A few words come to mind when people think of the New York Yankees; pinstripes, championships, and of course, money. The financial advantage was often stressed by Boston fans as an excuse for the Bronx Bombers’ dominance of their rivals in the times before the events of 2004.
The Yankees have always been viewed as the “David” to the Red Sox’ “Goliath,” but is that still reality?
The Sox have won three World Series this century, while the Yankees have only won two. A curse was still in effect the last time Boston had the highest payroll in Major League Baseball. That was 1990, but now in 2018 they are back to being the dominant financial power in the sport with a projected payroll of $223 million heading into Opening Day this afternoon in St. Pete.
However, despite their position atop the payroll power rankings, it doesn’t feel like the Red Sox are the favorites this year in the AL East. New York’s off-season was very Yankee-like in that it featured the blockbuster acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins. But it was also an unusual winter for a team run by the Steinbrenner family. For the first time since it was enacted in 2003, the Yankees are under the bar set by the luxury tax.
Barring any more major additions this season Aaron Boone’s team will have only the seventh-highest payroll in all of baseball, but they are still a popular pick to be the squad hoisting a trophy when push comes to shove at the end of October.
The Red Sox made quite a few improvements of their own, but they didn’t carry the same buzz that the Yankees’ moves did. Alex Cora is widely tapped to be one of the next great managers in the game. J.D. Martinez will add a punch to the middle of their lineup that should rival what Stanton brings to New York. Rafael Devers will be a year older, stronger, and more experienced, which is a scary thought after seeing how he ended last year’s campaign.
The Red Sox lineup surprisingly struggled to hit home runs last season. The Martinez signing, combined with a bounce-back year from Xander Bogaerts, should be enough to fix that.
But Major League Baseball is collectively infatuated with the gauntlet that will be the Yankees’ batting order. Aaron Judge, Stanton, and Gary Sanchez will take their toll on every opposing pitcher who stands before them. The safe money would be to bet on Cora developing into the better manager, but Boone’s return to his old team is the more romantic of the moves.
So the question arises: Who really has the edge in a division that was already so closely contested last season?
Both teams will score more than enough runs, so it seems likely that it will come down to pitching and injury luck, where the Yankees have already suffered a blow with the news that Greg Bird will be out 6-8 weeks after undergoing ankle surgery.
Can a 37-year-old CC Sabathia really be relied upon over the course of a long season? Can David Price continue to right the wrongs that plagued the beginning of his time in Boston? Will Masahiro Tanaka stay healthy and dominant enough to be the pitcher the Yankees expect him to be?
There are so many questions, but the good news is that the arrival of real games means the answers will soon start to come. It’s not entirely fair to overlook the rest of the division, but the league is better when this famous rivalry is not just a historical one.
Either of these teams could seize glory in the AL East and beyond, and that’s when baseball is truly at its best.