With BC-BBA--AL Preview Print
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Friday, 21 March 2008 18:02
MLB Headline News

 Capsules of American League teams, listed in order of finish last year:
EAST
Boston Red Sox
2007: 96-66, first place, World Series champions.
Manager: Terry Francona (fifth season).
He's Here: 1B Sean Casey, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP David Aardsma.
He's Outta Here: 1B-OF Eric Hinske, INF Royce Clayton.
Projected Lineup: CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.353, 3 HRs, 18 RBIs, 9 SBs in 33 games), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.317, 8, 50, 39 doubles), DH David Ortiz (.332, 35, 117, 52 doubles), LF Manny Ramirez (.296, 20, 88), 3B Mike Lowell (.324, 21, 120), RF J.D. Drew (.270, 11, 64), 1B Kevin Youkilis (.288, 16, 83), C Jason Varitek (.255, 17, 68), SS Julio Lugo (.237, 8, 73).
Rotation: RH Josh Beckett (20-7, 3.27 ERA), RH Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-12, 4.40), LH Jon Lester (4-0, 4.57), RH Tim Wakefield (17-12, 4.76), RH Clay Buchholz (3-1, 1.59) or RH Bartolo Colon (6-8, 6.34 with Angels). RH Curt Schilling (9-8, 3.87, starts season on 60-day disabled list).
Key Relievers: RH Jonathan Papelbon (1-3, 1.85, 37/40 saves), LH Hideki Okajima (3-2, 2.22), RH Mike Timlin (2-1, 3.42), RH Manny Delcarmen (0-0, 2.05), RH Julian Tavarez (7-11, 5.15), RH Kyle Snyder (2-3, 3.81), LH Javier Lopez (2-1, 3.10), RH Bryan Corey (6-8, 3.69 at Triple-A Pawtucket) or RH David Aardsma (2-1, 6.40 with White Sox).
Hot Spot: Center field and fifth starter. The competition between veteran CF Coco Crisp and rookie Ellsbury fizzled when Crisp missed all but two Florida exhibition games with a groin injury. Ellsbury had a mediocre spring training, but the job is probably his to lose. Schilling's shoulder injury that will sideline him at least until the All-Star break and Beckett's back injury that caused him to miss the team's season-opening trip to Japan caused a shakeup in the rotation. Boston signed free-agent Colon, injured much of the last two seasons, in late February. He or Buchholz could be in the rotation once Beckett returns in early April.
his $20 million option for 2009.
Bottom Line: The World Series winners two of the last four seasons stood pat and have several key young players who gained experience. They bid for LHP Johan Santana but weren't willing to part with some of those youngsters. Two of them, Lester and Ellsbury, made major contributions in the World Series. Lowell, the Series MVP, took less money than he could have made elsewhere to stay in Boston with a new three-year contract. Pedroia, a fiery competitor who toned down some of his personality as a rookie, is more vocal now and a spark plug in the dugout. Ramirez and Ortiz are back to supply the power in the middle of a tough lineup.
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New York Yankees
2007: 94-68, second place, wild card.
Manager: Joe Girardi (first season).
He's Here: RHP LaTroy Hawkins, 1B-3B Morgan Ensberg, LHP Billy Traber, RHP Jonathan Albaladejo, OF-1B Jason Lane.
He's Outta Here: Manager Joe Torre, RHP Roger Clemens, RHP Luis Vizcaino, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, INF Andy Phillips, LHP Ron Villone, RHP Tyler Clippard.
), DH-LF Hideki Matsui (.285, 25, 103), 1B-DH Jason Giambi (.236, 14, 39 in 83 games) or Shelley Duncan (.257, 7, 17 in 74 at-bats) or Morgan Ensberg (.230, 12, 39 in 282 ABs with Astros and Padres), 2B Robinson Cano (.306, 19, 97, 41 doubles, 7 triples), CF Melky Cabrera (.273, 8, 73, 8 triples).
Rotation: RH Chien-Ming Wang (19-7, 3.70 ERA, 9 HRs allowed in 199 1-3 IP), LH Andy Pettitte (15-9, 4.05, 215 1-3 IP), RH Phil Hughes (5-3, 4.46 in 13 starts), RH Mike Mussina (11-10, 5.15), RH Ian Kennedy (1-0, 1.89 in 3 late-season starts).
Key Relievers: RH Mariano Rivera (3-4, 3.15, 30/34 saves, 74 Ks, 12 BBs in 71 1-3 IP), RH Joba Chamberlain (2-0, 0.38, 1 save, 34 Ks, 6 BBs in 19 games and 24 IP after August call-up), RH Kyle Farnsworth (2-1, 4.80), RH LaTroy Hawkins (2-5, 3.42 with Colorado), LH Billy Traber (2-2, 4.76 in 28 games with Washington), RH Jeff Karstens (1-4, 11.05 in 7 games).
angerous bat on the bench, that would make him mostly an albatross in the final season of his $120 million, seven-year contract.
Stat Sheet: The Yankees are counting on their kids, highlighting a recent shift in the organization's philosophy. Three pitchers 23 or younger, Hughes (21), Chamberlain (22) and Kennedy (23), have important roles this year. Hughes was drafted out of high school in 2004, Chamberlain and Kennedy out of college in 2006. New York flirted this spring with making Chamberlain a starter, the role he was accustomed to in college and the minors. But he's back in the bullpen as Rivera's primary setup man, the job he flourished in late last season. Kennedy seems to have the savvy of a veteran, and big things are expected from Hughes. They'll get help from a potent offense, but New York's fortunes could rest on how well the inexperienced arms hold up for a full season.
tseason is no longer a sure thing. New York has earned 13 straight playoff berths, but was knocked out in the first round the past three years. This season, there's no proven lefty in the bullpen, and the defense is a weakness besides Cabrera. The lineup remains loaded, however, after New York brought back all its key free agents and picked up Abreu's $16 million option during a whirlwind offseason. Rodriguez, coming off his third AL MVP, appeared headed out of town after opting out of his contract. But in a strange saga, he came back to the Yankees and agreed to a $275 million, 10-year contract that surpassed his previous record deal. He still has never played in a World Series. Maybe the mix of young pitchers can make this team an October success again in its final season at storied Yankee Stadium before moving into a pricey new ballpark across the street in 2009. First, the Yankees want to avoid the slow start that put them in an early hole two of the last three years. Girardi has emphasized conditioning in spring training more than his predecessor, Torre, now managing the Los Angeles Dodgers after 12 triumphant years in pinstripes.
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Toronto Blue Jays
2007: 83-79, third place.
Manager: John Gibbons (fifth season).
He's Here: 3B Scott Rolen, SS David Eckstein, INF Marco Scutaro, OF Buck Coats, RHP Randy Wells, RHP Shawn Camp, RHP Lance Carter, LHP John Parrish.
He's Outta Here: 3B Troy Glaus, RHP Josh Towers, RHP Ty Taubenheim, INF Ray Olmedo, LHP Joe Kennedy.
Projected Lineup: SS David Eckstein (.309, 3 HRs, 31 RBIs, .356 OBP with St. Louis), RF Alex Rios (.297, 24, 85, 43 doubles), CF Vernon Wells (.245, 16, 80), 3B Scott Rolen (.265, 8, 58 with St. Louis), DH Frank Thomas (.277, 26, 95), LF Matt Stairs (.289, 21, 64) and Reed Johnson (.236, 2, 14), 1B Lyle Overbay (.240, 10, 44), 2B Aaron Hill (.291, 17, 78, 47 doubles), C Gregg Zaun (.242, 10, 52).
Rotation: RH Roy Halladay (16-7, 3.71 ERA), RH A.J. Burnett (10-8, 3.75), RH Dustin McGowan (12-10, 4.08), RH Shaun Marcum (12-6, 4.13), RH Jesse Litsch (7-9, 3.81).
Key Relievers: LH B.J. Ryan (0-2, 12.46, 3/5 saves in 5 games before injury), RH Jeremy Accardo (4-4, 2.14, 30/35 saves), RH Brandon League (0-0, 6.17), LH Scott Downs (4-2, 2.17), LH Brian Tallet (2-4, 3.47), LH John Parrish (2-2, 5.71 with Baltimore), RH Brian Wolfe (3-1, 2.98).
Hot Spot: A lineup built to slug came up lame in 2007, with Toronto ranking in the bottom half of the AL in every major offensive category. To make up ground on Boston, Detroit, Cleveland and New York, the Blue Jays will need Wells, Rolen and Overbay to return to form, and steady improvement from Rios and Hill.
Stat Sheet: Injuries decimated the Blue Jays in 2007, with 13 players combining to miss 951 games. Ryan, returning from elbow surgery, and Wells, who had offseason shoulder surgery, must return to form. The injury bug has already bitten Toronto this spring, with right-hander Casey Janssen (2-3, 2.35 ERA in 2007) out for the year with a torn labrum. If Toronto can't stay healthy, they'll be out of the race in a hurry.
Bottom Line: Hobbled by injuries and held back by punchless bats, the Blue Jays discovered a surprise strength in 2007 - their talented young arms. If McGowan, Marcum and Litsch can pitch as well or better this year and the hitters return to form, Toronto has the talent to make the playoff race in the AL East an interesting one. General manager J.P. Ricciardi hopes newcomers and former World Series winners Rolen and Eckstein will inject a sense of urgency that has been sorely lacking in Toronto's clubhouse. Now entering his seventh season, Ricciardi has yet to deliver a playoff team. Both he and Gibbons could pay the price if the Blue Jays can't stay in the race into September.
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Baltimore Orioles
2007: 69-93, fourth place.
Manager: Dave Trembley (first full season).
He's Here: OF Adam Jones, LHP George Sherrill, OF Luke Scott, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Dennis Sarfate, RHP Greg Aquino, RHP Lance Cormier, C Guillermo Quiroz, RHP Randor Bierd.
He's Outta Here: LHP Erik Bedard, SS Miguel Tejada, CF Corey Patterson, RHP Todd Williams, RHP Rob Bell, C J.R. House, RHP Victor Santos.
Projected Lineup: 2B Brian Roberts (.290, 12 HRs, 57 RBIs, 103 runs, 50 SBs), 3B Melvin Mora (.274, 14, 58), RF Nick Markakis (.300, 23, 112), 1B Kevin Millar (.254, 17, 63), DH Aubrey Huff (.280, 15, 72), C Ramon Hernandez (.258, 9, 62), LF Luke Scott (.255, 18, 64), CF Adam Jones (.314, 24, 84 with Triple-A Tacoma), SS Luis Hernandez (.290, 1, 7).
Rotation: RH Jeremy Guthrie (7-5, 3.70 ERA), LH Adam Loewen (2-0, 3.56), RH Daniel Cabrera (9-18, 5.55), RH Steve Trachsel (6-8, 4.48), RH Matt Albers (4-11, 5.86).
Key Relievers: LH George Sherrill (2-0, 2.36, 3 saves with Seattle), LH Jamie Walker (3-2, 3.23, 81 games), RH Chad Bradford (4-7, 3.34), RH Dennis Sarfate (1-0, 1.08 in 7 games with Houston).
Hot Spot: Shortstop. With Tejada gone, the Orioles have no choice but to rush Hernandez into the picture. He's had an awful spring in the field and at the plate, and backup Brandon Fahey has a decent glove but batted .167 in 40 games last year.
Stat Sheet: Cabrera led the majors last season in losses, walks and earned runs allowed. The Orioles are losing patience with the 6-foot-9 pitcher, who hasn't had a winning season since his rookie year in 2004.
Bottom Line: This is a rebuilding year for the Orioles, who no longer can pretend they have a shot at making some noise in the AL East. Their rotation is young, their cleanup hitter lacks power and they've got inexperience in center field, left field, shortstop and at the helm. Trembley will enter his first full year as a major league manager with little hope of ending Baltimore's franchise-record run of 10 straight losing seasons.
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Tampa Bay Rays
2007: 66-96, fifth place.
Manager: Joe Maddon (third season).
He's Here: RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett, RHP Troy Percival, 3B Willy Aybar, DH-RF Cliff Floyd, LHP Trever Miller.
He's Outta Here: RF Delmon Young, CF Elijah Dukes, INF Brendan Harris, RHP Jay Witasick, LHP Jeff Ridgway, RHP Shawn Camp.
Projected Lineup: 2B Akinori Iwamura (.285, 7 HRs, 34 RBIs), LF Carl Crawford (.315, 11, 80, 50 SBs), CF B.J. Upton (.300, 24, 82, 22 SBs), 1B Carlos Pena (.282, 46, 121), DH Cliff Floyd (.284, 9, 45 with Cubs), RF Jonny Gomes (.244, 17, 49), 3B Willy Aybar (missed last season with Atlanta due to injured right wrist and personal matter), C Dioner Navarro (.227, 9, 44), SS Jason Bartlett (.265, 5, 43 with Minnesota).
Rotation: LH Scott Kazmir (13-9, 3.48 ERA), RH James Shields (12-8, 3.85), RH Matt Garza (5-7, 3.69 with Minnesota), RH Edwin Jackson (5-15, 5.76) or RH Jason Hammel (3-5, 6.14) or RH Andy Sonnanstine (6-10, 5.85) or LH J.P. Howell (1-6, 7.59) or RH Jeff Niemann (12-6, 3.98 at Triple-A Durham).
Key Relievers: RH Troy Percival (3-0, 1.80 with St. Louis), RH Al Reyes (2-4, 4.90, 26/30 saves), RH Dan Wheeler (0-5, 5.76), LH Trever Miller (0-0, 4.86 in 76 appearances with Houston), RH Scott Dohmann (3-0, 3.31), RH Gary Glover (6-5, 4.89).
Hot Spots: Right field and the bullpen. The Rays traded Young, last year's runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year, with expectations that Rocco Baldelli would return from a lingering hamstring injury and share the right field job with Gomes. Baldelli will start the season on the disabled list amid speculation that his career could be in jeopardy because of a mysterious condition that leaves him feeling extremely fatigued after short workouts. That leaves the position to Gomes, not known for his defense, and the oft-injured Floyd, who at this point in his career is more suited to be a full-time designated hitter. The bullpen was one of the worst in the majors in 2007. Percival takes over the closer's job, moving Reyes into a setup role. Maddon also is counting on Miller and Wheeler's experience to make a difference.
Stat Sheet: Despite the addition of veterans such as Floyd, Percival and Miller, the Rays will open the season with one of the youngest rosters in baseball. Crawford is coming off an All-Star season and Pena won AL Comeback Player of the Year honors. Tampa Bay will need another big year from them, as well as strong performances from Upton, Iwamura, Bartlett and young pitchers Kazmir, Shields and Garza to make a run at .500 for the first time in franchise history. In fact, Tampa Bay, which dropped the ``Devil'' from its nickname this offseason, has never won more than 70 games in the club's 10-year history.
Bottom Line: Thanks to a deep farm system, the Rays have finally assembled enough talent on the major league level to have reasonable expectations of escaping the AL East cellar. The departures of Young and Dukes makes for better harmony in the clubhouse, the addition of Garza and Bartlett figure to improve the starting pitching and defense, and Aybar was acquired to hold down third base until management decides top prospect Evan Longoria is ready for the majors. Still, the prospect for success in '08 hinges on how the young starting rotation and overhauled bullpen hold up. While the Rays are confident they're closing the gap on the Red Sox and Yankees in the division, the 38 games they play against those teams ultimately will prove whether they're right or wrong. Kazmir could begin the season on the DL because of an elbow strain. Shields was picked to start on opening day.
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