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By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
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It’s a question that seemed unthinkable during the winter months and at the start of spring training, but with Opening Day for the two New York baseball teams just six days away, it must be asked.
When the Yankees and Mets kick off their 2013 seasons on April 1, which team will have more talent on its active roster?
As key members of the Yankees continue to flock to the disabled list at an unprecedented rate, the gap between the clubs becomes narrower and narrower. Now when both teams are at full strength, the Yankees clearly have a significant advantage in talent. But the spring training from hell in Tampa, Fla., has left the once-mighty Bronx Bombers decimated, and suddenly the rebuilding Mets don’t feel like such a distant second in the pecking order of baseball supremacy in the Big Apple.
In fact, both squads appear to be virtually neck-and-neck as they prepare to head north.
Don’t believe me? Let’s go position by position based on what the respective Opening Day 25-man rosters should look like. The main focus is on the primary players and not those coming off the bench, and I’ve also disregarded the designated hitter.
CATCHER: Francisco Cervelli/Chris Stewart (Yankees) vs. John Buck (Mets): Advantage Mets. When Russell Martin left the Yankees via free agency in the offseason it left a gaping hole at the catcher position. Simply put, Cervelli and Stewart just aren’t very good baseball players. Buck, on the other hand, is a veteran backstop with pop who plays solid defense and calls a strong game. Is he the second coming of Mike Piazza? No. But he can hit the ball out of the ballpark, and in this day and age, any catcher who can hit double-digit home runs has value.
FIRST BASE: Juan Rivera/Dan Johnson (Yankees) vs. Ike Davis (Mets): Advantage Mets. When Mark Teixeira went down, the Yankees’ first-baseman situation became laughingly bad. The Yanks haven’t been this weak at the position since … well … I have no idea when. I should ask my 60-year-old father. Meanwhile, Davis is an up-and-coming slugger who plays great defense and had a monster second half with the bat. He’s primed to put it all together in 2013.
SECOND BASE: Robinson Cano (Yankees) vs. Daniel Murphy (questionable for Opening Day) /Justin Turner/Jordany Valdespin (Mets): Advantage Yankees. It doesn’t matter who the Mets throw out there. Cano is the best second baseman in baseball, and it’s not close. There is no analysis needed and, frankly, it would be an insult to Cano to even write another sentence about this.
SHORTSTOP: Eduardo Nunez (Yankees) vs. Ruben Tejada (Mets): Advantage Mets. With Jeter likely starting the season on the DL, Nunez will man shortstop until the captain is good to go. We all know that Nunez can handle the bat, but we also are well aware that he’s a major liability with the glove. To be blunt, he’s downright ugly to watch. Tejada, meanwhile, is an adequate fielder and a productive top-of-the-order bat. He proved it last year for the Amazin’s, batting .289 in 114 games. He’s struggled mightily this spring, but his stroke is too smooth for him not to break out sometime soon. Manager Terry Collins said that he’s not worried about the 23-year-old, and neither am I.
THIRD BASE: Kevin Youkilis (Yankees) vs. David Wright (expected to be ready for Opening Day) (Mets): Advantage Mets. Wright is one of the premier third basemen — and all-around players, for that matter — in baseball, and Youkilis is an aging, past-his-prime player. Wright is unquestionably the Mets’ heartbeat, and while I’ll admit that Youkilis’ grittiness and hard-nosed style will help the Yankees, by season’s end fans will be more frustrated than infatuated with his pedestrian play.
OUTFIELD: Brennan Boesch, Ben Francisco, Vernon Wells, Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Juan Rivera (Yankees) vs. Lucas Duda, Mike Baxter, Jordany Valdespin, Collin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd (Mets): Advantage Yankees. But with Curtis Granderson on the shelf, it’s pretty close. The Yankees still have the edge in proven commodities with Gardner and Ichiro, but let’s be honest here: Gardner is far from a superstar player, and prior to having a resurgent stint with the Yankees last season, Ichiro was on a steep decline in Seattle. Boesch, Francisco, Wells and Rivera are all below average. As for the Mets, Byrd is the only outfielder with a major league pedigree, but he’ll have to carry over his strong spring into the regular season. Duda is a big bat but a question mark, Baxter is subpar, and Valdespin and Cowgill are raw players with plenty of upside.
STARTERS: CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes (questionable for Opening Day), Ivan Nova/David Phelps (Yankees) vs. Jon Niese, Shaun Marcum (questionable for Opening Day), Dillon Gee, Matt Harvey, Jeremy Hefner (Mets): Advantage Yankees. What the Bombers have that the Amazin’s don’t is an ace in Sabathia. Kuroda and Pettitte are terrific pitchers, but they’re well up there in age. Can they stay healthy and be rocks in the rotation? I don’t put much stock in Hughes, Nova and Phelps. With Johan Santana out for what is likely an extended period of time, Niese becomes the frontline starter for the Mets. Both Niese and Harvey should have big years, and Marcum is a veteran with an impressive resume. I’m still not sold on Gee, and Hefner is merely a placeholder until Santana returns to Flushing.
KEY BULLPEN PIECES: Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain (Yankees) vs. Bobby Parnell, Josh Edgin, Brandon Lyon (Mets): Advantage Yankees. Bullpens are always a total crapshoot, but of course the Yankees have the ultimate X-factor in Rivera — the greatest closer in the history of the sport. But he has to wear down at some point, right? Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. At 43 years old and in the final season of his Hall of Fame career, it’s very likely that he’ll go out as dominant as ever. That’s just how Mo rolls. In Queens, Parnell has assumed the closer role with Frank Francisco out. Parnell has excellent stuff, but in brief stints as a closer over the course of his career he’s been abysmal. The fireballer will have to be far more consistent than in years past if he wants to turn the corner and help the Mets stay in contention.
Which club will have more talent on its Opening Day roster? Are the two teams as evenly matched as Kallet argues? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below…