Come on everybody let's sing! "It's the most wonderful time of the year, duh, duh, duh duh duh duh, blah, blah blah blah blah blah, it's the most wonderful time of the year ."
That is, except for the obscenely manic, your compulsive over eaters, and New York Yankee fans already fretting over the state of their team and the very recently improved roster of their hated rival, the Boston Red Sox.
Unlike all that turkey and gravy, pretty pies, whatever else your mama's preparing for the holiday season's biggest meal, I find that last described upset a little hard to digest.
After all, we are in the throes of another blustery winter, and for one, the New York Football Giants look strong heading into a highly critical Sunday match up with their own heated rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Just across locker room way, the Jets, while not looking anywhere near as muscular as they did a couple of weeks ago, still have a pretty legit shot at the playoffs. (He said tongue in cheek—I'm not much for the Green & White, can't really imagine why anyone else would be either aside from the fatty corn beef and heady parking lot cocktails that start around nine o'clock on a typical, football Sunday morning and last, via flasks masked as thermoses—or is that the other way around?—until utter oblivion sets in sometime later that afternoon or evening.)
Knickerbocker basketball has almost magically returned from utter absentia. Amar'e and Co. are on a roll, Madison Square Garden is once again electrified and tonight the high flying men from Manhattan will be entertaining another team New Yorkers love to hate from the top down, Pat Riley, Dwayne Wade, Lebron James and the Miami Heat.
Even the Rangers, yes the once famed Blueshirts, (a hockey team that many city dwellers have been forced to forget about these past many years under threat of becoming overtly non responsive), are playing pretty well—20-13-1, fifth in the East—how's that for a surprise?
So by no stretch of the imagination is this great northeastern metropolis lacking for easy to feature sporting news these days, in fact this may be the greatest collective abundance of good news multi team loving New Yorkers have had to embrace in a very long time.
Of course that doesn't do much for the endless breath of N.Y. Yankee beat writers dealing up columns for those things people used to read called newspapers. Lately there's been a deluge of reporting over the Cliff Lee tragedy. Oh fare thee well, Cliff, may you live long and prosper in the City of Brotherly Love & let's see you out-pitch Giant ace Matt Cain or long haired, cannabis loving, Tim Lincecum next time the two or three of you should meet.
But even with all the commotion over Lee, (finally dying down), and his truthfully, refreshing choice to take less and perhaps enjoy life more in Philadelphia, the notable focus of the expansive Yankee press is already returning to the teams near century old rival—the suddenly bigger spending Boston Red Sox.
You see with the laudable additions of speedster Carl Crawford and ex Pod slugger, Adrian Gonzales, the 'Sawx, by popular report, have flown by the Yanks who've been relegated as of now—at least in the New York if not nationwide press—to nothing more than a potential Wild Card contender at best.
So with that in mind, or having been said, let's take this opportunity to segue into a quick comparative, position by position look at the Red Sox & Yankee's to see if things are really as hopeless as currently deemed—as if heading into the season as something other than a heavy odds on favorite to win it all is something to contemplate slitting ones wrists over—for a team that has won 27 World Championship Titles and forever has it's collective mind on adding additional hardware to the worlds largest trophy case.
Yankees: Trade stud prospect Jesus Montero for pitching? Are we really hearing that?
As desperate as the Yankee's may have been for Cliff Lee, that's how desperate they are for a young bat with real pop, something that became endlessly clear in last years ALCS where the team looked old and ineffective at the plate with the exception of Robby Cano. (Who's young and has pop in his bat!)
Montero's lumber has been compared to Miguel Cabrera and he'll get his shot to prove as much in 2011.
No way he's going anywhere before then.
Russell Martin: Rookie of the year in 2006. Hit .294 and won a Gold Glove in 2007. 90 RBI and a second All Star appearance in 2008. Trailed off a bit the last two seasons and will have his knee scoped imminently. Good pickup for the Yanks who for all intents and purposes got him in a Dodger salary ditch.
There's tons of top notch minor league depth, capable back up or third catcher, Francisco Cervelli, and Posada in a pinch.
Red Sox: Jason Varitek is a shell of his former self, but the Sox don't need much more out of him then good health (only 39 games last year) and leadership skills these days. They're still waiting on Jarrod Saltalamacchia to blossom, it certainly didn't happen in an injury plagued 2010.
They like minor leaguer Mark Wagner but by the look of it catcher is still a black hole for the Sox
Of any position on the field this is the Yankees biggest edge.
1B: Adrian Gonzales (.298, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 2008 & 2009 Gold Glover) is a great pick up by the Sox and should flourish in a protected line-up.
Does that make him better than Mark Texiera, also a Gold Glover, .258, 33 HR, 108 RBI in 2010 off a super slow start even for a super slow starter?
We don't think so.
3B: Kevin Youkilis is a solid player, a gamer, and frequently a game changer. In his best season, 2008, he hit .312 with 29 HR, 43 doubles, and 115 RBI. Figure with the addition of Gonzales he's moving back to third, or will split some time at DH with the left handed Ortiz.
Maybe last years second sack flash and fill in for Dustin Pedroia, Jed Lowrie, will also get some time at third if he's got the arm.
Nobody knows how much of Alex Rodriguez's career numbers are steroid tainted. What we do know is 2010 was far from one of his most productive seasons and he still hit .270 with 30 HR & 125 RBI in 137 games.
He's turned himself into a great third baseman, and his overall intuition for the game is as good as it gets. He and Texiera v. Gonzales & Youk?
Very slight edge Yankees.
The debate over who's better Robbie Cano or Dustin Pedroia, very different, very effective players could rage for many years to come.
Even coming off his worst season ever there is no such debate to be conjured over the likes of shortstop Derek Jeter and his scrappy Beantown counterpart, Marco Scutaro.
Again Lowrie is a wild card, if he and Pedroia can work their way into a middle infield duo that might work out to be a very formidable offense/defense combo for the Sox.
Question marks for both sides heading into 2011; let's call it even.
Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew vs. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher.
Crawford looks to be coming into his prime and even if he hits .280 he'll be stealing bases and scoring boatloads of runs for the Red Sox, maybe 130/140 when you consider he scored 110 last year for an anemic Tampa Bay club.
(Won a gold glove last year too so should be able to handle Fenway's sometime difficult left field after an adjustment period.)
If Ellsbury is completely healthy the Sox could get 120 stolen bases out of their 1/2 hitters. He's a player still exploring his upside and the Sox hope to have capable Mike Cameron to back him up this year or to play some center with Ellsbury shifting to right.
JD Drew has been a consistently mediocre run producer over four years in Boston but he walks a lot, .387 life time OBP, and signed a big enough contract to keep him pretty well entrenched in right since arriving in Beantown. If Ellsbury & Cameron are both healthy this year, or Youkilis gets moved to right it'll cut into his playing time if not punch an exit ticket altogether.
Brett Gardner, has no power but he can slash a bit, .277 last year, and steal bases when he manages to get on. Good defensive left fielder. Not yet the kind of electric, impacting, Brett Butler type ball player the Yankees had hoped for. He's on a short leash in 2011.
Curtis Granderson is the teams most likely candidate to improve dramatically on his 2010 numbers based on a very strong last third of the season when he finally caught fire and showed flashes of the player he was in Detroit in 2007 when he lit up the league—.302 B.A., 23 triples, 38 doubles, 23 HR, 122 runs scored, 74 driven in out of the lead off spot.
They need that kind of improvement out of a player who hit .247 last year in spite of the hot late run and was too often a dead spot in the lineup through the first 100 games or so.
Nick Swisher has been more than what the ample Yankee universe might have expected. Loose, great clubhouse guy, but he's a streaky long ball hitter and seems to compile a lot of his numbers against second tier pitching. Has been a disaster in two playoff runs.
Unless Granderson explodes, significant edge, Red Sox
Pencil in Ortiz for approximately 25 homeruns and 90 some odd RBI.
Pencil in a fresh legged Jorge Posada for very similar numbers and a higher B.A.
It's six of one and a half dozen of the other, but you can say slight edge Ortiz & the Sox.
Biggest difference between the teams right now.
If you're for Boston you love the front four, Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Lackey and you'll take your chances with Dice K or the ageless knuckleballer Tim Wakefield at number five.
The Yankee's need Andy Pettitte back, with him they have a formidable front three, Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and the veteran lefty—if only for one year more. Of course the team is hoping A.J. Burnett is able to come back strong from his 2010 abomination which found him looking in from the outside for most of last seasons post season.
No less a need is for the Yankee's to mine some of their own pitching gold as the Red Sox have with Lester & Buchholz. Ivan Nova looked pretty good in seven starts at the end of the season, and off Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago the Bombers continue to have high hopes for 6-10 righty Andrew Brackman, though he seems at least a year away.
Who knows at this point if Joba Chamberlain is in or out of the starter conversation. From there Sergio Mitre is the most relevant name left amongst starters on the 40 man roster, (I said relevant, not exciting.)
Now you know why there's so much talk about the Yankee's needing another leading arm, but if Pettitte returns, they can wait until mid season to address the need if it's really pressing or if something falls in their laps in a salary dump with mid level prospects heading out in return—any combo of minor leaguers that does not include Montero.
Mo's back, the Yanks have some pretty solid young arms trying to hand the game over to him, but losing vet Kerry Wood who was super solid down the stretch hurts. (Update 12/18, Yanks pick up lefty set up man Pedro Feliciano.)
The Sox still have their ace closer as well, Jonathan Papelbon, but the mix that led to him last year was troublesome and no major upgrades are in place since then. (Update 12/18 Sox pick up Bobby Jenks & Dan Wheeler.)
Slight edge to the Yankees.
The Red Sox, if they open the season healthy, look ready to roll. The Yanks on the other hand are filled with questions marks.
They need a bounce back year out of Jeter.
They need better production out of A-Rod.
They cannot suffer another tortuous, slow start from Texiera.
Granderson must pick up where he left off in September, not April or May of 2010.
They have to hope a well rested Posada turns out to be a serious run producer at DH.
They need the catching combination of Russell and Montero to light a fire under the team.
They need a healthy, productive Pettitte back, another big year out of Hughes—they need, they need, they need—well you get the idea.
While the Yankees are still a team filled with riches, they have question marks, and they are finally a decided underdog heading into the 2011 season—certainly rated behind the Red Sox, the Phillies, until proven otherwise the World Champion S.F. Giants.
That said they have the chance to play well as a team and sneak up on some people. Not such a bad position to be in, not a very familiar position for members of the broad Yankee universe, but realistically speaking it's all talk anyways until the teams get between the lines.
So don't fret Bomber fans, not yet. There's still a long way to go 'till pitchers and catchers as they say and their have been far bigger surprises in baseball these past couple of years then the 2011 New York Yankees emerging from pre season cat calls to true contender as the season unfolds.
That's it for today,