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June 4, 2004

Teams: A Critical Guide

American League Only Edition

by Steven Goldman

In which the National League was eaten by my dog. Who needs the National League anyway? Certainly not New York, Montreal, Raul Mondesi...

ANAHEIM ANGELS

With luck, Raul Mondesi is a temporary condition, like a heat rash. Jeff DaVanon has mashed righties, with a .451 OBP/.533 SLG against mundane-handers, so you really don't want to see him sit until he proves he can't keep it up. Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen have made like Wonder Twins whose super power is the ability to channel Al Simmons from beyond the grave. Tim Salmon is rehabbing. Garret Anderson will be back soon. That makes five players for four spots, the outfield and DH, all of whom have a better claim to playing time than the deserter Mondesi. That's not even counting Chone Figgins, who has apparently settled in at third, or the return of Darin Erstad. Make that "revival" instead of "return." To return you had to have been here in the first place. Now, if only they could get one of those outfielders to slide over to first. Casey Kotchman may be the future, but he's not getting it done now. GRADE: B-

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Melvin Mora is fielding .907, but when you hit like he has it doesn't matter...Had B.J. Surhoff remained a catcher for his entire career, would the BBWAA have put him in the Hall of Fame for 2000-plus hits, .282/.333/.415? Given seven years, a light ballot, and lots of talk about leadership behind the plate, they might have. After all, he was a superficially better hitter than Rick Ferrell. In real terms, you'd rather have had Wes's big brother. GRADE: D+

BOSTON RED SOX

It's been a staple of early-season baseball talk that last year's bullpen revolution admitted defeat when Keith Foulke was signed. Note to the establishment: Foulke IS the revolution. On most teams, the closer, ostensibly the best pitcher in the pen, will pitch fewer innings than the weaker set-up and middle men. This is not so in Boston, where Foulke leads his team in relief innings. None of this namby-pamby "saving the pitcher" stuff (apologies to Will Carroll, who means it in an entirely more constructive way); the Sox cut right to the chase. Last year the idea was right but the staff was wrong. Foulke is the one who will bring the force back into balance. Viva la revolución! P.S., The only rationale for playing Pokey Reese is that Derek Lowe needs the glove help, but Lowe is beyond rescue. Pokey can do a lot of things in the field, but he can't stop Lowe from throwing ball four. GRADE: B-

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

"Rauch" is German for "smoke," as in "gone like a puff of." Beware the player who offends Kenny Williams' Pecksniffian sense of professionalism; Williams might go do something rash like shoot himself in the foot...Magglio Ordonez is the coming free agent, but Carlos Lee is the outfielder who should move in trade for reinforcements come deadline time. Jeremy Reed has been up and down this year, and Joe Borchard may never be much more than a fellow whose surname rhymes with "tortured," but there's little reason to doubt that one of them could do at least a reasonable Lee imitation as soon as July. They may get a chance as early as now, assuming Ordonez finally goes on the DL. GRADE: B-

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Elsewhere on this site, Michael Wolverton has shown that the Tribe's bullpen is not historically terrible, just terrible. Either way, if the Indians finish the year with an offense that looks strong and a rotation that has a pulse, they're going to be tempted to spend the off-season channeling Ed Wade or the unlamented Steve Phillips (what's he up to these days?) and sign every name reliever out there from Matt Mantei to Firpo Marberry. As these sadder-but-wiser gentleman found out, that way lies Hell. The money has got to go where the mouth is; the stronger the front line is, the fewer sixth-inning bail-out specialists you need. As for situational lefties, they're the new opiate of the masses. Bumped a grade for sweeping the A's. GRADE: B-

DETROIT TIGERS

Fourth in the American League in runs scored at this writing, fifth in EQA...Please note that the second coming of Brandon Inge ended before spring exams, with the versatile-in-a-masturbatory-way C/3B/OF batting .227 (17-for-75) since May 1. It's neat that he can play everywhere he does, but the novelty of playing him at those places far exceeds the utility of doing so. The Felids have bigger fish to fry, this rebuilding year being dedicated to building blocks and not spackle. GRADE: D

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Last week Allard Baird told his team they had to shape up or be shipped out. "We really mean it this time...You've got to play better, or we'll be trading you away from this 100-loss team to the Yankees, Red Sox, or A's. Don't force me to put you in the postseason!" Knute Rockne's "Win One for the Gipper" rouser aside, one wonders about the efficacy of those "play better or else" ultimatums. Maybe a football team can pull it together for a quarter just because the coach hit the adrenaline button, but a baseball team is a different animal. The Royals have demonstrated their talent level over 51 games. Did Baird think they were faking it? D+

MINNESOTA TWINS

Have gone 6-12 over their last 18 games with the bulk of the contests against the Royals and Devil Rays. But except for a 16-run outburst on June 1, the offense has been quiescent, suggesting that Ron Gardenhire's lineup sorting hat ("You're not worthy of DHing for the Twins! You go to Slytherin!") is on the blink. With a variety of options to choose from each day, Gardenhire is like a myopic cyclopean version of Casey Stengel, minus the winning and the wit. Regarding the revolution addressed in the Boston comment, note that just one inning of work separates Joe Nathan from Terry Mulholland, who trails J.C. Romero and Juan Rincon in the usage department. GRADE: D

NEW YORK YANKEES

Possessors of the best record in baseball at this writing. Despite that shaky title, it's clear that they need additional help somewhere if they don't want to be just another team in the postseason crapshoot. With limited minor league resources to spend, it remains to be seen which wound gets patched up first--the elimination of the contrarian Contreras, the acquisition of a real, live center fielder, a dependable second baseman, or one more set-up reliever, preferably a lefty. It seems unlikely that they will get more than one done, impossible that they'll get two, which means at least one weakness will survive into the fall. Odds are it will be second baseman, inevitably a playoff hero. That means the keystone saga will drag on into next season. GRADE: A

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

There are dozens of adjectives in the English language that are derived from the name of a historical personality or a memorable fictional character. In addition to "Pecksniffian," invoked above, there are "Pavlovian," "Chaplinesque," "Shavian," "Napoleonic," "Panglossian," "Faustian," and "Churchillian." To this we must add "Hattebergian," meaning, "compulsive overachiever." The pitching endures, but the bats are inadequate; with Eric Chavez shelved, it's hard to see them closing with the Angels. Quoth Robert Johnson, there's stones in their passway. GRADE: B-

SEATTLE MARINERS

Here's an adjective we can do without: "Bloomquistian," meaning, "without apparent function." In the old days, this could also have been "Gipsonian," but we'll save that one for Tampa Bay...It seems as if the world will beat a path to their door to bid for Freddy Garcia's services, but (1) while not entirely a mirage, Garcia has been a vastly more effective pitcher in the soggy confines of whatever corporate stadium the Mariners are playing in this week (why even bother to keep them straight?). While his road ERA is still a healthy 4.15, his strikeouts per nine drops from 8.74 to 4.67 and, (2) who the hell wants to bet the outcome of their season on Freddy Garcia? GRADE: D

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

Winners of 10 out of their last 14, but moved from baseball team to sideshow with the addition of Fred McGriff. GRADE: C+

TEXAS RANGERS

They correctly sense that the division is theirs for the taking, but dealing Teixeira for pitching would be premature. As Yankees fans will tell you, its not wise to get religious about Kenny Rogers and Carlos Almanzar. In other words, the Rangers can cash in a blue chip to be first-round fodder, or they can continue to build for the future. GRADE: C

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Ain't the moving van here yet? We've packed up everything except the hitting coach. Someone on the staff is going to have to fall on his sword because the hitters have been, well, swordless. GRADE: B

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

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