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Red Sox seize offseason driver's seat with signings

Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez change Boston's present and future outlooks dramatically

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the offseason, the White Sox were said to be one of the teams in on Pablo Sandoval, but that initial rumor never reached the second level. Hanley Ramirez never showed up on the radar. They might have appeared in a number of our offseason plans, but they weren't considered White Sox targets.

They weren't considered Boston targets, either, at least as a package deal. But that's exactly what happened, as the Red Sox committed anywhere from $183 million to $205 million to free-agent infielders over the next five years in a pair of surprising signings on Monday.

They're not deals the Red Sox needed to make, since they have 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts at short, and 23-year-old Garin Cecchini knocking at third base's door. And apparently Bogaerts is still the shortstop, because the initial idea calls for Ramirez to play left field.

That's a strange Plan A. Not so much the Sandoval signing, as the Red Sox just watched Will Middlebrooks blow his chance to seize the position, so they know that prospects don't always pan out. It's another thing to sign an injury-prone free agent and move him to a position he's never played. Besides, the Red Sox already have a glut of outfielders to deal with.

It seems like Ben Cherington will sort it out as he tries to strike deals for pitching. The Red Sox are supposedly in line to sign Jon Lester, but they're still one starter short after him. After signing Sandoval and Ramirez, they'll have assets young and old to trade for an additional arm or two. That's the joy of having both money and a farm system.

(While the Red Sox and White Sox both seem primed to make deals, they don't seem like a great match, as Rick Hahn presumably needs the starters he already has.)

The combination of finalized deals and the anticipation of big moves ahead makes for an exciting time for Red Sox fans, although not without risk. Eno Sarris raised the issue of Sandoval's weight at FanGraphs, and Jonah Keri zeroed in on Ramirez's tendency to miss games. They're trying to take a shortcut to extend their bipolarity into a worst-first-worst-first superfecta, and it could very well work as long as there aren't major misfires.

But this alters the dynamic in the AL East before games are played. There isn't a clear second-best team after the Orioles. The Blue Jays made an early move to punch up at Baltimore with the Russell Martin signing, but now the Sandoval-Ramirez(-Lester?) news overshadows that. Boston action also usually inspires the Yankees to make their own headlines, so there's the potential for a major offseason melee.

And that makes me wonder if the AL Central's offseason will reach a similar frenzy at any point. Right now, life is moving slower in the Midwest. The Tigers are trying to keep their aging win-now model humming. The Royals are potential regression candidates. The Indians might be content to let young guys grow into roles after their big-money moves turned rather flat. The Twins are working on a post-Gardenhire management structure.

The White Sox have taken the lead in terms of external improvements, and it's not out of the question that they could hold that spot. Zach Duke and Adam LaRoche don't create the biggest of head starts, but Hahn still has money to spend and roster spots to overturn, while other teams look more settled. But all it takes is one team to unsettle itself for the complexion of the roster to change dramatically.