So one of my co-workers comes by my office the other day and, with a sly grin, says, “So… the Sox are looking at third place this year, huh?”

First of all, I told him, when you see me at my desk, pouring whiskey into a tall glass, it means stay the f@#k out. Booze is the fuel that sparks my creativity and goddam the man or woman who attempts to come between us.

Second, I said, come down off the Zakim and join the rest of us here in reality.

Sure, the Yanks are in the midst of building another billion-dollar Legion of Super Heroes. And the rascally Rays have added mighty Pat Burrell to beef up the middle of their order. The Sox, meanwhile, have signed Brad Penny, brought back The Bard, and picked up a few other odds and ends that may or may not have impact down the road.

But for the most part, in 2009, the Sox will be fielding a team that came dangerously close to getting into the World Series with some of its most vital cogs–such as Josh Beckett and David Ortiz–hurting and one–Mike Lowell–out of the picture entirely. Yes, there are some big “ifs”: Can Papi regain his former badassery, can Lester continue to perform with ace-like consistency, is Lowell ever going to bounce back or is he better off dropping out of sight and opening a sandwich shop in Gloucester? But every team has their ifs, and I’ll bet God and Sonny Jesus there are at least a few folks among the Yankee brass silently praying that Burnett doesn’t hit the DL a few hours after the first pitch of the 2009 season.

Would I like to see another bat wedged into that line-up? More than I’d like to see Hayden Panettiere hoisting a “Marry Me, Red” sign outside my candlelit hovel. But I’m certainly not ready to resign this team to spending the summer staring up at the Yanks and Rays.