WTNYJanuary 09, 2004
The AL
By Bryan Smith

Not a lot going on in the baseball world, but I think in a week's time the Orioles will have contracts done to Vladimir Guerrero, Rafael Palmiero, and B.J. Surhoff. I think the team would be much better suited to spend Palmiero's money towards starters, but if Sidney Ponson ends up with them, my argument is void.

For the weekend, I'm going to post what I consider to be very important information: what each team has left to do this off season. It has been an interesting couple months in the very least, and a sign of the path that baseball is headed down.

Oakland Athletics

Billy Beane has a starting lineup in place, and it should definitely be an improvement over the group he fielded a year ago. An outfield of Kielty, Kotsay, and Dye could improve in big ways, and Bobby Crosby will be a top candidate for Rookie of the Year. The team easily has enough players to make a bench, and my guess is that Adam Melhuse, Eric Byrnes, Billy McMillon, Frank Menechino, and Marco Scutaro will get spots.

The A's will have a great pitching staff again in 2004, this time with Mark Redman as their fourth starter. Rich Harden is the best fifth starter in baseball, and Justin Duchscherer (PCL Pitcher of the Year) is waiting in the wings. The bullpen is really the only thing that needs a little tweaking. So far, the A's have a nice start in Arthur Rhodes, Chad Bradford, Ricardo Rincon, and Chris Hammond. Jim Mecir, Chad Harville, and Duchscherer will compete for spots. In my mind, the team needs to add one more right-handed reliever to make a good 'pen, and is a long way from matching what they did a year ago.

Seattle Mariners

Fans are not happy with how the off season has gone in Seattle, and Bill Bavasi is quickly becoming one of the worse GMs in the game. The Guillen-Aurilia swap will happen anyday now, yielding Ramon Santiago for the M's. They would then have a full lineup, with Raul Ibanez, Scott Spiezio, and Rich Aurilia replacing Mike Cameron, Jeff Cirillo, and Carlos Guillen. The bench is among the worst in baseball, with Wiki Gonzalez, Dave Hansen, Santiago, Willie Bloomquist, and Quinton McCracken all looking at spots. Ben Davis likely will be dealt, or he could push Gonzalez to Tacoma. I'm thinking the Mariners would be best suited to never pinch-hit next year, not a promising proposition for Bob Melvin.

As for the rotation, the Mariners actually have one too many players at this point. Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro, and Freddy Garcia are all but guaranteed spots next season. It would be hard to deny Ryan Franklin, who had a 3.34 second half ERA, a spot as well. That leaves Gil Meche to the fifth hole, although there is one small problem. Rafael Soriano deserves a spot as much as anyone. He was the best reliever in baseball during the last two months, and is dominating in the winter league. Give him a spot, and trade Davis and Meche together.

Eddie Guardado will be a big help in the bullpen, although they don't have the firepower they once had. Sasaki is getting worse every year, and can we honestly expect Hasegawa to match last season's performance? Julio Mateo might be their best reliever, although they won't see that. Kevin Jarvis is all but guaranteed the long relief spot, just because of the huge paycheck the Mariners are giving him. The last spot is up for grabs with in-house candidates J.J. Putz, Aaron Looper or Aaron Taylor likely to land the spot. Barring a Davis and/or Meche trade, that's all you'll see from the Mariners.

Anaheim Angels

The former World Champions are much improved, and will have a very potent rotation in 2004. Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar are the newest additions, and will be the first power pitchers the Angels have housed in awhile. Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz have spots, but they must drop their high HR/9 rates. World Series hero John Lackey should land the fifth slot, but expensive right-hander Aaron Sele at least gets a chance. If he doesn't win it, he'll likely be released, and the Angels will take the hit for his salary.

As for the bullpen, the Angels strength will once again be in finishing games. The Donnelly-Rodriguez-Percival trio is unbeatable, likely the best 7-8-9 in the Majors. Scot Shields and Ben Weber are also very effective. The team usually doesn't use LOOGYs, so Derrick Turnbow and Kevin Gregg will battle for the sixth spot.

Anaheim is one of the few teams without a completed lineup, as Bill Stonemann has yet to find Scott Spiezio's 1B replacement. Travis Lee has been a rumor for weeks, and I expect that deal to happen very soon. The bench currently has Jose Molina, Alfredo Amezaga, Jeff DaVanon, Chone Figgins, and Robb Quinlan should get a spot. That would leave the team with 24 players, possibly allowing Sele to make the team as a long reliever. All in all, Travis Lee is the only move I expect from the Angels.

Texas Rangers

While the Rangers lineup has questions, they already have enough players to fill all the necessary positions. At this point, we know that Einar Diaz will catch, and the infield will be Teixeira, Young, Rodriguez and Blalock. Brad Fullmer will act as DH, and Brian Jordan will have a corner spot. That leaves centerfield and another corner outfield spot, with David Delucci, Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Rusty Greer, and Ramon Nivar battling it out. Out of that group, Nix should land a spot, and if Nivar doesn't, he'll be returned to AAA. Eric Young may get a chance in center, but he is probably just middle infield insurance. Other bench players include Mike Lamb, Herbert Perry, and Gerald Laird.

As with all Ranger teams, the questions are in the pitching staff. The Rangers have been ridiculously slow to sign pitching, pretty much guaranteeing another last place finish. Chan Ho Park will have a spot, but that's all that is guaranteed at this point. The current depth chart would have Joaquin Benoit, Colby Lewis, Juan Dominguez, and either R.A. Dickey or Ryan Drese. With that being said, I guarantee the Rangers will add at least one starter still, and they really should add 2.

The bullpen is going to add a right-hander in the coming days, with rumors that a Turk Wendell contract is all but finished. Wendell will be used to set-up effective closer Francisco Cordero, who was dazzling a season ago. Jay Powell makes a lot of money, and was once effective as a middle reliever. Southpaws Ron Mahay, Brian Shouse, and Erasmo Ramirez all had their moments a year ago. I don't expect the Rangers to sign more than one right-handed reliever, although they probably should. Signing Maels Rodriguez should be their other plan of attack.

Minnesota Twins

Myself and Twins fans alike have been quick to bash Terry Ryan this offseason, who really made this club worse by not doing anything. It all starts in the rotation, where the Twins are yet to fill their five slots at this time. So far, Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse, and Grant Balfour look to have spots. If the competition goes as low as Carlos Pulido and Carlos Silva, just give this division to someone else. Signing a starter should be a priority for the Twins, or at least trading Jacque Jones for one.

While the catcher position has no clear starter yet, the rest of the starting lineup is filled. The team has important decisions with rookies and outfielders, but have more than enough bats to fill a roster. The only weakness is up the middle, but it appears Augie Ojeda and Nick Punto are going to back up the Rivas and Guzman combo. Jacque Jones and Doug Mientkiewicz could get traded for pitching, and it would have minimal effect on the offense.

A lot of people are questioning the Twins bullpen, but I believe they are one man away from being pretty effective. Ugueth Urbina is rumored to be heading there, and he is probably the last of the good relievers left on the market, it's essential for Ryan to act here. Joe Nathan and J.C. Romero are fairly good as set-up men, and I like Juan Rincon a lot in middle relief. Michael Nakamura are Carlos Silva should land spots, leaving the seventh spot to be a battle between Pulido and Aaron Fultz. Note to Terry Ryan: start working!

Chicago White Sox

While Ken Williams tried to improve the White Sox this offseason, he failed mercifully. The White Sox are bad right now, very bad. Esteban Loaiza and Mark Buerhle have a lot of pressure at the top of the rotation, and Jon Garland needs to take a big step forward. After that the Sox rotation is eerily weak, with Scott Schoenweis, Dan Wright, and Neal Cotts among those battling for spots. The team has shown interest in Sidney Ponson, and I think they will likely end up signing him.

The bullpen will not be as strong as it was last season, as I don't see Cliff Politte matching the performance that Tom Gordon had last year. Damaso Marte and Billy Koch will battle for closer duties, and Kelly Wunsch is one of the league's better LOOGYs. Dan Wright and Scott Schoenweis could fill roles in the bullpen, but I think the White Sox should consider adding one more right-handed middle reliever.

Not many changes in the hitting department, although part-time players Robbie Alomar and Carl Everett are long gone. In their places, the team will be using Willie Harris and Aaron Rowand, respectively. If Harris struggles, Juan Uribe could be forced into the starting lineup. I also think the club will put in a phone call to Cuban defector, Yobal Duenas. The team has a few bench positions in must fill, as Sandy Alomar, Jamie Burke, Ross Gload and Uribe are the only ones currently occupying those positions. The White Sox have a lot of work to do, but I'm not sure if Ken Williams realizes this.

Kansas City Royals

Allan Baird has done a fantastic job this offseason, and he can now go to rest. With the recently announced Juan Gonzalez signing, I imagine the Royals are done for the offseason. The team has a lot of options, and will let David DeJesus get reps at AAA before a likely midseason call-up. The bench will have Kelly Stinnett, Ken Harvey, Tony Graffanino, Dee Brown and Rich Thompson.

The rotation is a little weak, but they make up for that with a fantastic bullpen. Curt Leskanic, Jeremy Affeldt, Mike MacDougal, Scott Sullivan, Jason Grimsley, and D.J. Carrasco are the top six for the bullpen, and the team will likely try Joey Dawley as the long relief man. The Royals are the favorites to win the AL Central, and can now sit on that title until February.

Cleveland Indians

Well, what can Mark Shapiro do? The Indians aren't going to be very good in 2004, but it's a waiting game in Cleveland. Shapiro has built this team to the best of his abilities, but they still come up lacking. With limited resources, sometimes all you can do is cry, "uncle." The lineup is their best asset, and they'll have a bench with Josh Bard, Ben Broussard, John McDonald, Ricky Gutierrez, and Ryan Ludwick. I'm not so sure on the choice of Ronnie Belliard at second base though.

Also somewhat respectable will be a bullpen filled with players you've never heard of. David Riske has proven to be reliable for a couple of years now, and it looks like the team will hand him the reins as closer. Jose Jimenez and Bob Wickman will serve as veteran set-up men, and I'm big on Jimenez bouncing back after some bad years in Coors. Rafael Betancourt, Scott Stewart, and Jack Cressend all bring strengths to the table, and with the proper managing, Eric Wedge could have a top 10 bullpen.

It's the rotation that I worry about. C.C. Sabathia proved he could be an ace, and Cliff Lee showed some very nice things in his short stine. Jake Westbrook was very hot and cold in Cleveland, but needs to improve his K/BB rate (58/56) to take it to the next level. Jason Stanford and Chad Durbin are penciled into the final two spots, but Jimenez and Jason Bere could steal those spots. Also, expect Jeremy Guthrie to demand a spot during the season. The Indians should improve each year as they find out a little more about this team, but Cleveland is going to need patience for the next three years.

Detroit Tigers

Well, now Dambrowski has some names that everyone has heard of. Their lineup:

C- Brandon Inge
1B- Carlos Pena
2B- Fernando Vina
SS- Carlos Guillen
3B- Eric Munson
LF- Rondell White
CF- Alex Sanchez
RF- Bobby Higginson/Cody Ross
DH- Dmitri Young

It's not a fabulous lineup, but I don't think they'll come last in the Majors in runs scored either. The bench is a little weak right now, with Mike Diefelice, Chris Shelton, Omar Infante, Dean Palmer, and Craig Monroe penciled in. The bullpen won't be too bad if Alan Trammell pushed the right buttons, as right-handers Fernando Rodney, Franklyn German, Matt Anderson, Al Levine, and Danny Patterson all have potential. Jamie Walker is a good LOOGY, and Chris Spurling had a nice rookie season.

Of all things, it's the rotation that frightens me the most. Jason Johnson, Mike Maroth, and Jeremy Bonderman sit atop what should be a pretty bad group. The last two spots will be a combination of Wil Ledezma, Gary Knotts, Nate Cornejo, and Nate Robertson. Yes, the Tigers are destined for last place once again. But now, they won't lose 119 games!

New York Yankees

Well, is the Boss ever really done? No, he'll always be looking for a signing to put his team a leg up, and this time his sights are on Maels Rodriguez. Apparently the thought of Jon Lieber serving as his fifth starter is hideous, and Steinbrenner is intent on landing another good arm for the rotation. The bullpen looks to be good, with Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, Karsay, Heredia, and Gabe White handling the duties. Lieber should serve as the long man, similar to the role Jose Contreras started in last season.

While the Yankees don't have a great bench, they're likely finished with it. John Flaherty, Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo, Ruben Sierra, and Tony Clark will be the options Joe Torre has for pinch-hitting this season. I'm thinking he is going to stick with his starters this year, so once again, depth is a nervous issue with this team.

Boston Red Sox

Like George, Theo is always looking for a way to outdo his opponents, although there aren't many more moves left in this chess match. The only thing I can see Theo doing is trading Scott Williamson, but at this point, I think the team would be smartest to hang onto him. Foulke, Timilin, Williamson, Embree, and Bronson Arroyo is a nice group, and it appears the team is thinking of having Mark Malaska and either Ramiro Mendoza or Colter Bean fill their last spot. The rotation is fill with Pedro, Schilling, Wakefield, Lowe and Kim, so I really don't understand their interest in Maels.

Offensively, the team is finished. They will have a four man bench, with Doug Mirabelli, Pokey Reese, Gabe Kapler and Brian Daubach. They can do that with the versatility that Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, and Trot Nixon all bring to the table. Expect a decline in offensive production next year, but not significant enough to take them out of this race.

Toronto Blue Jays

With the two recent signings of Terry Adams and Chris Gomez, J.P. Riccardi is all done this offseason. Instead of beating around the bush, here are your 2004 Toronto Blue Jays:

Lineup: Greg Myers, Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Chris Woodward, Eric Hinske, Frank Catalanotto, Vernon Wells, Reed Johnson

Bench: Kevin Cash, Dave Berg, Howie Clark, Chris Gomez, Chad Hermansen

Rotation: Roy Halladay, Miguel Batista, Ted Lilly, Pat Hentgen, Josh Towers

Bullpen: Terry Adams, Kerry Ligtenberg, Justin Speier, Aquilino Lopez, Valerio De Los Santos, Jayson Durocher

Baltimore Orioles

While the Orioles will surely get a lot of credit for their recent and upcoming signings, this is hardly a finished product. While an offense with Lopez, Palmiero, Hairston, Tejada, Mora, Bigbie, Matos, Guerrero, and Gibbons is more than appealing, they need pitching. The bench is also a little weak, with Geronimo Gil, Brian Roberts, B.J. Surhoff, Marty Cordova, and David Segui likely to get bench roles.

The starting rotation is ghastly at this point, with Rodrigo Lopez, Omar Daal, Kurt Ainsworth, Matt Riley, and Eric DuBose currently on the depth chart. Sidney Ponson is on their radar, but the team is more focused on finishing the Palmiero and Guerrero negotiations. If they miss him, then the Orioles are a .500 team at best. The bullpen has Jorge Julio, Mike Dejean, Willis Roberts, Buddy Groom, B.J. Ryan, and Rick Bauer, hardly an intimidating group. Maybe the plan was to focus on offense this year, and then worry about pitching, but if so, no one told me.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Chuck LaMar has been more proactive in this off season than he has in years, and I've come up with two theories behind that. Either Lou Piniella has instilled this new desire in LaMar to win, or he smells his days as GM shrinking. Either way, LaMar used limited resources to make the Devil Rays better this offseason, and while his acquisitions haven't been the best players, the fact that he's trying is a good start.

Offensively, the Devil Rays should be fine. The team signed Robert Fick today, and Fernando Tatis should be signed too as well. That would give Piniella a bench of Brook Fordyce, Geoff Blum, Fuck, Eduardo Perez, and either Antonio Perez or Damian Rolls. Jose Cruz is going to do very nice things during his stay, and I can't compliment the team enough for signing Aubrey Huff to a three year, $14.7M extension.

Lou has some choices to make for the starting rotation, but he sure has his options. I think Jeremi Gonzalez, Victor Zambrano, and Mark Hendrickson are all but locks to land the job. That leaves John Halama, Paul Abbott, Rob Bell, Chad Gaudin, Jon Switzer, Doug Waechter, Jorge Sosa, and Dewon Brazelton to wrestle for the last two spots. Yes, you read that right, the Devil Rays will have an eight-man competition for two spots.

The bullpen will be better, as Danys Baez and Trever Miller bring some experienced arms into Pinella's grasp. Lance Carter is close to being a very good reliever, and I'm also a big fan of Travis Harper and Jesus Colome. The last one or two spots will go to one of the aforementioned pitchers, so it could be a good bullpen. In conclusion, the Devil Rays are going to finish last in 2004, but it will be their best team ever. This club is making strides, and it won't be long until they finish on the right side of 81.

Wow, 3,277 words later, I'm finished with the American League. I'll write a quick recap of what I said for these teams over the weekend, have another long in-depth report on the National League for Monday, and then analyze what this means for free agents on Tuesday. Stay tuned, and have a good weekend.