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2005 American League Preview

By Jim Callis
March 15, 2005

STAFF PREDICTIONS

Most Valuable Player
1. Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
2. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
3. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox

Cy Young
1. Johan Santana, Twins
2. Randy Johnson, Yankees
3. Curt Schilling, Red Sox

Rookie of the Year
1. Dallas McPherson, Angels
2. Nick Swisher, Athletics
3. Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays

Manager of the Year
1. Eric Wedge, Indians
2. Ken Macha, Athletics
3. Ron Gardenhire, Twins

American League Leaders
Batting Average: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners
Home Runs: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
RBIs: Manny Ramirez, Red Sox
Stolen Bases: Carl Crawford, Devil Rays
Wins: Randy Johnson, Yankees
ERA: Johan Santana, Twins
Strikeouts: Johan Santana, Twins
Saves: Mariano Rivera, Yankees.

Selected by Baseball America's correspondents and staff.

A.L. EAST

1. BOSTON RED SOX
Quick Take: The Red Sox may have won their first World Series since 1918, but they still haven't won the division since 1995. That changes this year.
In The Spotlight: RHP Matt Clement. Seemingly always on the verge of a breakthrough, Clement has plenty of stuff but never has won more than 14 games in a season and owns a 69-75 career record. Poor run support is responsible for some of that, but he also has a reputation for finding a way to lose. Now he's facing more pressure than he's ever faced before.

2. NEW YORK YANKEES
Quick Take: Though they'll be the first team to break the $200 million payroll barrier, the Yankees still don't have much depth. They'll still make the playoffs for the 11th straight season, however.
In The Spotlight: RHPs Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. Sure, Randy Johnson is making more money, but it's not like he has to prove himself. Pavano and Wright have combined for three seasons with double-digit victories and a winning record in 15 years in the majors. If they regress after signing for a total of $61 million, New York's rotation will be in troubleagain.

3. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Quick Take: Getting Sammy Sosa for nothing upgrades an already potent lineup. Too bad he can't pitch.
In The Spotlight: RHP Sidney Ponson. The Orioles simply need to get more out of their starting pitchers if they're going to return to respectability. After returning to Baltimore with a $22.5 million free agent contract, Ponson looked less like an ace than a bloated whale, as owner Peter Angelos explored the possibility of voiding the deal because Ponson gained so much weight. He rallied in the second half (8-3, 4.21) and the O's want that type of production over a full season.

4. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Quick Take: The Blue Jays weren't the dark horse they were supposed to be in 2004, but they're better than their 67 victories and last-place finish would indicate.
In The Spotlight: OF Vernon Wells. Following Carlos Delgado's departure as a free agent, Wells is the unquestioned leader of the Blue Jays' offense. He's the only member of the lineup who hit more than 15 homers in 2004, but even then his numbers (.272-23-67) dipped significantly from his breakout 2003 season (.317-33-117).

5. TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
Quick Take: It's hard not to like the Devil Rays' exciting young talent, led by Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir and B.J. Upton in the majors and Delmon Young and Jeff Niemann in the minors. But it's hard to like much else about them.
In The Spotlight: SS B.J. Upton. He's one of baseball's most talented young players, but questions remain. Can he improve enough defensively to stick at shortstop? If not, where is he going to play? And after the Rays re-signed Julio Lugo, where is Upton going to get his at-bats in 2005?


A.L. CENTRAL

1. MINNESOTA TWINS
Quick Take: Memo to Bud Selig: These Twins are no aberration.
In The Spotlight: C Joe Mauer. He repeated as the No. 1 player on our Top 100 Prospects list, but that's not a good thing. The only reason he qualified was a knee injury that ended his first big league season after a promising start. His bat will make him a star wherever he plays, but the Twins need him to be able to play regularly behind the plate this year. The best alternative is Mike Redmond.

2. CLEVELAND INDIANS
Quick Take: General manager Mark Shapiro needed just three years to retool the Indians and return them to contention.
In The Spotlight: RHP Kevin Millwood. He has had two big seasons (1999, 2002) and six decidedly average ones. After turning in the worst ERA of his career (4.85) and coming down with elbow problems, he had to settle for a one-year deal as a free agent. If he rebounds, the Indians would have the deepest rotation in the division and a better shot of overtaking the Twins.

3. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Quick Take: The AL's biggest underachievers in recent years will fall short again.
In The Spotlight: RHP Jose Contreras. Like most Cuban defectors, Contreras has fallen well short of expectations in the majors. He couldn't handle the pressure of pitching for the Yankees, yet the White Sox picked up $15 million of the last two years of his contract in hopes he could turn it around after a change of scenery. But his command was still shaky after he arrived in Chicago last July, and the mid-revenue White Sox may rue that financial decision.

4. DETROIT TIGERS
Quick Take: No longer a laughingstock, reaching .500 two years after losing 119 games isn't out of the question.
In The Spotlight: OF Magglio Ordonez. Teams had difficulty gaining a handle on the condition of Ordonez' left knee, after he had surgery in Austria and agent Scott Boras kept him under wraps. And in 135 career at-bats at Comerica Park, Ordonez has homered just once while hitting .259. Yet the Tigers gave him a five-year, $75 million contract when most clubs were unwilling to go beyond even two years.

5. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Quick Take: At least they have Zack Greinke.
In The Spotlight: SS Angel Berroa. Will the real Angel Berroa please stand up? Is he the .287-17-73 American League rookie of the year from 2003, or the .262-8-43 flop of 2004? If the answer is the latter, that's one more hole the woeful Royals will have to fill.


A.L. WEST

1. ANAHEIM ANGELS
Quick Take: Not necessarily the best team in the AL, but the biggest lock to make the playoffs.
In The Spotlight: 3B Dallas McPherson. He has the big-time pop (43 homers last year) to take over for Troy Glaus, but he also has big-time contact issues (186 strikeouts). If McPherson isn't ready for prime-time duty, the Angels will be giving up a lot of power production at the hot corner by having to turn to Chone Figgins or Rob Quinlan.

2. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Quick Take: Trading Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder makes sense for the long term, but the A's will take a step back in 2005.
In The Spotlight: RHP Rich Harden. The A's will cut Danny Haren, Dan Meyer and Joe Blanton some slack as they remake their rotation. But they can't wait for Harden, their best pitcher in the second half of 2004, to take the next step and become the No. 1 starter his stuff says he can be. Should he take a step back, their rotation could be a mess.

3. SEATTLE MARINERS
Quick Take: Two big free-agent signings (Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson) alone won't turn around a 99-loss club.
In The Spotlight: GM Bill Bavasi. In his first year at the helm of the Mariners, Bavasi did a lot of roster shuffling. Many of his moves didn't work out as Seattle lost 99 games, its most since 1983. Bavasi was aggressive again during the offseason, signing Beltre for $64 million and Sexson for $50 million. Another awful season wouldn't sit well in the Pacific Northwest.

4. TEXAS RANGERS
Quick Take: What are the odds the Rangers finish with the league's fifth-best ERA again? Not bloody likely.
In The Spotlight: Pitching coach Orel Hershiser. Hershiser worked wonders with a nondescript Rangers staff in 2004, a major reason the club surprisingly contended all year after finishing in last place the four previous seasons. If Texas is going to challenge for the postseason again, he'll have to work similar magic because the rotation still lacks anyone who remotely throws fear into opposing hitters.

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