Jays better than Red Sox

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

The Blue Jays have four third basemen, all who held down everyday jobs as recently as 2002.

The Boston Red Sox have no shortstops -- at least none they are comfortable starting the season with. Same in centre field, since Johnny Damon went over the hill to the Bronx.

That might be enough to say that the Jays are better than Boston. Yet, opening day is a long way away. We'll bet you a Diet Coke that Boston fields nine men on opening day, including a shortstop and a centre fielder.

For instance, Boston might obtain shortstop Julio Lugo and centre fielder Joey Gathright from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Yet, even with those holes filled, the Jays still look to have fewer holes than the Red Sox as they try to win a wild-card berth.

Boston finished out of the running in the chase for Kevin Millwood, who signed a four-year, $48-million US deal with the Texas Rangers. Millwood was one of the many near misses for Boston. You can expect left fielder Manny Ramirez to begin to complain soon.

The New York Yankees still have the best talent in the AL East, albeit an aging starting staff. They have the players, tradition, grit in Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada.

Boston has a rotation of Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, David Wells, Matt Clement and Tim Wakefield. The Sox spent part of the off-season trying to deal either Wells or Clement.

The Jays will have a rotation of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Ted Lilly, Gustavo Chacin and Josh Towers.

Boston is stronger behind the plate with Jason Varitek, in right field with Trot Nixon, in left field with Ramirez and at DH with David Ortiz.

The rest of the lineup shows the Jays are better with Lyle Overbay at first, Aaron Hill at second, Troy Glaus at third, Russ Adams at short and Vernon Wells in centre.

Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi should be buying lottery tickets. The way he's going he could be like Pedro Guerrero; swing at a ball in the dirt, send the ball off the wall and leg out a triple.

Ricciardi wanted to trade for two hitters. He got them --slugging third baseman Glaus and gap-to-gapper first baseman Overbay.

He wanted to sign two free-agent pitchers. He got them -- a big overpay in right-hander A.J. Burnett and a big overpay in closer B.J. Ryan.

What does Ricciardi do with his glut of bats at third? The Minnesota Twins claim they have no interest. They have signed Tony Batista, the ex-Jay, to a non-guaranteed contract after he spent a year in Japan.

However, they were interested in Shea Hillenbrand when the Jays, the Milwaukee Brewers and the Twins talked about a three-way deal to bring Overbay to Toronto at the winter meetings? Could that happen?

TWO MOVES REMAIN

Coming off an all-star season Hillenbrand is the most attractive of the three third baseman -- Corey Koskie and Eric Hinske -- two of which have to be moved.

Could the Twins, who could not afford Koskie a year ago, suddenly be able to take on his salary now? Not unless the Jays would pay some of his salary ($11 million remaining over the next two seasons, with a $6.5 million club option in 2008) as they did when they shipped Shannon Stewart to the Twins in 2003?

Hinske? Well, do the Intercounty Barrie Baycats have a need?

He has $10.9 million remaining on the final two years of his five-year contract. Five-year contract ... hmmm, did we hear that phrase somewhere else before?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking for an upgrade over Freddy Sanchez at third and might be interested in Hinske if the Jays picked up some of the cost.

Ditto for the Cincinnati Reds, who have Edwin Encarnacion, but neither the Pirates nor the Reds can afford any of the three extra third basemen.

Vernon Wells says the Jays have improved, but expresses caution.

"Seeing it on paper and doing it are two different things," Wells said from Arlington, Tex.

"We don't belong with two teams until we show it."

We'll go where Wells won't: The Jays are better than the Red Sox and will win more games in 2006.


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