This is the first installment of my twelve part series chronicling the never-ending rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Today, I’m going compare the Yankee backstops to the Red Sox to see which sides holds the advantage. Both teams will feature new starters, which is indeed an oddity for franchises who have enjoyed stability at the position. So sit back and relax as you begin a trip around the diamond..

Catcher:

Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2010: .167 BA, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs); Jason Varitek (.232, 7 HRs, 16 RBIs)
Yankees: Russell Martin (.248, 5 HRs, 26 RBIs); Francisco Cervelli (.271; 0 HRs, 38 RBIs)

Both teams will feature new starting catchers this season, which is indeed an oddity for both franchises. Due to his depreciating defense, the Yankees have slid Jorge Posada into the full-time DH role. Victor Martinez left via free agency and Jason Varitek just really isn’t that good anymore, so the Red Sox will rely on Salty to take on catching responsibilities.

Entering his fifth big league season, Saltalamacchia has always had injury issues which have stymied his growth in the Majors. Salty has never played more than 84 games in one season, but has displayed some power potential before (9 HRs in 283 at-bats in 2009). Salty is somewhat of a liability behind the plate, throwing out only 25% of base stealers in his career.

The soon to be 39-year-old Jason Varitek will assume backup responsibilities for the second year in a row. Varitek only appeared in 39 games for the Red Sox last year. There isn’t much to say about Captain Varitek. The Red Sox gave him a one-year deal in the off-season and are keeping him as an insurance policy for Salty.

For the first time since 1998, the Yankees will feature a new starting catcher. Russell Martin was signed as a free agent in the off-season and will look to bounce back in a big way in 2011. Recently, we’ve heard that Martin is not 100% over his hip injury that ended his season in August. Martin suffered a hairline fracture to his hip, but expects to be 100% for opening day. Martin was an All-Star for the Dodgers in 2007 and 2008, crushing 32 total home runs while hitting a .287 clip. In addition, Martin won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award in 2007. Martin’s skills have regressed a bit, hitting only 12 home runs while hitting at a .249 clip in 957 at-bats over the last two years.

Defensively, Martin has thrown out an impressive 47% of base stealers in his career. The Yanks hope that Martin’s impressive defensive credentials will slow down the speedy Boston offensive attack.

For the second season in a row, Francisco Cervelli will assume backup catcher responsibilities. Frankie has only one career home run in 365 at-bats, but hey, that’s not why he’s here. He handles the pitching staff relatively well, namely AJ Burnett. He regressed in terms of overall defense last year, tossing out only 14% of base runners compared to 43% in 2009. Cervelli is basically just a stop gap for the Yankees as they let their younger players develop in the minors.

I’m not going to include Jesus Montero in this writeup because we aren’t sure if he’s going to catch in the Majors and we don’t know when the Yanks will bring him up. The Yankees should led Jesus mash Triple A pitching for the majority of the year and give him a look late in the season. It would do the Bombers no good to let his bat rot on the big league bench. Remember, Montero is only 20-years-old and already ranked the fourth best prospect in baseball, so the sky’s the limit for him.

Conclusion:

Edge: Slight Yankees

I’m giving the Yankees the slight edge behind the plate. Martin’s hip injury worries me a bit and the thought of Cervelli assuming full-time catching responsibilities just make me want to drive to Scranton, pick up Montero, and personally deliver him to the Bronx. Ultimately, Martin is the most talented catcher between the two clubs. His defensive prowess should stymie the Red Sox on the base paths. Salty could have the best offensive season, but must prove that he can stay healthy first.

Yankees 1
Red Sox 0

Which set of backstops would you rather have?

Check back tomorrow as I decide a hotly contested debate at first base.