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Archive for Wednesday, March 31, 2004

American League capsules

March 31, 2004

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Capsules of American League teams, in order of finish last year:

East




New York Yankees

2003: 101-61, 1st place (AL champs).

Manager: Joe Torre (ninth season).

He's Here: 3B Alex Rodriguez, RF Gary Sheffield, RHP Kevin Brown, RHP Javier Vazquez, RHP Paul Quantrill, RHP Tom Gordon, OF Kenny Lofton, LHP Donovan Osborne, 1B-OF Travis Lee, 1B Tony Clark, INF-OF Miguel Cairo, INF Mike Lamb, OF Darren Bragg.

He's Outta Here: 2B Alfonso Soriano, RHP Roger Clemens, LHP Andy Pettitte, 3B Aaron Boone, LHP David Wells, 1B-DH Nick Johnson, RHP Jeff Weaver, RHP Jeff Nelson, LHP Chris Hammond, OF Juan Rivera, OF Karim Garcia, OF David Dellucci, bench coach Don Zimmer.

Projected Lineup: CF Kenny Lofton (.296, 12 HRs, 46 RBIs, 30 SBs with Pirates and Cubs), SS Derek Jeter (.324, 10, 52), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.298, AL-leading 47, 118, 17 SBs for Texas), 1B Jason Giambi (.250, 41, 107, led league with 129 walks and 140 strikeouts), RF Gary Sheffield (.330, 39, 132, 18 SBs for Atlanta), DH Bernie Williams (.263, 15, 64), LF Hideki Matsui (.287, 16, 106), C Jorge Posada (.281, 30, 101), 2B Enrique Wilson (.230, 3, 15).

Rotation: RH Mike Mussina (17-8, 3.40 ERA), RH Kevin Brown (14-9, 2.39 for Los Angeles), RH Javier Vazquez (13-12, 3.24, 241 Ks for Montreal), RH Jose Contreras (7-2, 3.30), LH Donovan Osborne (did not pitch).

Key Relievers: RH Mariano Rivera (5-2, 1.66, 40/46 saves), RH Paul Quantrill (2-5, 1.75, led majors with 89 appearances for Los Angeles), RH Tom Gordon (7-6, 3.16, 12 for White Sox), LH Felix Heredia (5-3, 2.69 for Reds and Yankees), LH Gabe White (5-1, 4.05 for Reds and Yankees).

Hot Spot: Left side of the infield. Rodriguez, reigning AL MVP and two-time Gold Glove shortstop, moved to third base because of Jeter. Best friends in the past, their relationship chilled in recent years. It could get dicey if Jeter, who's never won a Gold Glove, struggles in field. Another shift: Zimmer left after a rift with owner George Steinbrenner, so Willie Randolph took over as bench coach. Longtime fan favorite Don Mattingly is new hitting coach.

Stat Sheet: After losing World Series in six games to Florida, Steinbrenner spent like crazy, brought in even more star power. The Yankees' payroll of more than $180 million is by far the most in majors. Best rivalry in American sports -- Yankees vs. Red Sox -- begins April 16 at Fenway Park, first of 19 matchups. They played a record 26 times last year, with Yankees winning 14, including Game 7 of ALCS on Boone's 11th-inning home run.

Bottom Line: As long as the trainer's room isn't too busy, the Yankees should be fine. Williams missed opening day in Tokyo after having his appendix removed, Giambi is coming back from knee surgery and Sheffield had a thumb problem in spring training. RHP Jon Lieber is expected to eventually become the No. 5 starter -- he missed last season after Tommy John surgery, and was slowed by a groin problem in March. Osborne inherits the role for now, despite being out of majors three of the last four seasons.




Boston Red Sox

2003: 95-67, 2nd place (wild card).

Manager: Terry Francona (first season).

He's Here: RHP Curt Schilling, RHP Keith Foulke, 2B Pokey Reese, DH Ellis Burks, 1B-OF Brian Daubach, INF Mark Bellhorn.

He's Outta Here: Manager Grady Little, 2B Todd Walker, RHP John Burkett, LHP Casey Fossum, IF Damian Jackson, RHP Todd Jones, RHP Brandon Lyon, IF Lou Merloni, LH Scott Sauerbeck, RHP Jeff Suppan.

Projected Lineup: CF Johnny Damon (.271, 12, 67, 103 runs, 30 SBs), 3B Bill Mueller (AL-leading .326, 19, 85, 45 2Bs), LF Manny Ramirez (.325, 37, 104, 117 runs, AL-leading .427 on-base), SS Nomar Garciaparra (.301, 28, 105, 120 runs), DH David Ortiz (.288, 38, 101), 1B Kevin Millar (.276, 25, 96), RF Trot Nixon (.306, 28, 87), C Jason Varitek (.273, 25, 85), 2B Pokey Reese (.215, 1, 12).

Rotation: RH Pedro Martinez (14-4, 2.22, 206 Ks), RH Curt Schilling (8-9, 2.95 for Arizona), RH Derek Lowe (17-7, 4.47), RH Tim Wakefield (11-7, 4.09), RH Byung-Hyun Kim (9-10, 3.31 for Arizona and Boston).

Key Relievers: RH Keith Foulke (9-1, 2.08, 43/48 saves), RH Scott Williamson (5-4, 4.16 for Cincinnati and Boston), RH Mike Timlin (6-4, 3.55, 0.97 BBs/9 IP), LH Alan Embree (4-1, 4.25), RH Bronson Arroyo (0-0, 2.08).

Hot Spot: Francona faces high expectations for a team that appears improved over the one that set a major league record for slugging percentage last season and reached seventh game of ALCS. He'll have to show he's not too cozy with players, particularly Schilling, his former Phillies ace. With Martinez, Garciaparra, Lowe, Varitek, Ortiz, Williamson and Reese eligible for free agency after the season, distractions could surface. Red Sox dealt with enough of them in the winter after failed trade for A-Rod.

Stat Sheet: Red Sox will be hard pressed to match their 961 runs and .289 batting average that led majors last season. Their 649 extra-base hits and 2,832 total bases were major league records. Foulke provides a big boost in a bullpen with just 36 saves last year among 10 pitchers.

Bottom Line: After building the offense last year, general manager Theo Epstein tended to pitching (Schilling, Foulke), defense (Reese) and the bench (Burks). That gives Red Sox possibly the deepest team in baseball and strong chance to overtake Yankees, the AL East champion the past six years. Boston hasn't won World Series since 1918.




Toronto Blue Jays

2003: 86-76, 3rd place.

Manager: Carlos Tosca (third season).

He's Here: RHP Miguel Batista, LHP Ted Lilly, RHP Pat Hentgen, RHP Kerry Ligtenberg, RHP Terry Adams, RHP Justin Speier, INF Chris Gomez, LHP Valerio De Los Santos.

He's Outta Here: RHP Kelvim Escobar, RHP Cory Lidle, OF Bobby Kielty, LHP Mark Hendrickson, LHP Trever Miller, RHP Cliff Politte, C Tom Wilson, SS Mike Bordick.

Projected Lineup: RF Reed Johnson (.294, 10, 52), LF Frank Catalanotto (.299, 13, 59), CF Vernon Wells (.317, 33, 117, 49 2Bs), 1B Carlos Delgado (.302, 42, major league-leading 145, 109 BBs), DH Josh Phelps (.268, 20, 66), 3B Eric Hinske (.243, 12, 63, 45 2Bs), C Kevin Cash (.142, 1, 8), SS Chris Woodward (.261, 7, 45), 2B Orlando Hudson (.268, 9, 57).

Rotation: RH Roy Halladay (22-7, 3.25), RH Miguel Batista (10-9, 3.54 for Arizona), LH Ted Lilly (12-10, 4.34 for Oakland), RH Pat Hentgen (7-8, 4.09), RH Josh Towers (6-1, 3.42).

Key Relievers: RH Aquilino Lopez (1-3, 3.42, 14/16 saves), RH Terry Adams (1-4, 2.65), RH Kerry Ligtenberg (4-2, 3.34), RH Justin Speier (3-1, 4.05).

Hot Spot: Revamped starting rotation and bullpen needs to be better than last season if Toronto hopes to compete with Yankees and Red Sox. Batista, Lilly and Hentgen must complement ace Halladay, who signed a $42 million, four-year contract in January.

Stat Sheet: Delgado finished second in AL MVP voting to Alex Rodriguez. He earns $18.5 million this season in final year of a four-year, $64 million deal. Blue Jays won't discuss a new contract until after the season. Wells continues to blossom, leading majors with 215 hits last season.

Bottom Line: Blue Jays have finished in third place for six straight seasons; with payroll of $50 million they'll likely finish behind Boston and New York again. If pitching is improved and offense matches the output of last season they could win 90 games, but still not make playoffs.




Baltimore Orioles

2003: 71-91, 4th place.

Manager: Lee Mazzilli (first season).

He's Here: SS Miguel Tejada, 1B Rafael Palmeiro, C Javy Lopez, INF Mark McLemore, INF Jose Bautista, RHP Mike DeJean, RHP Sidney Ponson.

He's Outta Here: Manager Mike Hargrove, 3B Tony Batista, SS Deivi Cruz, INF Jose Leon, C Brook Fordyce, RHP Sean Douglass, RHP Scott Erickson, RHP Pat Hentgen, RHP Jason Johnson, RHP Kerry Ligtenberg, LHP Damian Moss, LHP Willis Roberts.

Projected Lineup: 2B Jerry Hairston (.271, 2, 21, 14 SBs) or 2B Brian Roberts (.270, 5, 41, 23 SBs), LF Larry Bigbie (.303, 9, 31), SS Miguel Tejada (.278, 27, 106 for Oakland), 1B Rafael Palmeiro (.260, 38, 112 for Texas), C Javy Lopez (.328, 43, 109 for Atlanta), RF Jay Gibbons (.277, 23, 100), DH B.J. Surhoff (.295, 5, 41), 3B Melvin Mora (.317, 15, 48, .418 OBP), CF Luis Matos (.303, 13, 45).

Rotation: RH Sidney Ponson (17-12, 3.75 for Baltimore and San Francisco), RH Rodrigo Lopez (7-10, 5.82), LH Eric DuBose (3-6, 3.79), RH Kurt Ainsworth (5-5 4.08), LH Omar Daal (4-11, 6.34).

Key Relievers: RH Jorge Julio (0-7, 4.38, 36/44 saves), LH B.J. Ryan (4-1, 3.40), LH Buddy Groom (1-3, 5.36, .309 BA against), RH Mike DeJean (5-8, 4.68, 19 saves, career-high 76G).

Hot Spot: Ponson is only starter in rotation with winning record in 2003. Orioles have no idea what to expect from rest of starters, especially Ainsworth and DuBose -- each saw limited time with Baltimore last year.

Stat Sheet: The new middle of the lineup -- 3-4-5 hitters Tejada, Palmeiro and Lopez -- combined for 108 home runs last year. That's only 44 fewer than the entire team hit last season.

Bottom Line: Addition of Mazzilli, Tejada, Palmeiro and Lopez should make Orioles a better team. Baltimore has decent chance of ending its run of six straight losing seasons, but that may not get them out of their rut of finishing fourth behind improved Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays.





Tampa Bay Devil Rays

2003: 63-99, 5th place.

Manager: Lou Piniella (second season).

He's Here: 1B Tino Martinez, 2B Rey Sanchez, 3B Geoff Blum, RF Jose Cruz Jr., LHP Mark Hendrickson, RHP Paul Abbott, RHP Danys Baez, LHP Damian Moss, LHP John Halama, RHP Mike Williams, LHP Trever Miller, RHP Todd Jones, OF Eduardo Perez, OF-INF-C Robert Fick.

He's Outta Here: 1B Travis Lee, DH-OF Ben Grieve, 2B Marlon Anderson, LHP Joe Kennedy, RHP Brandon Backe, DH Al Martin, OF Adam Piatt, INF-OF Terry Shumpert, OF Jason Tyner.

Projected Lineup: LF Carl Crawford (.281, 5, 54, 55 SBs), SS Julio Lugo (.271, 15, 55), CF Rocco Baldelli (.289, 11, 78), DH Aubrey Huff (.311, 34, 107, 47 2Bs), RF Jose Cruz Jr. (.250, 20, 68), 1B Tino Martinez (.273, 15, 69), 3B Geoff Blum (.262, 10, 52), C Toby Hall (.253, 12, 47), 2B Rey Sanchez (.250, 0, 23).

Rotation: RH Victor Zambrano (12-10, 4.21), RH Jeremi Gonzalez (6-11, 3.91), LH Mark Hendrickson (9-9, 5.51), RH Doug Waechter (3-2, 3.31), RH Paul Abbott (1-2, 5.29).

Key Relievers: RH Danys Baez (2-19, 3.81, 25/35 saves), RH Lance Carter (7-5, 4.33, 26/33 saves), LH Trever Miller (2-2, 4.61), LH John Halama (3-5, 4.22), RH Travis Harper (4-8, 3.77), RH Jesus Colome 3-7, 4.50).

Hot Spot: After leading AL in walks, wild pitches and hit batsmen with young pitching staff in 2003, Devil Rays put high priority on adding experienced veterans to rotation and bullpen.

Stat Sheet: Huff is coming off best offensive season in franchise history, setting club records for batting average and RBIs and tying the mark for home runs. He also had 198 hits, 47 doubles, 84 extra-base hits, 17 intentional walks, 353 total bases and a .555 slugging percentage -- all team records.

Bottom Line: Despite nearly doubling team's payroll in the offseason, Devil Rays still have least expensive roster in majors at about $29 million. Piniella is confident the club has brought in the right mix of veterans to help young core led by Huff, Baldelli and Crawford. It remains to be seen, though, if they've made enough improvement to escape last place for the first time.

Central




Minnesota Twins

2003: 90-72, 1st place.

Manager: Ron Gardenhire (third season).

He's Here: RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Carlos Silva, RHP Rick Helling, C Henry Blanco, INF Jose Offerman, INF Nick Punto.

He's Outta Here: LHP Eddie Guardado, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, C A.J. Pierzynski, LHP Eric Milton, LHP Kenny Rogers, RHP Rick Reed, INF Denny Hocking, OF Dustan Mohr, INF Chris Gomez.

Projected Lineup: LF Shannon Stewart (.307, 13, 73 for Toronto and Minnesota), 1B Doug Mientkiewicz (.300, 11, 65), CF Torii Hunter (.250, 26, 102, Gold Glove), 3B Corey Koskie (.292, 14, 69), RF Jacque Jones (.304, 16, 69), DH Matthew LeCroy (.287, 17, 64 in 345 at-bats), 2B Luis Rivas (.259, 8, 43), C Joe Mauer (rookie), SS Cristian Guzman (.268, 3, 53, major league-leading 14 triples).

Rotation: RH Brad Radke (14-10, 4.49), LH Johan Santana (12-3, 3.07), RH Kyle Lohse (14-11, 4.61), RH Carlos Silva (3-1, 4.43 as reliever with Philadelphia), RH Rick Helling (7-8, 5.71 with Baltimore).

Key Relievers: RH Joe Nathan (12-4, 2.96, 83 Ks in 79 innings with San Francisco), LH J.C. Romero (0-2, 5.00, 42 walks in 63 innings), RH Juan Rincon (5-6, 3.68).

Hot Spot: Mauer, 20 and the first overall pick in 2001 draft, was given catcher's job when Pierzynski was traded to San Francisco in cost-cutting move. Lefty-hitting Mauer, who has one of the sweetest swings around and is considered strong defensively, will try to make a difficult jump from Double-A. He grew up about eight miles from Metrodome in St. Paul, so the hometown boy will have plenty of pressure to perform. Nathan, the centerpiece acquisition of the Pierzynski trade, is the leading candidate to replace Guardado as closer.

Stat Sheet: The Twins lost 22 of last 28 games of the first half last season before trade for Stewart revitalized their lineup. A similar slump could knock them out of contention this season in an improved division.

Bottom Line: Despite the departure of several important players for budgetary reasons, Twins remain strong contender in the not-so-strong AL Central because of their balanced lineup, good gloves. Whether they win third straight division crown depends on capability of newcomers Silva, Helling and Nathan and holdovers Romero and Rincon to fill holes in pitching staff.




Chicago White Sox

2003: 86-76, 2nd place.

Manager: Ozzie Guillen (first season).

He's Here: RHP Shingo Takatsu, RHP Cliff Politte, INF Juan Uribe.

He's Outta Here: Manager Jerry Manuel, 2B Roberto Alomar, CF Carl Everett, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Scott Sullivan, INF Tony Graffanino, RHP Tom Gordon.

Projected Lineup: 2B Willie Harris (.204, 0, 5, 12 SBs), SS Jose Valentin (.237, 28, 74, 20 Es), DH Frank Thomas (.267, 42, 105), RF Magglio Ordonez (.317, 29, 99, 46 2Bs), LF Carlos Lee (.291, 31, 113), 1B Paul Konerko (.234, 18, 65), 3B Joe Crede (.261, 19, 75), CF Aaron Rowand (.287, 6, 24), C Miguel Olivo (.237, 6, 27).

Rotation: LH Mark Buehrle (14-14, 4.14, 230 IP), RH Esteban Loaiza (21-9, 2.90, 207 Ks), RH Jon Garland (12-13, 4.51), LH Scott Schoeneweis (3-2, 4.18 for Anaheim and White Sox), RH Dan Wright (1-7, 6.15).

Key Relievers: RH Billy Koch (5-5, 5.77, 11), LH Damaso Marte (4-2, 1.58, 11), RH Shingo Takatsu 2-3, 3.00, 34 saves in Japan), LH Kelly Wunsch (0-0, 2.75).

Hot Spots: Can Harris give the White Sox a reliable leadoff hitter and steady second baseman after departure of Alomar? And is Rowand ready to be an everyday center fielder? Who will replace innings-eater Colon, and was Loaiza's 21-win season for real or a mirage? Will Koch struggle again and lose the closer's role to Japanese saves leader Takatsu or Marte?

Stat Sheet: Thomas had another resurgent season, but still isn't thrilled about his contract. He decided to return rather than test the free-agent market for a second straight year. For $14 million in the final year of his contract, the White Sox are expecting a big year from Ordonez. Konerko must get off to a good start after his miserable first half a year ago.

Bottom Line: Guillen's nonstop enthusiasm could be watered down by a questionable rotation with the inconsistent Garland, former reliever Schoeneweis and often-injured Wright following Buehrle and Loaiza.




Kansas City Royals

2003: 83-79, 3rd place.

Manager: Tony Pena (third season).

He's Here: OF Juan Gonzalez, C Kelly Stinnett, C Benito Santiago, SS Tony Graffanino, OF Byron Gettis, OF Matt Stairs, RHP Scott Sullivan.

He's Outta Here: RF Raul Ibanez, C Brent Mayne, C Mike DiFelice, RHP Jose Lima, OF Michael Tucker, OF Rondell White, LHP Graeme Lloyd.

Projected Lineup: SS Angel Berroa (.287, 17, 73), CF Carlos Beltran (.307, 26, 100, 102 runs, 41 SBs), DH Mike Sweeney (.293, 16, 83), LF Juan Gonzalez, (.294, 24, 70 for Texas), 3B Joe Randa, (.291, 16, 72), LF Aaron Guiel (.277, 15, 52), 1B Ken Harvey (.266, 13, 64), C Benito Santiago (.279, 11, 56 for San Francisco), 2B Desi Relaford (.254, 8, 59).

Rotation: LH Brian Anderson (5-1, 3.99), LH Darrell May (10-8, 3.77), LH Jeremy Affeldt (7-6, 3.93), RHP Kevin Appier (7-7, 5.93), LH Jimmy Gobble (4-5, 4.61).

Key Relievers: RH Mike MacDougal (3-5, 4.08, 27 saves), RH Jason Grimsley (2-6, 5.16), RH Curtis Leskanic, (1-0, 1.73), RH D.J. Carrasco (6-5, 4.82), RH Scott Sullivan (6-0, 3.77).

Hot Spot: Royals' 21-game turnaround of 2003 reignited baseball interest in a town accustomed to small-market mediocrity. It also spurred renewed offseason effort by general manager Allard Baird, whose signing of two-time MVP Gonzalez could give KC its most potent slugger since heyday of John Mayberry in mid-1970s. Fences in Kauffman Stadium were moved back 10 feet, but the team record for home runs in a season -- a paltry 36 by Steve Balboni-- could still be in danger if 34-year-old Gonzalez remains healthy. Prospect of being a free agent in 2005 should keep him motivated.

Stat Sheet: Beltran may be finest player hardly anyone has ever heard of. The soft-spoken switch-hitter missed the first 14 games last year with a muscle strain, but still led club in most key offensive categories. He's the majors' all-time leader in stolen base percentage (150-for-170, .882) among players with at least 100 steals. A potential free agent in 2005, he could be barreling toward a monster season.

Bottom Line: This could be Royals' best club since the 1985 World Series champs -- which was also the last time Kansas City printed a postseason ticket. Positive-thinking Tony Pena, AL Manager of the Year, seems to be the perfect skipper for an intriguing mix of veterans and youngsters who seem to be blending a nice chemistry. There could be budding stars in Berroa, last season's AL Rookie of the Year, Affeldt and MacDougal, who was perfect in his first 10 save opportunities last year but wilted in second half. The question mark is the rotation.




Cleveland Indians

2003: 68-94, 4th place.

Manager: Eric Wedge (second season).

He's Here: 2B Ronnie Belliard, RHP Jose Jimenez, LHP Scott Stewart, 2B Lou Merloni.

He's Outta Here: RHP Danys Baez, DH Ellis Burks, LHP Terry Mulholland, RHP Jose Santiago.

Projected Lineup: LF Matt Lawton (.249, 15, 53 in 99 games), SS Omar Vizquel (.244, 2, 19, 7 Es in career-low 64 games), Jody Gerut (.277, 22, 75), CF Milton Bradley (.321, 10, 56, 17 SBs in 101 games), DH Travis Hafner (.254, 14, 40), C Victor Martinez (.289, 1, 16; .328 at Triple-A Buffalo), 3B Casey Blake (.257, 17, 67), 1B Ben Broussard (.249 16, 55), Ronnie Belliard (.277, 8, 50, 15 Es for Colorado).

Rotation: LHP C.C. Sabathia (13-9, 3.60 ERA, first-time All-Star), RHP Jason Davis (8-11, 4.68, led AL rookies with 165 1-3 innings), LHP Cliff Lee (3-3, 3.61), RHP Jake Westbrook (7-10, 4.33), RHP Jason Bere (two starts, shoulder surgery).

Key Relievers: RHP Bob Wickman (out for first half with sprained elbow); RHP David Riske (2-2, 2.29; 82 Ks in 74 innings), Jose Jimenez (2-10, 5.22, 20 saves for Colorado), Rafael Betancourt (2-2, 2.13), LHP Scott Stewart (3-1. 3.98 for Montreal), RHP Jack Cressend (2-1, 2.51).

Hot Spot: Bradley had All-Star caliber first half and was Indians' MVP before missing final six weeks with lower back injury. He must stay healthy and needs to make better decisions on and off field. Some of his showboating antics angered opponents, and he was sentenced to three days in jail this winter for a traffic offense. Gerut must avoid sophomore slump after promising rookie season. Lawton is in best shape of his career, has pledged to make up for two lackluster seasons.

Stat Sheet: Only Detroit (591) scored fewer runs in AL last season than Indians (699), who need to find a power surge somewhere in their lineup. The sweet-swinging Martinez, a three-time league MVP in the minors, will help. He spent the winter in the weight room toning his body. Cleveland needs to do a better job of situational hitting and baserunning.

Bottom Line: Indians are in weak AL Central but Minnesota and Kansas City are still a little better. Cleveland's trio of starters -- Sabathia, Davis and Lee -- are legit but need run support or the Indians are staring at another 90-loss season. It's crucial they get off to a good start with 22 April games against division foes.




Detroit Tigers

2003: 43-119, 5th place.

Manager: Alan Trammell (second season).

He's Here: C Ivan Rodriguez, OF Rondell White, 2B Fernando Vina, SS Carlos Guillen, RHP Jason Johnson, RHP Al Levine, C Mike DiFelice.

He's Outta Here: INF Shane Halter, SS-2B Ramon Santiago, 3B Dean Palmer, C Matt Walbeck, OF Gene Kingsale.

Projected Lineup: OF Alex Sanchez (.289, 1, 22, 46 SBs), 2B Fernando Vina (.251, 4, 23 for St. Louis), C Ivan Rodriguez (.297, 16, 85 for Texas), DH Dmitri Young (.297, 29, 85), OF Rondell White (.278, 18, 66 for San Diego and Kansas City), OF Bobby Higginson (.235, 14, 52), 3B Eric Munson (.240, 18, 50), 1B Carlos Pena (.248, 18, 50), SS Carlos Guillen (.276, 7, 52 for Seattle).

Rotation: RH Jason Johnson (10-10, 4.18, 118 Ks, 80 BBs), LH Mike Maroth (9-21, 5.73), RH Nate Cornejo (6-17, 4.67), RH Jeremy Bonderman (6-19, 5.56), LH Nate Robertson (1-2, 5.44).

Key Relievers: RH Fernando Rodney (1-3, 6.07), RH Al Levine (3-5, 2.90), LF Jamie Walker (4-3, 3.32), RH Matt Anderson (0-1, 5.40).

Hot Spot: Tigers' lineup appears to be capable of scoring runs, but rotation is a huge question mark. Johnson, with a 36-58 career record, is the ace of an inexperienced staff. Maroth, Cornejo and Bonderman were assured of middle spots in the rotation after combining for 57 losses last season.

Stat Sheet: Tigers not only lost an AL-record 119 games, falling one short of post-1900 record, but also finished 20 games behind Tampa Bay, baseball's next-worst team, and 47 behind AL Central champion Twins.

Bottom Line: Virtually impossible for Tigers to be worse than last season, but even a 19-game improvement would make them 100-game losers. If newcomers Rodriguez, White and Vina stay healthy, Detroit's lineup should be at least respectable. Defensively, the team should be much improved after rushing prospects to majors in 2003. A startling turnaround season will depend on a breakout year -- or two -- from pitching staff.

West




Oakland Athletics

2003: 96-66, 1st place.

Manager: Ken Macha (second season).

He's Here: LHP Mark Redman, LHP Arthur Rhodes, OF Mark Kotsay, OF Bobby Kielty, C Damian Miller, LHP Chris Hammond, 1B Eric Karros.

He's Outta Here: SS Miguel Tejada, RHP Keith Foulke, OF Jose Guillen, LHP Ted Lilly, C Ramon Hernandez, OF Terrence Long, OF Chris Singleton, LHP John Halama, RHP Mike Neu, RHP Jeremy Fikac, RHP Steve Sparks, C Mark Johnson.

Projected Lineup: CF Mark Kotsay (.266, 7, 38 for San Diego), LF Bobby Kielty (.244, 13, 57 for Toronto), 3B Eric Chavez (.282, 29, 101, 39 2Bs), RF Jermaine Dye (.172, 4, 20 in 221 ABs), DH Erubiel Durazo (.259, 21, 77, 100 BBs), 1B Scott Hatteberg (.253, 12, 61) or Eric Karros (.286, 12, 40 for Chicago Cubs), SS Bobby Crosby (.308, 22, 90, 24 SBs in Triple-A), C Damian Miller (.233, 9, 36 for Cubs), 2B Mark Ellis (.248, 9 52).

Rotation: RH Tim Hudson (16-7, 2.70, 162 Ks), LH Mark Mulder (15-9, 3.13), LH Barry Zito (14-12, 3.30), RH Rich Harden (5-4, 4.46), LH Mark Redman (14-9, 3.59 for Florida).

Key Relievers: LH Arthur Rhodes (3-3, 4.17, 3 for Seattle), RH Chad Bradford (7-4, 3.04, 2), LH Ricardo Rincon (8-4, 3.25).

Hot Spot: Shortstop. Crosby has tough hole to fill, taking over for 2002 AL MVP and team leader Tejada. While most rookie shortstops are asked to do little more than be steady in the field, Crosby will have to pick up some of the offensive load and clutch hits that left with Tejada.

Stat Sheet: Four. Despite never having more than four saves in a season, Rhodes became the latest entry in Oakland's revolving-door closer when Foulke became too expensive. GM Billy Beane has had success finding productive closers, going through Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch and Foulke the past three seasons. But Rhodes has just 17 saves in 13 seasons. He's also prone to giving up big hits in postseason, especially against Yankees.

Bottom Line: For fourth straight season, the low-budget A's made it to postseason only to fall in a decisive Game 5 in opening round. The season is already off to a good start, after Oakland tied up Chavez with a six-year deal instead of allowing him to follow former MVPs Tejada and Jason Giambi out of town. Chavez will need help offensively. Macha is counting on a healthy -- and productive -- season from Dye and hoping Kotsay and Kielty can fulfill their potential. With Big Three aces Hudson, Mulder and Zito leading the way, the A's figure to be right in it in a competitive AL West race.





Seattle Mariners

2003: 93-69, 2nd place.

Manager: Bob Melvin (second season).

He's Here: OF Raul Ibanez, LHP Eddie Guardado, INF Scott Spiezio, SS Rich Aurilia, OF Quinton McCracken, RHP Kevin Jarvis, INF Dave Hansen, SS Ramon Santiago, LHP Mike Myers.

He's Outta Here: CF Mike Cameron, LHP Arthur Rhodes, RHP Kazuhiro Sasaki, RHP Armando Benitez, SS Carlos Guillen, 3B Jeff Cirillo, INF-OF Mark McLemore, SS-2B Rey Sanchez, OF-1B John Mabry, 1B-DH Greg Colbrunn.

Projected Lineup: RF Ichiro Suzuki (.312, 13, 62, 34 SBs), CF Randy Winn (.295, 11, 75), 2B Bret Boone (.294, 35, 117), LF Raul Ibanez (.294, 18, 90 for Kansas City), DH Edgar Martinez (.294, 24, 98), 3B Scott Spiezio (.265, 16, 83 for Anaheim), 1B John Olerud (.269, 10, 83), SS Rich Aurilia (.277, 13, 58 for San Francisco), C Dan Wilson (.241, 4, 43).

Rotation: LH Jamie Moyer (21-7, 3.27), RH Joel Pineiro (16-11, 3.78), RH Freddy Garcia (12-14, 4.51), RH Ryan Franklin (11-13, 3.57), RH Gil Meche (15-13, 4.59).

Key Relievers: LH Eddie Guardado (3-5, 2.59, 41/45 saves for Minnesota), RH Shigetoshi Hasegawa (2-4, 1.48, 16/17 saves), RH Rafael Soriano (3-0, 1.53), LH Mike Myers (0-1, 5.70, stranded 41/53 runners).

Hot Spot: C Ben Davis has been given opportunity to earn No. 1 position, but he'll have hard time displacing Wilson. A defensively strong team hoped to boost the offense, such a key offseason goal that they let Cameron go. Adding Spiezio and Aurilia gave Melvin the "gamers" he wanted, and the return of Ibanez will help at the plate. Now, can the Mariners avoid the September swoon that's doomed them the last two years?

Stat Sheet: Offensive improvements seem incremental, even with addition of a Hall of Fame player in new hitting coach Paul Molitor. Still, it should help improve a team that is strong on the mound at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. Last year, the Mariners became the second club since 1904 and first in 37 years to use only five starters all season. And the bullpen is one of the deepest.

Bottom Line: Sure, the Mariners are getting older. Two of their biggest stars, Moyer and Martinez, are past 40. Nonetheless, Seattle remains solid defensively with Gold Glove players in Suzuki, Boone and Olerud. The hope is that adjustments in hitting and the bench will get the team past its annual late-season swoon. Then, it's one more shot at postseason.





Anaheim Angels

2003: 77-85, 3rd place.

Manager: Mike Scioscia (fifth season).

He's Here: OF Vladimir Guerrero, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Kelvim Escobar, OF Jose Guillen, INF Shane Halter.

He's Outta Here: INF Scott Spiezio, DH-1B Brad Fullmer, INF-C Shawn Wooten, OF Eric Owens, INF Benji Gil.

Projected Lineup: SS David Eckstein (.252, 3, 31, 16 SBs), 1B Darin Erstad (.252, 4, 17), RF Vladimir Guerrero (.330, 25, 79 with Montreal), CF Garret Anderson (.315, 29, 116), 3B Troy Glaus (.248, 16, 50), DH Tim Salmon (.275, 19, 72), LF Jose Guillen (.314, 31, 85 for Cincinnati and Oakland), C Bengie Molina (.281, 14, 71), 2B Adam Kennedy (.269, 13, 49, 22 SBs).

Rotation: RH Bartolo Colon (15-13, 3.87 with Chicago White Sox), RH Kelvim Escobar (13-9, 4.29 with Toronto), LH Jarrod Washburn (10-15, 4.43), RH John Lackey (10-16, 4.63), RH Ramon Ortiz 16-13, 5.20).

Key Relievers: RH Troy Percival (0-5, 3.47, 33/37 saves), RH Brendan Donnelly (2-2, 1.58), RH Francisco Rodriguez (8-3, 3.03), RH Ben Weber (5-1, 2.69).

Hot Spot: If Eckstein, slowed by hamstring injury last season, can't rebound from poor year at the plate, Scioscia could opt to replace him with Alfredo Amezaga, who has better range at shortstop. Fan favorite Eckstein was a sparkplug in the leadoff spot in the Angels' 2002 World Series championship season, but if he can't start hitting again, he may be benched. Amezaga probably would hit low in the order if he does get the job.

Stat Sheet: Angels likely will open without a left-hander in bullpen, but with their relievers posting a combined 3.15 ERA in 2003, they figure they can get away with it. Their starters weren't nearly so impressive, last year finishing eight games below .500 and posting a 4.90 ERA.

Bottom Line: Owner Arte Moreno cut beer prices when he took over last May, and raised payroll by signing free agents Colon, Escobar, Guerrero and Guillen over the winter. The deals will cost Moreno some $146 million in long-term commitments. With arrival of Guerrero and Guillen, longtime right fielder Salmon will mostly DH, Anderson shifts from left to center, and Erstad from center to first base. Angels head into season with more talent than in 2002, when they were surprise of baseball and won first title.




Texas Rangers

2003: 71-91, 4th place.

Manager: Buck Showalter (second season).

He's Here: 2B Alfonso Soriano, LHP Kenny Rogers, RHP Jeff Nelson, RF Brian Jordan, DH-1B Brad Fullmer, INF-OF Eric Young, OF David Dellucci.

He's Outta Here: SS Alex Rodriguez, 1B Rafael Palmeiro, RF Juan Gonzalez, C Todd Greene, 3B Mike Lamb, OF Shane Spencer, RHP John Thomson.

Projected Lineup: SS Michael Young (.306, 14, 72, 204 hits, 106 runs), 3B Hank Blalock (.300, 29, 90), 2B Alfonso Soriano (.290, 38, 91, 130 strikeouts for Yankees), RF Brian Jordan (.299, 6, 28 for Los Angeles), 1B Mark Teixeira (.259, 26, 84, 120 strikeouts), DH Brad Fullmer (.306, 9, 35 for Anaheim), LF Kevin Mench (.320, 2, 11), CF Laynce Nix (.255, 8, 30), C Einar Diaz (.257, 4, 35).

Rotation: LH Kenny Rogers (13-8, 4.57 for Minnesota), RH Chan Ho Park (1-3, 7.58), RH Ricardo Rodriguez (3-9, 5.73), RH R.A. Dickey (9-8, 5.09), RH Colby Lewis (10-9, 7.30).

Key Relievers: RH Francisco Cordero (5-8, 2.94, 15/25 saves), RH Jeff Nelson (4-2, 3.74), RH Jeff Zimmerman (injured last two years), LH Ron Mahay (3-3, 3.18), LH Erasmo Ramirez (3-1, 3.86), LH Brian Shouse (0-1, 3.10 ERA in 62 appearances).

Hot Spot: Young became one of the AL's top overall second basemen the past 21/2 seasons as Texas' starter. Last season, his .987 fielding percentage (10 errors in 786 chances) was third among AL second basemen and his .306 batting average was the best. But he moved to shortstop to replace Rodriguez. Soriano, the second baseman Texas got in the A-Rod deal, is an offensive threat and two-time All-Star but had 42 errors past two seasons.

Stat Sheet: Texas led majors in homers again last season, but lost 109 of those 239 shots with departures of Rodriguez, Palmeiro and Gonzalez. Plus, Carl Everett hit 18 before being traded in July. Soriano should make up for some of the missing power, but likely cleanup hitter Jordan is coming off knee surgery and has never hit more than 25.

Bottom Line: With Rodriguez gone, there are no established superstars left on the team that had four of the last eight AL MVPs. The Rangers are committed to young players and pitchers, and have cut their payroll from just more than $100 million to about $60 million. There will be more growing pains and plenty more losses, but even with A-Rod the last three seasons, they finished last in the AL West. While another last-place finish seems probable, Rangers hope to make strides this summer and then use newfound financial flexibility next offseason in free agency, most likely on pitching.

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