COULD THE YANKEES MATCH BOSTON’S AMAZING TURNAROUND?

THOUGHTS ON MIKE PETTINE’S JUMP TO THE BROWNS

BUXTON AND SANO STIR MEMORIES OF BAYLOR/GRICH

The New York Yankees – after signing Japanese pitching ace Masahiro Tanaka – remind me of last year’s Boston Red Sox .

Those Red Sox were coming off a dreadful 2012 season (69-93) and no one was picking them to win the American League East.

Nearly everything went right for Boston last year. They improved to 97-65, won the AL East, won the AL pennant and won the World Series.

Can the 2014 Yankees follow that shocking script?

I don’t think the Yankees will win this year’s World Series. I believe they’re too old and will be done in by injuries. But I give them credit for the aggressive moves they’ve made this offseason in an attempt to win more games and boost their home attendance and cable TV ratings.

Key additions: Tanaka (27-0 in Japan last season)...CF Jacoby Ellsbury (weakening Boston in the process)...RF Carlos Beltran...C Brian McCann...3B Kelly Johnson...2B Brian Roberts.

Key losses: 2B Robinson Cano...3B Alex Rodriguez (suspended)...closer Mariano Rivera (retired)...OF Curtis Granderson... pitchers Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain (addition by subtraction?).

Possible Opening Day lineup:  CF Jacoby Ellsbury...SS Derek Jeter...RF Carlos Beltran...1B Mark Teixeira...DH Alfonso Soriano...C Brian McCann...3B Kelly Johnson...2B Brian Roberts...LF Brett Gardner.

On paper, that looks pretty good. But there are question marks up and down: How good will Jeter be closing in on 39 and coming off two ankle surgeries? Can Beltran stay healthy and play at least 140 games? Can Teixeira bounce back and reverse his decline? How much does 38-year-old Soriano have left? Can Johnson at his best match what a fading A-Rod would’ve produced? Can Roberts approach his top form with Baltimore?

Top subs INF Eduardo Nunez and OF Ichiro Suzuki are OK but the overall bench is not impressive. That could be this team’s downfall.

Tanaka improves the top of the starting rotation. With CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. It goes from average to above average, with the potential to be surprisingly solid. But again – lots of ifs. If the front four stay healthy, David Phelps and Michael Pineda could be .500-type No. 5 starters and the Yankees would still be in good shape.

David Robertson has the stuff to be an above-average closer. Matt Thornton should be a solid left-handed set-up man. The rest of the bullpen doesn’t inspire much confidence.

One reason to think the Yankees MIGHT surprise is the rest of the AL East. Boston is the team to beat but it will be counting on young starters at shortstop and center field. Tampa Bay will have Grade A starting pitching and a Grade B-minus (at best) lineup. Baltimore and Toronto aren’t likely to top Boston or Tampa Bay and maybe not even the Yankees.

I’m neutral on the Yankees, but I still like baseball very much and believe the sport is much healthier when the Yankees are good enough to really like or really hate. The 2014 Yankees won’t be elite but figure to be one of the most interesting teams.

My early forecast: The Yankees will play much better early than late (when age and injuries kick in), finish around 88-74 and miss the playoffs...Tanaka 16-11, 3.10 ERA.

WAS PETTINE BUFFALO’S BEST COACH?

Doug Marrone did a very good job as rookie head coach of the 2013 Buffalo Bills, but I wonder if new Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine might have been the best coach on the staff – including Marrone. Time will tell.

Give Pettine credit for leaving the New York Jets to get out from under the shadow of head coach and good friend Rex Ryan. His gamble paid off big Thursday when he was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns after only one season as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator.

The jump of Pettine from Buffalo to Cleveland should give the Browns an edge when Cleveland plays in Buffalo this season. He knows Buffalo’s strengths and weaknesses and he figures to have his players pumped up to make him a winner in his return to Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Cleveland has the No. 4 and No. 26 picks in the first round of the 2014 college draft. I wonder if Pettine would offer the No. 26 pick to Buffalo for safety Jairus Byrd. The Bills would have to put the franchise tag on Byrd and then deal him.

How about Wade Phillips for defensive coordinator of the Bills? He was a good head coach for Buffalo and has been an excellent defensive coordinator everywhere he has been. Of course, he was fired by owner Ralph Wilson and we all know how long Ralph carries a grudge. For example, Lou Saban isn’t on the Wall of Fame. That is a complete disgrace. If Russ Brandon really is calling all of the shots, maybe he’ll give the OK for Saban’s long-overdue recognition. Don’t hold your breath, at least until Wilson passes away.

BUXTON AND SANO COULD RIVAL GRICH AND BAYLOR

I never thought Rochester Red Wings fans would be fortunate enough to have two young players on the same team as promising and exciting as Don Baylor and Bobby Grich in 1970 and 1971.

If we’re lucky, outfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano could be here by the All-Star break.

Lindy’s Sports 2014 Baseball Preview includes “The Top 50 Major League Prospects for 2014,” by Ken Leiker.  Buxton is No. 1 and Sano is No. 2. They’re both 20 years old.

Leiker on Buxton: “Think of a long, sleek uber-athlete from the same mold as the NFL’s Robert Griffin III, and you have4 a picture of Buxton, who marked himself as baseball’s best prospect last season as a teenager in Class A ball (.334, 109 runs, 49 extra-base hits, 12 HRs, 77 RBI, 55 stolen bases). On their 20-80 scale, scouts rate Buxton at 80 for every tool except power, which is at 70 and growing. He makes easy contact with a quick, simple swing, drives t5he ball with authority and devours ground on the bases and in center field with long, graceful strides. His arm? He has thrown a football 70 yards in the air. Look for a 25-30 homers/50 steals guy at maturation.”

Leiker on Sano: “Sano is widely regarded as the best power-hitting prospect in the minor leagues (.280, 35 HRs, 103 RBI, .992 OPS last year). His quick, powerful swing generates tremendous backspin carry to all fields and makes for towering home runs...Scouts think he can hit .285 with 30-40-homer power...He made it to Double-A last season and is close to garnering a big-league look.”

Sano and Buxton are expected to open this season at Double-A New Britain. If all goes well, they could both be in Rochester uniforms in the middle of this summer. If so, catch them while you can. They won’t be here long and probably won’t be coming back.”

SHORT SHOTS

The New York Post this week had a feature in “The 10 Biggest Goats in Super Bowl History.” Sadly, poor Scott Norwood (Super Bowl 25) is No. 1. Buffalo’s Thurman Thomas was No. 10 (Super Bowl 26).

Eli Manning is “helping” brother Peyton in his preparations for Super Bowl 48. I trust he is not tutoring him on how to throw interceptions.

Michael Cater-Williams (Philadelphia 76ers) is everyone’s pick for Mid-Season NBA Rookie of the Year.  He’d be the third Syracuse U. product to be NBA Rookie of the Year, joining Dave Bing (1967) and Derrick Coleman (1991).

I don’t know why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is making the extra-point options so confusing. He suggested 7 points for a TD and the team scoring having the option of running ort throwing for the conversion. Successful equals plus 1 point; unsuccessful minus 1 point. Taking a point off the scoreboard is ridiculous. Keep it simple: 6 points for a TD; mandatory run or pass for 1 point from the 2-yard line or 2 points from the 5-yard line.

Greg Maddux showed his class by choosing to have no team logo on the cap for his Hall of Fame plaque. He said he couldn’t choose between the Cubs and Braves because he loved playing for both teams. Tony La Russa also decided to have no logo. The Hall of Fame this week announced the caps of the new members. Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox will have Atlanta Braves caps, Frank Thomas Chicago White Sox and Joe Torre New York Yankees.

Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant is a lock for January NBA Player of the Month and has emerged as the favorite for league MVP. Entering Friday night, he has scored at least 30 points in nine straight games.  In his 12 games this month, he scored 24, 48, 21, 48, 30, 33, 37, 36, 54, 30, 46 and 36 points. For the month, Durant is averaging 36.9 points and has a .524 field-goal percentage (including 31x78 from three-point range), The Thunder are 10-5 since the team’s other superstar, Russell Westbrook, went down with a knee injury on Christmas Day.