It was a curious week for the Boston Red Sox, even if the biggest news to trickle out of Fenway Park was an announcement regarding bullpen walls.
Down south, a division rival appeared content to reassemble the Sox, circa 2004—Tampa's offer to Mark Bellhorn has yet to be confirmed, by the way—while in New York, the general manager publicly panned the team's most significant offseason maneuver.
We won't know if the balance of power in the division has truly shifted until the games are played on the field, but it's certainly starting to feel like the Red Sox have turned things upside down.
It was only last summer that the Sox were largely considered the third best team of the group including the Yankees and Rays—a distant third in the eyes of many. Yet, consider the following: While the Rays have added Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, Boston went out and plucked Carl Crawford—a double-whammy given his removal from the Tampa lineup—and Adrian Gonzalez.
And then there's Rafael Soriano, the perfect transition because he not only departed Tampa, but arrived in New York under less than ideal circumstances as well. His arrival may be a boost to a strong Yankee bullpen, but Brian Cashman's admission that he had nothing to do with the move tells you the state of the Pinstripes, who are making moves just to make moves.
Will Soriano help? Sure. But it's clear he was picked up because he was one of the bigger names available on the market.
Generally speaking, even in the bizarre world of the Steinbrenners, it's an unusual signing if the GM has little or no interest in making it.
As the dust settles, take a look at the landscape. The Red Sox have added Crawford and Gonzalez, figure to get a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury back, added Bobby Jenks to the back end of the bullpen and did so without increasing the payroll significantly.
Meanwhile, the Yankees missed on every major free agent target save for one they didn't even want, are still pleading with a 38-year old pitcher in Andy Pettitte to save a crumbling rotation and can't seem to agree on personnel moves.
And the Rays lost two of the top four hitters in their lineup—Crawford and Carlos Pena, who went to Chicago—a closer that led the league in saves last year and perhaps the most potent setup man in baseball last year in Joaquin Benoit. They also traded a talented young starter in Matt Garza, all while adding the chalk outlines currently known as Damon and Ramirez.
It's true that nothing in baseball can be taken for granted, and nobody is implying the cupboard is suddenly bare in either New York or Tampa. The Yankees still have Mark Teixeira, A-Rod, Robinson Cano, etc., and the Rays can still lean on Evan Longoria and one of the best young rotations in the game
But there's no denying the playing field has shifted. The ho-hum Red Sox have bolstered just about every facet of the team, while their two chief competitors are struggling to stay whole. The Red Sox should probably be the favorites to win the division, but if nothing else they've pulled even with the leaders.
The real answers will be uncovered soon enough. But it's difficult to listen to one rival bicker over free agent signings while another inks a pair of corpses to one-year contracts and not feel the Red Sox have jumped to the head of the line.
No wonder the biggest announcement was the non-news about the bullpens. The Red Sox appear to have made their offseason statements already.