April 2, 2006 in Sports

American League preview

The Spokesman-Review
 

Capsules of American League teams,

in order of finish last year:

EAST DIVISION

New York Yankees

2005: 95-67, first place.

Manager: Joe Torre (11th season).

He’s here: CF Johnny Damon, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, LHP Ron Villone, LHP Mike Myers, C Kelly Stinnett, INF Miguel Cairo, RHP Octavio Dotel.

He’s outta here: RHP Tom Gordon, 1B Tino Martinez, DH-OF Ruben Sierra, RHP Kevin Brown, C John Flaherty, LHP Alan Embree, RHP Felix Rodriguez, OF Matt Lawton, INF Mark Bellhorn, INF Rey Sanchez, LHP Al Leiter.

Hot spot: The pitching staff. Randy Johnson (back), Mike Mussina (elbow), Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder), Jaret Wright (shoulder) and Carl Pavano (shoulder) all had health issues last season. Pavano and Wright, both bothered by back pain, were slowed during spring training, and Aaron Small injured a hamstring. Following the departure of Gordon to Philadelphia, New York remade its bullpen, signing Farnsworth, Myers and Dotel, and acquiring Villone in a trade. Tanyon Sturtze (shoulder) has taken it slow this spring and Dotel likely won’t return from reconstructive elbow surgery until June.

Bottom line: The Yankees must hit, hit, hit in order to win because their pitching staff appears prone to breakdowns again. Even if they reach the playoffs for the 12th straight year – no sure thing in a division with Boston and rebuilt Toronto – their pitching might be too beat up by October to advance deep. Every regular starting position player is over 30 with the exception of Robinson Cano. Johnson is 42 and Mussina is 37. In the last guaranteed year of his contract, Gary Sheffield is likely to complain from time to time, so the ever-present chance of turmoil is likely to come up. With all the issues, the most important player remains Mariano Rivera, who has been nearly automatic in save situations since 1997 and is entering his 10th season as the closer.

Boston Red Sox

2005: 95-67, second place, won wild card.

Manager: Terry Francona (third season).

He’s here: RHP Josh Beckett, CF Coco Crisp, 2B Mark Loretta, SS Alex Gonzalez, 3B Mike Lowell, 1B J.T. Snow, OF Wily Mo Pena, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Rudy Seanez, RHP David Riske, C Josh Bard.

He’s outta here: CF Johnny Damon, 1B Kevin Millar, SS Edgar Renteria, 3B Bill Mueller, 1B John Olerud, C Doug Mirabelli, RHP Bronson Arroyo, 2B Tony Graffanino, RHP Jeremi Gonzalez, RHP Chad Bradford, LHP Mike Myers, RHP Wade Miller, RHP Matt Mantei, 1B Roberto Petagine, OF Adam Hyzdu, C Kelly Shoppach.

Hot spot: Relievers. Keith Foulke struggled with knee injuries and personal issues last year and finished with an ERA above 3.00 for the first time since 1998. He says he’s healthy now, but Mike Timlin and Jonathan Papelbon can close if he fails. Timlin is a reliable workhorse and Papelbon was very impressive in 17 games as a rookie last year. Seanez is coming off two strong seasons but didn’t pitch well in spring training. Tavarez joins his eighth team in 11 seasons and spent much of spring training with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. The rebuilt bullpen is a question mark until it starts producing.

Bottom line: The rotation is so deep (Papelbon also can start) that the Red Sox could afford to trade Arroyo to Cincinnati for Pena. Combined with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, Pena gives Boston three potential 40-home run hitters but he must lower his strikeouts to play regularly. Curt Schilling looks healthy after struggling with ankle problems the past two seasons. There was a renewed emphasis on defense with the additions of Gonzalez, who made spectacular plays in spring training, and Lowell. With GM Theo Epstein back at the helm after leaving for 2 1/2 months, in part, because of his relationship with president Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox have a trader who builds for the future while keeping the present team strong.

Toronto Blue Jays

2005: 80-82, third place.

Manager: John Gibbons (second full season).

He’s here: RHP A.J. Burnett, LHP B.J. Ryan, 3B Troy Glaus, C Bengie Molina, 1B Lyle Overbay.

He’s outta here: 2B Orlando Hudson, RHP Miguel Batista, 3B Corey Koskie, RHP David Bush.

Hot spot: Burnett will begin the season on the disabled list and miss his first two starts because of scar tissue in his surgically repaired right elbow. He signed a $55 million, five-year contract with the Blue Jays during the off-season.

Bottom line: GM J.P. Ricciardi might have been the most productive executive in baseball this offseason, raising eyebrows when he gave Ryan the most lucrative contract in history for a reliever – $47 million over five years. It was just the beginning of an expensive makeover for the Blue Jays, who also added Burnett, Glaus, Overbay and Molina. Toronto, expanding its payroll from $45 million to about $75 million, appears capable of contending with the Yankees and Boston for a playoff spot. But how the Blue Jays deal with higher expectations will be the key. The loss of an injury-prone player such as Burnett, Roy Halladay or Glaus could be crippling. Glaus gives the Blue Jays the power they lacked since Carlos Delgado left as a free agent after the 2004 season. The rotation should be solid.

Baltimore Orioles

2005: 74-88, fourth place.

Manager: Sam Perlozzo (first season).

He’s here: RHP Kris Benson, C Ramon Hernandez, 1B Jeff Conine, OF Corey Patterson, 1B Kevin Millar, RHP LaTroy Hawkins.

He’s outta here: Manager Lee Mazzilli, LHP B.J. Ryan, OF Sammy Sosa, 1B Rafael Palmeiro, RHP James Baldwin, RHP Jason Grimsley, OF Eli Marrero, LHP Steve Kline, RHP Jorge Julio, RHP John Maine.

Hot spot: The bullpen. Chris Ray was in Double-A before being summoned by the Orioles last season, and now he’s taking over for departed closer B.J. Ryan, who had 36 saves in 2005. Ray’s backups are Hawkins, who’s better suited as a setup man, and Todd Williams, who likely will start the season on the disabled list with a sore shoulder.

Bottom line: Much has to go right for the Orioles if they are to end their run of eight straight losing seasons and make some noise in the A.L. East. If pitching coach Leo Mazzone can work his magic with the young staff; if Javy Lopez can ultimately make the transition from catcher to first base; if newcomers Millar, Conine, Hernandez and Patterson can lend offensive support to All-Stars Brian Roberts, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada; and if Ray can handle the closer’s role, then the Orioles will at least make their mark in a very tough division.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Manager: Joe Maddon (first season).

2005: 67-95, fifth place.

He’s here: 3B Sean Burroughs, RHP Dan Miceli, C Josh Paul, RHP Edwin Jackson.

He’s outta here: RHP Danys Baez, 3B Alex Gonzalez, 1B-DH Eduardo Perez, RHP Dewon Brazelton, RHP Lance Carter.

Hot spot: Offense improved last season and figures to get even better with continued development of Carl Crawford, Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes and return of Rocco Baldelli, who missed all of 2005 because of knee and elbow injuries. Pitching remains suspect. RH Edwin Jackson is challenging for a spot for the rotation in spring training. Scott Kazmir looks like he has the makings of a legitimate No. 1 starter, and Maddon is counting on continued progress from Seth McClung and Doug Waechter, too. The bullpen was a liability a year ago and remains a big question mark with All-Star closer Danys Baez gone and former Japan League All-Star Shinji Mori out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Bottom line: New York investor Stuart Sternberg has taken over as principal owner, replacing founding managing general partner Vince Naimoli and vowed to do whatever’s necessary to make the club successful on and off the field. That, however, doesn’t translate into a significant boost in the budget for player salaries in 2006. That means the team with baseball’s lowest payroll will be hard-pressed to escape last-place in a division dominated by the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox.

CENTRAL DIVISION

Chicago White Sox

2005: 99-63, first place, World Series champions.

Manager: Ozzie Guillen (third season).

He’s here: DH Jim Thome, RHP Javier Vazquez, INF-OF Rob Mackowiak, SS Alex Cintron.

He’s outta here: DH Frank Thomas, DH Carl Everett, CF Aaron Rowand, RHP Orlando Hernandez, RHP Jose Vizcaino, LHP Damaso Marte, OF Timo Perez, INF Willie Harris, INF Geoff Blum.

Hot spot: The bullpen has a different look but will it be as effective? Bobby Jenks must build on his sensational rookie debut, Dustin Hermanson is again plagued by a sore back and the Sox are still not sure they have a replacement for the hard-throwing but erratic Marte, who was traded. Matt Thornton has control issues. Will the young and talented Brandon McCarthy, a starter almost his entire minor league career, blossom or wilt in relief?

Bottom line: For all the fun, controversy and laid-back atmosphere created by the talkative Guillen and the Sox’s impressive 11-1 run through the playoffs, it will be hard to repeat after the franchise’s first World Series title in 88 years. General manager Ken Williams made a significant shakeup by bringing in Thome for the much-needed left-handed bat, Vazquez for a No. 5 starter and solid backups in Cintron and Mackowiak. He also re-signed Paul Konerko for five years and $60 million. It remains to be seen if the clubhouse chemistry will be disturbed by the additions, and if several years of 200-plus innings for top starters Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia will have an effect late in the season. Jose Contreras experienced a tender arm this spring and could be missing the camaraderie of fellow Cuban Hernandez, who was traded for Vazquez. Rowand’s gritty play in center is gone, and Chicago is counting on rookie Brian Anderson to take over.

Cleveland Indians

2005: 93-69, second place.

Manager: Eric Wedge (third season).

He’s here: RHP Paul Byrd, RHP Jason Johnson, RHP Guillermo Mota, 1B Eduardo Perez, 3B Andy Marte, OF Jason Michaels, INF-OF Lou Merloni, OF Todd Hollandsworth, RHP Danny Graves, RHP Steve Karsay, C Kelly Shoppach.

He’s outta here: RHP Kevin Millwood, RHP Bob Howry, RHP Scott Elarton, OF Coco Crisp, C Josh Bard, OF Juan Gonzalez, RHP David Riske, INF-OF Jose Hernandez, LHP Arthur Rhodes.

Hot spot: Aaron Boone can’t afford another horrible start like last season, and neither can the Indians, who went 9-14 in April. Much of Boone’s struggles were the result of an 18-month layoff following knee surgery. This spring, he has looked smoother in the field and more comfortable at the plate. Andy Marte, acquired from Boston in the Coco Crisp deal, has been sent to the minors but gives the club an option if Boone isn’t better.

Bottom line: Duplicating a 93-69 season could be difficult, especially in the balanced A.L. Central. Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez give the Indians a core as good as any in the league, and the foursome’s progress will determine if Cleveland gets back to the playoffs for the first time since ‘01. Millwood’s departure hurts the rotation and is a blow to the club’s chemistry, which was unshakable until the final-week collapse. Wedge has shown he can manage young, developing players. Now, his challenge is to take a team with much higher expectations to the postseason.

Minnesota Twins

2005: 83-79, third place.

Manager: Ron Gardenhire (fifth season).

He’s here: DH Rondell White, 2B Luis Castillo, 3B Tony Batista, OF-DH Ruben Sierra.

He’s outta here: RF Jacque Jones, LHP J.C. Romero, RHP Joe Mays, 2B Luis Rivas.

Hot spot: The infield, again. Batista strikes out a lot and doesn’t have much range in the field, but he hits home runs, which is why the Twins were interested. Will he maintain his power stroke after a year playing in Japan? Bartlett has been given another chance to hold the starting shortstop job, but he’s been fighting a hamstring strain and Juan Castro – the classic good-field, low-hit veteran – has been pushing him. Castillo, acquired in a trade, instantly upgrades the top of the lineup and the team’s biggest problem position from last season. But he must avoid the lower-body injuries that plagued him last year. Justin Morneau, who had a mostly miserable time last season, might be more effective without so much pressure on him to produce.

Bottom line: With an annually limited amount of money to spend on enhancing the lineup, general manager Terry Ryan made a handful of modest moves designed to make Minnesota a better offensive club. Will they work? We’ll see. The Twins were last in the league in runs scored last season, so there’s nowhere to go but up. Better production from Shannon Stewart would help, and a healthy year for Torii Hunter would, too. If everything clicks, they could be right back in the thick of the pennant race after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001. But if injuries are a problem and young players such as Morneau, Michale Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett continue to struggle, Minnesota could be in for another mediocre season.

Detroit Tigers

2005: 71-91, fourth place.

Manager: Jim Leyland (first season).

He’s here: LHP Kenny Rogers, RHP Todd Jones.

He’s outta here: Manager Alan Trammell, OF Rondell White, RHP Jason Johnson, OF Bobby Higginson.

Hot spot: Leyland. General manager Dave Dombrowski did not make a lot of moves after firing Trammell in the off-season – signing just the 41-year-old Rogers and 37-year-old Jones – because he believes the pieces are in place for a competitive ballclub. Leyland guided Florida to a World Series title in 1997, when Dombrowski was leading the Marlins. Dombrowski has not been able to turn around the Tigers, whose last winning season was 1993, and he’s banking on Leyland’s fiery ways and experience to make a difference in the dugout. Leyland spent the first 18 years of his career in the Tigers’ system – six as a player, one as a coach and 11 as a minor league manager – before getting the top job in Pittsburgh in 1986. He won three division titles with the Pirates.

Bottom line: As savvy as Leyland is, he can’t control what is going to determine if the Tigers have a chance in the tough A.L. Central – their health. Only Carl Monroe and Brandon Inge were able to stay healthy enough to play the entire season in 2005. Maglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen combined for just 169 games, and Dmitri Young was nagged by injuries. If those three can stay in the lineup and Ivan Rodriguez can bounce back from a bad year, the Tigers will be respected at the plate. However, even with some solid bats and a decent rotation and bullpen, Detroit might be relegated to an unlucky 13th straight losing season because more than one-third of its schedule is against the World Series champion White Sox, Indians and Twins.

Kansas City Royals

2005: 56-106, fifth place.

Manager: Buddy Bell (second season).

He’s here: RHP Scott Elarton, RF Reggie Sanders, LHP Mark Redman, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, RHP Elmer Dessens, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, RHP Joe Mays, INF Tony Graffanino, C Paul Bako, RHP Joel Peralta.

He’s outta here: RHP Jose Lima, RHP D.J. Carrasco, OF Terrence Long, RHP Shawn Camp, RHP Nate Field, INF Denny Hocking, LHP Brian Anderson.

Hot spot: The pitching. RH Zack Greinke left camp on Feb. 26 for undisclosed personal reasons and has yet to return, while LH Mark Redman required knee surgery after his first start. That left a thin rotation nearly barren. RH Mike MacDougal, who logged 21 saves in 25 opportunities, went out with a strained muscle in his back and shoulder and will miss at least six weeks. Ambiorix Burgos, who turns 22 in April, was named closer in MacDougal’s absence.

Bottom line: The Royals have lost 210 games the past two years, including a franchise-record 106 in 2005. They spent some money on second-tier free agents, but are hoping additions such as Sanders, who has been in the playoffs five of the past six years, and Mientkiewicz, another playoff veteran, can teach the youngsters to win. The Royals are counting on Runelvys Hernandez and Mays, both two years removed from Tommy John surgery, to put together full seasons. Both faded after the All-Star break last year. The team lacks speed and, outside of Mike Sweeney and Sanders, has little power. Emil Brown was a minor league journeyman before last season, so he has to prove that 2005 was no fluke. The infield defense might be much better. The Royals led the majors last year with 125 errors. The rotation lacks an ace. Elarton opened last season as the Indians’ No. 5 starter, but he’ll get the opening day assignment. The bullpen was strong last year. But with MacDougal hurt it becomes a question mark, and that could have a domino effect on the entire staff. The Royals have not made the playoffs since 1985. They probably won’t be back in 2006.

WEST DIVISION

Los Angeles Angels

2005: 95-67, first place.

Manager: Mike Scioscia (seventh season).

He’s here: RHP Jeff Weaver, RHP Hector Carrasco, LHP J.C. Romero, 3B Edgardo Alfonzo.

He’s outta here: LHP Jarrod Washburn, RHP Paul Byrd, LHP Jason Christiansen, C Bengie Molina, C Josh Paul, OF Steve Finley, OF Jeff DaVanon, INF Lou Merloni.

Hot spot: The middle of the lineup. The Angels need protection for Vladimir Guerrero and run production. They pursued 1B Paul Konerko, but he decided to remain with the Chicago White Sox. Garret Anderson, 33, is still capable of hitting .300 and driving in 100 runs, but injuries have hampered him over the past two seasons and he’s missed time this spring with a sore left foot. The 37-year-old Tim Salmon, invited to camp as a non-roster player after missing last year while he recuperated from knee and shoulder surgery, has had a solid spring and could provide pop at DH if the Angels include him on the roster. Even then Salmon, who’s been with the Angels’ organization his entire career, would face competition for at-bats at DH with several others, including Juan Rivera or even Anderson, if his injury limits him in the outfield.

Bottom line: The two-time defending West champions didn’t change much over the winter, including retaining their cumbersome full name – the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The city of Anaheim sued owner Arte Moreno and the team over the change from Anaheim Angels, but the city lost. The Angels made no attempt to sign Washburn or Bengie Molina, two longtime stalwarts who left during the off-season. Even with 2004 A.L. MVP Guerrero as one of the best hitters in the majors, the Angels’ offense doesn’t figure to be that imposing. The team hit just .175 and scored only 11 runs in the five games during its ALCS loss to the White Sox last fall. But Los Angeles figures to have an outstanding mound staff again, with the addition of Weaver to the rotation and Romero and Carrasco to the bullpen – already one of baseball’s best. Even if their offense is weak, the Angels’ pitching and Scioscia’s savvy may be enough to take them to a third consecutive division title.

Oakland Athletics

2005: 88-74, second place.

Manager: Ken Macha (fourth season).

He’s here: OF Milton Bradley, DH Frank Thomas, RHP Esteban Loaiza, INF Antonio Perez, RHP Chad Gaudin.

He’s outta here: 1B Scott Hatteberg, LHP Ricardo Rincon, DH Erubiel Durazo, RHP Octavio Dotel, RHP Keiichi Yabu.

Hot spot: GM Billy Beane took a risk by acquiring the volatile Bradley from the Dodgers in the off-season. Bradley has had problems on and off the field throughout his career, but the A’s are hoping a change of scenery does the trick for the talented outfielder. Bradley provides a boost for a team that scored two or fewer runs in 14 of its final 32 games, falling out of first place in the process.

Bottom line: For the first time in ages, the A’s added stars instead of losing them this off-season. After watching players such as Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder leave in recent seasons, the A’s added Bradley and Thomas to give a power boost to the middle of the lineup and Loaiza to add depth to the rotation. Late-season injuries to Rich Harden and Bobby Crosby derailed the team down the stretch last season and the A’s need those two to be healthy in 2006. Harden has shown he has the stuff to be an ace but still needs to prove he can pitch 200 innings. The A’s also are counting on their stellar rookie class of Huston Street, Joe Blanton, Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher to avoid sophomore slumps. If that happens, the A’s should have a good chance to end their two-year playoff drought.

Texas Rangers

2005: 79-83, third place.

Manager: Buck Showalter (fourth season).

He’s here: RHP Kevin Millwood, RHP Adam Eaton, RHP Vicente Padilla, RHP Akinori Otsuka, OF Brad Wilkerson, 2B Ian Kinsler, RHP Robinson Tejada.

He’s outta here: LHP Kenny Rogers, 2B Alfonso Soriano, RHP Chris Young, C Sandy Alomar Jr., OF Richard Hidalgo, RHP Doug Brocail, RHP Ricardo Rodriguez, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, OF David Dellucci, pitching coach Orel Hershiser.

Hot spot: Starting pitching. Texas has completely overhauled its rotation with none of the five starters that began 2005 still on the roster. Millwood is a legitimate No. 1 starter, a former N.L. All-Star and the A.L. ERA champion last season in Cleveland. Eaton is out with a strained tendon in the middle finger on his pitching hand, the same injury that sidelined him last season. He was 9-1 with a 3.18 ERA before the injury last year. Padilla is a former N.L. All-Star comfortable with Showalter and pitching coach Mark Connor, his former coaches in Arizona. Kameron Loe was solid to end last season. R.A. Dickey is now a knuckleballer. The rotation would look a lot better if Roger Clemens decided to join the Rangers.

Bottom Line: New GM Jon Daniels, at 28 the youngest in major league history, put his mark on the team with the moves to bring in three new starting pitchers, a needed setup reliever (Otsuka) in front of Francisco Cordero and a likely leadoff hitter (Wilkerson). Soriano was traded to Washington for Wilkerson and two other players, and rookie Kinsler will get the chance to be the 2B – likely an upgrade defensively but not offensively. Even without Soriano, the Rangers have a potent offense anchored by Michael Young and Mark Teixeira. Millwood had a losing record despite the top ERA last season, but run support shouldn’t be a problem in Texas. If the hitting can keep up like it has in recent years and the pitching comes through, Rangers could be in for a repeat of 2004, when they were in playoff contention until the final week of the season.

Seattle Mariners

2005: 69-93, fourth place.

Manager: Mike Hargrove (second season).

He’s here: LHP Jarrod Washburn, C Kenji Johjima, DH-OF Carl Everett, OF Matt Lawton, OF Joe Borchard.

He’s outta here: RHP Ryan Franklin, C Dan Wilson, C Yorvit Torrealba, LHP Matt Thornton, INF Pokey Reese, RHP Shigetoshi Hasegawa, RHP Jeff Nelson, LHP Bobby Madritsch, OF Jamal Strong, C Miguel Ojeda.

Hot spot: The rotation. Jamie Moyer is the “ace” by default – and is 43. Felix Hernandez, 19, has electric ace stuff, but Seattle is limiting him to under 200 innings. Joel Pineiro and Gil Meche, both in the final season of contracts, must improve early or may lose their jobs. Washburn got ace-like money ($37 million over four years) yet was never viewed as better than middle-rotation man with the Angels.

Bottom line: Adrian Beltre must approach 2004 numbers and Richie Sexson must come close to repeating his from 2005 to stem the Mariners’ desperation for more power. They ranked 22nd in the majors in runs scored and 26th in home runs last season, and landed only Carl Everett and Matt Lawton in their search for more power. They also needed an ace, veteran starter, but whiffed on signing Kevin Millwood and settled for Washburn. Keeping Hernandez under his 200 innings will preserve him for the long-term, but will hurt Seattle in 2006. This team looks better than the previous two last-place outfits, and will be more fun to watch – Hargrove will run them more in an attempt to create more runs. But as the first team since the 1916 Philadelphia Athletics to lose 90 games in consecutive seasons immediately after winning 90 in successive years, how can they be any worse?

Associated Press


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