Last September, the Boston Red Sox looked like the perennial contender most likely to plummet to mediocrity. They had the ongoing Manny Ramirez trade saga and needed another starting pitcher, several hitters and a closer.
This was a crucial offseason, one that could have set the Red Sox back years, and maybe another place or two in the American League East.
Instead, it has propelled them back to their expected excellence. At least that's the thought here. Pencil in the Red Sox as the American League and World Series champions.
They kept Ramirez and added shortstop Julio Lugo, outfielder J.D. Drew and starter Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Japanese import who cost them $103.1 million to post and play but should, at the least, be a solid No. 3 pitcher and, at the best, an ace.
With a top-heavy rotation and a bolstered lineup, the Red Sox had only one remaining question: Who would save games for them? That appears to have been answered by Jonathan Papelbon, last year's closer, who agreed to end a starting rotation experiment in part because he missed saving games.
So, the Red Sox get to the World Series over the upstart Cleveland Indians. They'll meet the Philadelphia Phillies there, and the Sox will win in six.
Here's a way-ahead-of-ourselves look at the 2007 baseball season:
A little break on tradition here as the Yankees, winners of nine straight division titles, drop to second. In fact, this could be the first time since the wild card has been in existence that they don't make the playoffs. This almost got a little wackier with an impulse to put the Orioles in third, but the Blue Jays, despite a shaky rotation, have an outstanding lineup. Still, the Orioles could overtake Toronto if Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen improve and the Orioles get something out of Jaret Wright and Steve Trachsel. The Devil Rays are a year away from scaring anyone.
1. Red Sox
3. Blue Jays
5. Devil Rays
The only certainty here is the Royals finishing last. The Tigers deserve respect -- especially after adding Gary Sheffield to a World Series club. So make them the AL's wild card. The Indians were a disappointment last year but should be ready to take over this division. The White Sox are good and the Twins would be the favorite if only they had solid starters behind Johan Santana, baseball's best pitcher.
3. White Sox
The Red Sox take care of the wild-card Tigers, and the Indians sweep the Angels. Boston then wins in five against the Indians.
Most Valuable Player / /
Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
He has been in the top 10 in MVP voting eight times, but never higher than third. He turns 35 in May, and it just seems he might have one more amazing season left in him. Since the Red Sox will be contenders and there is a designated hitter bias against guys like David Ortiz and Travis Hafner, Ramirez gets his first trophy.
Cy Young / /
Johan Santana, Twins
He's this decade's Pedro Martinez. And that means he'll be a Cy Young candidate every year for the foreseeable future. The Twins could struggle with no veteran talent behind him in the rotation, so he might get edged out by someone on a good team, such as the Indians' C.C. Sabathia or the Red Sox's impressive trio of Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka. But don't bet against Santana.
Rookie of the Year / /
Alex Gordon, Royals
The third baseman won Baseball America's College Player of the Year in 2005 and Minor League Player of the Year in 2006, so why not this award in 2007? He does everything and has been given a starting job.
Manager of the Year / /
Eric Wedge, Indians
Some believe he could be on the hot seat if this talented Indians team struggles for a second consecutive year. But it won't, so Wedge runs away with this award.
The Phillies have an extremely deep rotation with the addition of Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton, and their lineup can compete with anyone's. The Mets can hit, but their starting rotation is questionable. Never count out the Braves, or the upstart Marlins, but neither is deep enough. Oh, and the Nationals, they'll have a new stadium in 2008.
Talk about a mess of a division. The Cardinals are defending world champions, but they lost much of their rotation. The Cubs might have the best team, and a great new manager in Lou Piniella, but they're still the Cubs. The Brewers and Reds both could challenge here, and the Astros have talent but little depth. Even the Pirates could compete if their young pitching matures together. But the Cards are the safest bet.
The Dodgers have a nice mix of youth and experience. Another hitter would help, but the pitching is there to make a long run. The Diamondbacks could be baseball's biggest surprise. And the aging Giants could usher out the Bonds era with a terrible season.