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After the New York Yankees spent $423.5 million for free agent pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixera this winter, I told a friend that everyone in the sports media would again pick them to win the World Series.
“Not everyone,” he said, expecting that I would pick the Boston Red Sox instead.
He’s right, of course. But I was surprised to find that I am not alone. Baseball Digest and Athlon Sports, two of the most respected magazines in the business, are also picking the Red Sox to win the American League East and picking the Yankees to finish second in the division.
Apparently they have looked behind the dollar signs to the statistics that actually matter.
Yes, Sabathia was 11-2 after Cleveland traded him to Milwaukee last year, but he was 17-10 overall last season and has never won 20 games.
He appears to weigh more than the 250 pounds he is listed at, and carrying that extra weight means his knees will probably give out before his Yankee contract expires.
Burnett won a career-high 18 games last year as he was seeking a huge free-agent contract. But he is still only nine games above .500 for his career.
And in an age when a close watch is kept on pitch counts to make sure arms are not fatigued from overwork, it’s interesting to note that Sabathia led the majors in pitches with 3,814 last year and Burnett led the American League with 3,650.
Even if that wear and tear doesn’t spell disaster for them this year, neither is as good as one of the pitchers the Yankees lost, Mike Mussina, who retired.
Mussina went 20-9 with a 3.37 ERA last year.
Teixera replaces Jason Giambi at first for the Yankees. Teixera is an outstanding player but he hit only one more homer and drove in only 25 more runs than Giambi in 116 more at-bats than Giambi had last year.
Teixera is much better defensively than Giambi. But if defense were that important at first base, Doug Mientkiewicz would be an all-star instead of a journeyman with his seventh team in six years (he’s now a backup for the Los Angeles Dodgers).
So the Yankees will be a little better than last year, when they finished third in the AL East. But not $423.5 million better.
The Red Sox probably improved more without any major free-agent signings, as Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and David Ortiz appear to be healthy.
Had they been their normal selves last year, the Red Sox would likely have beaten Tampa Bay in the AL Championship Series and repeated as world champions.
Tampa Bay, which is being overlooked by most preseason prognosticators, isn’t going away, though, and will likely make the AL East an exciting three-team race again, with the second-place team likely earning the AL wild-card playoff berth.
As for the rest of my division champion picks, the one in which I disagree with most prognosticators is the AL West.
Most think the Los Angeles Angels will repeat, but I’m picking Oakland.
The Angels lost Teixera and 62-saves closer Francisco Rodriguez while Oakland picked up big bats in Matt Holliday and Giambi, a reliable Gold Glove shortstop in Orlando Cabrera, and more infield depth in Nomar Garciaparra.
Garciaparra has been injury prone, as has Eric Chavez, but between the two of them the A’s should get strong play at third base.
I’m picking Boston to beat the New York Mets in the World Series. If Mets ace Johan Santana is not 100 percent healthy, though, the Chicago Cubs could win the NL pennant instead.
My complete predictions:
AL East NL East
1. Boston 1. New York
1. New York 2. Philadelphia
3. Tampa Bay 3. Florida
4. Toronto 4. Atlanta
5. Baltimore 5. Washington
AL Central NL Central
1. Minnesota 1. Chicago
2. Cleveland 2. St. Louis
3. Chicago 3. Milwaukee
4. Detroit 4. Cincinnati
5. Kansas City 5. Houston
AL West NL West
1. Oakland 1. Los Angeles
2. L.A. Angels 2. Arizona
3. Seattle 3. Colorado
4. Texas 4. San Francisco
5. San Diego