Few surprises in store for 2003 MLB season

by David Morain

American League:


Baltimore Orioles: Life in Baltimore is pretty dismal when your most recognizable player is David Segui. The pitching is going to have to get better before it gets worse, and Scott Erickson’s season-ending injury might actually be a blessing in disguise. These Orioles are too young to know that they’re bad, so they might pull off a few more victories than last year’s 67. Any more Ripkens?

Projected Finish: Fourth (73-89)

Boston Red Sox: Adding the big bat of David Ortiz should provide a little more protection for Manny Ramirez. The pitching looks stronger than ever with aces Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe as well as future superstar Casey Fossum. The real question will be if the closer-by-committee plan will work in Bean Town.

Projected Finish: Second (93-69, Wild Card)

New York Yankees: Not satisfied with simply being able to sign any player in America, Big Daddy Steinbrenner decided to pitch the big bucks to global stars Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui (Japan) and Jose Contreras (Cuba). The core of the team is back, and Steinbrenner’s comments about Derek Jeter’s late-night carousing might actually get the pampered pantywaist batting above .300.

Projected Finish: First (95-77)

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The lineup consists of overpaid underachievers while their pitching staff looks as though manager Lou Piniella picked five random guys from the phone book and invited them to Spring Training. Worse yet, Tampa Bay let their only viable star (Randy Winn) and signed a no-hitting shortstop (Rey Ordonez) to a ludicrous contract. These guys would have trouble with most tee-ball teams.

Projected Finish: Fifth (55-107)

Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays will surprise some people this year with Shannon Stewart and Carlos Delgado surrounded by emerging stars Eric Hinske and Josh Phelps. Their rotation will feature youth, as future gces Roy Halladay and Cory Lidle will attempt to mentor a group of rookie starters. Look for Toronto to dash out of the gates, then cool off after the All-Star break.

Projected Finish: Third (83-80)


Chicago White Sox: What went wrong this off-season? Frank Thomas. What went right? Everything else. Magglio Ordonez and Paul Konerko are coming off the best offensive seasons in their respective careers while Carlos Lee looks poised to break out of his slump.

Projected Finish: First (93-69)

Cleveland Indians: This will be a rebuilding year for the Indians. The club let go of slugger Jim Thome, that leaves former second baseman Matt Lawton and the soon-to-be-retired Ellis Burks to provide power in the middle of the lineup. C.C. Sabathia will be the only ace on this jumbled staff of never-will-bes.

Projected Finish: Third (78-84)

Detroit Tigers: The best acquisition Detroit had this off-season was touting former Tiger great Alan Trammell as the new manager. They might actually be better off if he suited up. Robert Fick and Randall Simon, the only offensive threats on the team, jumped ship like rats on the Titanic, leaving overrated-yet-overpaid Bobby Higginson to carry the load at the plate. Matt Anderson is a great closer, but he probably won’t see much action if the Tigers lose 106 games like they did last year.

Projected Finish: Fifth (58-104)

Kansas City Royals: It’s too bad that Kansas City makes stars Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney seem dimmer by surrounding them with Goodwill-quality players like Desi Relaford and Mark Quinn. Four of the Royals’ starters are younger than 25, led by hard-throwing Runelvys Hernandez. While Kansas City won’t be playing in October, these players could be pretty decent with a couple of years under their belts.

Projected Finish: Fourth (71-91)

Minnesota Twins: The Twins came out of nowhere last season, winning 94 games on their way to claiming the AL Central pennant. It could happen again this year if 1) Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter continue their rise to stardom, 2) Brad Radke and Kenny Rogers can hold down the pitching staff until Eric Milton returns from surgery and 3) the White Sox don’t put together a mid-season charge like they did in 2001.

Projected Finish: Second (89-73)


Anaheim Angels: No one expected Anaheim to wind up with a winning record last season, much less win the World Series. Unlike most championship clubs, the Angels didn’t lose one starting player from their lineup. David Eckstein and Darin Erstad will continue to provide RBI opportunities for sluggers Troy Glaus and Garrett Anderson. Strikeout master Francisco Rodriguez will prove troublesome for opposing batters.

Projected Finish: Second (89-73)

Oakland Athletics: The A’s will look to cement their claim to the top spot in the AL using a talented group of potential all-stars. Newly acquired Erubiel Durazo and a fully-recovered Jermaine Dye will provide more than enough protection for reigning AL MVP Miguel Tejada. Oakland boasts the best pitching rotation in baseball with the youthful nucleus of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and AL Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito.

Projected Finish: First (96-66)

Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki hasn’t lost a step, but it won’t make any difference if John Olerud and Bret Boone can’t knock him in. Aging third baseman Jeff Cirilo should have retired four years ago. Freddy Garcia is a great staff ace, but having Jamie Moyer as the second option simply won’t get it done in this division.

Projected Finish: Third (85-77)

Texas Rangers: Texas is perhaps the most poorly run club in all of baseball (Tampa Bay included). With Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmiero in the lineup, the Rangers are a sure bet to score runs. The question is how many they will give up. The organization is going to have to wake up and realize that you can’t build a winning tradition around a staff that has Chan Ho Park and Ismael Valdez as headliners.

Projected Finish: Fourth (76-86)

National League:


Atlanta Braves: The Braves are the Yankees of the National League. Not only did they grab slugging first baseman Robert Fick from the ill-fated Tigers, they also inked or traded for pitching studs Mike Hampton, Russ Ortiz and Paul Byrd. If the real Gary Sheffield shows up, and catcher Javy Lopez’ knees and closer John Smoltz’ arm stay healthy for one more season, Atlanta could do it.

Projected Finish: First (98-64)

Florida Marlins: The Marlins’ lineup is “small ball” at its finest, with speed (Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre) at the top of the lineup followed by a cluster of average hitters (Derek Lee, Juan Encarnacion and Todd Hollandsworth). The staff is young and powerful. A.J. Burnett is a workhorse (seven complete games in 2002) and Josh Beckett is one of the finest pitching prospects in the last decade.

Projected Finish: Fifth (75-87)

Montreal Expos: Believe it or not, Montreal has quietly put together a group of talented ballplayers who actually want to stay with the team. Vladimir Guerrero, the best player in the game, has a great supporting cast in Jose Vidro and Orlando Cabrera. Losing Bartolo Colon was tough, but the pitching rotation will still be strong with Javier Vazquez and Tony Armas, Jr., at the helm. The X-factor is how the team will respond to playing 22 home games in Puerto Rico.

Projected Finish: Third (84-78)

New York Mets: After a spending spree in 2002 that brought Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn and Jeromy Burnitz to New York didn’t work, the front office decided to throw some more money at slugger Cliff Floyd and ace Tom Glavine. However, the best move of the off-season was dumping Rey Ordonez to make room for rookie Jose Reyes. If new manager Art Howe can somehow keep all these egos satisfied, he could end up ousting the Braves as the dominant team in the NL East.

Projected Finish: Fourth (77-85)

Philadelphia Phillies: No one had a better off-season than the Phillies. Not only did they land the most prized free agent and future Hall of Famer Jim Thome, they practically stole burgeoning stud Kevin Millwood from league rivals Atlanta. Pat Burrell is a threat to lead the league in homers while Bobby Abreu is the best player you’ve never heard of.

Projected Finish: Second (90-72, Wild Card))


Chicago Cubs: Yeah, the Cubs have a lot of young talent and, yeah, they still won’t win the World Series this year. Still, there is cause for optimism, as super prospects Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill look to compliment the always-dangerous Sammy Sosa. Corey Patterson might be a great leadoff hitter if he can keep his strikeout-to-walk ratio down.

Projected Finish: Third (78-84)

Cincinnati Reds: The Reds could be a tough team if everyone stays healthy, both physically and mentally. With a great Spring Training, Ken Griffey, Jr., looks ready to correct his three-year slump. Adam Dunn will be a threat to hit 50 home runs if he can put the bat on the ball. Notice for Barry Larkin: please retire. The pitching rotation is about as deep as a Dixie Cup, with Danny Graves hoping to have a Derek Lowe-type season switching from being a relief pitching to starting.

Projected Finish: Fifth (73-89)

Houston Astros: Houston will have even more power in the lineup this season with the addition of Jeff Kent, the best slugging second baseman of all time. It is yet to be proven how Craig Biggio will adjust to his move to the outfield, though he did just fine when he moved to second from catcher almost a decade ago.

Projected Finish: Second (87-75)

Milwaukee Brewers: “Heir” Selig’s team may be the worst in the NL. The loss of slugging shortstop Jose Hernandez will mean less strikeouts for the Brewers, but they made a horrible decision by signing Royce Clayton to replace him. All-Star first baseman Richie Sexon should beg for a trade if he knows what’s good for him. Ben Sheets and Todd Ritchie are the only bright spots on an otherwise dismal rotation. Selig should have looked here first when thinking about contraction.

Projected Finish: Sixth (58-104)

Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s hard to believe, but the Pirates won’t be horrible this year. Brian Giles is one of the best players in the league, and if Aramis Ramirez and Jason Kendall can rebound from last season’s disappointments, Pittsburgh could take a big step forward. Kris Benson and Kip Wells are two young starters who will have great careers if their arms stay healthy.

Projected Finish: Fourth (75-87)

St. Louis Cardinals: The late season addition of Scott Rolen solidified the Cardinals as one of the most potent lineups in baseball. Albert Pujols didn’t show any signs of a sophomore slump, but J.D. Drew has an opportunity to become the biggest disappointment in the history of the organization if he doesn’t begin to show signs of his promise. Matt Morris is a legitimate ace, but questions linger about making a pennant run with Woody Williams and Brett Tomko as the other options.

Projected Finish: First (91-71)


Arizona Diamondbacks: Another year older, the Diamondbacks keep hoping that the Arizona climate will act as some sort of fountain of youth. Matt Williams almost went to Colorado in exchange for Larry Walker, a move that would have rejuvenated the stagnant offense, but nixed the deal last minute. How long can Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling keep dominating NL batters? Look for Byung-Hyun Kim to move from the bullpen into a starting role.

Projected Finish: Second (85-77)

Colorado Rockies: A move to the thin Colorado air is just what the doctor ordered for batting average-challenged Preston Wilson. The pitching staff still doesn’t have a “Dubya’s” chance in a spelling bee of posting a decent ERA, but 2002 NL Rookie of the Year Jason Jennings could be a star in the making.

Projected Finish: Fourth (76-86)

Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers are the quintessential average team in the NL. They have good bats in Shawn Green and Paul Lo Duca, but their contributions are negated by the poor performances of Fred McGriff and Adrian Beltre. They have good arms in Odalis Perez and Kazuhisa Ishii, but the staff is always at a disadvantage due to the nagging injuries of overpaid pitchers Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort. Thank God for Eric Gagne, the best closer west of the Mississippi.

Projected Finish: Third (81-81)

San Diego Padres: The Padres are going to be hanging around the cellar in the West again this year thanks in part to a season ending injury to franchise outfielder Phil Nevin. Now, Ryan Klesko is left as the only big bat in the entire lineup. Brian Lawrence is one of the most talented young pitchers in the league, but it won’t matter due to the fact that he’s on a staff with Francisco Cordova and Oliver Perez.

Projected Finish: Fifth (71-91)

San Francisco Giants: The Giants lost a lot last year besides the World Series (Russ Ortiz, Reggie Sanders, David Bell and Jeff Kent). Did they panic? No, they simply reloaded by adding speedster Ray Durham, Jose Cruz, Edgardo Alfonzo and Damian Moss to an already talented team. The only thing left for Barry Bonds to prove is to hit .400.

Projected Finish: First (97-65)