Maybe it's because I live near Boston, but it seems like fans and the media are already anointing the Boston Red Sox as champions this season. The acquisition of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez during the offseason has sent Red Sox Nation into a frenzy. While they're both terrific players, people seem to be losing sight of what's really going on.
Gonzalez and Crawford were great pickups for the Sox, but they were also sorely needed, because the Sox had just let two of their best hitters go in free agency: Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez. The big question is position by position are they actually better now? Let's start by comparing the new players to the departed ones:
28 HR 102 RBI 189 Hits 84 Runs
20 HR 79 RBI 149 Hits 64 Runs
31 HR 101 RBI 176 Hits 87 Runs
19 HR 91 RBI 184 Hits 110 Runs
So based on last season stats, they replaced 48 homers with 50. They traded 181 RBIs for 192. They gave up 333 hits for 360. The big upgrade is in runs scored from 148 to 197. Although with Crawford batting third instead of leadoff, his runs should drop significantly. So yeah, the numbers are better, but it's not the difference between a non-playoff team and a championship team.
Crawford is both a talent upgrade for the Sox and much needed depth for their outfield. But what about the infield? Trading Beltre for Youkilis at third is a downgrade. Based on last season, Beltre loves hitting in Fenway and he's been an excellent defender at the hot corner his entire career. Youkilis should be fine defensively and almost as good offensively, but there should still be drop off. As good as Youkilis was at first, Gonzalez should be at least a slight upgrade there. Not only is he a he a top shelf hitter, but he is a rock defensively. The big question mark will be at catcher. With Martinez out and Jarrod Saltalamacchia in, what can they expect offensively? Saltalamacchia's best season was in 2007 when he hit .266 with 11 homers and his production has declined every season since.
So I'm sure these moves are good for Boston's future: two proven players in their prime that are good at both offense and defense (unlike Martinez) signed on to long term contracts. Does this move them from also-rans to champions? No. Being healthy might, however. The Sox had enough talent to make a serious playoff run last season. They just couldn't stay on the field. Jacoby Ellsbury played 18 games, Dustin Pedroia played 75, Youkilis played 102 and Mike Cameron just played 48. If Gonzalez and Crawford play like they did last season and the rest of the Sox can stay healthy, then they should be a lock for the playoffs. They might not beat out the New York Yankees for the Division, but I expect the Tampa Bay Rays to take a step back this season which should leave at least the Wild Card spot wide open for Boston.