Seasons of Change, Part 1 (of 2)
What a difference 10 years can make.
We are not far from the beginning of spring training - which also marks the beginning of the 2009 Major League Baseball season - and this can be hard to fathom for those of us in the snowy, cold northern states and Canada. The baseball landscape has changed a lot since the Philadelphia Phillies organization put the final touches on its championship season at the end of 2008. Some rosters have had significant changes (Chicago NL, New York AL), while other clubs look (unfortunately) the same (Toronto, Pittsburgh).
As we all know, the days of a player staying with the same team for his entire career are all but over. In Oakland, players are lucky to remain with the organization through their arbitration years. With spring training almost upon us, let's take a look back at how each American League club's rosters looked 10 years ago in 1999.
The Baltimore Orioles | 78-84 (Fourth)
The opening day starter for the Orioles in 1999 was none other than Mike Mussina, who announced his retirement this off-season. Outfielder Brady Anderson led off the first game of the season for the birds. Albert Belle made $11.9 million, which led the club, and was about $6 million more than the second most expensive player, Mussina. Both Belle and B.J. Surhoff drove in more than 100 runs. Cal Ripken Jr. batted .340 at the age of 38, but played in just 86 games. Mussina led the team with 18 wins, and that was followed by Scott Erickson's 15. Mike Timlin paced the bullpen with 27 saves. A rookie pitcher by the name of B.J. Ryan caught everyone's attention with 28 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. The club had some trouble developing hitting prospects, including Calvin Pickering, Ryan Minor, and Gene Kingsale.
Pedro Martinez was the face of the franchise in 1999 and was paid handsomely at $11.1 million, followed by... John Valentin (?!?!?) at $6.35 million. Martinez posted a 2.03 ERA that season and won 23 games. The only other pitcher with 10 or more wins was 35-year-old Bret Saberhagen, who went 10-6 in 22 games. He was out of baseball in 2000 after appearing in just three games that season. It was bullpen-by-committee for Boston with both Tim Wakefield and Derek Lowe picking up 15 saves. Tom Gordon compiled 11 game-stoppers. The Red Sox' global search for pitching was underway as the club tried rookies Jin Ho Cho (South Korea), Juan Pena (Dominican Republic), and Tomokazu Ohka (Japan) with varying degrees of success. Left-fielder Troy O'Leary led the club with 28 home runs and his 103 RBI total was second to shortstop Nomar Garciaparra who, in his third full season, looked like a future Hall of Famer. He led the club with a .357 average.
Pat Hentgen was the highest paid Jay at $8.6 million, while Carlos Delgado was the highest paid hitter at $5.075 million. Hentgen won just 11 games with a 4.79 ERA, in what would be his final season in Toronto. The former Cy Young winner (1996) spent 10 seasons in Toronto over the course of his career. Delgado led the club with 44 home runs and drove in 134 runs at the age of 27. In mid-season, the club stole infielder Tony Batista, 25, from the Arizona Diamondbacks, in a trade for aging LOOGY Dan Plesac. Batista hit 26 home runs in 98 games for Toronto that season and then went on to slug 41 in 2000. Former No. 1 draft pick Shawn Green had a breakout season and hit 42 home runs with 123 RBI, 20 stolen bases and a .300+ average. He was traded to the Dodgers prior to the 2000 season for Raul Mondesi. A 20-year-old by the name of Vernon Wells got his first taste of the Major Leagues.
The Yankees had eight players making $5 million or more in 1999, with the highest paid player being outfielder Bernie Williams at $9.8 million, followed by pitcher David Cone at $9.5. Derek Jeter batted .349 and drove in 100+ runs for the only time in his career. Rookie Ricky Ledee was given an opportunity to seize an everyday role, but he failed to impress and was shipped off to Cleveland in 2000. Joe Girardi spent his final season in pinstripes as a player while backing up Jorge Posada behind the dish. Two young Dominican infielders - who were oozing with talent - made their MLB debuts in 1999: D'Angelo Jimenez, 21, and Alfonso Soriano, 23. Jimenez was considered by some to be a more promising prospect than Soriano. Mariano Rivera led the club with 45 saves (surprise, surprise), while both Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte had down years with ERAs of 4.60 and 4.70, respectively. They combined for just 28 wins (a low total for those two), but they still did better than every New Yorker's favorite player Hideki Irabu, who posted a 4.84 ERA.
The Devil Rays club has arguably come further than any other organization in 10 years. The 1999 season was just the second season in the brief history of the club. The organization received 34 home runs out of Jose Canseco and 32 bombs from Fred McGriff. Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs played his final MLB season and finished the year with a .301 batting average and a .328 career average. Closer Roberto Hernandez led the club with a salary of $6.1 million (Why does an expansion team need a top-tiered closer?). He did earn his money, though, by saving 43 games. Wilson Alvarez led the club in wins with nine. Bobby Witt threw a team-leading 180.1 innings and managed a record of 7-15. Thirty-five-year-old rookie Jim Morris made headlines by appearing in his first Major League game.
The Chicago White Sox | 75-86 (Second)
Frank Thomas led the club with a $7 million salary in 1999. But he managed just 15 home runs in 135 games, the lowest total since his rookie season, when he appeared in just 60 games. It was also the first full season in which he did not drive in 100 or more runs (breaking the string at eight seasons). Paul Konerko took over first base at the age of 23 and hit .294/.352/.511. Mike Caruso played his second full season at shortstop at the age of 22, but fell off the map in 2003. Rookie Carlos Lee, 23, hit .293 and drove in 83 runs. The pitching imploded with four starting pitchers posting ERAs above 5.10, including James Baldwin, Jim Parque, Jamie Navarro, and John Snyder. Neither Snyder nor Parque, former promising prospects, realized their potential. Bob Howry led the club with 28 saves.
The Twins had just seven players who made $1 million or more, led by closer Rick Aguilera ($4.3 million), who saved just six games and appeared in 17 games due to injuries. Mike Trombley picked up the slack and saved 24 games, which was the only time he reached double-digits in saves in his career. Brad Radke led the club in wins (12) and losses (14), but was tied in the latter category by LaTroy Hawkins. The Twins trotted out a slick-fielding, 21-year-old rookie shortstop by the name of Cristian Guzman. He showed promise in the field but hit just .226/.267/.276. The club also featured a rookie in center-field named Torii Hunter. Ron Coomer led the club with 16 home runs, Marty Cordova had 70 RBI, and rookie third baseman Corey Koskie led the club with a .310 batting average.
The Tigers paid a lot of money to Willie Blair ($3.75 million, third on the team) to win three games and post a 6.85 ERA. Dave Mlicki led the club with 14 wins. Promising lefty Justin Thompson had the last mildly productive year of his career before injuries ruined it. Rookie Jeff Weaver, 22, looked like the Next Big Thing in Detroit. Todd Jones saved 32 games, while keeping the closer's role warm for the Other Next Big Thing Matt Anderson, 22. Offensively, Dean Palmer led the way with 38 home runs and 100 RBI. Tony Clark slugged 31 home runs but drove in just 99. Back from the Mexican Leagues where he spent two seasons, Luis Polonia, 35, had the best average at .324, and was in fact the only hitter to bat above .300 that season. Karim Garcia hit 14 home runs at the age of 23 and looked like he might finally make good on his massive potential. Or not.
The Royals had just five players making $1 million or more, led by pitcher Kevin Appier and infielder Jeff King, both of whom broke the $4 million mark. Jose Rosado, 24, looked like a future pitching star after allowing just 197 hits in 208 innings in 1999. He also posted a 3.85 ERA, but injuries destroyed his career, which ended in 2000. Jeff Suppan, 24, also provided 200+ innings in 1999. Promising pitching prospects Dan Reichert, Jim Pittsley, and Orber Moreno failed to develop. Long-time Royals closer Jeff Montgomery faced the end of his pitching career after saving just 12 games and posting an ERA of 6.84. Rookie Carlos Febles looked like a long-term solution at second base after a solid debut, but he failed to make adjustments and regressed. Former catcher Mike Sweeney made good on his conversion to first base and hit 22 home runs, drove in 102 runs and hit .322. Carlos Beltran, 22, won the Rookie of the Year award after hitting .293 with 22 home runs, stealing 27 bases and driving in 108. Jermaine Dye, playing full-time for the first time in his career, led the club with 27 home runs and 119 RBI.
The veteran powerhouse had 15 players that made $1 million or more in 1999. Offense was the name of the game in Cleveland in 1999, with three players slugging 30 or more home runs, including Manny Ramirez (44), Jim Thome (33), and Richie Sexson (31), in his first full season. Roberto Alomar and David Justice also had more than 20. Rookie Einer Diaz took over behind the plate for the aging Sandy Alomar Jr., who was injured. Bartolo Colon, 26, led the club in wins with 18 in just his second full season. Veteran Charles Nagy was next with 17, in what would be his last productive season at the age of 33. Former rookie phenom Jaret Wright, 23, imploded with an 8-10 record and ERA of 6.06. Mike Jackson led the club with 39 saves.
The Seattle Mariners | 79-83 (Third)
Ken Griffey Jr. was still "The One" in Seattle in 1999, but Alex Rodriguez was hot on his heels. Griffey hit 48 home runs with 134 RBI, but Rodriguez matched him in average (.285) and trailed him with 41 home runs and 111 RBI at the age of 23. It was, though, Griffey's swan song in Seattle, as he was moved to Cincinnati prior to the 2000 season. Other key offensive contributors included Edgar Martinez (.337 average), David Bell (21 homers), and Brian Hunter (44 stolen bases). On the mound, Freddy Garcia came in second in Rookie of the Year voting after winning 17 games, to lead the club. Gil Meche was another budding superstar with an 8-4 record in 16 games at the age of 20. Jamie Moyer, 36, and surely at the end of his career, was second in wins with 14. Jeff Fassero posted a hideous 7.38 ERA in 30 games (24 starts). Jose Mesa led the way in the 'pen with 33 saves.
Known as the Anaheim Angels, the club struggled mightily in 1999. The club was old - especially in the pitching department. The five starters that made 20 or more starts were 31 or older. Chuck Finley, 36, led the club with 12 wins, followed by reliever Mark Petkovsek with 10 and starter Omar Olivares with eight. Two young hurlers under the age of 25 got their feet wet: Jarrod Washburn made 10 starts and Brian Cooper made five. Troy Percival anchored the bullpen with 31 saves. Offensively, Mo Vaughn slugged 33 home runs and drove in 108. Tim Salmon was bitten by the injury bug and had his first unproductive season with just 17 home runs and 69 RBI. Troy Glaus provided hope for the future by slugging 29 home runs in his first full MLB season.
The A's were still bashing away in 1999 with five players slamming 21 home runs or more. Matt Stairs, back from Japan, led the way with 38 dingers, followed by scrap heap recovery John Jaha with 35. Jason Giambi also broke the 30 mark by three. Top prospect Eric Chavez spent his first full season in the Majors with modest results. Left-fielder Ben Grieve slammed 28 home runs and looked like another homegrown star-in-the-making. In the beginning, the Big Three began with the appearance of Tim Hudson, who went 11-2 in 21 games in his debut season at the age of 23. Veteran Gil Heredia led the club with 13 wins and 200 innings. Billy Taylor, 37, led the club with 26 saves. Rookie Chad Harville and Luis Vizcaino were seen as potential replacements.
The Texas Rangers club powered its way to an AL West title and bested the club's Pythagorean record by seven wins. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez won the AL MVP award after hitting 35 home runs, driving in 113 and batting .332. Rafael Palmeiro slugged 47 home runs and drove in 148. Juan Gonzalez had 39 home runs and drove in 128. Four regulars batted .300 or better. Mark McLemore and Rusty Greer each scored 100 runs or more. Superstar-in-waiting Ruben Mateo made his Major League debut and appeared in 32 games with a .238 average and five home runs. The pitching was not as pretty as the hitting, although Aaron Sele won 18 games despite a 4.79 ERA. Rick Helling won 13 games with a 4.84 ERA and Mike Morgan won 13 with a 6.24 ERA. Mark Clark made 13 starts despite an 8.60 ERA. John Wetteland, 32, led the club with 44 saves and no one thought that he would retire after just one more season. Jeff Zimmerman and Dan Kolb were expected to anchor the bullpen for years to come.
With spring training almost here, it also means that Fantasy Baseball season is heating up. If you're looking for some great advice throughout the season (as well as the pre-season), be sure to check out John Burnson's Heater Magazine, which provides weekly statistical analysis from some of the smartest minds from across the Internet. The magazine is introducing a new, weekly feature this spring called Radar Tracking, which helps track each team's moves and ever-changing rosters and player roles to help you prepare for the 2009 Fantasy Baseball season. Each team is being analyzed by writers and bloggers who regularly follow the clubs. Here is a sneak peek at some of the first week's Radar Tracking.