So now the Rays have Pat Burrell and the Yankees have Mark Teixeira -- and the Red Sox have signed Josh Bard as well as some guy named Nick Green. The fans, as a result, are calling for Theo Epstein to wake up from his winter hibernation and get with the program and make a deal to get the Red Sox some thump in the middle of a lineup that suddenly can't compete with the lineups the Yankees and Rays have assembled this winter.
Or can it?
Let's play a fun and pointless game with the lineups the two teams are expected to field next season and their statistics from our most recent sample -- last season. Those numbers will fluctuate next season, of course, but in a lot of ways, that fluctuation is going to even out. Mike Lowell might be worse because his hip injury lingers, for example, but Jacoby Ellsbury might be better. Johnny Damon might be worse, but Robinson Cano might be better. Pat Burrell might be worse, but B.J. Upton might be better. You get the picture. It's a very, very rough look at the three lineups.
We'll give each team three points if it has the best hitter at each position, two points for second-best, one point for worst. And to keep it objective, we'll keep the identities of the three teams secret until the end.
The statistics included will be fairly simple -- on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base plus slugging). That's in part because those stats tell you more than stats like RBIs and in part because enough fans have memorized the traditional stats of players like Jason Varitek and Mark Teixeira that they'd recognize them right off the bat and ruin the fun of the game.
You'll figure it out anyway, of course, but we'll preserve the suspense for at least a little while.
And because calling them Team A, Team B and Team C seems too boring and too difficult to follow, we'll go all L. Frank Baum on you and call them the Lions, Tigers and Bears. (Yeah, yeah.)
Dioner Navarro, Jorge Posada and, at this point, we're going to use Jason Varitek for the Red Sox because it seems incredibly unlikely he signs anywhere else.
Lions: .349 and .407 -- 756
Tigers: .313 and .390 -- 703
Bears: .364 and .411 -- 775
(The Bears get 3 points, the Lions get 2 points, and the Tigers get 1 point.)
Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis and Carlos Pena.
Lions: .377 and .494 -- 873
Tigers: .390 and .569 -- 959
Bears: .410 and .552 -- 962
Akinori Iwamura, Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia.
Lions: .349 and .380 -- 729
Tigers: .376 and .493 -- 869
Bears: .305 and .410 -- 715
Mike Lowell, Alex Rodriguez and Evan Longoria.
Lions: .343 and .531 -- 874
Tigers: .338 and .461 -- 799
Bears: .392 and .573 -- 965
Jason Bartlett, Jed Lowrie and Derek Jeter.
Lions: .329 and .361 -- 690
Tigers: .339 and .400 -- 739
Bears: .363 and .408 -- 771
(At this point, the Bears have 13 points, the Tigers 9, the Lions 8.)
Jason Bay, Carl Crawford and Johnny Damon.
Lions: .319 and .400 -- 719
Tigers: .373 and .522 -- 895
Bears: .375 and .461 -- 836
Melky Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury and B.J. Upton.
Lions: .383 and .401 -- 784
Tigers: .339 and .400 -- 739
Bears: .301 and .341 -- 642
Matt Joyce, Xavier Nady and J.D. Drew.
Lions: .339 and .492 -- 831
Tigers: .408 and .519 -- 927
Bears: .357 and .510 -- 867
David Ortiz, Pat Burrell and Hideki Matsui.
Lions: .367 and .507 -- 874
Tigers: .369 and .507 -- 876
Bears: .370 and .424 -- 794
How does it end up? The Tigers have 20 points, the Bears have 19, and the Lions have 15.
And who's who? The Tigers are the Red Sox, the Bears are the Yankees and the Lions are the Rays.
Now, I'm not about to claim that the Red Sox do, in fact, have the best lineup in the American League East. Lowell's numbers might tumble further after hip surgery; Ortiz, too, might never regain the power stroke he showed when he had Manny Ramirez hitting behind him.
But for all those sky-is-falling fans who want Theo to sign a power-hitting free agent or deal the entire farm system for Hanley Ramirez -- a deal the Marlins wouldn't do anyway -- it's a little bit of perspective.
The Yankees still have plenty of weaknesses in their lineup -- the entire outfield, for example. The health of Jorge Posada remains a question, too. The Rays have upgraded in right field with the acquisition of Matt Joyce, but he's still not a hitter the caliber of J.D. Drew or even Xavier Nady. And they still have to play Jason Bartlett at shortstop every day.
Oh, and there's still the pitching to think about -- the Red Sox also bring back four of the top 12 pitchers in the American League last season in opposing hitters' OPS. (No returning Yankee starter -- other than Andy Pettitte, if he indeed is returning -- cracked the top 40, though free-agent signee CC Sabathia would fit in right behind league leader Roy Halladay if you count the National League half of his season, too.)
Theo Epstein still has a move or two up his sleeve, we all assume. But even if he doesn't, the Red Sox aren't all of a sudden a third-place team just because the Rays have replaced Willy Aybar with Pat Burrell. This division is very much up in the air.