WTNYFebruary 11, 2004
AL East Questions
By Bryan Smith

More lull in the baseball world, as the news of the day consisted of Fred McGriff, Terry Mulholland, and Eric Owens. I’ll root for Fred McGriff, though it will take an injury or two for him to catch onto a Major League roster. I would bet on McGriff playing baseball in 2004, but against him hitting the nine home runs necessary for 500.

Today I’ll ask the preview questions for the AL East, as that was the first preview that Mr. Gammons unveiled in his rounds around the Majors. Here goes...

New York Yankees

Five Pressing Questions
1. “I don’t know is on third.”
2. Can a team succeed with a defense that bad?
3. Will Steve Karsay and Jon Lieber revert to old form?
4. Which pitcher (Vazquez, Brown, Contreras) really steps up?
5. Is Jason Giambi capable of his MVP numbers of 2000?

Aaron Boone threw this team for a curveball they didn’t see coming. George thought he had every base covered, and then in a blink of an eye, third became exposed. It didn’t take long for the team to realize their infield depth extended as far as Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo. One Tyler Houston and Mike Lamb later, and the situation is still nerve-wracking. After surviving a scare from the team’s rival in last year’s playoffs, George shouldn’t take anything for granted this year. If the Yanks are in second in July, who is managing?

Boston Red Sox
1. “What’s on second.”
2. Will Byung-Hyun Kim be a good starter, especially with numerous Yankee Stadium confrontations?
3. Can the lesser-known hitters (Ortiz, Nixon, Mueller, etc.) stay on fire?
4. How much of an impact will Keith Foulke make?
5. Will the unresolved contract/trade disputes with Pedro, Nomar, and Manny distract the team?

Under Theo Epstein, the Red Sox have a vision that hadn’t existed in years. In fact, if you already haven’t, go to Baseball Prospectus and read his interviews immediately. Theo and his staff know baseball so well, that they’ve transformed the Red Sox from a team chasing the Wild Card into a team determined to end such talk of a streak. It’s very smart to not expect the offense the 2003 team generated, but with Schilling and Foulke, scores won’t need to be so high. Terry Francona’s first worry should be making Nomar, Manny, and the contract-disputing Pedro feel right at home.

Toronto Blue Jays

Five Pressing Questions
1. Who closes?
2. Will Josh Towers continue his success?
3. Which hitters breakout, and which regress?
4. Ted Lilly: 2003 season repeated or breakout candidate?
5. Can prospects make their presence felt on this team?

Speaking of good GMs, J.P. Ricciardi had a sensational offseason. He got Miguel Batista at a fraction of the cost that the Angels paid Kelvin Escobar, and also added Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen to the pitching staff. It’s imperative for the team that Eric Hinske or Josh Phelps (or both?) breaks out this year, as the team needs a #5 hitter after the likes of Delgado and Wells. While Theo may have attempted a bullpen by committee last year, check Toronto for how it really works.

Baltimore Orioles
1. Will Miguel Tejada’s road numbers (.303/.377/.497) become his 2004 overall stats?
2. Can Melvin Mora stay in the .300s?
3. Will an opponent ever be fooled by that staff?
4. Is Omar Daal completely worthless?
5. How will Jorge Julio do with high-pressure situations now that the team is competing?

Let’s just say I’m not high on the Baltimore Orioles. Sure, Peter Angelos can spend his Expos to D.C. lawsuit money on offense all he wants, but you can’t win without pitching. I mean, Rodrigo Lopez? Omar Daal? Eric DuBose? Are they serious? I’ll sell anyone 85 wins, and I’m happy with making the bold prediction that they won’t finish .500. I love Camden Yards as much as the next guy, but Baltimore fans will have to endure bad baseball just a little longer.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Five Pressing Questions
1. Which pitchers will Lou Piniella pick to start?
2. What is Rocco Baldelli, v. 2?
3. Can a Tino, Lugo, Rey, Blum infield come close to replacement level?
4. Will Jose Cruz be one of the offseason’s best additions?
5. Who closes?

If I mention GMs, how can I not spend time bashing Chuck LaMar? I mean, how many years under 75 wins can you have before getting fired? I know that Piniella runs the team anyway, but Vince Namoli really should consider firing his GM. The team shouldn’t be expecting much out of Rocco Baldelli, but I’m a big believer in Aubrey Huff and Victor Zambrano. The team has brought in a lot of veteran pitching, hoping to find that one diamond in the rough. It won’t work, and the Devil Rays will stare last place in the face again.

We’ll head to the Centrals tomorrow, starting with my Cubbies.