American League team-by-team capsules
April 4, 2009
Tampa Bay Rays
2008: 97-65, first place, AL champions.
Manager: Joe Maddon (fourth season).
He’s Here: DH-OF Pat Burrell, OF Matt Joyce, OF Gabe Kapler, RHP Joe Nelson, RHP Jason Isringhausen.
He’s Outta Here: RF-DH Rocco Baldelli, DH Cliff Floyd, OF-DH Jonny Gomes, RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Trever Miller, OF Eric Hinske.
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Projected Lineup: CF B.J. Upton (.273, 9 HRs, 67 RBIs, 44 steals; will begin season on disabled list), LF Carl Crawford (.273, 8, 57), 3B Evan Longoria (.272, 27, 85 in 122 games), 1B Carlos Pena (.247, 31, 102, 9 bases-loaded walks), DH Pat Burrell (.250, 33, 86 with Phillies ), RF Gabe Gross (.242, 13, 38 in 127 games), C Dioner Navarro (team-high .295, 7, 54), 2B Akinori Iwamura (.274, 6, 48, team-high 172 hits), SS Jason Bartlett (.286, 1, 37).
Rotation: RH James Shields (14-8, 3.56 ERA, 160 Ks, staff-high 215 IP), LH Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49, staff-high 166 Ks in 152 1-3 innings), RH Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70), RH Andy Sonnanstine (13-9, 4.38), RH Jason Hammel (4-4, 4.60, 40 appearances, 5 starts) or RH Jeff Niemann (2-2, 5.06 in 5 games, 2 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Grant Balfour (6-2, 1.54 in 51 games, 82 Ks in 58 1-3 innings), LH J.P. Howell (6-1, 2.22 in 64 games, RH Troy Percival (2-1, 4.53 28/32 saves), RH Joe Nelson (3-1, 2.00 in 59 games for Marlins), LH Brian Shouse (5-1, 2.81 in 69 games for Brewers), RH Dan Wheeler (5-6, 3.12 in staff-high 70 games), RH Jason Isringhausen (1-5, 5.70, 12 saves in 42 games for Cardinals; will begin season on DL following elbow surgery).
Hot Spots: Right field and No. 5 starter. The Rays addressed the need for a right-handed power hitter by signing ex-Phillies slugger Burrell, who’ll be the primary designated hitter. But they still haven’t settled on a regular right fielder, meaning it’ll be handled by platoon with Gross and Gabe Kapler likely sharing most of the work. Top pitching prospect David Price was impressive in relief following a September call-up, but he’ll likely begin the season at Triple-A Durham after competing to be the No. 5 starter in spring training. The Rays are determined to bring him along slowly. The fifth starter’s job will go to Hammel or Niemann, with the loser of that competition heading to the bullpen as a long reliever. Ben Zobrist could be the opening-day center fielder with Upton expected to sidelined for the first week of the season while recovering from shoulder surgery and a bruised left hand.
Stat Sheet: The Rays made one of the biggest turnarounds in major league history by improving in several statistical categories, including going from last in fewest runs allowed (944) in 2007 to tied for third (671) on the way to 97 wins last season. The pitching staff lowered its ERA from a baseball-worst 5.53 two years ago to 3.82 in 2008. An improved bullpen limited opposing hitters to a major league-low .220 average while posting a 3.55 ERA compared to .303 and 6.16 in 2007. Tampa Bay’s 57-24 home record was the best in the majors, and the Rays were at their best against the best ” going 22-9 against first-place teams and winning eight of 10 series.
Bottom Line: Now that the Rays have had a taste of success, they’re hungry for more. Anything less than returning to the World Series ” and winning ” will be a disappointment. The road back will be difficult. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox made changes this winter in hopes of reclaiming supremacy in the AL East, however the Rays think their better, too, after bolstering the bullpen and adding Burrell to the middle of a potent lineup. The youngest starting rotation to make the postseason since the 1986 Mets has a chance to be better, too, with Shields, Kazmir and Garza all possessing the talent to be potential aces, and the hard-throwing Price eventually joining them.
Boston Red Sox
2008: 95-67, second place, wild card.
Manager: Terry Francona (sixth season).
He’s Here: RHP Brad Penny, RHP John Smoltz, RHP Takashi Saito, RHP Ramon Ramirez, OF Rocco Baldelli, C George Kottaras.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Curt Schilling, RHP Mike Timlin, OF Coco Crisp, INF Alex Cora, 1B Sean Casey, RH Paul Byrd, C Kevin Cash.
Projected Lineup: CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.280, 9 HRs, 47 RBIs, 50 steals), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.326, 17, 83, 213 hits, 118 runs, AL MVP), DH David Ortiz (.264, 23, 89), 1B Kevin Youkilis (.312, 29, 115, .569 SLG), RF J.D. Drew (.280, 19, 64, .480 OBP), LF Jason Bay (.293, 9, 37 in 49 games with Boston after trade from Pittsburgh; .286, 31, 101 overall), 3B Mike Lowell (.274, 17, 73), C Jason Varitek (.220, 13, 43, 122K in 423 AB), SS Jed Lowrie (.258, 2, 46).
Rotation: RH Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03 ERA), LH Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21, staff-high 210 1-3 IP), RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90, 94 BB, 128H in 167 2-3 IP), RH Tim Wakefield (10-11, 4.13), RH Brad Penny (6-9, 6.27 with Dodgers).
Key Relievers: RH Jonathan Papelbon (5-4, 2.34 ERA, 41/46 saves), RH Takashi Saito (4-4, 2.49 with Dodgers), RH Justin Masterson (6-5, 3.16), LH Hideki Okajima (3-2, 2.61), LH Javier Lopez (2-0, 2.43), RH Ramon Ramirez (3-2, 2.64 with Kansas City), RH Manny Delcarmen (1-2, 3.27).
Hot Spots: Third base and shortstop. Lowell, the MVP of Boston’s 2007 World Series sweep of Colorado, was sidelined at the end of last season with a hip injury and underwent surgery in October. He spent the early part of spring training working on his rehabilitation but when he began playing, he did well, even showing some power. Swinging the bat hasn’t been a problem for him and the last obstacle he worked on overcoming was running. He should be OK. If there’s a setback, Youkilis will move over from first base. Lowrie won the shortstop competition by default when Julio Lugo tore cartilage in his right knee and was operated on March 17. He was expected to miss three to four weeks, but by the time he returns it might be tough to displace Lowrie, who had an outstanding spring. An injury to Lugo in the middle of last season opened the door for Lowrie, who was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket and had a decent rookie year despite a wrist injury that forced him to adjust his batting stroke.
Stat Sheet: The Red Sox led the majors in on-base percentage (.358) and walks (646) and were third overall with a .280 batting average and 845 runs. Their 4.01 ERA was tied for fourth in the AL, but they issued the sixth-most walks in the league (548) in large part because of the 94 Matsuzaka allowed. Pedroia was second in the AL with a .326 batting average, behind Joe Mauer’s .328. He tied for the major league lead with 213 hits and was second with 118 runs. Youkilis, who finished third in MVP voting, was third in the AL with a .569 slugging average and fourth with 115 RBIs. A wrist injury limited Ortiz’s production.
Bottom Line: If the Red Sox are healthy they should make another strong run at the postseason with a very deep pitching staff. Lowell and Ortiz have shown no sign that last year’s injuries are a problem. There should be a lot less drama in Boston’s clubhouse during its first full season without Manny Ramirez, shipped to the Dodgers at the trade deadline last year. General manager Theo Epstein stuck with his low-risk, high-reward approach by signing three top pitchers who were slowed by injuries last season. Penny had shoulder problems in 2008 and was hampered during spring training but pitched well when he returned to action. Saito’s elbow slowed him last season but the Dodgers’ former closer has looked sharp. And Smoltz is eager to pitch after offseason shoulder surgery, but the Red Sox are holding him back. He’s expected to pitch in June as a starter in hopes that he’ll be strong in September and, possibly, October. The AL East is strong with division champion Tampa Bay and the additions of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to the rival Yankees.
New York Yankees
2008: 89-73, third place.
Manager: Joe Girardi (second season).
He’s Here: 1B Mark Teixeira, LHP CC Sabathia, RHP A.J. Burnett, OF-1B Nick Swisher, INF Angel Berroa, RHP Brett Tomko, RHP Jason Johnson, C Kevin Cash, RHP Sergio Mitre.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Mike Mussina, RF Bobby Abreu, 1B Jason Giambi, C Ivan Rodriguez, RHP Sidney Ponson, RHP Darrell Rasner, INF Wilson Betemit, RHP Carl Pavano, C Chad Moeller, RHP Chris Britton, OF Justin Christian.
Projected Lineup: SS Derek Jeter (.300, 11, 69, .363 OBP), LF Johnny Damon (.303, 17 HRs, 71 RBIs, 29 SBs, 95 runs, .375 OBP), 1B Mark Teixeira (.308, 33, 121, 41 2Bs, 102 runs, .410 OBP, .552 SLG with Braves and Angels), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.302, 35, 103, 18 SBs, .573 SLG; out until at least May following hip surgery), DH Hideki Matsui (.294, 9, 45 in 93 games before knee surgery), C Jorge Posada (.268, 3, 22 in 51 games before right shoulder surgery), 2B Robinson Cano (.271, 14, 72, .305 OBP), RF Xavier Nady (.305, 25, 97, .510 SLG with Pirates and Yankees), CF Brett Gardner (.228, 0, 16, 13 SBs, .283 OBP in 127 big league at-bats).
Rotation: LH CC Sabathia (17-10, 2.70 ERA, 251 Ks, led majors with 253 IP, 10 CGs, 5 shutouts in 35 starts with Cleveland and Milwaukee), RH A.J. Burnett (18-10, 4.07, AL-best 231 Ks, career-high 221 1-3 IP with Toronto), RH Chien-Ming Wang (8-2, 4.07 in 15 starts before season-ending foot injury), LH Andy Pettitte (14-14, 4.54, 204 IP, 33 starts), RH Joba Chamberlain (4-3, 2.60, 118 Ks, 100 1-3 IP in 42 games, including 12 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Mariano Rivera (6-5, 1.40, 39/40 saves, 77 Ks, 6 BBs, 4 HRs allowed, 70 2-3 IP, 64 games), LH Damaso Marte (5-3, 4.02, 5 saves in 72 games with Pirates and Yankees), RH Brian Bruney (3-0, 1.83, 1 save in 32 games), RH Jose Veras (5-3, 3.59 in 60 games), RH Edwar Ramirez (5-1, 3.90, 1 save in 55 games), LH Phil Coke (1-0, 0.61, 14 Ks, 2 BBs in 12 games, 14 2-3 IP), RH Jonathan Albaladejo (0-1, 3.95 in 7 games).
Hot Spots: Third base and center field. Cody Ransom will get the first crack to be Rodriguez’s fill-in at third while the three-time MVP recuperates. A good athlete, Ransom was 13-for-43 (.302) at the plate last year with four home runs, three doubles and eight RBIs. He’ll probably bat eighth for now. The 33-year-old infielder has seven homers and 24 RBIs in 183 at-bats over six major league seasons. Rodriguez, who has 553 career homers and 1,606 RBIs, will need another, more extensive operation on his right hip after the season. Even when he gets back, he’ll be playing with a new kind of pressure. Always fodder for the New York tabloids, A-Rod admitted this winter that he used steroids from 2001-03 while playing for Texas. With an impressive spring, the speedy Gardner beat out Melky Cabrera for the starting job in center. Now, can Gardner hit enough at the big league level?
Stat Sheet: Much was made about New York’s inconsistent starting pitching the past few years, and those concerns were legitimate. But it was on offense where the Yankees dropped off dramatically last season ” due in large part to the injuries to Posada and Matsui, plus Cano’s slump. New York ranked seventh in the AL in runs last year with 789, after leading the league with 968 runs in 2007 and 930 in 2006. The lineup is filled with past-their-prime stars who need to remain healthy and productive. Looking for a spark, Girardi has decided to flip-flop Jeter and Damon at the top of the batting order, with Jeter now leading off and Damon batting No. 2.
Bottom Line: After missing a postseason for the first time since 1993, the Yankees whipped out their checkbook. They spent $423.5 million on Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett, defying the struggling economy and aggravating other teams. With the club seeking its first World Series championship since 2000, there is immense pressure on Sabathia, Teixeira, Girardi and GM Brian Cashman to deliver during the team’s first season in the new Yankee Stadium (price tag: $1.5 billion). Spring training was filled with A-Rod drama, but it probably allowed the big-name newcomers to settle in away from the spotlight, which could prove beneficial. On the field, age and injuries are the most pressing matters. Rivera, now 39, is coming off shoulder surgery. So is the 37-year-old Posada. New York needs them both healthy in the worst way. Wang is back from a foot injury that cost him the final 3 1/2 months of last season. Matsui is recovering from his second knee surgery in two years, one on each leg. If he returns to form, where and when will Swisher play? With Chamberlain on an innings limit in a potentially dominant rotation, the setup situation in the bullpen could become a question mark.
Toronto Blue Jays
2008: 86-76, fourth place.
Manager: Cito Gaston (first full season of current tenure, 11th with Blue Jays overall).
He’s Here: C Michael Barrett, 1B-DH Kevin Millar.
He’s Outta Here: RHP A.J. Burnett, OF Kevin Mench, LHP John Parrish, OF Brad Wilkerson, C Gregg Zaun.
Projected Lineup: SS Marco Scutaro (.267, 7 HRs, 60 RBIs), 2B Aaron Hill (.263, 2, 20 in 55 games before season-ending concussion), RF Alex Rios (.291, 15, 79, 47 2B, 32 SB), CF Vernon Wells (.300, 20, 78 in 108 games), 1B Lyle Overbay (.270, 15, 69), 3B Scott Rolen (.262, 11, 50 in 115 games), DH Adam Lind (.282, 9, 40 in 88 games), LF Travis Snider (.301, 2, 13 in 24 games), C Rod Barajas (.249, 11, 49).
Rotation: RH Roy Halladay (20-11, 2.78 ERA, AL-high 246 IP), LH David Purcey (3-6, 5.54 in 12 starts), RH Jesse Litsch (13-9, 3.58), LH Ricky Romero (8-8, 4.57 at Double-A and Triple-A), RH Scott Richmond (1-3, 4.00 in 5 starts).
Key Relievers: LH B.J. Ryan (2-4, 2.95, 32/36 saves), LH Scott Downs (0-3, 1.78, 5 saves), LH Jesse Carlson (7-2, 2.25), LH Brian Tallet (1-2, 2.88), RH Brandon League (1-2, 2.18).
Hot Spots: Rotation and closer. A strength last season, Toronto’s rotation is severely depleted. Burnett opted out of the final two years of his contract after posting a career-high 18 wins and signed with the division-rival Yankees. Shaun Marcum will miss the season after elbow surgery and fellow right-hander Dustin McGowan won’t be back until June, if at all this season, following shoulder surgery. After the dependable Halladay and the dogged Litsch, Toronto will break camp with the unheralded Richmond and two young left-handers rounding out the starting five. Purcey, 26, joined the rotation last August and showed some promise while Romero, 24, was Toronto’s first-round draft pick in 2005 and won a spot after putting in extra work with pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. Waiting in the wings at Triple-A are two more young lefties: Brad Mills, 24, who was in the mix for a rotation spot until the final week of spring training, and Brett Cecil, 22, a first-round pick in 2007 who rose from Class-A to Triple-A last summer. At the back end of the bullpen, the Blue Jays are worried by a drop-off in Ryan’s velocity, and could start the season with Downs closing games. Ryan missed most of the 2007 season after Tommy John surgery and hasn’t been the same since.
Stat Sheet: Toronto’s pitchers led the major leagues with a 3.49 ERA in 2008 but the hitters let them down time and again. Among AL teams, the Blue Jays ranked in the bottom third of major offensive categories including batting average (.264), home runs (126), runs (714) and slugging percentage (.399). With a young, inexperienced rotation, the pitching staff will be hard-pressed to repeat its 2008 performance. Toronto’s lineup, similar to last season, needs to show improvement.
Bottom Line: The Blue Jays didn’t make a single move on the free-agent market and only gave out minor league contracts to newcomers this winter. Blame that on the recession, the declining value of the Canadian dollar and a leadership vacuum in the front office, where Paul Beeston replaced departed president Paul Godfrey on an interim basis last fall and has yet to hire a permanent replacement. Rumors persist that he might keep the job himself. Complicating matters, team owner Ted Rogers died in December, leaving the organization in flux. The one steady hand is that of Gaston, who replaced John Gibbons last June. The entire team, particularly the hitters, improved under Gaston’s calm leadership. Having him in the dugout from the start this season should be a big plus for everyone, especially young sluggers Lind and Snider. The path to contention in the competitive AL East is tougher now that Tampa Bay has joined Boston and New York at the top of the division. Toronto isn’t likely to break through in 2009, but with emerging talent getting a chance to play at the major league level, the Blue Jays hope they’ll be ready for a Rays-like push to the playoffs next year.
2008: 68-93, fifth place.
Manager: Dave Trembley (third season).
He’s Here: INF-OF Ty Wigginton, RHP Koji Uehara, LHP Mark Hendrickson, SS Cesar Izturis, C Gregg Zaun, INF-OF Ryan Freel, OF Felix Pie, LHP Rich Hill, INF Chris Gomez, INF Robert Andino, C Chad Moeller, RHP Adam Eaton.
He’s Outta Here: C Ramon Hernandez, LHP Garrett Olson, SS Luis Hernandez, SS Freddie Bynum, SS Brandon Fahey, SS Alex Cintron, SS Juan Castro, SS Eider Torres, RHP Daniel Cabrera, RHP Lance Cormier, OF Jay Payton, RHP Randor Bierd, RHP Hayden Penn.
Projected Lineup: 2B Brian Roberts (.296, 9 HRs, 57 RBIs, 40 SB), CF Adam Jones (.270, 9, 57), RF Nick Markakis (.306, 20, 87), 1B Aubrey Huff (.304, 32, 108), 3B Melvin Mora (.285, 23, 104), DH Luke Scott (.257, 23, 65), LF Felix Pie (.241, 1, 10 with Chicago Cubs), C Gregg Zaun (.237, 6, 30 with Toronto), SS Cesar Izturis (.263, 1, 24, 26 SB with St. Louis).
Rotation: RH Jeremy Guthrie (10-12, 3.63 ERA, staff-high 190 2-3 IP), RH Koji Uehara (6-5, 3.81 with Yomiuri in Japan), LH Mark Hendrickson (7-8, 5.45 with Florida), RH Adam Eaton (4-8, 5.81 with Philadelphia), RH Alfredo Simon (0-0, 6.23 in four games).
Key Relievers: LH George Sherrill (3-5, 4.73, 31/37 saves), RH Chris Ray (injured in 2008), RH Jim Johnson (2-4, 2.23 ERA), LH Jamie Walker (1-3, 6.87, 53 hits in 38 IP).
Hot Spot: Starting rotation. The Orioles have settled on Guthrie and Uehara, but the last three spots remained up for grabs just days before the season opener. Even if Trembley decides to fill out the starting five with Eaton, Hendrickson and Simon, the chances are there will be plenty of shuffling as the season wears on. There are several capable arms in the minor leagues, but the Orioles don’t want to rush these valued pitchers to the big leagues during a season in which the team seems incapable of contending for a playoff spot.
Stat Sheet: The Orioles allowed 869 runs in 2008, including 213 in which a runner reached by a walk or HBP. In contrast, Baltimore scored 782 runs, but only 141 reached via a walk or HBP. The departure of Cabrera, who walked 90 and hit 18 batters, should help the Orioles reduce their free passes.
Bottom Line: The Orioles improved their defense and bullpen from a year ago, and the starting lineup appears solid. But the lack of starting pitching and the strength of the AL East means Baltimore appears destined for another last-place finish. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has done a fine job of stockpiling young talent, including catcher Matt Wieters, but it should be another year or two before the Orioles begin making noise in baseball’s toughest division.
Chicago White Sox
2008: 89-74, first place.
Manager: Ozzie Guillen (sixth season).
He’s Here: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Jeff Marquez, INF Wilson Betemit, INF Jayson Nix, INF Brent Lillibridge, INF Dayan Viciedo.
He’s Outta Here: OF-1B Nick Swisher, RHP Javier Vazquez, OF Ken Griffey Jr., SS Orlando Cabrera, 3B Joe Crede, LHP Boone Logan, INF Juan Uribe.
Projected Lineup: CF DeWayne Wise (.248, 6 HRs, 18 RBIs in 57 games, 129 ABs), 2B Chris Getz (.302, 11, 52 at Triple-A Charlotte), LF Carlos Quentin (.288, 36, 100, 20 HBP), DH Jim Thome (.245, 34, 90), RF Jermaine Dye (.292, 34, 96), 1B Paul Konerko (.240, 22, 62 in 122 games), SS Alexei Ramirez (.290, 21, 77), C A.J. Pierzynski (.281, 13, 60), 3B Josh Fields (.246, 10, 35 at Triple-A Charlotte).
Rotation: LH Mark Buehrle (15-12, 3.79 ERA, 218 2-3 IP), RH Gavin Floyd (17-8, 3.84, 206 1-3 IP, 30 HRs allowed), LH John Danks (12-9, 3.32), RH Jose Contreras (7-6, 4.54, 20 starts), RH Bartolo Colon (4-2, 3.92 in 7 starts with Red Sox) or LH Clayton Richard (2-5, 6.04 in 13 appearances, 8 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Bobby Jenks (3-1, 2.63, 30/34 saves), LH Matt Thornton (5-3, 2.67, 74 appearances), RH Scott Linebrink (2-2, 3.69), RH Octavio Dotel (4-4, 3.76), RH D.J. Carrasco (1-0, 3.96).
Hot Spots: The White Sox have been trying to resolve their center field situation since Aaron Rowand was traded for Thome following their 2005 championship season. Now, Wise gets his chance to hold down the job. Brian Anderson, who was given a shot at being the starter in 2006 but didn’t hit, will probably bat leadoff against lefties, however. Fields, who spent an injury-plagued season in the minors a year ago, must return to his form of 2007 when he hit 23 homers in 100 games while filling in for Crede at third base. Getz won a spring training competition to be the starter at second base and the White Sox have shifted last year’s outstanding rookie, Ramirez, from second base to shortstop after not re-signing Cabrera. There’s also the back of the rotation to sort out, to see if Contreras (Achilles’) and Colon (elbow chips) can make it back from surgeries.
Stat Sheet: The White Sox led the majors in homers (235) last year, playing in a home park that produces plenty of long balls. Chicago was hoping to improve its speed at the top of the lineup and create more RBI situations for Thome, Dye and Konerko, but whether the White Sox have a leadoff hitter capable of replacing Cabrera is a big question mark. They need Konerko to shake off his slump from last year, when he was hampered by injuries.
Bottom Line: Can Quentin be the same hitter he was before breaking a bone in his wrist in a fit of frustration with a month left last season? Will Ramirez be able to adjust to the pitchers who now know him after his strong rookie season? Buehrle was roughed up a couple of times in spring training and has pitched more than 200 innings for eight straight seasons, but is still considered the ace despite the breakthrough seasons a year ago of Floyd and Danks. There is the big question of health at the back of the rotation with Contreras and Colon. Jenks lost velocity off his fastball but is still considered a top closer, and the White Sox need a healthy Linebrink as a setup man. With Cleveland improving, Minnesota always tough and Detroit a team full of stars, defending the AL Central title will be a huge challenge.
2008: 88-75, second place (lost tiebreaker to White Sox for division title).
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (eighth season).
He’s Here: 3B Joe Crede, RHP R.A. Dickey.
He’s Outta Here: SS Adam Everett, LHP Dennys Reyes, LHP Eddie Guardado.
Projected Lineup: CF Denard Span (.294, 6 HRs, 47 RBIs, 18 SB, .387 OBP in 93 games) or Carlos Gomez (.258, 7, 59, 79 runs, 33 SB, 7 3Bs, 142 Ks), 2B Alexi Casilla (.281, 7, 50, 15 2Bs, 58 runs in 50 games), C Joe Mauer (AL-leading .328, 9, 85, 31 2Bs, 84 BBs, .431 OBP), 1B Justin Morneau (.300, 23, 129, 47 2Bs, .499 SLG), RF Michael Cuddyer (.249, 3, 36 in 71 games), DH Jason Kubel (.272, 20, 78, .471 SLG), LF Delmon Young (.290, 10, 69), 3B Joe Crede (.248, 17, 55, .460 SLG in 97 games with White Sox), SS Nick Punto (.284, 2, 28, 19 2Bs, 15 SBs in 99 games).
Rotation: RH Scott Baker (11-4, 3.45 ERA, 141 Ks, 172 1-3 IP), LH Francisco Liriano (6-4, 3.91, 67 Ks, 76 IP), RH Kevin Slowey (12-11, 3.99, 24 BBs, 22 HRs, 160 1-3 IP), RH Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.05, 224 H, 193 1-3 IP), LH Glen Perkins (12-4, 4.41, 183 H, 151 IP).
Key Relievers: RH Joe Nathan (1-2, 1.33 ERA, 39/45 saves, 74 Ks in 65 2-3 IP), RH Matt Guerrier (6-9, 5.19, 84 H, 47 R, 76 1-3 IP), RH Jesse Crain (5-4, 3.59, 50 Ks, 62 2-3 IP), LH Craig Breslow (0-2, 1.91, 47 IP).
Hot Spots: Catcher and outfield. Unquestionably the biggest concern for the Twins heading into the regular season is the health of Mauer. The All-Star backstop had surgery in the offseason to repair a blockage in his kidney, but hasn’t played all spring because of pain in his lower back. Mauer said he doubts he’ll be ready for opening day, meaning the Twins likely will have to lean on veteran backup Mike Redmond until Mauer works his way back into the lineup. Redmond is one of the most beloved leaders in the clubhouse, a capable handler of pitchers who can swing a decent stick. But he’s no Mauer. In the outfield, four players are jockeying for three spots. Young has had an excellent spring, while Span has struggled at the plate. Now healthy, Cuddyer is back in right field after his 2008 season was wrecked by injuries to his hands and foot. That means Span, Gomez and Young likely will rotate in the other two spots unless someone grabs hold of a job and doesn’t let go.
Stat Sheet: The Twins have long been one of the league’s least homer-happy teams. Last season they hit just 111 HRs, fewer than every team in the majors besides San Francisco (94). That’s why it is so important for them to get Crede back to his old form after major back operations each of the last two seasons. He hit 30 homers in 2006 and 16 last season before the All-Star break.
Bottom Line: After losing 1-0 to the White Sox in a tiebreaker for the AL Central title last year, the Twins have stayed close to status quo ” a stark contrast from the previous offseason when Torii Hunter left and Johan Santana was traded. With a young team that surprised most observers by coming within one win of the playoffs, there were plenty of players worth keeping and few glaring holes to fill. The rotation should only be better, and a healthy Cuddyer ought to give the middle of the order a boost. Questions remain, however, about Mauer and the bullpen. Nathan’s setup men faltered down the stretch last season, and unless a late addition to the roster is made the Twins must count on improvement from Crain and Guerrier.
2008: 81-81, third place.
Manager: Eric Wedge (seventh season).
He’s Here: RHP Kerry Wood, INF Mark DeRosa, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Carl Pavano, RHP Vinnie Chulk.
He’s Outta Here: OF Franklin Gutierrez, OF Jason Michaels, RHP Tom Mastny, RHP Joe Borowski, RHP Brendan Donnelly, C Sal Fasano, RHP Edward Mujica.
Projected Lineup: CF Grady Sizemore (.268, 33 HRs, 90 RBIs, 38 SB), 3B Mark DeRosa (.285, career-high 21 HRs, 87 RBIs with Cubs), DH Travis Hafner (.197, 5, 24 in 57 games), C Victor Martinez (.278, 2, 35, played 10 games at 1B), SS Jhonny Peralta (.276, 23, 89, 42 doubles), RF Shin-Soo Choo (.309, 14, 66 in 94 games, hit .343 in second half), 1B Ryan Garko (.274, 14, 90), LF Ben Francisco (.266, 15, 54, 32 doubles), 2B Asdrubal Cabrera (.259, 6, 47 in 114 games, demoted to Triple-A in June).
Rotation: LH Cliff Lee (22-3, 2.54 ERA, Cy Young winner), RH Fausto Carmona (8-7, 5.44), RH Carl Pavano (4-2, 5.77 in 7 games for Yankees; 45 innings in last 3 seasons), LH Scott Lewis (4-0, 2.63 ERA), RH Anthony Reyes (2-1, 1.83 in 6 starts with Indians; 2-1, 4.91 in 10 relief outings for St. Louis).
Key Relievers: RH Kerry Wood (5-4, 3.25, 34/40 saves for Cubs), RH Jensen Lewis (0-4, 3.82, 13/13 saves), LH Rafael Perez (4-4, 3.54, 73 games), RH Rafael Betancourt (3-4, 5.07, 69 games), RH Masa Kobayashi (4-5, 4.53), RH Joe Smith (6-3, 3.55 in 82 games for Mets).
Hot Spots: DH ” and a rotation loaded with question marks. Can Lee, so dominant last year, come close to matching his gaudy numbers now that he’s the staff ace? He became the club’s first 20-game winner in 34 years and embraced the challenge of leading the team following the trade of CC Sabathia. Lee might have to be as good for the Indians to challenge for a pennant. Carmona must stay healthy, rebound from a disappointing season and look more like the pitcher who won 19 games in 2007. Out of the choking Yankees pinstripes, Pavano has gotten a new lease on a career he’s hoping to resurrect. His arm is healthy, but is he healed from the trauma of four mostly idle years in the Bronx? Hafner had offseason surgery on a right shoulder that weakened to the point last season that it hurt him to pick up a fork. The full-time DH doesn’t drive the ball the way he used to, and without a big bat in the middle of their lineup, the Indians just aren’t as good.
Stat Sheet: This one hurts. The Indians set a major league record last season by being hit by a pitch 103 times, breaking the previous mark of 100 held by the 1997 Houston Astros. Garko was hit a team-leading 15 times and the thumpings contributed to the club’s .339 on-base percentage.
Bottom Line: The Indians went 44-28 after July 10 last season, but the late surge ” mostly done without a healthy Hafner or Martinez ” wasn’t enough to offset a stumbling start, the direct result of a combustive bullpen and former closer Borowski’s slippage. Wood is an immediate upgrade and the 31-year-old gives the club its first no-nonsense, hard-throwing closer since Jose Mesa in the 1990s. Martinez will get more playing time at first base as backup catcher Kelly Shoppach (21 homers) showed he can be an everyday player. Wedge might have to rely on his bullpen to keep his team close in the first two months while the starters settle in. Sizemore is arguably the AL’s best all-around player and potentially the next 40-40 club member. In the past four years, the up-and-down Indians have surpassed 90 wins in 2005 (93) and 2007 (96) and struggled in 2006 (78) and 2008 (81). It’s an odd-numbered year, and more importantly, it’s a winnable division.
Kansas City Royals
2008: 75-87, fourth place.
Manager: Trey Hillman (second season).
He’s Here: CF Coco Crisp, 1B Mike Jacobs, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, INF-OF Willie Bloomquist, RHP Juan Cruz, RHP Sidney Ponson, RHP Doug Waechter, bench coach John Gibbons, hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Ramon Ramirez, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, RHP Leo Nunez, INF Esteban German, 1B-OF Ross Gload, OF Joey Gathright, RHP Joel Peralta, RHP Kip Wells, LHP Jimmy Gobble, RHP Hideo Nomo.
Projected Lineup: CF Coco Crisp (.283, 7 HRs, 41 RBIs, 20 SB with Boston), SS Mike Aviles (.325, 10, 51 in 102 games), LF David DeJesus (.307, 12, 73), RF Jose Guillen, (.264, 20, 97), 1B Mike Jacobs (.247, 32, 93 for Florida), DH Billy Butler (.275, 11, 55), 3B Alex Gordon (.260, 16, 59), C Miguel Olivo (.255, 12, 41), 2B Alberto Callaspo (.305, 0, 16) or Willie Bloomquist (.279, 0, 9 in 71 games with Seattle).
Rotation: RH Gil Meche (14-11, 3.98 ERA, staff-high 201 IP), RH Zack Greinke (13-10, 3.47, tied Meche with 183 Ks), RH Kyle Davies (9-7, 4.06), RH Sidney Ponson (8-5, 5.04 with Rangers and Yankees), LH Horacio Ramirez (1-4, 4.34 in 32 relief appearances with Royals and White Sox).
Key Relievers: RH Joakim Soria (2-3, 1.60, 42/45 saves), RH Juan Cruz, (4-0, 2.61 in 57 games with Arizona), RH Kyle Farnsworth (2-3, 4.48 in 61 games with Yankees and Tigers).
Hot Spots: First and second base. The Royals might go into the season still wrestling with some sort of rotation system at second between Callaspo, Bloomquist and converted third baseman-outfielder Mark Teahen. Callaspo offers a little more offense, but Bloomquist, who has the versatility Hillman likes, is better defensively. The Royals have spent four years trying to find a position for Teahen and now they’re attempting to fit his rangy 6-foot-3 frame at second. First base also is crowded, but Jacobs has the inside track. Olivo was awarded the catching job before spring training but a slimmed-down and rejuvenated John Buck had a good spring and could challenge.
Stat Sheet: In two years, Gordon, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft, has hit .250 and struck out 257 times. Will he put two mediocre seasons behind him and begin producing the way everyone always expected? If the Royals are to make a big move and actually compete in the AL Central, he must. A breakthrough by Butler also is essential.
Bottom Line: Only once since 1994 have the Royals put together a winning season. Yet they’ve improved each of the past three years, and they had a strong September, winning all but three of their final 13 games to push their 2008 win total to 75 and climb out of the AL Central cellar by a full game over Detroit. Two key newcomers could be Gibbons and Seitzer on the coaching staff. Gibbons, fired as Toronto manager, will lend an experienced voice in the dugout. In Hillman’s first season, he was the only manager in the majors who never played or coached in the big leagues. Seitzer, a former Royals All-Star who has made his home in Kansas City for more than 20 years, has been a big hit with the batters, especially Gordon, who began working with him in December. The rotation looks top-heavy with Meche and Greinke, but Soria is one of the league’s top closers. Right-hander Luke Hochevar, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, was optioned to Triple-A Omaha. So was Brian Bannister, who was 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA as a rookie in 2007 but 9-16 with a 5.76 ERA in 32 starts last year.
2008: 74-88, fifth place.
Manager: Jim Leyland (fourth season).
He’s Here: RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Edwin Jackson, SS Adam Everett, C Gerald Laird, OF Josh Anderson.
He’s Outta Here: SS Edgar Renteria, DH Gary Sheffield, RHP Todd Jones, LHP Kenny Rogers.
Projected Lineup: CF Curtis Granderson (.280, 22 HRs, 66 RBIs, 13 triples), 2B Placido Polanco (.307, 8, 58, 34 doubles), RF Magglio Ordonez (.317, 21, 103, .374 OBP), 1B Miguel Cabrera (.292, 37, 127, 36 doubles), LF Carlos Guillen (.285, 10, 54), DH Marcus Thames (.241, 25, 56 in 316 ABs), C Gerald Laird (.276, 6, 41 in 95 games with Texas), 3B Brandon Inge (.205, 11, 51), SS Adam Everett (.213, 2, 20 in 48 games with Minnesota).
Rotation: RH Justin Verlander (11-17, 4.84 ERA, 201 innings), RH Edwin Jackson (14-11, 4.42 with Tampa Bay), RH Armando Galarraga (13-7, 3.73, 178 2-3 innings), RH Zach Miner (8-5, 4.27 in 45 games/13 starts), RH Rick Porcello (8-6, 2.66 in 24 starts at Class-A Lakeland).
Key Relievers: RH Brandon Lyon (3-5, 4.70, 26/31 saves with Arizona), RH Fernando Rodney (0-6, 4.91, 13/19 saves), RH Joel Zumaya (0-2, 3.47; will miss start of season with sore shoulder), LH Bobby Seay (1-2, 4.47, 60 games), RH Ryan Perry (1-2, 3.86, 4 saves in 12 games at Class-A Lakeland).
Hot Spots: Rotation and bullpen. The Tigers began spring training with a lot of questions about their rotation and relievers, and didn’t answer many of them. Verlander, Jackson and Galarraga could quiet a lot of concerns by pitching to their potential. Jeremy Bonderman’s shoulder problems opened the door for Porcello to win a spot in the rotation even though he has spent his lone season of pro ball at Class-A. A prized prospect, the 20-year-old Porcello was a first-round draft pick in 2007. Bonderman will begin the season on the disabled list as he works his way back from shoulder surgery that sidelined him for most of last year. The better the starters are, the less Detroit will have to worry about its seemingly shaky bullpen. Lyon was signed to replace the retired Jones and looked like the poor pitcher he was late last season in Arizona when he gave up four straight homers in a spring training game. Rodney will be given a chance to win the job ” again ” while Zumaya works on returning to his fireballing form. Perry, 22, was drafted in the first round last year out of Arizona and has not pitched above A-ball, either.
Stat Sheet: When the Tigers built Comerica Park, they hoped one of their players would take advantage with perhaps baseball’s most exciting play: a triple. Granderson seems to be that guy. He led the AL with 23 triples two years ago and during an injury-stunted season he led the league with 13 last season, becoming the first Tigers player to top the AL in consecutive seasons in that category since Ty Cobb in 1917 and ’18.
Bottom Line: In a surprise move, Detroit released the 40-year-old Sheffield late in spring training ” a day after acquiring Anderson from Atlanta. Leyland said the decision was designed to make the Tigers a more versatile team. A nine-time All-Star, Sheffield is one home run shy of 500. The Tigers went from being the mythical hot-stove league champion a year ago to baseball’s bust of 2008. After creating a buzz last winter by acquiring Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Renteria, Detroit had a quiet offseason by adding Lyon, Jackson, Everett and Laird in relatively affordable moves that addressed needs. The Tigers need each of those four to perform well, plus Verlander and Rodney must bounce back from lackluster seasons while Bonderman and Zumaya work to return from injuries. If all that happens, Detroit could be a contender in the AL Central. If not, a second straight losing record seems likely.
Los Angeles Angels
2008: 100-62, first place.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (10th season).
He’s Here: OF Bobby Abreu, LHP Brian Fuentes.
He’s Outta Here: 1B Mark Teixeira, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, OF Garret Anderson, RHP Jon Garland.
Projected Lineup: 3B Chone Figgins (.276, 1 HR, 22 RBIs, 34 steals), 2B Howie Kendrick (.306, 3, 37), LF Bobby Abreu (.296, 20, 100, 22 SB with Yankees), RF Vladimir Guerrero (.303, 27, 91), CF Torii Hunter (.278, 21, 78, 19 SB), 1B Kendry Morales (.213, 3, 8), DH Juan Rivera (.246, 12, 45), C Mike Napoli (.273, 20, 49) or Jeff Mathis (.194, 9, 42), SS Erick Aybar (.277, 3, 39).
Rotation: RH John Lackey (12-5, 3.75 ERA, out indefinitely with elbow injury), RH Jered Weaver (11-10, 4.33), LH Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41), RH Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49, will begin season on DL with injured elbow), RH Kelvim Escobar (18-7, 3.40 in 2007, missed 2008 because of shoulder surgery and will open this season on DL).
Key Relievers: LH Brian Fuentes (1-5, 2.73, 30/34 saves with Colorado), RH Scot Shields (6-4, 2.70, 4 saves), RH Jose Arredondo (10-2, 1.62), LH Darren Oliver (7-1, 2.88), RH Justin Speier (2-8, 5.03).
Stat Sheet: The Angels lost Teixeira, who sparked them with 13 homers, 43 RBIs and a .358 average after he was acquired in a trade July 29. But they picked up Abreu, who is still productive and should boost the offense. Teixeira signed a $180 million, eight-year contract with the Yankees. The Angels got Abreu at the bargain price of $5 million for one year.
Hot Spot: Starting rotation. Lackey is having arm problems and is peeved that the club hasn’t negotiated a new contract. Santana, outstanding in 2008, is expected to miss at least the first week or two because of his sore elbow. Escobar is still working his way back from surgery. So the Angels’ starting corps probably won’t be at full strength until ” and if ” those three get healthy. In the meantime, Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart and Shane Loux are potential fill-ins.
Bottom Line: While the team let Anderson go, there are still a bunch of Angels in the outfield, with Rivera, Gary Matthews Jr. and Reggie Willits lined up behind the three starters. Los Angeles also let Rodriguez leave for a $37 million, three-year deal with the New York Mets after he set a major league record with 62 saves last season. But the Angels think Fuentes, who could cost them around $26.5 million for three years, can get the job done. The Angels again will have an imposing lineup, with Kendrick ” if he can avoid injury for a change ” considered a potential batting title contender. Scioscia expects Morales, who defected from Cuba in 2004, to provide some power and become a plus on defense at first base. The Angels again figure to run, run, run, which is Scioscia’s style. The club will be trying to break out of the recent trend of shining during the regular season and fading in the playoffs. For the first time in their history, the Angels won 100 games during the regular season but for the third time in four years, Boston eliminated them in the first round of the playoffs. With Hunter providing clubhouse leadership, the Angels might be able to pick it up in the postseason.
2008: 79-83, second place.
Manager: Ron Washington (third season).
He’s Here: SS Elvis Andrus, INF Omar Vizquel, LHP Eddie Guardado, OF Andruw Jones, RHP Derrick Turnbow, pitching coach Mike Maddux.
He’s Outta Here: OF-DH Milton Bradley, C Gerald Laird, OF-DH Frank Catalanotto, RHP Wes Littleton, RHP Kameron Loe, INF Ramon Vazquez.
Projected Lineup: 2B Ian Kinsler (.319, 18 HRs, 71 RBIs, 26 SB), 3B Michael Young (.284, 12, 82), CF Josh Hamilton (.304, 32, 130), RF Nelson Cruz (.330, 7, 26 in 31 games for Texas after .342, 37, 99 in 103 games for Triple-A Oklahoma, where he was Pacific Coast League MVP), DH Hank Blalock (.287, 12, 38 in 65 games), LF David Murphy (.275, 15, 74), 1B Chris Davis (.285, 17, 55), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.253, 3, 26), SS Elvis Andrus (.295, 4, 65, 54 steals, 32 errors at Double-A Frisco).
Rotation: RH Kevin Millwood (9-10, 5.07 ERA in 29 starts, matching staff high), RH Vicente Padilla (14-8, 4.74 in 29 starts, staff-high 127 strikeouts), LH Matt Harrison (9-3, 5.49), RH Brandon McCarthy (1-1, 4.09 in 5 starts), RH Kris Benson (hasn’t pitched in majors since 2006; 1-4, 5.52 in 11 starts last year for Philadelphia’s Triple-A team after missing 2007 following surgery to repair torn right rotator cuff).
Key Relievers: RH Frank Francisco (3-5, 3.13 ERA, 5/5 saves), LH C.J. Wilson (2-2, 6.02, 24/28 saves), LH Eddie Guardado (3-3, 3.65, 4/4 saves in 55 games for Texas; 1-1, 7.71 in 9 games for Minnesota), RH Warner Madrigal (0-2, 4.75 in 31 games), RH Josh Rupe (3-1, 5.14, tied for major league high with 89 1-3 relief innings), RH Scott Feldman (6-8, 5.29 in 28 games/25 starts), RH Jason Jennings (0-5, 8.56 in 6 starts).
Hot Spots: Crowded outfield, designated hitter. Having Blalock as the primary DH creates more of a logjam in the outfield. Jones, the five-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove center fielder who came to camp on a minor league contract, made the team as the fifth outfielder and a part-time DH. The Rangers still want to get significant playing time for Marlon Byrd, too. Texas is set with All-Star slugger Hamilton in center, Murphy in left and Cruz in right. Byrd (.298, 10, 53 in 122 games) is a reliable fourth outfielder who can play any spot. To make room for Jones, the Rangers released Catalanotto even though they owe him $4 million this year and a $2 million buyout of a $5 million club option for 2010. Blalock could also play 1B, but that would take Davis out of the lineup.
Stat Sheet: The Rangers led the majors with a .283 batting average and 901 runs last season. It was the fourth time the team scored at least 900 runs ” the other three times Texas made its only playoff appearances. Texas still had a losing record because it had a major league-worst 5.37 ERA and the game’s most overworked bullpen (572 2-3 innings).
Bottom Line: Texas was six games over .500 in early August, an impressive comeback from a 7-16 start that raised questions about Washington’s future. Season-ending injuries to Kinsler and Murphy derailed momentum. Despite the loss of Bradley (.321, 22, 77 and AL-leading .436 OBP) in free agency, Texas should be fine offensively. Young is recovered from two broken fingers that helped end his string of five consecutive 200-hit seasons (he still had 183). Cruz might finally fulfill his long-awaited potential, and Davis and Murphy are young hitters with pop. Young, the AL Gold Glove SS last season, moves to 3B to make room for 20-year-old Andrus. As always, the question is pitching. Team president Nolan Ryan emphasized tougher workouts in the offseason and spring training. Millwood and Padilla, the veterans leading the rotation, each had two DL stints last year and McCarthy has had two injury-plagued seasons. Benson, the No. 1 overall draft pick by Pittsburgh in 1996, has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Harrison won nine games after joining the team as a rookie July 8. Francisco became the closer when Wilson had elbow surgery. Together, they form a capable back end to the bullpen.
2008: 75-86, third place.
Manager: Bob Geren (third season).
He’s Here: 1B Jason Giambi, LF Matt Holliday, INF Nomar Garciaparra, SS Orlando Cabrera, RHP Russ Springer, RHP Michael Wuertz.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Huston Street, 1B Mike Sweeney, OF Matt Murton, RHP Kirk Saarloos, LHP Alan Embree, OF Carlos Gonzalez, LHP Greg Smith, LHP Lenny DiNardo.
Projected Lineup: CF Ryan Sweeney (.286, 5 HRs, 45 RBIs, .350 OBP), SS Orlando Cabrera (.281, 8, 57 with White Sox), 1B Jason Giambi (.247, 32, 96 with Yankees), LF Matt Holliday (.321, 25, 88, .409 OBP with Colorado), 3B Eric Chavez (.247, 2, 14 in 23 games), DH Jack Cust (.231, 33, 77, 197 Ks), C Kurt Suzuki (.279, 7, 42), RF Travis Buck (.226, 7, 25 in 38 games), 2B Mark Ellis (.232, 12, 41).
Rotation: RH Justin Duchscherer (10-8, 2.54 ERA, 95 Ks in 22 starts; expected to miss at least six weeks following arthroscopic elbow surgery), LH Dallas Braden (5-4, 4.14, 41 Ks), RH Trevor Cahill (6-1, 2.19 for Double-A Midland), LH Dana Eveland (9-9, 4.34, 118 Ks), LH Brett Anderson (9-4, 4.14 for Class-A Stockton and 2-1, 2.61 for Double-A Midland), LH Josh Outman (1-2, 4.56 in 6 major league appearances; 7-4, 3.11 at Double-A and Triple-A).
Key Relievers: RH Brad Ziegler (3-0, 1.06, 11/13 saves, 30 Ks), RH Joey Devine (6-1, 0.59, 1 save, 49 Ks; will begin season on DL with elbow injury), RH Russ Springer (2-1, 2.32, 45 Ks with St. Louis), RH Michael Wuertz (1-1, 3.63 with Cubs), RH Santiago Casilla (2-1, 3.93).
Hot Spots: All around the infield. Giambi seems revitalized back with the A’s, which could translate into 100-plus appearances at 1B, although Daric Barton will push for more time. Ellis hopes to be fully healthy by opening day, but Geren has discussed occasionally using Bobby Crosby at 2B. Cabrera is penciled in at SS, but Garciaparra will get chances there and at 3B, where Chavez is slowly returning from yet another injury. With every position in various states of flux, opportunities abound for a streaky hitter to claim more time.
Stat Sheet: The A’s scored an AL-low 4.0 runs per game last season, and they batted .231 after the All-Star break, the worst post-break average in the AL since 1974. Even while GM Billy Beane gutted his pitching staff throughout 2008, those hideous offensive numbers were the biggest reason Oakland lost 44 of its last 68 games. Even Beane had to acknowledge the A’s weak lineup, adding veteran stopgaps in Holliday, Giambi and Cabrera to score some runs for his new generation of pitchers.
Bottom Line: It’s time to find out whether Beane’s decision to essentially throw away last season to reload the roster and recalibrate his payroll pays off with a resurgence into the playoff race. Beane addressed last season’s offensive impotence, but the A’s biggest questions now surround their untested and unsettled starting rotation, particularly with two-time All-Star Duchscherer hurting. Yet leadership shouldn’t be a problem in the clubhouse, where Giambi seems motivated to recapture the best days of his career after seven ringless seasons in New York. Holliday, playing for a contract next season with a richer team, should be amply motivated, while Chavez must reclaim his career after injuries limited him to 113 games since 2006. With consistency in the lineup and some pleasant surprises from the anonymous rotation, Oakland could contend in the unimpressive AL West ” and Beane would once again look like a genius.
2008: 61-101, fourth place.
Manager: Don Wakamatsu (first season).
He’s Here: DH-OF Ken Griffey Jr., OF Franklin Gutierrez, 1B Russell Branyan, INF Ronny Cedeno, OF Endy Chavez, LHP Garrett Olson, RHP Chad Cordero, RHP David Aardsma, DH-1B Mike Sweeney, LHP Tyler Johnson.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Jim Riggleman, LF Raul Ibanez, RHP J.J. Putz, DH Jose Vidro, INF-OF Willie Bloomquist, OF Jeremy Reed, RHP Sean Green, INF Miguel Cairo, RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Jared Wells, INF Luis Valbuena.
Projected Lineup: RF Ichiro Suzuki (.310, 6 HRs, 42 RBIs, 213 hits, 43/47 SB in 162 games), 2B Jose Lopez (career-highs of .297, 17 HRs, 89 RBIs, 191 hits, 41 doubles, 80 runs), DH Ken Griffey Jr. (.249, 18 HRs, 71 RBIs in 143 games for Cincinnati and White Sox), 1B Russell Branyan (.250, 12 HRs, 20 RBIs, in 50 games with Milwaukee), 3B Adrian Beltre (.266, 25 HRs, 77 RBIs), C Kenji Johjima (.227, 7 HRs, 39 RBIs, career lows), CF Franklin Gutierrez (.248, 8 HRs, 41 RBIs in 134 games with Cleveland), LF Endy Chavez (.267, 1 HR, 12 RBIs, .308 OBP in 133 games with Mets), SS Yuniesky Betancourt (.279, 7 HRs, 51 RBIs).
Rotation: RH Felix Hernandez (9-11, 3.45 ERA, 175 Ks in 200 2-3 IP), LH Erik Bedard 6-4, 3.67 in 15 starts), RH Carlos Silva (4-15, 6.46, 213 H in 153 1-3 IP), LH Jarrod Washburn (5-14, 4.69), LH Ryan Rowland-Smith (5-3, 3.42 in 47 games, 12 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Brandon Morrow (3-4, 3.34, 10 saves in 45 games/5 starts, 1.47 relief ERA), RH Mark Lowe (1-5, 5.37 ERA, 1 save in 57 games), RH Miguel Batista (4-14, 6.26, 1 save in 44 games, 24 relief appearances), RH Chad Cordero (0-0, 2.08 in 6 games with Washington), RH Roy Corcoran (6-2, 3.22, 3 saves).
Hot Spots: They’re all over the place, a reminder that this team lost 101 games last year. Closer. Rotation. Left field. Catcher. Shortstop. Second base. Designated hitter. The spring candidates for replacing traded closer J.J. Putz were such a concern, Seattle signed the rehabbing Cordero based on a few workouts. Cordero had 128 saves with Montreal-Washington from 2003-07 before tearing his labrum last summer and needing surgery. The former All-Star may be the closer when his rehabilitation is complete, perhaps by June. Griffey is coming off knee surgery in October and won’t be able to play LF every day, giving Chavez a prominent role. That squeezes at-bats from Sweeney at DH, because Griffey wasn’t signed with all the reunion hoopla and multimillion attendance clauses in his one-year contract to sit on the bench. Morrow was going to be in the middle of the rotation until his forearm hurt all spring. Now he’s in the bullpen, perhaps as the closer until Cordero is ready. Johjima may not be starting at catcher were it not for the baffling, $24 million, three-year deal Seattle gave the 32-year-old last year. Seattle traded for former Cubs top prospect Cedeno to push the sometimes lax Lopez and Betancourt at 2B and SS, respectively.
Stat Sheet: Plenty of reasons for the Mariners posting their most losses since 1983 last season: Set team record with 31 blown saves; tied team record for fewest complete games with four; the Nos. 4-9 batters in the lineup hit just .245; Hernandez (2nd, 3.86), Washburn (4th, 4.10) and Silva (7th, 4.28) were in the AL’s top 10 in lowest run support per start. … One bright spot: Suzuki tied Dustin Pedroia for the major league hits lead. Suzuki is the first player to finish first in the majors in hits in three consecutive seasons.
Bottom Line: Stay patient. Junior can’t do everything. The Mariners and a fan base beaten down by missing the playoffs every year since 2001 got a desperately needed jolt when the team signed Griffey last month to return to the birthplace of his superstardom. The bad news? That birth was 20 years ago. Baseball’s fifth all-time home run hitter with 611 won’t cure an anemic offense all by himself. He can’t be the closer. And he’s 39. This is as sweeping a remodeling as Seattle has embarked upon in decades. After years of whiffing on expensive, aging free agents as stopgap fixes, Seattle fired its manager, its coaching staff, its general manager and most of the scouting department. First-time GM Jack Zduriencik says he can’t “feel warm and fuzzy” about his rebuilding team. No wonder. Two of the club’s best assets, Gold Glove 3B Beltre and recently injured pitcher Bedard, are entering the final years of their contracts. With an electric arm, Hernandez leads an experienced rotation that was a huge disappointment last year. Unless the Mariners suddenly win a ton of 2-1 games this year ” they were 9-64 when scoring fewer than four runs last season ” this looks like another long, losing summer in Seattle.