 average off righthanders, could spell Gomes and Bradley in left and has also offered to grab a first baseman’s glove. Yankee killer Pedro Ciriaco, who filled in admirably when Will Middlebrooks went down with a broken wrist, will be looking to get another shot to surprise. Carp was brought in to provide some backup for Napoli at first base.
Yankees: Lyle Overbay, Eduardo Nunez, Jayson Nix, Alex Rodriguez, Chris Stewart, Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco
The Yankees’ bench positions were wide open coming into spring and a bevy in injuries has shuffled the deck again. Red Sox castoff Lyle Overbay will help out at first base while Teixeira rehabs. Brennan Boesch and Ben Francisco were added to the outfield/DH mix.
The edge: Red Sox. Ben Cherington has been focused on building depth since Red Sox fans witnessed a host of hapless flotsam-and-jetsam lineups during the latter part of 2012.
Jon Lester, Red Sox: Lester is coming off a horrific 2012, when he finished 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 205 innings. The lefty’s strikeouts were also down as he punched out just 166 batters after striking out 225 in 2009 and 2010. Will having his old pitching coach, John Farrell, at the helm help the 29-year-old southpaw bounce back to being a legitimate staff ace and one of the elite pitchers in the AL in 2013?
CC Sabathia, Yankees: The big Yankees ace had an off-year and battled injuries in 2012, going 15-6 with a 3.38 ERA, his highest ERA since 2005. The 32-year-old southpaw is the leader of the pack of starters between these two rivals for sure. The Yankees will be looking for Sabathia to bounce back to his 2010 form when the lefty went 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA.
The edge: Yankees. Lester has to prove he’s an ace, while CC just has to stay off the disabled list.
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox: Buchholz was named Red Sox pitcher of the year by the Boston baseball writers at this year’s awards ceremony, but that’s not saying much on a staff that posted a 48-72 mark with a combined 5.19 ERA. The 27-year-old Buchholz went 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA, pitching a career high 189 innings in 2012. The hope is that Buchholz’s back issues are behind him and he can revert to the form that had him in Cy Young contention in 2010, when he finished 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA.
Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees: Kuroda surprised many with his 16-11 record with a 3.32 ERA in his first season with the Yankees in 2012 with little run support. The Japanese-born righthander, who will be 38 on Opening Day, will be expected to give the Yankees more than 200 innings again in the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
The edge: Red Sox. While Kuroda has proven he can pitch in the American League, Buchholz looks like he’s back on track this year and could be a Cy Young candidate.
Ryan Dempster, Red Sox: The new face in the Red Sox rotation will be righthander Ryan Dempster. The 35-year-old British Columbia native finished 12-8 with a 3.38 ERA in 28 starts last season, splitting time between the Cubs and Rangers. Dempster didn’t fare will in his 12 starts for Texas, logging a 5.09 ERA, and the fear is that number will be the rule, not the exception, when the 15-year veteran pitches full-time in the hard hitting AL East.
Andy Pettitte, Yankees: This should be the last ride for the 40-year-old veteran lefty who finished the 2012 season 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 12 starts. But he’s another Yankee veteran where health is the key. If he can stay off the DL, Pettitte has the skills to serve up quality starts as the No. 3 man in the New York rotation.
The edge: Red Sox. The Yankees may have gone to the well one too many times with Yankee Doodle Andy.
Phil Hughes, Yankees: Phil Hughes, who is suffering from a bulging disk in his upper back, so David Phelps, 4-4 in 2012 with a 3.34 ERA, will take his spot in the rotation. Hughes joins Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the Yankees’ disabled list for the start of the season. In 2010, Hughes looked like the next great Yankee ace, winning 18 games. Then injuries derailed Hughes in 2011. Last season, the 26-year-old fly-ball pitcher went 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA and 165 strikeouts. The inconsistent Hughes gave up a career-high 35 home runs in nearly 200 innings pitched.
Felix Doubront, Red Sox: The 25-year-old lefty had a strong start to the 2012 season, outperforming Boston’s rotation into June. He struggled during the middle of the season, but had a strong September and finished with an 11-10 record to go along with a 4.86 ERA. Doubront also surprised many when he showed up in spring training in not-so-great shape, but he looked fine in the Grapefruit league logging 22 strikeouts against six walks in 18 innings of work.
The edge: Red Sox. This one is close, but Doubront seems poised to put it all together in 2013 after a breakout start last year.
John Lackey, Red Sox: When we last saw John Lackey on the mound, he was struggling with elbow issues while posting a 6.41 ERA for the Red Sox in 2011. The big righthander missed all of the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and, according to Will Middlebrooks, the 34-year-old Lackey is “in the best shape’’ the third baseman has ever seen him in. Sox manager John Farrell is confident Lackey will bounce back strong and pitch deep into his starts in 2013. The hope is Lackey can come closer to the 3.81 ERA he posted in his eight years with the Angels and not the 5.26 ERA he’s put up in two years in Boston.
Ivan Nova, Yankees: In 2011, the Dominican-born Nova burst on the scene and went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in his Yankees debut. Last season, he slumped to 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA while getting the most run support of any New York starter. The 26-year old righthander was denied a spot on the 2012 postseason roster. He will be fighting to keep his spot in 2013 with Michael Pineda and David Phelps pining for a shot in the back end of the rotation.
The edge: Red Sox. And don’t bet against John Lackey being the American League comeback player of the year.
Red Sox: Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Alfredo Aceves, Clayton Mortensen
One area where the Red Sox upgraded in the offseason was beefing up the bullpen. Bailey drops down to set-up Hanrahan, while the veteran Uehara and the surprising Tazawa add some muscle to the mix in the middle innings. If Daniel Bard ever returns to his 2010-11 form, this could be the best bullpen in baseball. Fireballer Rubby De La Rosa, southpaw Franklin Morales, and knuckleballer Steven Wright will provide insurance if any of the starters go down.
Yankees: David Robinson, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Cody Eppley, Shawn Kelley, Michael Pineda, David Phelps
24-year-old Michael Pineda, coming back from shoulder issues, has the big upside of this group if he can find his way back into the majors and rotation at some point. The injury-prone Joba Chamberlain is in search of a steady role. The big boost comes from Rivera’s return, if he is indeed the Mariano Rivera of old.
The edge: Red Sox. They’re loaded … on paper.
Joel Hanrahan, Red Sox: A closer was probably not at the top of the wish list when the Red Sox finished 69-93, but there’s a new look to the back-end of the bullpen with Hanrahan, who had 36 saves and 67 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings for the Pirates last season. Former injury-riddled closer Andrew Bailey, speculated to be on the trading block, will set up Hanrahan. Underwhelming reliever Mark Melancon was also shipped out in the Hanrahan deal.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees: The 43-year-old closer extraordinaire hopes to make a triumphant return to New York after missing 2012 with a torn ACL. The 18-year surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has 608 saves under his belt to go along with a 2.21 career ERA. Will age, and the rigors of attempting a comeback from the leg injury, finally catch up to The Sandman in 2013? The Red Sox sure hope so.
The edge: Yankees. Simply out of respect.
John Farrell, Red Sox: The high drama and hijinks of Bobby Valentine’s tenure will not be part of the Red Sox’ equation in 2013. Former Boston pitching coach John Farrell is making his return to Boston as the team’s manager after two unimpressive years at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays. Farrell is a bedrock of confidence in believing this team as constituted can challenge for a postseason spot this season.
Joe Girardi, Yankees: The 48-year-old Girardi is entering his sixth season as skipper of the Bronx Bombers, with a 2009 World Series title on his resume. Girardi, who played 15 seasons in the major leagues as a catcher, can have a tendency to overanalyze batter-pitcher matchups and be overly loyal to his relievers.
The edge: Yankees. Experience counts. And a winning experience counts even more.