November 1, 2012

The great debate continues.

Fourteen months ago to the day, I engaged in an enjoyable debate with my friend Matt Kakley over who deserved to be the 2011 American League MVP. I said Jose Bautista, he (kinda) said Curtis Granderson. And, of course, it was Justin Verlander. Shows what we know.

But that didn't stop us! Mr. Kakley and I are back again for round two of our great debate. The topic today: Which franchise has a rosier future, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox?

King Myno: I hate to take us down this road, because it involves two teams that are endlessly overanalyzed by all members of the national sporting media, but I'm fascinated by what the future holds for the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

One team went 95-67 in 2012 and made it to the American League Championship Series. The other went 69-93 and temporarily assumed the role of "most embarrassing franchise in baseball."

On paper, or at least a very small piece of paper containing only the information listed above, it's a no-brainer. Obviously, however, it's more complicated than that. The Yankees are spending roughly $130 million on just seven guys in 2013 (and one of them is A.J. Burnett) while Boston has pretty much wiped the slate clean after a disastrous season. Both franchises are beyond rich; only one has a ton of flexibility.

But even after their drubbing at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, I believe that things are brighter in New York. They've still got: Robinson Cano and his .929 OPS. CC Sabathia and his 3.38 ERA in 200 innings. Derek Jeter's seemingly neverending Derek Jeter-ness. Alex Rodriguez's quietly productive .272/.353/.430 season. Sixty-seven combined homers in a "down year" for Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. A boatload of available money to bring back Hiroki Kuroda and fill in some of the blanks. The return of Michael Pineda?!

I know that it's not getting better for a lot of New York's older guys -- and it could certainly get much worse -- but it's not like Boston is a lock to spend all their newfound cash wisely. And if the Red Sox turn their focus to player development and internal improvements, rather than throwing $150 million at Josh Hamilton, that's a long-term move that won't pay off for a while. There could certainly be another few rocky years ahead.

Neither of these rosters are the envy of the league, especially since Boston barely has one, but I don't think the Yankees are at risk of bottoming out. When in doubt, go with New York.

Matt Kakley: With the drek that is the Phillies' roster, it doesn't surprise me that you're spending so much time thinking about the Sox and Yankees. It also doesn't surprise me, given your propensity to make brash, shortsighted statements, that you'd go all in on this aging Yankee squad.

While there's no question that the Yankees were better than the Sox this past year, we're talking about the future here; throw those records out the window. I also wouldn't be foolish enough to say the Sox will post a better record than New York in 2013 (meaning, of course, the Yankees; I hope they'll do better than the Mets).

When I look at the future, there are just some things I can't get beyond with this Yankee squad; one of them being $211 million. That's the amount owed for four more years of Teixeira and five years of A-Rod. If any team can handle multiple albatross contracts, it's the Yankees, but those will loom large.

I think A-Rod can stay relevant if he reinvents himself as a hitter, and Teixeria still has decent pop, but they're unlikely to remain middle-of-the-order bats going forward.

Add to that figure the likely (and absolutely necessary) long-term deal for Cano, a possible contract for Grandy and the $100 million (again, deserved) for CC and you've got yourself a team with nowhere to go but down.

I'll take our youngsters and cash flexibility in 2014 and beyond.

KM: Cash flexibility? Once upon a time, the Red Sox had that and a bevy of talented players. Now you've got John Lackey, Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and blank. A big bunch of blank.

Speaking of John Lackey, you blew a lot of bucks on him once upon a time. Same with Carl Crawford, and you locked up Adrian Gonzalez for $154 million only 19 months ago.

Now only Lackey remains, and you'd give him away for a bag of balls. I know that was under the old front office, and part of what Ben Cherington did this year was clear out most of the garbage in preparation for building his own team. And kudos for that; it takes guts.

But now you've got all this money, and no players, and the pressure is still on to build a winner. Do Boston fans want to watch another 70-win team? Especially when their once-proud franchise still reeks of dysfunction? The best way to calm a fanbase is to win, and the only way to win when you don't have enough good players is to buy (or develop) a bunch of them. And developing, as we all know, takes time.

This year's free agent class is relatively barren. Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Zack Greinke, a few decent mid-level guys. Smart teams, or at least teams that are more than one or two pieces away, will probably refrain from any craziness.

But if the Red Sox sit on their hands, they won't be good next year. They may not even be very good in 2014. And as more and more teams lock up their stars before free agency (Joey Votto, Andrew McCutchen) who's to say that a can't-miss stud will ever fall into Boston's lap? Is there a mix of mild spending and relative patience that will allow the Red Sox to strike at just the right time and return to dominance? Perhaps, but that's far from guaranteed.

And while Boston is deciding just how to construct its next great baseball powerhouse, New York will be competing for the AL East, like they always do. Yes, the Yankees have many aging stars, and everyone but Sabathia (and eventually Cano) is wildly overpaid. But they're still talented, and like I said, they're backed by a whole bunch of cash. They can get away with overpaying.

Plugging holes is a lot easier than building an entire boat, especially when you're still working on the blueprint. I don't love where the Yankees are right now, but I'd take it over the nebulous void in which the Red Sox currently reside.

MK: You forgot about my fantasy favorite Clay Buchholz, but I see your point ... though it's wildly overblown.

David Ortiz will probably be back -- so will Cody Ross -- and a bunch of guys will be offered arbitration (Will Middlebrooks, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway). There's a core there, and one that will be better than .500.

When the Red Sox were the best team in baseball in 2007, it was with a mix of stud homegrown prospects (Pedroia, Jacoby, Kevin Youkilis, Lester) and a handful of "hired gun" stars (Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell). It's that philosophy that the team seems to be going back to.

There are some kids ready to come up and contribute in a big way over the next year or so (Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Matt Barnes, Rubby De La Rosa) and the team now has the cash flexibility to sign a few big guys that could put them over the top when the time is right.

You say the fanbase is impatient and will demand immediate results, but you've apparently been down in DC too long. The fans are clamoring for the team to avoid guys like Hamilton and Greinke, recognizing that reckless spending at the expense of the future isn't the way to build a great team.

If they were truly concerned about fan pressure, they would have kept their high-priced stars and run it back one more time; there was enough talent there to roll the dice on a better outcome.

No one up here expects this team to compete next year. The big trade has afforded them some breathing room to make smart, long-term moves, and I trust that this ownership group and front office has seen the error of their ways and will go back to what worked. Keep in mind, Cherington has actually been with the team since before John Henry and company came into the picture.

Also, mock the big money for Gonzo all you want, but I see no issue with that deal. He struggled this year, but he's a good enough hitter to earn that money.

KM: The future may be bright for the Boston Red Sox, and kudos to the fans if they're really ready and willing to take 'er easy and see how this all plays out.

But better than .500 in 2013? I don't buy that. And certainly not better than the Yankees, that's for sure.

Mariano Rivera will be back. Andy Pettitte will (probably) be back. A healthy Brett Gardner will return to the outfield, along with a top free agent like Torii Hunter or (gasp) the aforementioned Josh Hamilton. If the Yankees win less than 90 games in 2013, I'll eat my hat. And I don't risk hats lightly.

As you alluded to previously, I am a Philadelphia Phillies fan, so I've watched a team get old fast. And I've certainly seen bloated contracts come back to bite everyone in the ass.

But even the 2012 Phillies won 81 times. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley missed 170 games between them. Roy Halladay only made 25 starts. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence were traded at the deadline. And yet the team was still somehow mildly competitive.

Granted, the NL East is not the AL East. But a lot had to fall apart for the Phillies to even fall to .500, and I don't expect nearly as much to go wrong in New York. Neither of us knows exactly how things will be five or six years from now, but I firmly believe that the Yankees will use their money and their preexisting talent to weather any storms that may come their way. It's what they do.

And yes, I do feel disgusted for being suckered into writing several hundred words on the most oft-discussed rivalry in sports history. Congratulations.

MK: If you look all the way up at the top of this page, I said the Sox would not be better than the Yankees in 2013, or maybe even 2014 -- I'm looking at the years beyond that.

And I don't see .500 as out of reach in the least. Lester and Buchholz should return to form under John Farrell, and (gulp) Lackey is healthy for the first time as a Red Sox. He'll probably be mediocre at worst, even though I hate him and would prefer he fail out of spite.

Mariano will be a year older and coming off major knee surgery, so there's a strong chance he won't be his old self. Rafael Soriano will be gone. Is Torii Hunter a game-changer? Probably not. Can Hamilton's liver survive in NYC? Probably not.

Again, neither of us has a crystal ball, but the way things look today "on paper," the Red Sox have the chance to get a lot better. I just don't see a whole lot of room for improvement from the Yankees.

The question becomes: How long can they tread water with what is currently a good team? My guess is that the weight of bloated contracts eventually buries them deep in the sea.

So sorry to have dragged you into such a discussion on this "over-hyped" rivalry. If you'd like, we can get together in another 14 months and do one on the Orioles and Nationals.

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