(Teams listed in order of projected finish)
Los Angeles Angels
Hitting: Vladimir Guerrero will be the centerpiece once more, but he should have a little more help this year with Torii Hunter in the mix. Garret Anderson and Gary Matthews Jr. provide some power, while Chone Figgins has excellent speed at the top of the order. Orlando Cabrera will be missed, but Hunter should make up for his production. Grade: B+
Pitching: This is one of the deepest rotations in baseball, with John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver, newly acquired Jon Garland, and Ervin Santana. Santana is coming off a 7-14 season, but if he can at least be a .500 pitcher, the Angels will be very tough to beat. Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Speier, and Scot Shields combine to give the Angels an excellent bullpen. Grade: A
Fantasy Sleeper: Mike Napoli - He had 10 HRs in only 75 games last year. If he can win the starting job, there's no reason he can't hit 20.
X-Factor: Garret Anderson - His health is crucial to the Angels success. They can be a good team without him, but, even with the addition of Hunter, they'll need his offense to be a great team.
Overview: The Angels greatest strength is still their pitching, but their offense could be significantly better this year with Hunter on board and Figgins healthy. The key will be keeping Guerrero in good shape, as he has worn down in recent years, but with the improved lineup, there should be less pressure on him. If Guerrero is at 100%, this is the best all-around team in baseball.
Hitting: Aside from Ichiro Suzuki, there is not much star power in this lineup. Adrian Beltre and Raul Ibanez will hit 20+ HRs and drive in about 100 runs, but that's about it. Jose Guillen will be missed. Grade: C
Pitching: Seattle's pitching got a huge boost when they traded for Erik Bedard. He'll take over as staff ace, followed by Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn, Carlos Silva, and Miguel Batista. In the 'pen, J.J. Putz will serve as closer, where he excelled last year with 40 saves, a 0.70 WHIP, and a 1.38 ERA. Grade: B+
Fantasy Sleeper: Riche Sexson - He's coming off a terrible season in which he hit only .205, but he still cranked out 21 HRs, and he hit a combined 73 HRs in 2005 and 2006. He could be due for a bounce-back year.
X-Factor: R.A. Dickey - Dickey will be asked to replace George Sherrill, who was the primary set-up man last season. Lacking an especially deep bullpen, the Mariners will need Dickey to perform and get the ball to Putz in the 9th.
Overview: The Mariners played above their talent last year, winning a ton of close games. That would have been very difficult to replicate, but the addition of Bedard should allow the Mariners to win another 88 games, if not a few more. The real challenge will be off-setting the loss of Jose Guillen. If Sexson returns to form and Brad Wilkerson can make up for Guillen's production, then the Mariners could make a run at the division. More likely they finish in 2nd place.
Hitting: With Nick Swisher in Chicago, the A's offense is looking thin. Jack Cust, Daric Barton, and Emil Brown will make up the heart of the order, at least until Eric Chavez returns from injury. Grade: D
Pitching: Without ace Dan Haren, it will be up to Joe Blanton and the oft-injured Rich Harden to carry the load. The bullpen should be in decent shape, with Huston Street, Alan Embree, Keith Foulke, and Justin Duchscherer. However, with a weak rotation, the 'pen will have its hands full. Grade: D+
Fantasy Sleeper: Daric Barton - It's not much of a sample size, but he had a 1.067 OPS in 18 games with the A's last season and wound up batting 3rd in the first game of the season.
X-Factor: Rich Harden - It will take Harden's first healthy season since 2004 for the A's to be in any way competitive. Not too likely, but if he can stay on the field, there's no doubting his talent.
Overview: Like the Twins, the A's dealt their top hitter and pitcher in the same off-season and there will be no easy recovery. It's hard to argue with Billy Beane's track record, but this looks like a rebuilding year for Oakland.
Hitting: With Mark Teixiera gone, Michael Young is the only big name remaining, but he's been in decline the last few years. Marlon Byrd and Ian Kinsler will look to build on last year's success, as will newcomers Milton Bradley and Josh Hamilton. Grade: C-
Pitching: When Jason Jennings (coming off a 6.46 ERA) is considered a pitching upgrade, you know the Rangers are in trouble. Brandon McCarthy has some potential, but struggled last year, and the rest of the rotation was downright awful. Eddie Guardado might provide some stability, but he hasn't been a dominant closer since 2005. Grade: F
Fantasy Sleeper: Jarrod Saltalamacchia - While he was nothing special after being acquired from the Braves, he's got tremendous upside and should see a lot of time behind the plate this year.
X-Factor: Hank Blalock - He put up impressive numbers while healthy last season and is not that far removed from 25-30 HR seasons.
Overview: In Kinsler, Hamilton, and Saltalamacchia, the Rangers have some intriguing young talent, but their pitching staff needs a ton of work. This is undoubtedly a rebuilding year, but perhaps McCarthy can provide a glimmer of hope.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
(Teams listed in order of projected finish)