They’ll raise the curtain on the 2005 baseball season in about 20 hours, but it is never too early for Newsday’s Jon Heyman to get in some extra licks at the expense of the New York Yankees.

For $200 million, the Yankees got a rebuilt pitching staff (Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright are in for Javier Vazquez and Jon Lieber), power that could dominate in what baseball hopes is the Post-Steroid Era, speed they’ve never had before and necessary depth in the bullpen. Finally.

But for $200 million, they still get nothing close to a guarantee.

The potential pratfalls are plenty.

Age. All the starting position players will be at least 30 once Rodriguez turns 30 in July. Age is starting to show on two of their greatest team men, Williams and Posada, and eventually it could slow Johnson’s heater – though that had better not happen anytime soon.

Health. Mariano Rivera’s arm fatigue was such that he rested all winter, and yet he expressed some early spring concern over his elbow. The Yankees could be forced to confront the unthinkable.

Distractions. Giambi dodged a major bullet when his team of lawyers helped get him a note to excuse him from the congressional steroid hearing that didn’t go so well for his good buddy and workout partner, Mark McGwire. Giambi generally handled things well in spring training, but he’s going to need to stay remarkably and uncharacteristically strong, knowing how many people are against him (including his own employers, if they can make that $82-million case).

Boston. The Red Sox return the same crazy band of Idiots, with at least one new bona fide idiot, Wells, joining the craziness for added spice.

The Yankees used to be the grinders, but too many of their key players seem distracted, unfocused or uncommitted. The Red Sox have quirky superstars and egos, too. But they appear to be working toward a common goal, even if it’s motivated by something as unseemly as their hatred for one or more of the Yankees.

Your starting lineups for tonight :

1, Johnny Damon, cf
2, Edgar Renteria, ss
3, Manny Ramirez, lf
4, David Ortiz, dh
5, Kevin Millar, 1b
6, Jason Varitek, c
7, Jay Payton, rf
8, Bill Mueller, 3b
9, Mark Bellhorn, 2b
P, David Wells, lhp

New York
1, Derek Jeter, ss
2, Alex Rodriguez, 3b
3, Gary Sheffield, rf
4, Ruben Sierra, dh
5, Hideki Matsui, lf
6, Jorge Posada, c
7, Jason Giambi, 1b (!)
8, Bernie Williams, cf
9, Tony Womack, 2b
P, Randy Johnson, lhp

Heyman’s least favorite idiot, Curt Schilling, was interviewed last night on XM’s new Cal & Billy Ripken chat show, and No.38 was nothing if not candid about Boston’s chances, describing his own health concerns, those of Wade Miller and wondering aloud if David Wells would be able to take the ball every 5th day as his club’s biggest question marks. Schilling also correctly observed that Carl Pavano aside, Boston’s Bronx rivals aren’t getting any younger, either.

Steve Phillips was on ESPN radio yesterday afternoon making his preseason predictions. The former Mets GM picked Los Angeles and Houston as the two clubs most likely to disappoint in ’05, describing the Dodgers’ bullpen as gutted (with the knee troubles of Eric Gagne a cause for panic) and was withering in his criticism of dumping Alex Cora for Jeff Kent. Phillips, perhaps not the biggest Paul DePodesta fan, vouched for the defensive capabilities of LA’s outfielders, saying they’ll do a great job getting to balls that the Dodgers infielders have allowed to go through their legs.

With Houston having lost Kent, Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman (until June at least), Phillips called the Astros “this year’s version of the 2004 Mariners”, hinting that Biggio and Bagwell will show significant declines. It’s hard for me to imagine a team featuring the pitching of Clemens, Pettitte, Oswalt and Lidge sucking nearly as much as Seattle did last year, but Steve seemed pretty sure of himself. And as Mets fans can remember, he’s never been wrong before.