Ken Rosenthal suggested - somewhat facetiously - that, in light of the Yankees' and Red Sox's winter improvements, the rest of the American League East should surrender.
I'd agree when it comes to Toronto and Baltimore, although I think both clubs can make things interesting in the division as spoilers with talented, young players.
Tampa Bay, though? It seems to me that the Rays have every reason to think that they can make a playoff run.
Using the 2009 WAR figures from FanGraphs, I matched up the projected lineups, starting rotations and closers among the three clubs. Here's the rankings I came up with:
Catcher: 1. Boston (Victor Martinez, 4.9) ; 2. Yankees (Jorge Posada, 4.0); 3. Tampa Bay (Kelly Shoppach, 1.7).
First base: 1. Yankees (Mark Teixeira, 5.1); 2. Tampa Bay (Carlos Pena, 2.6); 3. Boston (Casey Kotchman, .8).
Second base: 1. Tampa Bay (Ben Zobrist, 8.6); 2. Boston (Dustin Pedroia, 5.2); 3. Yankees (Robinson Cano, 4.4).
Shortstop: 1. Yankees (Derek Jeter, 7.4); 2. Tampa Bay (Jason Bartlett, 4.8); 3. Boston (Marco Scutaro, 4.5)
Third base: 1. Tampa Bay (Evan Longoria, 7.2); 2. Boston (Kevin Youkilis, 5.6); 3. Yankees (Alex Rodriguez, 4.4)
Leftfield: 1. Tampa Bay (Carl Crawford, 5.5); 2. Boston (Mike Cameron, 4.3); 3. Yankees (Brett Gardner, 2.1)
Centerfield: 1. Yankees (Curtis Granderson, 3.4); 2. Tampa Bay (B.J. Upton, 2.5); 3. Boston (Jacoby Ellsbury, 1.9)
Rightfield: 1. Boston (J.D. Drew, 4.7); 2. Yankees (Nick Swisher, 3.5); 3. Tampa Bay (Gabe Kapler, 1.1)
DH: 1. Yankees (Nick Johnson, 2.4); 2. Boston (David Ortiz, .7); 3. Tampa Bay (Pat Burrell, -.6)
Starting rotation: 1. Yankees (Javier Vazquez 6.6, CC Sabathia 6.0, Andy Pettitte 3.3, A.J. Burnett 3.1, Phil Hughes 2.2 - total 21.2); 2. Boston (Jon Lester 6.2, Josh Beckett 5.3, John Lackey 3.9, Clay Buchholz 1.2, Daisuke Matsuzaka .5 - total 17.1); 3. Tampa Bay (James Shields 4.1, Matt Garza 3.4, Jeff Niemann 3.2, David Price 1.6, Wade Davis 1.2 - total 13.5)
Closer: 1. Yankees (Mariano Rivera, 2.0 - 2008 WAR of 3.1); 2. Tampa Bay (Rafael Soriano, 2.0 - 2008 WAR of .1); 3. Boston (Jonathan Papelbon)
Positional victories: Yankees 6, Tampa Bay 3, Boston 2
Points (using a 3-2-1 system for ranking first, second and third at each position: Yankees 24, Tampa Bay 18, Boston 18
Total WAR: Yankees 59.9, Boston 51.6, Tampa Bay 48.9
I acknowledge that this study won't compel Bill James to pick up the phone and offer me a job as his research assistant. Obviously, all players' production levels vary from year to year.
Some of these were compiled at different positions than they'll likely be playing in '10, like Johnson, who played first base and Gardner, who played centerfield. And we also know that the teams aren't finished yet. The Yankees will get a platoon partner for Gardner in leftfield, and Boston could have a big move left, as it tries to acquire Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego (unlikely) and will probably try to move Mike Lowell in spring training.
But for conversation's sake, it's interesting how far ahead the Yankees seem of their competition at the moment. And it's way too early to write off Tampa Bay.
--Here's my column about Javier Vazquez's "big-game" reputation.
--I think it's highly unlikely that Atlanta would've traded Vazquez within the National League East to the Mets. Yes, the Braves were motivated to move Vazquez's contract once it became clear that no one would take Derek Lowe. But they wanted to move Vazquez's money not to pocket it, but to reallocate it toward a hitter. Because, you know, they're trying to win in '10. You don't do that by handing over one of the league's best pitchers to a competitor.
--Bobby Valentine is having a charity event next month in Connecticut. Details linked here.