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Archive for Wednesday, February 13, 2008

MLB American League capsules

February 13, 2008

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EAST

Boston Red Sox

Manager: Terry Francona (fifth season).

2007: 96-66, first place, World Series champions.

Training Town: Fort Myers, Fla.

Park: City of Palms Park.

First Workout: Feb. 16/Feb. 22.

He's Here: 1B Sean Casey, RHP Dan Kolb, RHP David Aardsma.

He's Outta Here: 1B-OF Eric Hinske, INF Royce Clayton.

Outlook: 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, LHP Jon Lester and CF Jacoby Ellsbury, helped in the title run. Lester pitched 5 2-3 shutout innings in the final game of the four-game Series sweep over Colorado. The fleet Ellsbury surged onto the scene in September and hit .438 in the World Series. 3B Mike Lowell, MVP of the Series, returns with a new three-year contract. Cy Young Award runner-up Josh Beckett and closer Jonathan Papelbon lead a strong pitching staff, but RHP Curt Schilling's shoulder injury is a major concern. Sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez continue in the third and fourth spots and likely will follow Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia in the lineup.

New York Yankees

Manager: Joe Girardi (first season).

2007: 94-68, second place, wild card.

Training Town: Tampa, Fla.

Park: Legends Field.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: RHP LaTroy Hawkins, 1B-3B Morgan Ensberg, 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.

Outlook: New York's streak of nine consecutive division titles ended last season, but the Yankees rallied from a slow start to earn their 13th straight playoff berth. They were eliminated in the first round for the third year in a row, however, losing in four games to Cleveland. That was the start of a whirlwind offseason. Torre walked away after 12 years at the helm when the team offered him just a one-year contract with a paycut. He landed with the Dodgers and was replaced by his former bench coach, Girardi, the 2006 NL Manager of the Year with Florida. Star 3B Alex 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. New York brought back three other key free agents in C Jorge Posada, LHP Andy Pettitte and closer Mariano Rivera, and exercised RF Bobby Abreu's $16 million option. The Yankees made a brief bid for Johan Santana, then pulled out of talks because they didn't want to part with young pitching. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy could all end up in the rotation. All eyes will be on Chamberlain this spring after he was so dominant as a rookie setup man down the stretch last season. The Yankees plan to use him as a starter, the role he was accustomed to in the minors and college. But the bullpen bridge to Rivera still looks shaky and it might be tempting to put Chamberlain back in a relief role at some point. Health is a big concern for Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who is coming off knee surgery. They could share time at LF and DH. The Yankees hope Jason Giambi can play some first base, too. Otherwise, they'll have a logjam at DH with three aging left-handed hitters. Ensberg and Lane will compete with Wilson Betemit and Shelley Duncan this spring for playing time at first base. This is the team's final year at storied Yankee Stadium before moving into a new ballpark across the street in 2009.

Toronto Blue Jays

Manager: John Gibbons (fifth season).

2007: 83-79, third place.

Training Town: Dunedin, Fla.

Park: Knology Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 16/Feb. 21.

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.

Outlook: Injuries to key players hurt the Blue Jays in 2007, with LHP B.J. Ryan (elbow), RHP A.J. Burnett (shoulder), OF Reed Johnson (back), 1B Lyle Overbay (hand), C Gregg Zaun (hand) and LHP Gustavo Chacin (shoulder) all missing long stretches. OF Vernon Wells and Glaus played through nagging injuries but saw their production slide. Staying healthy will be essential in 2008. Rolen and Eckstein give Toronto a new left side of the infield. Gibbons will use spring training to tinker with his batting order, but there won't be much competition for everyday jobs. With Ryan expected to reclaim the closer's job and RHP Jeremy Accardo returning to the setup role, RHP Casey Janssen will try to win the fifth starter's job. RHP Roy Halladay, Burnett, RHP Dustin McGowan and RHP Shaun Marcum are the favorites to win the first four spots.

Baltimore Orioles

Manager: Dave Trembley (first full season).

2007: 69-93, fourth place.

Training Town: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Park: Fort Lauderdale Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 19.

He's Here: OF Luke Scott, RHP Matt Albers, LHP Troy Patton, RHP Dennis Sarfate, 3B Michael Costanzo, RHP Greg Aquino, RHP Lance Cormier, RHP Esteban Yan, C Guillermo Quiroz, LHP Ryan Rodriguez, 1B Tim Brown, RHP J.P. Martinez, RHP Randor Bierd.

He's Outta Here: SS Miguel Tejada, CF Corey Patterson, OF Jay Payton, RHP Todd Williams, RHP Rob Bell, C J.R. House, RHP Victor Santos.

Outlook: After years of attempting to stay afloat by signing second-tier free agents, the Orioles have committed to rebuilding through youth under club president Andy MacPhail. By unloading Tejada and shopping ace Erik Bedard for prospects, MacPhail essentially sacrificed the 2008 season - and maybe 2009 as well - to build for the next decade. The Orioles begin camp looking to fill out a thin starting rotation. They have no closer and no adequate replacement for Tejada, whose departure leaves a gaping hole at SS and the cleanup spot. Trembley will begin his first full year as a major league manager with essentially no hope of ending Baltimore's franchise-record run of 10 straight losing seasons.

Tampa Bay Rays

Manager: Joe Maddon (third season).

2007: 66-96, fifth place.

Training Town: St. Petersburg, Fla.

Park: Progress Energy Park.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: RHP Matt Garza, RHP Troy Percival, SS Jason Bartlett, 3B Willy Aybar, OF Cliff Floyd, LHP Trever Miller, 1B-OF Eric Hinske, LHP Brian Anderson.

He's Outta Here: OF Delmon Young, OF Elijah Dukes, INF Brendan Harris, RHP Jay Witasick, LHP Jeff Ridgway, RHP Shawn Camp.

Outlook: The Rays launched a busy offseason by dropping the word "Devil" from their nickname, unveiling new uniforms and team colors, and announcing plans to build a new waterfront stadium. The club also pulled the trigger on a big trade that sent Young to Minnesota for Garza and Bartlett, who figure to improve the starting pitching and defense. Tampa Bay also traded troubled youngster Dukes, upgraded the bullpen by signing Percival and acquired Aybar to hold down third base until top prospect Evan Longoria is ready for the majors. The Rays have never won more than 70 games in a season but are confident they're headed in the right direction. Payroll has increased to more than $40 million - up from just over $24 million at the start of last season. But unless the starting pitching and bullpen improve dramatically, it figures to be another long year in a division dominated by the Red Sox and Yankees.

CENTRAL

Cleveland Indians

Manager: Eric Wedge (fifth season).

2007: 96-66, first place.

Training Town: Winter Haven, Fla.

Park: Chain of Lakes Park.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 16.

He's Here: RHP Masahide Kobayashi, INF Jamey Carroll, RHP Jorge Julio.

He's Outta Here: OF Kenny Lofton, OF Trot Nixon, RHP Jason Davis.

Outlook: There wasn't much to do this offseason, and that's a positive. The Indians are bringing back virtually their entire roster from last season when they ran away with the rugged AL Central, knocked the New York Yankees out of the playoffs and had Boston down 3-1 in the ALCS before losing three straight. Wedge's greatest challenge will be getting his young club to the next level. The team recently offered a long-term contract extension to ace C.C. Sabathia, the reigning Cy Young Award winner, who stands to become baseball's next $20-million-per-season pitcher. Talks could carry through spring training. Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey and Cliff Lee are expected to compete for the No. 5 starter's job. Lee, though, could be shopped around along with 3B Andy Marte, who is out of minor league options.

Detroit Tigers

Manager: Jim Leyland (third season).

2007: 88-74, second place.

Training Town: Lakeland, Fla.

Park: Joker Marchant Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: 3B Miguel Cabrera, SS Edgar Renteria, OF Jacque Jones, LHP Dontrelle Willis.

He's Outta Here: 1B Sean Casey, INF Omar Infante, LHP Andrew Miller, OF Cameron Maybin.

Outlook: The Tigers are considered title contenders heading into spring training. Detroit followed up a 2006 World Series appearance by contending for a playoff spot deep into last season, then quickly sent a message that it's not content with being merely good. In the first major deal of the offseason, the Tigers acquired All-Stars Cabrera and Willis from Florida by giving up top prospects Maybin and Miller. GM Dave Dombrowski was busy before and after that move, exercising a $16 million option on C Ivan Rodriguez's contract; acquiring Renteria and Jones; and re-signing LHP Kenny Rogers and closer Todd Jones. The Tigers will need to find candidates to fill in for reliever Joel Zumaya, who will miss at least half the season with a shoulder injury.

Minnesota Twins

Manager: Ron Gardenhire (seventh season).

2007: 79-83, third place.

Training Town: Fort Myers, Fla.

Park: Hammond Stadium at Lee County Sports Complex.

First Workout: Feb. 18/Feb. 23.

He's Here: OF Delmon Young, 3B Mike Lamb, SS Adam Everett, INF Brendan Harris, CF Carlos Gomez, CF Jason Pridie, RHP Phil Humber, OF Craig Monroe, LHP Francisco Liriano (returning from elbow surgery).

He's Outta Here: LHP Johan Santana, CF Torii Hunter, RHP Carlos Silva, SS Jason Bartlett, RHP Matt Garza, OF Lew Ford, OF Rondell White, OF Jason Tyner, INF Luis Rodriguez.

Outlook: The Twins were in the news as much as any team in baseball this winter, which culminated with the long-awaited trade of two-time Cy Young Award winner Santana to the Mets. He leaves a huge hole in the rotation that will welcome 2006 All-Star Liriano back, provided he's strong enough after his Tommy John procedure nearly 17 months ago. Even with a healthy Liriano, starting pitching will be a major question for Minnesota while a handful of unproven young hurlers fights to fill the five spots. For now, closer Joe Nathan anchors what should be a dependable bullpen, but he's in the final year of his contract and if the Twins can't stay in contention he would be valuable in a trade. Lost in the hype over Santana's situation and Hunter's departure via free agency to the Angels was the acquisition of Young from the Rays. The Rookie of the Year runner-up could have a significant impact on a lineup that lagged last year. Lamb should upgrade the offense at third, but it's not clear who will lead off and who will play center. Gomez, one of four prospects fetched for Santana, is the front-runner with Pridie and Denard Span also in the mix.

Chicago White Sox

Manager: Ozzie Guillen (fifth season).

2007: 72-90, fourth place.

Training Town: Tucson, Ariz.

Park: Tucson Electric Park.

First Workout: Feb. 17/Feb. 22.

He's Here: SS Orlando Cabrera, OF Nick Swisher, RHP Scott Linebrink, RHP Octavio Dotel, OF Carlos Quentin, INF-OF Alexei Ramirez.

He's Outta Here: RHP Jon Garland, OF Scott Podsednik.

Outlook: No Torii Hunter. No Miguel Cabrera. And no Aaron Rowand, either. The White Sox took some big swings at a splashy acquisition in the offseason and missed. The question is, did they retool enough to rebound from a miserable season? By adding Linebrink and Dotel to a bullpen that was 19-25 with a 5.49 ERA and 23 blown saves, the White Sox think they have a bridge between the starters and closer Bobby Jenks. Now, they need to clear the logjam at third base, where Josh Fields showed promise as a rookie while Joe Crede missed most of last season with a back injury. They also need to settle on a leadoff hitter, center fielder and second baseman. Jerry Owens could lead off and play center if he shows he can hit left-handers. Cabrera, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for two-time 18-game winner Garland, could also lead off, and Ramirez might wind up in center. Ramirez is also part of a four-way competition at second base.

Kansas City Royals

Manager: Trey Hillman (first season).

2007: 69-93, fifth place.

Training Town: Surprise, Ariz.

Park: Surprise Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 19th.

He's Here: OF Jose Guillen, RHP Brett Tomko, RHP Yasuhiko Yabuta, LHP Ron Mahay, C Miguel Olivo, INF Alberto Callaspo, RHP Hideo Nomo, RHP Brian Lawrence, RHP Chin-hui Tsao.

He's Outta Here: Manager Buddy Bell, DH-1B Mike Sweeney, OF Emil Brown, OF Reggie Sanders, C Jason LaRue, LHP Odalis Perez, RHP David Riske, RHP Scott Elarton, RHP Billy Buckner.

Outlook: The big change for the Royals is Hillman, the only manager in the big leagues this year who didn't coach or play in the majors. He replaces Bell, who resigned in August but finished out the season. Hillman spent many years managing in the Yankees' minor league system and for the past five seasons was the highly successful manager of Japan's Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. He inherits a young team that will be trying to wrest itself free of four straight last-place finishes in the tough AL Central. Last season the Royals had four impact rookies: RHP Joakim Soria led the club with 17 saves, RHP Brian Bannister led the team with 12 wins, 3B Alex Gordon led AL rookies with 55 extra-base hits and DH-1B Billy Butler hit .292 at age 21. Rookie RHP Luke Hochevar, the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, has a chance to break camp with the club as the No. 4 or 5 starter. First base is wide open with Ryan Shealy, Ross Gload and Butler competing.

WEST

Los Angeles Angels

Manager: Mike Scioscia (ninth season).

2007: 94-68, first place.

Training Town: Tempe, Ariz.

Park: Tempe Diablo Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 20.

He's Here: RHP Jon Garland, CF Torii Hunter.

He's Outta Here: RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Greg Jones, RHP Chris Resop, INF Dallas McPherson, SS Orlando Cabrera, OF Tommy Murphy, OF Nick Gorneault.

Outlook: The Angels are solid favorites to win their fourth AL West championship in five years, but that in itself won't be very satisfying. They had high hopes last October before being swept by the Red Sox in the first round of the playoffs. Hunter and Garland were the only offseason additions, but both figure to make a significant impact. The Angels figure to have one of baseball's best defensive outfields with Hunter, Gary Matthews Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero or Garret Anderson. Hunter adds some much-needed power. Anderson, terrific in the second half last season, and Guerrero, one of baseball's finest hitters, figure to share the DH duties. Even before the addition of Garland, an 18-game winner in 2005 and '06, the Angels had one of the strongest rotations around with John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar and Jered Weaver leading the way. Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis will compete for the starting SS job, with outstanding prospect Brandon Wood waiting in the wings. One concern is Escobar's sore shoulder that will limit him at the beginning of spring training.

Seattle Mariners

Manager: John McLaren (first full season).

2007: 88-74, second place.

Training Town: Peoria, Ariz.

Park: Peoria Sports Complex.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 20.

He's Here: RHP Carlos Silva, OF-1B Brad Wilkerson, INF Miguel Cairo.

He's Outta Here: Manager Mike Hargrove, OF Jose Guillen, RHP Jeff Weaver, 1B-OF Ben Broussard.

Outlook: GM Bill Bavasi spent much of the offseason trying to upgrade the rotation, and reports said he was close to landing lefty Erik Bedard in a proposed trade with Baltimore. Bedard would come at a hefty price: outfield prospect Adam Jones and reliever George Sherrill, the Mariners' best lefty in the bullpen. Bavasi is obviously trying to win this year, and a rotation of Bedard, Felix Hernandez and Silva would give the Mariners a talented 1-2-3 at the top of the rotation. Seattle is hoping Wilkerson can stay healthy and come close to the numbers Guillen provided last year in right field, but the Mariners did little to upgrade the offense. RHP J.J. Putz is one of the top closers in the game. McLaren gets his first full season as a big league manager after taking over for Hargrove midway through the 2007 season and faces pressure to catch the Angels in an AL West race that's expected to be a two-team chase.

Oakland Athletics

Manager: Bob Geren (second season).

2007: 76-86, third place.

Training Town: Phoenix.

Park: Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 14/Feb. 21.

He's Here: OF Emil Brown, RHP Joey Devine, RHP Kirk Saarloos, OF Carlos Gonzalez, LHP Gio Gonzalez, LHP Dana Eveland, OF Ryan Sweeney, LHPs Brett Anderson.

He's Outta Here: RHP Dan Haren, OF Nick Swisher, OF Mark Kotsay, DH Mike Piazza, OF Shannon Stewart, INF Marco Scutaro, RHP Colby Lewis.

Outlook: The A's began the offseason with thoughts of adding home run king Barry Bonds and making a run at the Angels in the AL West. Instead, GM Billy Beane dealt Haren, Swisher and Kotsay when he decided to rebuild because he didn't think he had the pieces to match the Angels. Oakland restocked its farm system with the Haren and Swisher deals but it will take a few years to determine whether those moves will translate to wins on the field. The big questions on the field revolve around the health of RHP Rich Harden, 3B Eric Chavez and SS Bobby Crosby, whose injuries last season helped contribute to Oakland's first losing season since 1998. The A's figure to have another after their latest deals.

Texas Rangers

Manager: Ron Washington (second season).

2007: 75-87, fourth place.

Training Town: Surprise, Ariz.

Park: Surprise Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 15/Feb. 21.

He's Here: OF Milton Bradley, 1B Ben Broussard, RHP Kazuo Fukumori, CF Josh Hamilton, RHP Jason Jennings, LHP Eddie Guardado, INF Edgardo Alfonzo.

He's Outta Here: DH Sammy Sosa, OF Brad Wilkerson, RHP Akinori Otsuka, RHP Edinson Volquez, INF Jerry Hairston.

Outlook: A healthy Hank Blalock could be one of the most significant additions for Texas. Blalock didn't play third base after May last season, but the two-time All-Star says he is "back to normal" following surgery to have a rib removed from near his right shoulder and extra rehabilitation in the offseason. The three spots Washington considered offseason needs were filled: center field (Hamilton), right field (Bradley) and first base (Broussard). But questions persist. Bradley is coming off knee surgery. Broussard was primarily a platoon player the past two years. Hamilton, the first overall draft pick in 1999 whose career was nearly derailed by alcohol and drug abuse, has a lot to prove even after a breakout rookie season in Cincinnati. Dallas native Jennings was added to the rotation after being hampered last season by elbow problems, as were Guardado and Fukumori. Guardado provides a much-needed veteran presence in a bullpen missing RHP Eric Gagne and Otsuka. Guardado will likely be a setup man and mentor to closer candidates C.J. Wilson and Joaquin Benoit. The Rangers were 29-28 after the trade deadline and the departures of 1B Mark Teixeira, CF Kenny Lofton, LHP Ron Mahay and Gagne. They will have to keep improving to escape the AL West basement.

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