When Felger is egging on a very concerned Mazz to rattle off a cascading list of worst-case scenarios for the Red Sox while simultaneously pumping the Yankees’ tires, you know baseball season is near. It’s like sports-radio Groundhog Day, but with awkward Shari’s Berries promotions shoehorned in.
Some of it is pure trolling. Some of it is staunch adherence to misguided beliefs. Some of it is delivered with a wink. I’m not turning this into a referendum how they run their show, but let’s just say that as aggravating as their tact can be, the truth is that they’re atop the ratings, have you guys constantly talking about them, and overall rate pretty far down the list of sports-radio evils around here.
Still, you’ve got to savor it when they’re painted into a corner by a caller, especially since Felger strategically ignores facts when they’re presented in the face of his personal opinion. (Opinion, not fact, in other words). And did they ever get cornered by a caller Tuesday, who on the topic of Red Sox-Yankees, calmly pointed out that they lost Robinson Cano, had a negative run differential with him last year, and dared Mazz to break each team down position by position.
It was glorious — whoa, a smart, rational caller! — even if they didn’t take the bait. I figure they already suspected the outcome — that the Red Sox, again, would have significant advantages all over the field and it would run counter to the Chicken Little argument. And then they’d have to talk about the Celtics or something.
But I’ll take that caller’s suggestion. Hell, I’ll even be — OK, try to be — generous to the Yankees in the process. But the conclusion, based in fact and opinion, is this: the Red Sox are still better. And it’s not close. Let’s go …
A.J. Pierzynski/David Ross vs. Brian McCann
Ross will play more than the quintessential backup catcher, and if you require an explanation for why, the Red Sox’ World Series video is a decent refresher on what he can bring to a team. Pierzynski can still hit a home run (44 in the past two seasons), rarely draws a walk (nine unintentional last year), and is the classic love-him-on-your-team, want-punch-him-in-the-beak-on-the-opposing team player. He’s played 128 or more games every year since 2001, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to playing less. McCann is an excellent pickup for the Yankees even without considering how dismal their catching situation was a year ago. He’ll hit 25 homers, call a good game, and make sure all opponents are properly respectful in their home-run trots.
Mike Napoli vs. Mark Teixeira
Maybe in some way the Yankees justify the eight-year, $180-million deal they gave Teixeira before the 2009 season by remembering what he was when they got him (and kept him from the Red Sox). He was worth every $$ that first season in New York, leading the American League in home runs (39) and RBIs (122) as the Yankees won their first championship since 2000. But since? He’s been overpaid to say the least — his OPS from 2009 to 2013 has declined every season — and he’s well on his way to being an albatross. He’s 33, still excellent defensively, but basically a late-career Kent Hrbek at this point. Napoli hits high-quality pitching, plays a fine first base, put up an OPS last year for a championship team that would be Teixeira’s best since 2010, and does it all at a reasonable rate.
Edge: Red Sox
Dustin Pedroia vs. Brian Roberts
Brian Roberts is 36, has played a total of 182 games the last four seasons, had a .704 OPS last year that was a significant upgrade over his .415 (!!!) and .604 of the previous two seasons, and has had more surgeries than every Sizemore in baseball combined. This is how they’re planning to replace Cano? To put it another way: Dustin Pedroia could jam his hand on first base for the second straight Opening Day, have a Ronnie Lott-style amputation just to ratchet up the degree of difficulty, and still have a better season.
Edge: Red Sox
Will Middlebrooks vs. Kelly Johnson
I like the Johnson signing for the Yankees. A one-year, $3 million deal is money and a roster spot well-spent for a player with a little bit of lefthanded pop. He should hit 16-18 home runs, though it’s worth noting that the lefthanded hitter actually has a reverse platoon split for his career. Middlebrooks is probably the Red Sox’ biggest question if Jackie Bradley Jr.’s adjustment is not. His power — 32 homers in 660 career plate appearances — is worth waiting for, but he still has a glaring weakness against breaking balls away that was exploited to the point that he lost his job in the postseason. The potential is there, but with Garin Cecchini‘s progress, he needs to show it now.
Edge: Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts vs. Derek Jeter
For a player relentless lauded through his brilliant prime as the ultimate team player, how does Derek Jeter justify the attitude that he’s Shortstop For Life? (Wait, make that Shortstop Through 2014.) He’s been a defensive detriment for years, and now he’s a 40-year-old coming off a season lost to a leg injury. There is no reason but ego and entitlement that he’s still at short; if anyone with the Yankees had the acorns to stand up to him, Stephen Drew would be signed to play short and Jeter would move into a third base/DH role for his final season. He’s in denial of his descent, while over here, the Red Sox have one of the premier prospects in their history beginning his ascent. It would not shock me at all if Bogaerts means as much to the 2014 Red Sox as Jeter (.800 OPS, 10 homers, 78 RBIs, calm eyes, intangibles) did to the ’96 Yankees. It ain’t hype, folks. It’s truth.
Edge: Red Sox
Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava vs. Brett Gardner
Gardner had more WAR (4.2) than Gomes (1.2) and Nava (2.9) combined last year. A good chunk of that value came from playing capably in center field for all 138 of his games. But he’s expected to move to left field and down the lineup after the acquisition of Ellsbury, a similar player with superior skills, and the Yankees would probably be glad to move him for a more conventional left fielder. I worry that Gomes is going to be like Kevin Millar in 2005 — a player who overvalues his intangible contributions a little too much. Asking Ken Rosenthal to mention the Red Sox’ postseason records in his starts was bad form, especially since Nava had such an outstanding season that he should be the Red Sox’ leadoff hitter against rightanded pitching. It’s a close call here, but I expect Nava, who went .322/.411/.484 against lefties last season, to have the most offensive value of the three players in ’14 provided that the Red Sox utilize him properly.
Jackie Bradley Jr./Grady Sizemore vs. Jacoby Ellsbury
Once upon a time — that time being circa 2007 — Red Sox fans daydreamed that Ellsbury might become the next Sizemore. A half-dozen or so seasons later, Sox fans are hoping Jackie Bradley Jr. can capably replace Ellsbury, with Sizemore as their brittle but intriguing backup plan. Ellsbury was a wonderful player (when he wasn’t recovering from a blunt-force injury) who didn’t like the spotlight, yet thrived in it. Bradley will grow into one of those players you appreciate more the more often you get to see him. But Ellsbury will be missed.
Shane Victorino vs. Carlos Beltran
Victorino is 33 and was a 6.2 bWAR player in 2013. Beltran turns 37 in April and was a 2.4 bWAR player last year. Beltran actually was more durable, playing 145 games to Victorino’s 122. Victorino has far greater defensive responsibility/value, while Beltran, playing half his games in a park that suits his talents, probably has one more superb offensive season in him. It’s tough call. I’ll take the one who stays healthier.
David Ortiz vs. Alfonso Soriano
Hard to believe Soriano is 38 now — has it really been that long since he was the spindly-legged second baseman and leadoff hitter for those superb, hateable Yankees teams of the early 2000s? Guess so. He was a beast in his return to the Bronx last year, with 17 homers in 253 at-bats, but he doesn’t have much value if he’s not hitting home runs. David Ortiz? He’s the greatest DH of all-time if Edgar Martinez isn’t, and the last time we saw him he was riding a duck boat after hitting .688 in the World Series. He’s still as essential as it gets.
Edge: Red Sox
The Yankees aren’t going to admit it, but with Kuroda having celebrated his 39th birthday Feb. 10 and Sabathia coming off a season in which he had a sore elbow, a 6.08 ERA in the second half, and led the league in earned runs, they are counting on Tanaka to be their ace. Maybe he is up to it — his splitter supposedly is a killer out-pitch — but the comparisons to a younger Kuroda don’t exactly scream instant No. 1 starter. The Sox have workload questions after their October run, but talent and depth abound.
Edge: Red Sox
Even if there’s significant regression from the extraordinary Uehara, the Red Sox will feature a deep and versatile bullpen even without considering potential reinforcements such as Ruby De La Rosa. The Yankees are counting on Matt Thornton to be useful, and hey, whatever happened to that Rivera guy?
Edge: Red Sox
Ichiro, fourth outfielder? That will take some getting used to. Then again, he had a 75 adjusted OPS last year. Pedro Ciriaco, everyone’s favorite July 2012 Hall of Famer, had a 77 OPS+ in his brief time last year with the Red Sox.
Edge: Red Sox
Final tally: Red Sox 8, Yankees 3, Push 1. And I was generous to the Yankees in left field. I’d rather have Nava.
Final conclusion: “Wow, now that you put it that way, the Red Sox are superior. You’re absolutely right, Chad!”