The 2017 MLB Season is nearly upon us. The Yankees will take a break today and will then play ball for Game 1 of the new season tomorrow in St Petersburg, Florida against the Tampa Bay Rays. Given that the Yankees have been in the Tampa/St Petersburg area since mid-February and many players live in the area, I guess this is the home-away-from-home opener. A quick trip down I-275 and it’s game on!
All the predictions I’ve seen have the Boston Red Sox winning the American League Eastern Division and many have them in the World Series. It was just a couple of seasons ago that the Red Sox finished dead last in the division with a 78-84 record but times have changed. The Red Sox have been energized by a youth movement that started a few seasons ago. GM Dave Dombrowski is not exactly the ‘stick to the farm system’ type as he routinely trades top prospects, including his best hitting and pitching prospects during the winter for starting pitcher Chris Sale. But for now, the Red Sox are the class of the AL East and until proven otherwise, they appear to be the eventual division winner.
I thought I’d do a quick comparison of starter-to-starter to see how the Yankees stack up. I’ll use the players that are expected to be on the Opening Day rosters so that rules out guys like David Price and Didi Gregorius who will open the season on the Disabled List.
Joe Girardi versus John Farrell (Advantage: Even)
Farrell does not impress me and I felt that Torey Lovullo (now the Arizona Diamondbacks manager) did a better job during Farrell’s absence a couple of years ago. I am already on record as not being a Joe Girardi fan so I’ll just place this one as even although you could argue a slight edge to Girardi.
Greg Bird versus Mitch Moreland (Advantage: Yankees)
Moreland is the veteran but I really like Greg Bird going into this season. Clearly, he has substantially more upside than Moreland and by the end of the year, this could be no comparison.
Starlin Castro versus Dustin Pedroia (Advantage: Red Sox)
Pedroia might not overwhelm you with his offensive numbers but he’ll hit for average and has the heart of a Lion. Some guys are just “winners” and Pedroia is that type of player. He’ll grind, he’ll keep chugging until he beats you. It’s hard to put a value on that type of effort.
Ronald Torreyes versus Xander Bogaerts (Advantage: Red Sox)
With Didi Gregorius, this would have been much closer although I’d probably still give a slight edge to Bogaerts. Obviously, Torreyes is at best a backup utility player so this is really no comparison.
Chase Headley versus Pablo Sandoval (Advantage: Yankees)
A slight edge goes to Headley but this is really a matchup of two very disappointing players. But so far, Sandoval has stunk worse than Headley. A slimmed down Sandoval has a chance of making amends this season but his recent history indicates otherwise.
Aaron Judge versus Mookie Betts (Advantage: Red Sox)
No offense to Judge but he hasn’t proven himself at the major league level…yet. Meanwhile, Betts is one of the best players in the American League. He might be the best player on Boston’s team. Judge has the potential to close the gap but for now, an overwhelming edge to Betts.
Jacoby Ellsbury versus Jackie Bradley Jr (Advantage: Red Sox)
I really wish that Ellsbury was still the Red Sox center fielder so that he could block JBJ. Boston was very wise to let Ellsbury walk to open the door for JBJ at Fenway Park. I’d gladly trade Ellsbury back to Boston for a bucket of bolts (although that trade might be a little one-sided in our favor).
Brett Gardner versus Andrew Benintendi (Advantage: Yankees)
I’ll go with Gardner for experience alone if for no other reason. Benintendi is going to be a star, but like Aaron Judge, he has to prove it. By the end of the year, this could be overwhelmingly in favor of Benintendi but for now, the edge goes to Gardner.
Matt Holliday versus Hanley Ramirez (Advantage: Red Sox)
This could be a toss-up although I think the edge is slightly tilted toward Ramirez (better health record and stronger potential for high offensive numbers). But Ramirez is no Big Papi, that's for sure.
Gary Sanchez versus Sandy Leon (Advantage: Yankees)
Nothing against Leon and he did seem to hit very well against the Yankees last year, but he’s not in the same class as Gary Sanchez. It’s not even close.
STARTING PITCHER (OPENING DAY)
Masahiro Tanaka versus Rick Porcello (Advantage: Even)
If Chris Sale had been designated as Boston’s Opening Day pitcher, the slight edge would be his. I like Tanaka better than Porcello but the latter is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner (even if Justin Verlander should have won the award). On the basis of Porcello’s excellent year last season, I’ll rate this one as even but my heart says Tanaka is the better pitcher.
Aroldis Chapman versus Craig Kimbrel (Advantage: Yankees)
There was a time when Kimbrel was the most dominant closer in baseball. But today, he is not on the same level as the elite closers like Chapman or Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s not even in the next tier anymore or if he is, it’s just barely. I’ll have to give a strong edge to Chapman. Chapman also has the better setup team in front of him.
CONCLUSION: By category, under my rating system, it’s even (5-5-2) but overall you have to give the advantage to the Red Sox.
Although the difference is not great, the Red Sox have the much deeper starting rotation. My comparison doesn’t take into account what Chris Sale brings to the team or what David Price is capable of if he is able to return by May. The back half of Boston’s rotation is superior to the Yankees. Boston has some good bullpen arms with Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith but both guys will begin the year on the DL. So, bullpen to bullpen, in their respective entirety, is overwhelmingly in favor of the Yankees. Boston has a good bench and Brock Holt (“Brockstar”) seems to bring his A game whenever he is on the field. Former Yankee Chris Young is the Aaron Hicks for the Red Sox (or Aaron Hicks is the Chris Young for the Yankees) so it’s hard to get excited about either one. Yanks have some thump with backup first baseman Chris Carter.
I don’t think the Yankees are as far behind the Red Sox as the common perception (misperception?) is. No doubt, the Yankees need serious upgrades in the starting rotation. The upgrades could be internal if Michael Pineda plays to potential and the young pitchers like Luis Severino prove they are here to stay.
This comparison shows me that if the young Yankees can perform, they can close the gap with Boston very quickly. It’s a clear sign that we have much to be excited about in the next few years as the current top prospects start making their way to the Bronx and we unload some of the dead weight we have with Ellsbury, Gardner, and Headley. Throw in Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado after the 2019 season, and the Red Sox fans won’t be puffing their chests so much.
While I believe the Red Sox could make it to the World Series, I think the more likely scenario is a return trip by the Cleveland Indians or a surprise team like Robinson Cano and the Seattle Mariners. Until then, we’ll have to deal with the loud noise from the Red Sox Nation. The joy is knowing that our day will come.