Sure we focus most of our attention on which prospects are going to emerge this year and who’s likely to go No. 1 in this June’s draft, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also keep an eye on the ultimate goal–who will win this year’s World Series. So with that in mind, here’s Baseball America’s quick look at how the American League should shape up this season.
|1||NEW YORK YANKEES|
TAKE: The Yankees are the favorites to take home a 10th straight AL East title.
But we say their World Series championship drought extends to seven years,
leading to more angst in the Bronx.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP
Carl Pavano. In two years with New
York, Pavano has earned four wins at a cost of $17
million. Management and his teammates are getting tired of his injuries and
excuses, and they need him after remaking the back of their rotation.
|2||BOSTON RED SOX|
TAKE: Deeper starting pitching? Check. Upgrades at shortstop and right field?
Check. Replacement for Jonathan Papelbon at closer? The Red Sox will figure it
out in time to win their second World Series in four years.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka. Who else? For all the heat it took for
investing $103 million to get him, Boston
could look smart by the end of the season. He’s one of the top 10 pitchers in
the world–and the only member of that group who has yet to make his big league
|3||TORONTO BLUE JAYS|
TAKE: The Blue Jays keep spending more money, but
by the end of the season GM J.P. Ricciardi once again will complain that he
needs more to keep up with the Yankees and Red Sox.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: 2B Aaron Hill. Fellow first-round middle infielder Russ Adams
already has washed out, and Toronto
needs better offense (.291/.349/.386 last year) and defense out of Hill. Plans
B and C are John McDonald and Jason Smith, and they can’t hit.
TAKE: A once-proud franchise is making strides toward regaining respectability,
but strides aren’t enough in this division.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: OF Nick Markakis. He arrived in the majors a little ahead of
schedule, cracking the Opening Day roster last year. After learning on the job
in the first half (.268, two homers), he was one of the toughest outs in the AL (.311, 14 homers) in
the second half.
|5||TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS|
TAKE: The Devil Rays have impressive young big league talent and the game’s
best farm system, but a $24 million payroll isn’t going to cut it, especially
in the AL East.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: UTIL B.J. Upton. He was
ready to hit in the majors as a 19-year-old in 2004, but three years later he
hasn’t found a defensive home. Tampa
Bay has finally figured
out he’s not a shortstop, and it may shuttle him among several positions to
give him the at-bats he needs. He’s still just 22, so there’s still plenty of
time for him to become a star.
TAKE: The Indians were better than last year’s 78-84 record would indicate, and
they’re going to slingshot past the three 90-or-more-wins teams from 2006.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Joe Borowski. Cleveland
had difficulty closing out games after trading Bob Wickman last summer, and Keith
Foulke abruptly decided to retire at the opening of spring training. If
Borowski can’t reprise his 36-save magic with the Marlins from a year ago, the
Tribe may have to turn to rookie Tony Sipp.
TAKE: Teams that make a sudden surge forward one season often regress the next.
So do young pitchers coming off career-high workloads. The combination will be
enough to make the Tigers just miss the playoffs.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: DH Gary Sheffield. Detroit didn’t
make many changes after reaching the World Series, but it did add Sheffield without giving up anyone who factored heavily
into their big league plans this year. He’s the most dangerous bat in the
|3||CHICAGO WHITE SOX|
TAKE: An older team whose window of contention won’t stay open too much longer,
the White Sox would have a better chance in 2007 if they hadn’t traded Freddy
Garcia and Brandon McCarthy.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: LHP Mark
Buehrle. The White Sox were 33-36 in the second half last year, and Buehrle went
3-7, 6.44 after making the AL
all-star team. After trading pitching depth, Chicago needs a rebound by Buehrle.
TAKE: The Twins have the game’s best pitcher (Johan Santana), best catcher (Joe
Mauer) and reigning AL MVP (Justin Morneau). They’d be the favorites in the
West but look like the fourth-best club in the Central.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Matt Garza. Minnesota
signed retreads Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson, but get serious. Garza is the
most talented of three rookie pitchers who could force their way into the
rotation, a group that also includes Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey.
|5||KANSAS CITY ROYALS|
TAKE: The Royals are becoming less of a laughingstock under new GM Dayton
Moore, but they’re still a long way from dreaming about the playoffs.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: 3B Alex Gordon. The first player ever to win BA’s college and
minor league player of the year awards (and he did it in back to back years),
Gordon is the face of hope for the franchise. If Kansas City gives him the playing time, he
could be the club’s first 100-RBI rookie since Carlos Beltran.
|1||LOS ANGELES ANGELS|
TAKE: The Angels wasted an opportunity to win the AL West last year because
they couldn’t figure out the right mix of veterans and prospects. They’re still
sorting things out at a few positions, but Los Angeles has enough answers for a third
division title in four years.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: OF Gary
Matthews. Coming off a career year at age 31, Matthews signed a $50 million
contract that drew a lot of criticism. And that was before his name became
associated with a human-growth hormone investigation.
TAKE: The Athletics have finished no worse than second place in the last nine
years, despite never having a payroll that ranks among the game’s upper half.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Rich Harden. Harden has the pure talent to win a Cy Young
Award. But he’ll have to stay healthy, something he hasn’t done while logging
just 28 starts over the last two years.
TAKE: Trading for Horacio Ramirez and Jose Vidro and signing Miguel Batista and
Jeff Weaver doesn’t exactly scream “turnaround” for a franchise
coming off its worst three-year stretch since 1979-81.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: GM Bill Bavasi. Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln put Bavasi on
notice before he embarked on a series of offseason moves that have been widely
panned. Little has gone right in Bavasi’s three years on the job, and he needs
better results pronto.
TAKE: The Rangers will continue to score a lot of runs and surrender a lot of
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: RHP Vicente Padilla. Padilla shed
his underachiever tag in 2006, winning 15 games and earning a new $33.75
million contract. If he can’t reprise that performance and serve as a rotation
anchor along with Kevin Millwood,
Texas has little chance to