Few rivalries in baseball or any other sport can match the history and intensity of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Before these storied franchises settle their 2016 competition on the field, we can get a head start on assessing them by comparing the fantasy value of their key players for the upcoming campaign.
Catcher: Because he can combine roughly 25 homers with a lofty RBI total, Brian McCann is a top-five fantasy catcher. Blake Swihart could give fantasy owners a solid batting average, but his lack of power leaves him well behind McCann.
First base: Fantasy owners should receive solid power numbers from Mark Teixeira, but counting on a veteran who has not logged a 125-game season since 2011 is difficult. The Red Sox possess a wild card at this position in the form of Hanley Ramirez, who struggled in his first season with the team. But because Ramirez has been a fantasy difference-maker at times in recent seasons, Boston gets the nod at first base.
Second base: The Yankees acquired Starlin Castro in the offseason in hopes that he can revive his early-career form. Castro is an excellent mixed-league sleeper for 2016, but for now, the Red Sox and veteran Dustin Pedroia hold the edge at the keystone position. Although his offensive production has declined in recent years, the career .299 hitter should still contribute a high batting mark and plenty of runs.
Shortstop: Capable of posting a lofty batting average and expected to occupy a premium lineup position, Xander Bogaerts ranks among the top-five fantasy shortstops and gives Boston a decided advantage over its rival. The Yankees received steady production from Didi Gregorius in the second half of 2015, but he is no more than a bench player in mixed formats.
Third base: Coming off a poor 2015 (.245 average, 10 homers) and possessing an inconsistent track record, Pablo Sandoval is a low-end mixed-league option. Yankees third baseman Chase Headley is also unlikely to be more than a replacement-level player in mixed formats, as he has been unable to recapture the form of his career year in '12. Overall, this position is a push.
Left field:Brett Gardner's ability to provide 15 homers and 20 steals gives the Yankees a massive edge on Boston at this positon. The Red Sox will give Rusney Castillo an extended opportunity in left field, but he is unlikely to make an impact in standard fantasy formats.
Center field: Even though he is unlikely to revisit his career-best marks, Jacoby Ellsbury should still bounce back from a disappointing 2015 season to be a better fantasy option than Jackie Bradley Jr. Boston's plus defender showed enough offensive improvement down the stretch last season to become a mixed-league sleeper, but he still has much more to prove at the dish.
Right field: Budding superstar Mookie Betts is the best fantasy asset at any position on either team. With the potential to hit .300, score 100 runs, rip 20 round-trippers and swipe 25 bases, he belongs in the second round of 2016 drafts. Carlos Beltran once posted his own lofty totals for fantasy owners, but at age 38, he is unlikely to make a major fantasy impact this season.
Designated hitter: Capable of topping 30 homers and 100 RBIs during his farewell tour, David Ortiz gives Boston the edge at this spot. Alex Rodriguez is also an accomplished slugger, but his mixed-league value is less stable after he hit .216 in the second half of 2015.
No. 1 starter: The offseason acquisition of David Price gives the Red Sox the superior ace heading into 2016. Price is a top-10 fantasy starter, while Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka is more of a second starter for mixed-league teams due to lingering injury concerns and a 3.51 ERA last season.
No. 2 starter: Both clubs have wild cards at this spot, in the form of injury-prone righties Michael Pineda and Clay Buchholz. Because Pineda (lifetime 8.6 K/9 rate) has the potential for a higher strikeout total, he gives the Yanks a fantasy edge over Boston.
No. 3 starter: Of the two talented young hurlers the clubs will use at this spot, we give the nod to Yankees right-hander Luis Severino over Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez. While he may not be able to match the 2.89 ERA he produced across 11 starts last year, Severino should be a quality mixed-league asset. Rodriguez should also help fantasy squads, but he may not match Severino in the strikeouts department.
No. 4 starter: In a battle of veterans with upside, Rick Porcello gives Boston a slight advantage. Porcello struggled for much of 2015, but he showed signs of returning to his '14 form (3.43 ERA) when he posted a 3.14 ERA across his final eight starts of the season. Nathan Eovaldi also showed signs of promise at times in '15, but his lifetime 1.40 WHIP keeps him at the tail end of fantasy drafts.
No. 5 starter: Because of the notable uncertainty that surrounds CC Sabathia in terms of both health and effectiveness, New York falls behind Boston and Joe Kelly at the fifth-starter spot. Kelly turned around a disappointing 2015 campaign by posting a 2.35 ERA across his final eight starts.
Closer: Fantasy owners will declare a push at the closer position, as both rivals loaded up with top-tier stoppers in the offseason. Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman each have a long-standing legacy of combining ultra-low ratios with astounding strikeout rates.
Setup men: The Red Sox boast a stellar bridge to the ninth inning comprised of Koji Uehara and Carson Smith. But because Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances would be the top relievers on most Major League teams, the Yankees hold an advantage over Boston in the seventh and eighth frames.
Final verdict: On the strength of an elite hitter (Betts), a mixed-league ace (Price) and eight positional wins (compared to six for the Yankees), the Red Sox appear to have the 2016 edge on their age-old rivals.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.