The baseball season hasn't even started yet, but an amazing amount of people, some of whom should know better, have already conceded the American League championship to the Boston Red Sox.
Their optimism hinges on the acquisitions of Carl Crawford, a superb all-around outfielder, and slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, whose arrival pushes Kevin Youkilis from first base to third while increasing the power at first.
If enough "maybes" turn into fact the team will also have a strong pitching rotation. Right now the only thing sure about that staff is that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are unlikely to give manager Terry Francona sleepless nights. Judging from their 2010 statistics, Josh Beckett and John Lackey do not present the same degree of confidence. Then there is the matter of Beckett and ace reliever Jonathan Papelbon's combined ERA in spring training -- a ghastly 12-plus.
Then there is the age factor. Right fielder J.D. Drew and designated hitter David Ortiz were born two days apart in November of 1975. Shortstop Marco Scutaro was born three weeks earlier. That makes three 35-year-old starters. Youkilis is happy about switching back to third base, where he is more comfortable than playing first, but he's 32.
Age, or lack of it, is the problem behind the plate. Victor Martinez signed with Detroit as a free agent, leaving young, lightly experienced as well as light of bat Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the starter. Veteran Jason Varitek, days away from his 39th birthday, ancient for a catcher, played in only 39 games a season ago.
Am I saying that the New York Yankees will be the regal team in the American League again? Not at all. Their starting pitching is shop-worn; Robinson Cano, not Derek Jeter, is now THE guy in the infield; Alex Rodriguez will be A-Rod again, but this isn't the same team as in 2010.
This might have been a different prediction had they signed Cliff Lee.
I think that the Sox will win the American League title, but it will be hose of a different color: white instead of red. The Chicago White Sox bear the look of champions.
Start with power. When they signed Adam Dunn away from Washington this winter it gave them five players who combined for 142 home runs and 459 RBIs last season. Dunn, who has averaged 40 homers and 101 RBIs over the last seven seasons, will function as the designated hitter. First baseman Paul Konerko had 39 homers and 111 RBIs, outfielders Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios hit 26 and 21, respectively, while shortstop Alexei Ramirez added 18 homers and 70 RBIs.
The offense doesn't end with power. Left fielder Juan Pierre led the majors with 68 stolen bases and contributed 47 RBIs. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski, close to being a White Sox immortal, offers a barrel of intangibles.
The White Sox don't have the same glitter on their pitching staff, but rather counter with a number of hurlers with low earned-run averages. The glitter may develop if Jake Peavy, for whom Chicago traded last year but who suffered an unusual muscle tear, is able to contribute to the rotation. What the White Sox offer in pitching depth is a staff of first-rate relievers.
Larry Felser, former News sports columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.