WTNYNovember 11, 2003
Pre-Winter Prediction Classic
By Bryan Smith

Today, as GMs have begun to meet and talk trade, I decided to run some predictions. These are predictions of the 2004 season, one of four or so I will do. One is now, before everything gets started, the next is December 19 or so, before the second wave of free agents. The third preseason prediction classic should run days before pitchers and catchers report in early February, with the last coming the final week of March. So, since
you could care less, Ill start with my article...

After a very solid winter, the Yankees are the talk of the AL East. Gary Sheffield is an obvious upgrade in right field, and the bullpen is improved with Shigetoshi Hasegawa in middle relief. Andy Pettite and newcomer Bartolo Colon (to replace the fat void left by David Wells) fill out a pretty good rotation that sees ace Jose Contreras at the top, Mike Mussina second, and Jeff Weaver narrowly beating out Jon Lieber in the fifth spot.
Lieber is working the Sterling Hitchcock long-relief role, waiting for his chance. After a cold April, Steinbrenner gets mocked for not moving Soriano, who then goes on a
three-month tear and is mentioned in mid-season MVP talks.

But, it wont be all-New York in the East, as the Red Sox are to be reckoned with. In their last season as true powerhouses, the Red Sox offense looks just as good as it was in 2003. Adam Kennedy is a Boston favorite at second, and all has been forgiven for Manny, who is two-for-three in the Triple Crown race. Byung-Hyun Kim is a pretty good fifth starter, considering the breakout year Bronson Arroyo is having. Scott Williamson is being hyped for his great closing skills, although talk of a committee begins everytime he gives up a home run.

The rest of the AL East isnt special...again. The Blue Jays will not continue their trend of third-place finishes, as improved Oriole and Devil Ray teams pass them. Vladimir
Guerrero looks good in a Baltimore uni, and their offense is doing well. Kurt Ainsworth has been their ace, and Jorge Julio is being mentioned in trade talks. The Devil Rays are still waiting on youngsters, but are much improved. Aubrey Huff is looking fifty doubles right in the face, and Victor Zambrano is the ALs best young starter.

Moving on to the leagues most futile division, the AL Central. The Royals are leading the division, although they stand a measly five games above .500 through 81 games. Minnesota, who managed to bring back Stewart and Guardado (to a one-year deal), have fallen apart, blaming the losses of Doug Mientkiewicz and A.J. Pierzynski. Justin Morneau is not having that huge Rookie of the Year-type season, rather looking like the 2004 version of the 2003 Hee Seop Choi.

Just beneath those two teams are the underperformers, the White Sox and the Indians. Chicago had high hopes for Sidney Ponson, whom is already injured for the season. Esteban Loaiza isnt quite the player he is last season, and the team will give Mark Buerhle to St. Louis at seasons end. Injuries have limited Robbie Alomars time, giving the city of Chicago a look at Aaron Miles, a 5-8 classic whom has won the towns heart. But most of all, its the non-tender of Carlos Lee that is still hurting. Cleveland is bouncing back, since Brandon Phillips and Travis Hafner couldnt have been that bad, that much. Alex Escobar is still showing potential, but needed to be benched after having 100Ks through 60 games.

Cleveland pitching is still pretty bad though, constantly bailed out by the likes of Todd Walker and Jody Gerut. But, David Riske was sure a good choice at closer. And, lets not talk much about the Tigers. Lets just say that Delmon Young ripping everyone on the Tigers besides his brother wasnt good for clubhouse chemistry. But Delmon is sure doing good, on pace to hit 30 jacks in high-A.

While Billy Beane keeps getting credit for the As, its the pitching that is making the difference. Rich Harden is sensational, and Justin Duchscherer is getting the job done in the fifth hole. It looks like the decision to give Rod Beck the closers role was a good one, as he already has 23 saves through June. The offense is much improved now that Jermaine Dye is above .250, and since Terrence Long has been released. A Ramon Hernandez injury tuned us in on Adam Melhuses potential, and Graham Koonce is considered the Rookie of the Year favorite. In my opinion, its the spark Kenny Lofton
brings that gives the lineup its edge. The team is five games up, but the Angels refuse to take themselves out of the race.

Anaheim is looking awfully smart now that Miguel Tejada has reemerged, along with Rafeal Palmieros veteran influence on the lineup. Darin Erstad is finally staying
healthy, and isnt looking bad in the leadoff slot. Troy Glaus is poised for a 40-HR season, and wont be far down that MVP list. Garret Anderson keeps trugging along, although I have to say the Peter Gammons obsession is a little weird. I mean, calling him
the best left fielder in California?

Seattle was up early, but are quickly falling out of the race. Edgar Martinez and John Olerud have missed some time due to broken hips, ya know bones are so fragile at that age. Kaz Matsui is giving the team an all-Japanese one-two punch, although Mike Cameron is really missed. I did call the Raul Ibanez prediction right, but the guys at
U.S.S. Mariner are calling for Chris Snelling. Rafeal Soriano is the best pitcher on the team, and Sasaki sucks. Some want Soriano to move to closer, but with 10 wins at the break?

Texas cant find themselves, but justify it by saying theyll go after Kerry Wood in a couple of months. The teams just praying that John Hart will get the clue and give
Grady Fuson the reins. A-Rod trade talk wont go away, but I promise you, the Expos rumor isnt true. Fact is, Rodriguez doesnt want to quit baseball to go into ownership quite yet. Mark Teixeira has been a stud, and this team will start to make its mark in 2005.

The NL is a different story, where the 2003 postseason doesnt make sense anymore. Philadelphia has an Atlanta-esque 15-game lead in the NL East, bragging they are the
perfect team. The Braves are falling apart at the seams, and Leo Mazzone blames Greg Madduxs abscence for his inability to help any of his pitchers.

Florida did manage to keep a lot of their players...on the injured list that is. Conine, Lowell, Pudge, Beckett, and Looper are all bandaged up. Tim Spooneybarger looks to be a solid closer though, and Jack McKeon is doing a good job limiting A.J. Burnetts workload. Hell be in a Red Sox uni in a matter of weeks. And...the Mets suck.

Chicago has been wonderful in the NL Central, capturing 15 of their last 18 games. Richie Sexson has been the bat they needed, but their worried about money after the
Wood extension just got inked. The state of Texas is up and arms, threatening to break away from the United States unless they give up Kerry. Fox covers the story, showing nothing but Woods good-looking wife.

Jeff Bagwell is thinking about retiring, as Houston has all but fallen out of the race. Morgan Ensberg has even been thrusted into the leadoff role, as Craig Biggios .220
average in April and May put them into a bad start. Brad Lidge got hurt, and Octavio Dotel is pitching three innings a game, order of Jimy Williams. He insists the increased
workload is helping Dotels arm, who no longer asks to get his chance to start. Soon, Will Carroll expects, hell be asking the doctor if he can pitch again. Roy Oswalts
groin, captured by Japanese media (it was mistaken to be Ichiros), is the talk of Houston.

St. Louis is swarming to take the Wild Card spot, since theyve finally found some pitching. John Thomson and Ted Lilly were good signs, and Chris Carpenter is the
second-coming of Esteban Loaiza. The bullpen is a little bare, but the team promises to make amends by July 31. The Tino Martinez trade (Tampa) is looking great, since John Gall has thrusted himself into Rookie of the Year talks. Eli Marrero put up a 5HR, 7SB week between June 30-July 6, causing www.espn.com to overload with all the fantasy owners trying to claim him. Believe me (see April 2002), Marrero isnt a good bet.

Milwaukee is fourth in the division, largely because of the additions of Hee Seop Choi and Juan Cruz. Trent Durrington is doing well at second base, and J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart are about to get their shots on the left side. The team couldnt get rid of Geoff Jenkins, but Bud Seligs idea to put Lenny Harris into right field wasnt a good idea. A Selig countdown clock is enthrusted in Miller Park, leading into a huge litigation suit. George Bush backs Selig, and Fidel Castro inquires about buying the team. Ya know, he did once play for the Yankees.

San Diego is making a run at the NL West, only being threatened by the Diamondbacks. David Wells has done well in San Diego, but Adam Eaton and Jake Peavy are the biggest stories of the division. Sean Burroughs starts to find some power in that bat, and another Phil Nevin injury allows Xavier Nady to get some quality at-bats. Hoffman has become a great closer again, claiming he doesnt need stupid eyeglasses to make him effective (see Eric Gagne). And Barry Bonds? Hes bitching about how the media doesnt respect him, and makes 1,724 threats to retire. Talk of him breaking Hanks record ends, as we all begin to see his real age.

Thats it, and if you havent sent me your favorite baseball books, please do so. Oh yea, and go Bulls!