Which team will be better in 2013, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox? The better question is, will either team be any good? The Yankees' pitching should keep them afloat until reinforcements arrive and the Red Sox think they'll surprise, but the road ahead is fraught with peril for both teams.
What we're left with is a season in which the teams that have dominated the conversation in the American League East, even in years in which they've missed the playoffs (now three and counting for the Sox), are scrambling for a place at a table they're forced to share with the Rays, Jays and Orioles. From powers that be to also-rans? It could happen. For the Sox, it already did -- last season, when they lost 93 games.
With the teams set for the first of 19 games this season on Monday, we asked our beat reporters for each team -- ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes and ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand -- to stack the Red Sox and Yankees side by side and weigh which has the edge in a number of categories (* indicates likely on disabled list to start the season):
Red Sox: Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew*, Jose Iglesias, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Carp, Pedro Ciriaco
Yankees: Mark Teixeira*, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter*, Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Youkilis, Alex Rodriguez*, Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix
EDES: Yankees insiders say they don't know where they would be without Youkilis, signed as a replacement for A-Rod but now also counted upon to help fill the void left by Teixeira, whose wrist injury could keep him out much longer than original projections. Jeter tried but failed to be ready by Opening Day, so All-Star Cano is the only returning piece. Sox reject Overbay, a Yankees first baseman? Could happen. The Sox are excited about the return to health of Pedroia and Middlebrooks and the great spring enjoyed by Napoli, who made a seamless transition to first, and will have superior gloveman Iglesias filling in until Drew recovers from a concussion. EDGE: Red Sox
MARCHAND: The Yankees have spent the whole spring doing the Abbott & Costello routine, trying to figure out their infield -- especially at first base. At second, Cano is better than Pedroia, but Napoli has to get the edge at first with Teixeira on the DL. Middlebrooks of the Red Sox is superior to the 34-year-old Youkilis, and no one knows what type of major league shortstops Iglesias or Nunez will be. If the Yankees had a healthy infield with Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira, they would have the edge. But on Opening Day, the Red Sox are slightly better off. EDGE: Red Sox
Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava
Yankees: Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson*, Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco
EDES: Granderson isn't expected back until at least mid-May for the Bombers, who are so desperate for bodies they are platooning Boesch and Wells in left while moving Gardner over to center. Ellsbury is in his walk year with the Sox and says he can top his great 2011 season, but in a recent poll on SI.com, Victorino was named on the most ballots as the likeliest free-agent bust. The wild card is Sox rookie Bradley, who may be short-term remedy or season-long catalyst. EDGE: Red Sox
MARCHAND: You put Granderson back in the Yankees' outfield and they would own the edge. But with Wells in for Granderson, I like Boston. I wasn't a fan of the Victorino or Ichiro signings. Both are past their best days, so I'll call that a push. Ellsbury is due to have a big season in his walk year. I like him over Gardner, who the Yankees still think could be a star. Bradley is an enticing young player, and so I give Boston the slight edge in the outfield. EDGE: Red Sox
Red Sox: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront
Yankees: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, Phil Hughes*, Michael Pineda*
EDES: This is why you write off the Yankees at your own risk. A rotation of Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettitte, Nova and Phelps, with Hughes returning soon after he recovers from a bulging disk in his back and Pineda back at some point after missing all of 2012, translates into lots of potential wins. The Sox rotation, meanwhile, is in "show me" status. Lester and Buchholz look like pitchers who will have bounce-back years, Lackey is looking better than he has in years, and Dempster and Doubront flush out the rest of a potentially dependable rotation, but people will want to see the evidence before believing in this group. EDGE: Yankees
MARCHAND: The Red Sox might be better than what we saw in 2013, but the Yankees have three guys at the top of their rotation who are very consistent. Sabathia and Kuroda are almost automatics if they don't get hurt. When healthy, Pettitte is still reliable. Hughes is a solid No. 4, though he, too, will start the season on the DL. If things break right, the Red Sox's pitching could be good. Lester and Buchholz are top-of-the-rotation guys who didn't pitch that way in 2012. Doubront has potential. Dempster can be a pretty good middle-of-the-rotation starter. And perhaps Lackey comes back strong. The Yankees get the edge, but it wouldn't surprise me if by the end of the season the Red Sox starters end up pitching better. EDGE: Yankees
Red Sox: Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, Clayton Mortensen
Yankees: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Aardsma, Cody Eppley, Vidal Nuno
EDES: This will be Rivera's last hurrah, the end to one of the truly special careers in Yankees history. Back from a torn ACL that cost him most of last season, Rivera has defied age this long, and even at 43, don't count on significant slippage. Chamberlain and Aardsma are also back from major injuries, and Robertson and Logan are proven setup men. The Sox bullpen appears loaded too with power arms, though new closer Hanrahan still has to pass the can-he-handle-Boston test. EDGE: Yankees
MARCHAND: The Yankees' bullpen is better. While the Red Sox may have improved at the end of games with Hanrahan, Rivera looks excellent -- even at 43 and coming off knee surgery. Plus, Robertson is very good in the eighth inning and Chamberlain should be motivated in his contract year. EDGE: Yankees
Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross
Yankees: Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli
EDES: The Red Sox added veteran Ross, an excellent game-caller with a strong arm, to back up Saltalamacchia, whose 25 home runs come from a position that isn't loaded with power. The Yankees let Russell Martin walk and are going with Stewart and Cervelli, neither of whom conjure up visions of Dickey, Berra, Munson or Posada. EDGE: Red Sox
The Yankees may have two backup catchers and no starters. While Stewart is top-notch defender, there is no evidence he can contribute much offensively. Cervelli may have more upside than Stewart, but his ceiling isn't terribly high. Saltalamacchia is a legitimate every-day starter, though he won't wow you with his average. He can, though, hit for some power. That makes this an easy call for Boston. EDGE: Red Sox
Red Sox: Manager John Farrell
Yankees: Manager Joe Girardi
EDES: Girardi has a ring. Farrell has boos from Toronto fans ringing in his ears. The Sox believe Farrell is the absolute right fit for this team, this organization, this town. Everyone else will reserve judgment until he wins. EDGE: Yankees
MARCHAND: Girardi has won a World Series, three division titles and a Manager of the Year award. Farrell has earned a lot of praise around baseball but hasn't done much else. The way his Blue Jays played so undisciplined would be a concern to me. Girardi clearly wins this matchup. EDGE: Yankees
EDES: With Jeter, Teixeira, Rodriguez and Granderson all opening the season on the disabled list and the Yankees, for tax reasons, adopting a rare austerity program, the Bombers start the season less as a team to be feared than a team trying to survive.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have such diminished expectations outside of their clubhouse that the team has resorted to giving away hot dogs and slashing beer prices in an attempt to resuscitate a fan base jaded by the disappointment of the last two seasons. GM Ben Cherington spent lots of money in the offseason but opted for short-term leases instead of long-term mortgages, having shed the seven-year deals given to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in favor of abbreviated commitments to the likes of Victorino, Gomes, Napoli and Dempster.
There is clearly a different vibe in the Sox clubhouse, especially minus the dissonant chords struck by Bobby Valentine, but with David Ortiz still hobbled, there is also a giant hole in the middle of the Sox order. The terrific springs enjoyed by Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz offer hope that the Sox rotation will bear scant resemblance to the bunch that put up the worst ERA (5.19) in club history. The bullpen looks loaded, and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has given a sneak preview of the future. But so far, the reaction to the makeover seems to range from caution to cynicism.
I believe the Red Sox pitching will be significantly improved and the bullpen a strength, but the Red Sox will need fortune to smile on them in a way that has been absent for the past few years. I'll say 84 wins, third place and missing the playoffs. The Yankees will finish a couple of games behind the Sox at 82-80. EDGE: Red Sox
MARCHAND: Though the Yankees will be better than the Red Sox in 2013, that is not as big a compliment as it used to be. I see the Yankees finishing fourth in the AL East with 84 wins, while the Red Sox will be in the basement with 78 victories.
For the Red Sox, there could be a more positive feeling after last year's utter disaster. They might hang tough for a while, giving off a vibe of a team on the rise. They improved their roster a little this offseason, but not enough to truly contend unless Lester and Buchholz are true aces. They have looked good in the spring.
As the Yankees enter the regular season, it feels as if they have already lost their first 10 games. Age and injuries will make their Opening Day lineup nearly unrecognizable. The makeup of the club features more retreads than a junkyard. So the Yankees will try to glue it all together until the reinforcements arrive, if they arrive.
There are a lot of questions, beginning with: Can Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson and Rodriguez stay healthy enough to be big-time players again? The Yankees need to answer a lot of those questions in the affirmative if they are to win the division. EDGE: Yankees