TOE TO TOE: Hodes

by Alex Hodes | 3/31/08 3:11am

Team to Beat: The Boston Red Sox. That's right, I said it. The Boston Red Sox are the team to beat in 2008. And I think I just threw up in my mouth. The truth is, sometimes, you just have to give a team its due. Coming off their second World Series in four years, the Red Sox are more than capable of repeating as champs. By no means is Boston miles ahead of the rest of the league, but after no team distanced itself this offseason " sorry Mets fans " the best predictor of the future is the past.

Sleeper: The New York Yankees. Yes, those New York Yankees, the same Yankees with the league's largest payroll and most-storied history. So maybe this isn't your father's version of a sleeper, but make no mistake, the Yankees have quietly positioned themselves to surprise a lot of people. For the first time in the history of the internet, or as long as I can remember, nary a single ESPN.com analyst has the Yankees winning the fall classic. It's not like the team has one of the league's most potent offenses. Or one of the most-promising crops of young pitchers. Or the greatest closer in the history of the game. Or the reigning-MVP...

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Johan Santana and the Mets got all the media attention, but it's the Tigers who made the most important offseason move. Two years after their World Series appearance, the Tigers are poised to return with a middle of the order that's just downright scary. Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera now make up the best core in baseball. Yet as much as the acquisition of Cabrera makes the Tigers a threat to go deep into October, it's the addition of Dontrelle Willis that makes this deal so important. The last time the Marlins made such a big trade -- sending Josh Beckett to the Red Sox -- Mike Lowell was nothing more than a salary dump. Just a short while later, that same salary dump was named World Series MVP. Willis is certainly capable of making lightning strike twice.

Player to Watch: Kerry Wood. May 6th will mark the ten-year anniversary of Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout gem against the Astros. Ten years. Let that sink in for a moment. It's amazing to think how far we've come since then. Now think how long it must feel for Cubs fans. In that agonizing time-span, they witnessed the downfall of Sammy Sosa, the rise and subsequent fall of Mark Prior and Bartman. And you thought you had it rough when Schmidley shellacked you in a friendly game of pong. But here we are, 2008, Chicago seems capable of making a run and Kerry Wood is vital to their plans. Only now, the former ace will be called upon to become a reliable closer. After performing admirably out of the pen down the stretch in 2007, don't be shocked if Kerry Wood gives the Cubs reason to believe.

What will be the Legacy of the Mitchell Report: Of course, the biggest offseason story was the release of Senator George Mitchell's report on steroids in baseball. Since then, countless careers have been tarnished, Congress held hearings and Roger Clemens' buttocks became a subject of far too much discussion. All this begs the question, will any of this matter? While Mitchell's ultimate impact remains to be seen, I can't help but think that the report's legacy will amount to nothing more than an abscess on the game. America seems ready to put steroids in the rearview, and no matter how hard Jose Canseco tries to remain relevant, baseball will be happy to do the same.