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American League Preview

Tom Withers Associated Press


Baltimore Orioles

1996: 88-74, 2nd place; 4 games behind, won AL wild card; lost to New York in league championship series.

Manager: Davey Johnson (2nd season).

He’s here: P Jimmy Key, SS Mike Bordick, OF Eric Davis, P Scott Kamieniecki, P Roger McDowell.

He’s outta here: P David Wells, OF Bobby Bonilla, 1B/DH Eddie Murray, OF Mike Devereaux, 3B Todd Zeile, C Mark Parent.

Projected lineup: CF Brady Anderson, 2B Roberto Alomar, 1B Rafael Palmeiro, LF Eric Davis, 3B Cal Ripken, RF B.J. Surhoff, DH Pete Incaviglia, C Chris Hoiles, SS Mike Bordick.

Rotation: RHP Mike Mussina, LHP Jimmy Key, RHP Scott Erickson, RHP Rocky Coppinger, RHP Shawn Boskie. Relievers: LHP Randy Myers, RHP Armando Benitez, LHP Jesse Orosco, LHP Arthur Rhodes, RHP Rich Krivda, RHP Alan Mills.

Make or break for: Bordick. Orioles’ first everyday shortstop not named Cal Ripken since 1981. Bordick led A.L. shortstops with 476 assists last year with Oakland and was signed for three years to scoop grounders Ripken could no longer get to. His offensive numbers - .240 average, 5 HRs, 54 RBIs in ‘96 - should improve in hitter-friendly Camden Yards.

Look out for: RHP Nerio Rodriguez. He made jump from Single-A last year to pitch in eight games with Birds. Went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two Triple-A starts. Won Palmer Prize given annually to O’s top pitching prospect.

Bottom line: Bad attitudes and lack of chemistry contributed to slow start in ‘96. Club still put up some big numbers, though, including record 257 homers and 5.14 ERA by starting pitchers. Anderson can’t be expected to duplicate 50-homer season, so Incaviglia and Davis will have to provide offensive pop.

Boston Red Sox

1996: 85-77, 3rd place, 7 games behind.

Manager: Jimy Williams (1st season).

He’s here: P Bret Saberhagen, OF Shane Mack, P Steve Avery, P John Wasdin.

He’s outta here: P Roger Clemens, OF/DH Jose Canseco, OF Mike Greenwell.

Projected lineup: CF Shane Mack, 3B Tim Naehring, 2B John Valentin, 1B Mo Vaughn, DH Mike Stanley/Reggie Jefferson, LF Wil Cordero, RF Rudy Pemberton/ Troy O’Leary, C Bill Haselman, SS Nomar Garciaparra.

Rotation: LHP Steve Avery, RHP Tom Gordon, RHP Tim Wakefield, RHP Aaron Sele, RHP John Wasdin. Relievers: RHP Heathcliff Slocumb, RHP Mike Maddux, LHP Vaughn Eshelman, LHP Chris Hammond, RHP Rich Garces, RHP Jim Corsi.

Make or break for: General manager Dan Duquette. His hard-line tactics have veterans leaving at first opportunity. Guaranteed no repeat of last year’s franchise-worst 2-12 start; if they stumble, frenzy could start among Boston fans and media.

Look out for: Garciaparra. Good enough to force Valentin to second, homered in first at-bat of first start last year and played well in 24 games. The 23-year-old has been compared to Cincinnati’s Barry Larkin.

Bottom line: Vaughn improved on ‘95 A.L. MVP performance with .326, 44 HRs, 143 RBI, but defense 15 errors - needs work. With Canseco and Clemens gone, he’s carrying even bigger load. Garciaparra could help with DH-heavy lineup that allowed most unearned runs in majors last year.

Detroit Tigers

1996: 53-109, 5th place, 39 games behind.

Manager: Buddy Bell (1st season).

He’s here: OF Vince Coleman, P Dan Miceli, P Todd Jones, SS Orlando Miller, OF Brian Hunter, C Brian Johnson, P Willie Blair, 2B Jody Reed.

He’s outta here: OF Ruben Sierra, C Brad Ausmus, P Jose Lima, P Joey Eischen.

Projected lineup: CF Brian Hunter, 2B Damion Easley, 3B Travis Fryman, 1B Tony Clark, LF Bobby Higginson, RF Melvin Nieves, DH Curtis Pride, SS Orlando Miller, C Brian Johnson.

Rotation: RHP Felipe Lira, RHP Omar Olivares, LHP Justin Thompson, RHP Doug Brocail, RHP Willie Blair. Relievers: RHP Todd Jones, RHP Dan Miceli.

Make or break for: General manager Randy Smith. Gutted team last year with numerous trades and had 53 different players on roster. Result: 109 losses. Still has long way to go if Tigers are to return to excellence of early ‘80s.

Look out for: Tony Clark, best thing about Tigers last season. Hit 27 homers and knocked in 72 runs in only 100 games after promotion from Toledo. Needs to cut down on strikeouts - 127 in ‘96.

Bottom line: Long-term rebuilding continues for Bell, who doesn’t have much to work with and may be in for another long season. No reason to think Tigers won’t be A.L.’s worst squad again.

New York Yankees

1996: 92-70, 1st place, World Series champions.

Manager: Joe Torre (2nd season).

He’s here: P David Wells, P Mike Stanton, OF Mark Whiten.

He’s outta here: RHP John Wetteland, LHP Jimmy Key, C Jim Leyritz, 2B Tony Fernandez.

Projected lineup: LF Tim Raines, 3B Wade Boggs, CF Bernie Williams, 1B Tino Martinez, DH Darryl Strawberry/ Cecil Fielder, RF Paul O’Neill, 2B Mariano Duncan, C Joe Girardi, SS Derek Jeter.

Rotation: RHP David Cone, LHP Andy Pettitte, LHP David Wells, LHP Kenny Rogers, RHP Dwight Gooden. Relievers: RHP Mariano Rivera, LHP Graeme Lloyd, RHP David Weathers, LHP Mike Stanton, RHP Brian Boehringer.

Make or break for: Rogers. The left-hander struggled from moment he arrived in ‘96 and never got out of George Steinbrenner’s doghouse. He managed to win 12 games and didn’t lose in the postseason despite some problems.

Look out for: Nelson. Nasty slider made 6-foot-8 right-hander one of baseball’s top set-up men two years ago with Seattle. Struggled last year - 4.36 ERA, 75 hits in 74-1/3 innings - but is 100 percent after elbow surgery.

Bottom line: Storybook seasons are tough to repeat. Wetteland’s departure forces Rivera into closer role. He’ll make adjustment, but can other relievers fill Rivera’s shoes? Jeter, Williams and Fielder all complained about not making enough money during spring. Torre will be challenged to keep everyone happy again.

Toronto Blue Jays

1996: 74-88, 4th place, 18 games behind.

Manager: Cito Gaston (8th season).

He’s here: P Roger Clemens, OF Orlando Merced, 2B Carlos Garcia, P Dan Plesac, C Benito Santiago, P Robert Person.

He’s outta here: 1B John Olerud.

Projected lineup: CF Otis Nixon, 2B Carlos Garcia, DH Carlos Delgado, 1B Joe Carter, 3B Ed Sprague, C Benito Santiago, RF Shawn Green, LF Orlando Merced, SS Alex Gonzalez.

Rotation: RHP Pat Hentgen, RHP Roger Clemens, RHP Juan Guzman, RHP Erik Hanson, RHP Marty Janzen. Relievers: RHP Mike Timlin, RHP Bill Risley, RHP Tim Crabtree, Paul Spoljaric.

Make or break for: Timlin. Had 31 saves last season, but none came while chasing any pennants. For Jays to contend, and many think they will, his success will be big reason why.

Look out for: Garcia. Batting second, he’ll be expected to move Nixon over while also allowing him to steal bases. Sure-handed fielder, but was on disabled list three times last year with hamstring problems.

Bottom line: With three of best right-handed starting pitchers in A.L., hopes are high for a possible playoff run. Carter and Sprague are only legitimate sluggers in lineup, so Jays will be hard pressed to manufacture runs.


Chicago White Sox

1996: 85-77, 2nd place, 14 games behind.

Manager: Terry Bevington (2nd season).

He’s here: OF Albert Belle, P Jaime Navarro, P Roger McDowell, P Doug Drabek.

He’s outta here: P Alex Fernandez, DH Danny Tartabull, P Kevin Tapani.

Projected lineup: RF Tony Phillips, CF Dave Martinez, 1B Frank Thomas, LF Albert Belle, 3B Chris Snopek, DH Harold Baines, 2B Ray Durham, C Ron Karkovice, SS Ozzie Guillen.

Rotation: RHP Jaime Navarro, LHP Wilson Alvarez, RHP Doug Drabek, RHP James Baldwin, LHP Mike Sirotka. Relievers: RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Tony Castillo, RHP Jeff Darwin, RHP Matt Karchner, RHP Bill Simas, LHP Larry Thomas.

Make or break for: Alvarez. Fernandez’s departure leaves left-hander as staff’s ace. Started strong in ‘96 - 10-4 in first half - but tired and finished with 15 wins and 4.22 ERA.

Look out for: Mike Cameron. Coveted by several teams last season, but Sox wouldn’t part with 24-year-old speedster. Batted .300 at Double-A Birmingham with 28 HRs, 77 RBIs and 39 steals.

Bottom line: Bullpen blew more games than any in A.L. last year. Belle’s arrival balances power in division. Injury has sidelined 3B Robin Ventura.

Cleveland Indians

1996: 99-62, 1st place; lost to Baltimore in playoffs.

Manager: Mike Hargrove (6th season).

He’s here: 3B Matt Williams, P Mike Jackson, OF Kevin Mitchell, OF Chad Curtis, 2B Tony Fernandez, 2B Robby Thompson.

He’s outta here: OF Albert Belle, IF Jose Vizcaino, IF Jeff Kent, P Julian Tavarez, P Dennis Martinez.

Projected lineup: CF Kenny Lofton, SS Omar Vizquel, 1B Jim Thome, 3B Matt Williams, RF Manny Ramirez, DH Julio Franco, LF Brian Giles, C Sandy Alomar, 2B Tony Fernandez.

Rotation: RHP Charles Nagy, RHP Jack McDowell, RHP Orel Hershiser, RHP Chad Ogea, LHP Albie Lopez. Relievers: RHP Jose Mesa, RHP Paul Shuey, RHP Eric Plunk, LHP Paul Assenmacher, LHP Alan Embree, RHP Mike Jackson.

Make or break for: McDowell. Thought to be missing ingredient to bring Cleveland its first World Series title since 1948, but arm troubles resulted in disappointing 13-9 record and 5.11 ERA last year.

Look out for: Giles. Possible everyday left fielder, batted .355 in 51 games with Tribe last year. Showed good power in Triple-A and will improve the Indians in left field, where Belle once roamed.

Bottom line: Best shot at title may have come two years ago. GM John Hart couldn’t lure any high-profile free-agent pitchers, and faces possibility of watching Lofton follow Belle out of town after season. Fireballer Bartolo Colon could wind up being No.5 starter.

Kansas City Royals

1996: 75-86, 5th place, 24 games behind.

Manager: Bob Boone (2nd season).

He’s here: DH Chili Davis, IF Jeff King, SS Jay Bell.

He’s outta here: P Mark Gubicza, 3B Joe Randa.

Projected lineup: 2B Jose Offerman, SS Jay Bell, LF Bip Roberts, DH Chili Davis, 1B Jeff King, 3B Craig Paquette, RF Michael Tucker, C Mike Macfarlane, CF Johnny Damon.

Rotation: RHP Kevin Appier, RHP Tim Belcher, LHP Chris Haney, LHP Jose Rosado, RHP Jim Pittsley. Relievers: RHP Jeff Montgomery, RHP Jaime Bluma, RHP Hipolito Pichardo, RHP Rick Huisman, LHP Jason Jacome.

Make or break for: Montgomery. Team’s career saves leader had ‘96 season shut down in September to have shoulder surgery. Stung by long ball, gave up career-high 14 homers, including five to first batter he faced.

Look out for: Rosado. The 21-year-old started last year in Double-A and finished as one of A.L.’s top rookie pitchers with 8-6 mark in 16 games, 15 after All-Star break.

Bottom line: Boone’s first season ended with first last-place division finish in club history. Davis and King provide some punch to light-hitting lineup that finished last in runs and total bases in league and second to bottom in homers.

Milwaukee Brewers

1996: 80-82, 3rd place, 19 games behind.

Manager: Phil Garner (6th season).

He’s here: P Jeff Ware, P Mark Dewey, P Jeff Adamson.

He’s outta here: IF Pat Listach, OF Turner Ward.

Projected lineup: 2B Fernando Vina, 3B Jeff Cirillo, 1B John Jaha, DH Dave Nilsson, LF Mark Newfield, SS Jose Valentin, RF Jeromy Burnitz, CF Gerald Williams, C Mike Matheny.

Rotation: RHP Ben McDonald, RHP Cal Eldred, LHP Scott Karl, RHP Jeff D’Amico, RHP Tim VanEgmond. Relievers: RHP Mike Fetters, RHP Bob Wickman, LHP Ron Villone, RHP Bryce Florie.

Make or break for: Williams. Once considered future All-Star with Yankees, he’s now other half of Graeme Lloyd deal. Hit only .206 after joining team with no homers and four RBIs in 26 games. Had a six-hit game last season.

Look out for: Newfield. At 24, one of bright lights in team’s future. Batted .307 after coming over from San Diego in Greg Vaughn trade. Good power, with 25-homer potential.

Bottom line: Late-season trades last year has Garner thinking his squad could finish over .500 this year. Solid pitching staff could keep games close, but may have trouble scoring runs. May not have enough talent to contend yet. Club eyeing future with new stadium scheduled to open in 2000.

Minnesota Twins

1996: 78-84, 4th place, 21-1/2 games behind.

Manager: Tom Kelly (9th season).

He’s here: C Terry Steinbach, P Bob Tewksbury, 1B Greg Colbrunn.

He’s outta here: C Matt Walbeck.

Projected lineup: 2B Chuck Knoblauch, CF Rich Becker, DH Paul Molitor, C Terry Steinbach, LF Marty Cordova, RF Roberto Kelly, 3B Todd Walker, 1B Scott Stahoviak, SS Pat Meares.

Rotation: RHP Brad Radke, RHP Frank Rodriguez, RHP Bob Tewksbury, RHP Rick Aguilera, LHP Scott Aldred. Relievers: RHP Mike Trombley, LHP Eddie Guardado.

Make or break for: Roberto Kelly. Playing for his fifth team in six years, 33-year-old played well last year when he could. Hamstring problems limited him to 98 games.

Look out for: Cordova. Followed up ‘95 Rookie of Year season with another solid campaign - .309, 16 HRs, 111 RBIs. Improved defense and set club record with 46 doubles. Could become team’s next superstar following Kirby Puckett’s retirement.

Bottom line: Tom Kelly always gets most out of talent, and he has enough to make this squad sleeper of division. Knoblauch staying put after signing five-year deal gives Twins foundation to work off. Molitor and Steinbach provide excellent leadership. Need a reliable closer.


Anaheim Angels

1996: 70-91, 4th place, 19-1/2 game behind.

Manager: Terry Collins (1st season).

He’s here: P Mark Gubicza, P Allen Watson, C Jim Leyritz, 1B Eddie Murray.

He’s outta here: DH Chili Davis, 1B J.T. Snow, OF/IF Rex Hudler.

Projected lineup: 1B Darin Erstad, 2B Randy Velarde, CF Jim Edmonds, RF Tim Salmon, DH Eddie Murray, LF Garret Anderson, 3B Dave Hollins, C Jim Leyritz, SS Gary DiSarcina.

Rotation: LHP Chuck Finley, LHP Mark Langston, RHP Mark Gubicza, LHP Allen Watson, RHP Jason Dickson. Relievers: RHP Troy Percival, RHP Mike James, LHP Chuck McElroy, LHP Mike Holtz, RHP Pep Harris, RHP Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

Make or break for: Gubicza. Came over in trade that sent Chili Davis to Kansas City. The 34-year-old is 48-68 this decade. Must be an effective No. 3 starter to take some of pressure off Watson.

Look out for: Percival. Angels traded Lee Smith, baseball’s career saves leader, to make him closer. Does that say a little about him? Had 36 saves with 100 strikeouts in 74 innings last year. Could become best closer in game.

Bottom line: Now owned by Disney, some of the franchise’s moves the past few years have been, well, Goofy. A new name (they’re no longer the California Angels), a new logo and new uniforms may still yield same old results. Finley to miss first two months after freak batting-practice injury.

Oakland Athletics

1996: 78-84, 3rd place, 12 games behind.

Manager: Art Howe (1st season).

He’s here: OF/DH Jose Canseco, C Dave Valle.

He’s outta here: SS Mike Bordick, P Jim Corsi, P John Wasdin, C Terry Steinbach.

Projected lineup: SS Tony Batista, 2B Scott Spiezio, LF Jason Giambi, 1B Mark McGwire, DH Jose Canseco, 3B Scott Brosius, RF Matt Stairs/ Geronimo Berroa, CF Ernie Young, C George Williams.

Rotation: RHP Ariel Prieto, RHP Willie Adams, RHP John Wasdin, LHP Mike Mohler, RHP Dave Telgheder/RHP Mike Oquist. Relievers: RHP Bill Taylor, LHP Buddy Groom, RHP Don Wengert.

Make or break for: Canseco. Reunited with fellow Bash Brother McGwire, was limited to just 96 games a year ago yet still had 28 homers and 82 RBIs. One of game’s most feared hitters, when he’s in lineup, that is.

Look out for: Miguel Tejada. The 20-year-old shortstop was named top prospect in California League. Batted .279 with 20 homers and 72 RBIs. Was having exceptional season before breaking his thumb last July.

Bottom line: Surprised many by winning 78 games last year despite midlevel talent. Pitching staff is too young to make A’s a playoff contender, but if Canseco and McGwire stay healthy they’ll be fun to watch.

Seattle Mariners

1996: 85-76, 2nd place, 4-1/2 games behind.

Manager: Lou Piniella (4th season).

He’s here: P Jeff Fassero, P Scott Sanders, 3B Mike Blowers.

He’s outta here: P Mike Jackson, OF Mark Whiten, P Sterling Hitchcock, P Terry Mulholland.

Projected lineup: 2B Joey Cora, SS Alex Rodriguez, CF Ken Griffey Jr., DH Edgar Martinez, RF Jay Buhner, 1B Paul Sorrento, C Dan Wilson, 3B Russ Davis, LF Jose Cruz Jr.

Rotation: LHP Randy Johnson, LHP Jeff Fassero, LHP Jamie Moyer, RHP Scott Sanders, RHP Salomom Torres. Relievers: LHP Norm Charlton, RHP Rafael Carmona, RHP Bobby Ayala.

Make or break for: Charlton. Not the Nasty Boy he used to be. Had inconsistent ‘96 with 20 saves and 4.04 ERA. If Mariners are truly among A.L.’s best he’ll have to deliver.

Look out for: Jose Cruz Jr. Mariners latest Junior. Top draft pick in 1995, the leftfielder played at three minor levels last year and appears ready to fill a historically troublesome spot for club.

Bottom line: If Johnson’s injured back is healthy, Mariners could be team to beat in A.L. Lineup is the most powerful in baseball. Rodriguez ranked among league leaders in 11 offensive categories in ‘96. Griffey needs to avoid injuries that have sidelined him part of past two seasons.

Texas Rangers

1996: 90-72, 1st place, eliminated by New York in playoffs.

Manager: Johnny Oates (2nd season).

He’s here: P John Wetteland, P Xavier Hernandez, OF Mike Devereaux.

He’s outta here: P Mike Stanton, C Dave Valle, SS Kevin Elster, OF Darryl Hamilton.

Projected lineup: 2B Mark McLemore, C Ivan Rodriguez, LF Rusty Greer, RF Juan Gonzalez, 1B Will Clark, 3B Dean Palmer, DH Mickey Tettleton, CF Damon Buford, SS Benji Gil.

Rotation: RHP Ken Hill, RHP John Burkett, LHP Darren Oliver, RHP Bobby Witt, RHP Roger Pavlik. Relievers: RHP John Wetteland, LHP Ed Vosberg, RHP Xavier Hernandez, RHP Danny Patterson.

Make or break for: Gil. Kevin Elster’s departure leaves him as everyday shorstop. Started in ‘95 and played well defensively before a back injury sidelined him in spring training last year.

Look out for: 3B Fernando Tatis. Team’s minor league player of the year in ‘95, he broke left wrist last year. Hit 12 homers in only 85 games at Single-A Charlotte.

Bottom line: Rangers bullpen was reason team didn’t get by Yankees last year, so team gave Wetteland $23 million to close games out. Lineup is loaded and strong starting pitching makes club a threat to win it all.

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