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April 12, 1999
Projected 1999 American League Standings
We guesstimate the season's winners and losers
Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' predictions for 1999. We'll go division by division and each of our staff members will tell you what they think about the races. Remember, there's a reason we don't print this stuff in the book; there is no good way we know of to predict what a team will do before the season begins. Consider these teamwide WFGs, take them with a grain of salt, and enjoy.
Same order of finish as last year, with only subtle changes to the team's records. Despite adding The Rocket, the Yankees will have the biggest drop-off in the division, as the core of their team starts to show its age. Of course, that will still leave the Bronx Bombers with 104 wins and a division title all but clinched by the trading deadline. The Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles will all finish within three games of the .500 mark. Deft handling of the pitching staff by Jimy Williams will enable the Red Sox to finish second, but still five games removed from their token annual wild card berth. The Duquette era comes to a close in Boston. The loss of Clemens and the reckless hiring of Jim Fregosi will cause the Jays to regress slightly this year, before exploding in 2000 behind a new manager and the best collection of young talent in the game (Homer Bush not included). Albert Belle and Mike Mussina will be the only players on the Orioles who earn their salaries during another disappointing season on the Chesapeake. After the season Peter Angelos denounces the team for their lack of veteran leadership and starts a manhunt for Floyd Rayford. The Devil Rays' pitching continues to be the envy of every team in the AL West, but their management doesn't seem to recognize that in the other half of the inning the goal is to score runs, not prevent them.
New York, 102-60: What, you were expecting Tampa Bay? The arrival of Clemens and another step forward by Jeter should offset the aging process on guys like O'Neill and Martinez. Even if Brosius falls way back and Knoblauch continues his slow demise, the Yanks have so much breathing room that they can drop back 12 games and still have the best record in baseball.
Boston, 87-75, wild card. Yep, Mo's gone, and no amount of chicanery with Stanley, Offerman, or Brian Daubach is going to replace him. But Nomar is still here, John Valentin may have one more all-star season left, and the rotation is better than you think: Pedro is a stud, Bret Saberhagen (handled beautifully by Williams last year) can give 190 innings of 3.50 ERA ball, and Tim Wakefield could have a three-month stretch where he goes 10-1 or something. It's not a great team, but in a league with surprisingly few of them, it should be a good enough team to make the playoffs. Just like last year.
Baltimore, 84-78: Albert will help, but Camden Yards isn't the bandbox everyone thinks it is, so expecting 65 shots is overdoing it. Mussina steps up with his finest season in years, and Charles Johnson returns to form with 25 homers and the best defense this side of Ivan Rodriguez. But continued decline from Brady Anderson, Surhoff, Ripken, Bordick...Harold Baines...Chris Hoiles...you get the idea. The rotation is solid, as Erickson and Guzman avoid the Noid this year and Sidney Ponson steps forward, but the bullpen is no longer the strength it was two years ago. A little better than last year, but not nearly enough.
Toronto, 81-81: Gord Ash is a fool. Wells is unlikely to come anywhere close to last year's success, and while Hamilton, Halladay, Carpenter, and Escobar give the Jays a lot of rotation talent, Hentgen is unlikely to return to Cy Young form, and the talent of the Stewart/Cruz/Green outfield is blotted out by the dazzling middle infield of Alex Gonzalez and Homer Bush. And do they really think Robert Person is a closer? Why not just put Dan Plesac back in that role? If they play the right people they can make the playoffs, but they aren't giving any indication that they know who the right people are.
Tampa Bay, 65-97: Take last year's offense, add the man who might become the worst 500-HR hitter ever, and move the fences back. Stir, and pray for 600 runs. The only hitter employed last year who was actually worth a damn thing, Bubba Trammell, is being forced to take a back seat to Danny Clyburn. Huh? This could be a replay of the 1991 Indians, when Greg Swindell (played by Rolando Arrojo) was 2-7 with a 2.22 ERA at the break. They suck and they'll probably suck for years to come, but don't ever tell us that there isn't any pitching around.
The AL East won't match '98 for runaway status, but it is still hard to see the Yanks not taking this division. Inevitable come-downs and probable pitching injuries will likely be offset by bounce-backs from Chuck Knoblauch and some of the relievers, and by the tremendous starting pitching depth Brian Cashman has shrewdly acquired. They're still a 50/50 shot to win 100 again. Behind the Yanks, the Red Sox and Blue Jays will fight for second place, and, more importantly, the AL wild card spot. The Red Sox have starting pitching depth, albeit not always the kind you want (Pat Rapp?), but their offense could be among the league's worst if Nomar's tendinitis turns into something worse. The Blue Jays will pair up a strong outfield/1b quartet with the worst 2b/ss/3b combo this side of Pittsburgh (when Benjamin plays over Morris), and the unsettled bullpen situation may cost them early on as they futz around with the likes of Robert Person. The Sox are more likely to make the acquisitions to push them ahead in July, so they're my pick for the wild card slot. The O's and Rays will battle it out for fourth, although I think the Rays' continued reluctance to put Bubba Trammell, their top offensive threat at this point, on the field is a strong indicator that they're cellarbound. The Orioles will have to fight through a year of injuries and ugly declines in their 30+ lineup, and the bullpen is now populated with some of the most frightening names in contemporary relief pitching.
Being smart has always been more important than being rich. The Yankees are both smart AND rich, despite the presence of Joe Girardi. An easy division to predict: the Yankees win, Tampa finishes last, the other three fight for the wildcard. Pedro Martinez gives the Red Sox the best chance, while Carlos Delgado delights Toronto fans by hitting 51 homers.
As I did last April, I looked carefully for reasons to pick against the Yankees: the age of the lineup and rotation, the career seasons enjoyed by many players last year, even the possibility of another 100-win team in the division.
Then they went out and got Roger Clemens from their closest threat. Oh, well.... They won't win 114 games again, and there will be an offensive decline, but this is the best team in the league once more.
Behind them, the Blue Jays and Red Sox both will be in the wild card mix, with the Jays possessing a higher upside and the Sox the smaller chance of a collapse. Toronto's young offense and deep rotation should cover for a bullpen that could look a lot like the 1998 Mariners'. The Sox will try and win with a strong outfield defense backing up an excellent front three starters. They're unlikely to score enough runs to win 90 games, though.
The Orioles have managed to get older without getting better for the third consecutive year, a feat known in these parts as "Kahrling". The age of the team will be best reflected defensively: look for them to be among the league leaders in doubles and triples allowed.
The Devil Rays have the pitching staff of a contender, with an offense straight off an American Legion field. With the fences moved back at Tropicana Field, they should finish last in the league in runs, and lose something on the order of 100 games.
1. Yankees - A daring pick.
2. Orioles - Belle will make the slight difference needed, but they'll still finish 20 games behind the Yanks
3. Red Sox - Their strong front-line pitching just fails to overcome their weak offensive production from the outfield and first base
4. Blue Jays - Few weaknesses, but few front-line players
5. Devil Rays - Offense? What's an offense?
New York - Yes, they won't win as many as last year. Yes, they're an old team. Still, if they lose the division, especially with Clemens, it'll be the upset of the decade.
Boston - Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto are a pick'em as far as I'm concerned. I'll go with Boston to nose out the other two on the strength of Pedro Martinez's second Cy Young.
Toronto - They were robbed in the Clemens deal, but they still have a solid core of younger (i.e., improving) hitters.
Baltimore - How is this team going to score runs? Albert is great, but he can't create 800 runs by himself.
Tampa Bay - The D-Rays should be just as inept on offense as they were last year, and I'm not convinced they can repeat their pitching success.
I kept trying to find a way not to pick the Yankees, but how do you go against a team that won 114 games last year, then added the reigning Cy Young award winner to the pitching staff? Toronto actually outperformed Boston in the 2nd half last year, and losing Canseco is not as big a blow as losing Vaughn, and the difference between Wells and Clemens might be balanced by not giving Ed Sprague 400 plate appearances. Baltimore lost their three most valuable position players and their closer from 1998,and while Albert Belle is better than any of the them individually, I don't think overall the O's have improved much. Tampa Bay could potentially field a team where no regular starter is even an average hitter for his position.
By the time you read this, the Indians will have clinched the AL Central and can focus all of their energies on finding a number one starter. They may already have one in Bartolo Colon, but given the shaky state of the backend of their rotation, it is a worthwhile pursuit, nonetheless. The Tigers and White Sox should battle down to the wire for a .500 finish and the second place finish that accompanies it. Gape Kapler's heavy hitting will wrest the CF job from Brian Hunter early on in the season, and he will carry the Tigers to the finish line ahead of the Pale Hose on his oh-so chiseled shoulders. Frank Thomas bounces back with a vengeance and, along with Paul Konerko, enables the White Sox to finish in the top half of the league in offense even without Albert Belle. The fact that Jaime Navarro will open the season in the rotation says all you need to know about Chicago's pitching. Hopefully, Herk Robinson can expand upon his very recent trend of nice little trades and convert Kevin Appier into a couple more good prospects to mix with Carlos Febles, Carlos Beltran and Jeremy Giambi. If that happens, the Royals could be a fun team to watch. Even $99 season tickets won't be enough to pique any interest in a team as bad as the Twins.
Cleveland, 94-68: Ho, hum. So maybe Roberto Alomar isn't the best 2nd baseman in the game anymore. Maybe Fryman will revert to his disappointing mid-90s form, and Vizquel pouts and doesn't play well, and Charles Nagy is fed to the dogs by July. Unless both Colon and Wright get injured and John Hart can't replace them, the Indians should finish enough above .500 to make a pennant race meaningless, unless all the karma the Royals have misplaced the last 10 years is suddenly found. And if Colon and Wright do get hurt and the Indians finish around 500...they'll still probably win the division.
Detroit, 78-84: Disclaimer - picking the Tigers to finish 2nd is in no way meant to endorse their expectations of a "successful" season, "successful" being defined as a year in which they can expect to play meaningful games in September. Brian Hunter is still the starting centerfielder, Brad Ausmus is being hailed as some kind of savior at catcher, and there isn't one superstar to rise above the Higginson/Clark/Easley/Palmer class of quality regular. If Thompson remains healthy and Moehler and Blair continue to finesse their way to ERAs around 4, the Tigers could clear .500. I'm skeptical that they can even reach that plateau.
Kansas City, 77-85: The most difficult prediction in all of baseball; the talent is here to make the playoffs, but if the Royals follow their 90s trend, with young talent getting squeezed out by marginal veterans and ultimately not developing, and if the young starters (Rosado, Suppan, Rusch, Barber, Pittsley) all suck, they could lose 95 games in a heartbeat. They've turned the Grapefruit League into their own private playground, but Herk Robinson has been known to turn some pretty choice fruit into lemons, so beware. I'm optimistic, but then, I'm a sucker.
Chicago, 74-88: It's hard to put them fourth, because Thomas should bounce back and Konerko is this year's Todd Walker. But screwing around with Brook Fordyce and Greg Norton doesn't help, and the outfield just isn't that good. If a couple of their young starters step up, they could keep themselves around .500, and I like their bullpen depth. But the losses of Belle and Ventura are probably too much to compensate for.
Minnesota, 68-94: Not just poor, but unlucky. Marty Cordova seems to be through as a healthy, productive player, and David Ortiz won't even start the year in the major leagues. You can talk all you want about how young guys like Lawton, Jacque Jones, Walker, Mientkiewicz, and minor leaguers like Cuddyer and LeCroy are the blueprint for the Twins' future success. That's fine, but it doesn't negate the fact that Benj Sampson and Mike Lincoln are closing in on actual major league starts. I may be singing a different tune for 2000, but not this year. And if Radke gets moved, watch for 100 losses.
Baseball's least interesting division, and most likely to produce a division winner with 85 wins or fewer. The Indians are known to be shopping for pitching, and they're not likely to advance past the first round of the playoffs unless they land at least one strong starter - and that's assuming Wright and Colon remain healthy. Behind the Tribe, three teams will fight for second place (the Royals are a lock for the cellar right now); I'm going with the Twins despite some obvious holes because neither the Tigers nor the White Sox seem to have any fewer holes of their own. None of the three will win more than 75 games, and any could implode and win only 65 with a few bad breaks. The Twins are at least putting some players with upside on the field (Koskie, Mientkiewicz, Lawton, Milton), unlike the Tigers, and committing to playing them every day, unlike the Sox.
The idea that Kansas City is a good longshot pick is nonsense as long as Herk has a job. Last time I looked, he did. Another easy division, since there's only one good team in the bunch. Prognosticators like to go out on a limb so they don't have the same old boring lists as everyone else, but this is a boring division, and Cleveland will win.
Since 1995, this division has resembled one of those pre-season holiday tournaments in college basketball. You know, the ones where Big State U. invites two local Y teams and some school from Guam, struggles to a couple of 40-point wins and declares itself #1.
There's no real challenge to the Indians this year. The roles of the Local Y Teams are played aptly by the Royals and White Sox, while the Detroit Tigers bear a striking resemblance to Team From Guam. None of these three pose any threat to the Indians, the league's wild card contenders or the interest of baseball fans nationwide.
However...the Minnesota Twins are capable of having an interesting season. With the exception of Terry Steinbach, the veteran outs who sucked up playing time the past few years are gone, leaving room for young talent with upside: Corey Koskie, Torii Hunter amd Doug Mientkiewicz aren't Drew, Chavez and Beltre. They *are*, however, young, fair to good defensively and all possess reasonable secondary offensive skills.
Add that to the underrated Todd Walker and Matt Lawton, and what should be a breakout year for David Ortiz, and you have a team that should score 820-840 runs. That gets them into wild-card contention.
The team has some long-standing problems developing starting pitchers that could throw a monkey wrench into the season. An improved defense will help that situation, and a top three of Brad Radke, Eric Milton-- a breakout this year--and LaTroy Hawkins doesn't look that bad compared to even the Indians.
ESPN, eat your heart out: the Twins are going to win the wild card.
1. Indians - They probably won't have to do anything to win the division, but if they have to, hey will.
2. Tigers - A young team that will improve in most areas.
3. White Sox - A lot of young, decent talent. The pitching should improve significantly, but the offense will decline.
4. Royals - Giambi, Beltran and Febles will make for an exciting team, but the rest of the team is awful. Plus Appier will be traded away if he's any good.
5. Twins - Like the Tigers, their young players will improve, but unlike the Tigers, most of their everyday young players don't have much talent to begin with.
Cleveland - Whether they're a great team will depend on how well their Hargroved young pitchers, Colon and Wright, hold up. Not that it matters; the Columbus Clippers could probably beat the rest of this division.
Chicago - Even with Belle gone, I'm picking the ChiSox second on the theory that no team's pitching can possibly be so embarrassingly bad three years in a row. Improvement from Thomas and many of the youngsters is also likely.
Detroit - Hunter/Jefferies is one of the worst 1-2 punches in the majors, but after you get past them the rest of the lineup looks OK. It'll look better when Gabe Kapler cracks it. I like Justin Thompson even more than most observers, but the rest of the rotation, as usual, looks shaky.
Kansas City - Giambi, Beltran, and Febles will surely see a number of All-Star games before they're through, but I don't think they'll be good enough next year to carry this team very far. This prediction is based on my guess that Kevin Appier will not return to his pre-1998 level, at least not in a Royals uniform.
Minnesota - Youth is great, but this much youth -- especially in the starting rotation -- can make for a long season.
Picking Cleveland is only slightly more daring than picking the Yankees. Chicago, on the other hand, had ranked 1st in runs scored/fewest runs allowed in the division in the 2nd half last year. A return to form by Thomas will help offset the losses of Belle and Ventura, and help make the ChiSox respectable. Minnesota will surprise some people by coming in third despite a meager payroll. But the Twins only look good compared to the Tigers and Royals, who will battle for the league's worst record.
A tight race between the Rangers, Angels and Mariners, with the managers determining the outcome. So really, it's no contest--the Rangers repeat because of Johnny Oates' patience, while the Angels' wheels fall off down the stretch and the Mariners implode. Ruben Mateo should be in Texas stay by July, further bolstering an already impressive offense. Owner Tom Hicks will acquire Kenny Rogers from the Athletics for enough mid-level prospects to fill a ten-gallon hat. Terry Collins extends his streak of runner-up finishes to six, but joy envelops the feel-good Disneyites when the Angels back into the wild card spot. Anaheim's ability to score runs is enough to overcome another Collins-led September of panic and arm slagging. Just like in Boston, Mo Vaughn's leadership ability will be extolled and, just like in Boston, his team will go three and out in the playoffs. The Mariners have the talent to win the division, but they won't. Lou Piniella does a much better job distributing the finger pointing than a pitching workload, and Jeff Fassero and Freddy Garcia both go down with arm injuries. A collective Northwest deathwatch begins over the futures of Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. A killer offense and spotty defense will amuse A's fans, but the pitching-yikes! A rash of good minor league prospects will help to alleviate that problem next year but Art Howe won't be around to enjoy it.
Texas, 88-74: The same formula as last year: durable, if not particularly exciting, starting pitchers with sexy win totals because of a tough offense. Gonzalez shouldn't have won 2 MVPs in the last 3 years, but he is one of the 3 or 4 best hitters in the league, and I've got this nagging feeling that I-Rod could hit 30 homers this year. (Can you believe he's just 27?) There could be trouble ahead if McLemore slides any further and Tom Goodwin forgets how to draw walks, but Palmeiro should be a slight improvement over Will Clark, and if Wetteland is truly healthy, they have one of the better, if unheralded, bullpens in the league.
Oakland, 81-81: No, they can't pitch. But man, can they get on base. If two of Ryan Christenson, Miguel Tejada, and A.J. Hinch take steps forward, they could score 850 runs easy; if all three improve and Scott Spiezio shows something at second, they could score 900 and make a pitch for the wild card. The rotation is bad, but there's some potential here. If Jimmy Haynes improves his control or Gil Heredia improves his hittability, that gives the A's two average starters behind one good one. The bullpen is deep if lacking one great closer, and there's at least hope from the minor leagues in the bodies of Mark Mulder and Chad Harville. If the A's are still in the hunt in July and Beane keeps Rogers and looks to add a pitcher, you're going to see a lot of the A's on ESPN in September.
Seattle, 79-83: You know, the more look at this team, the more you realize they're not just underachieving: they're just not very good. Griffey and Rodriguez and Martinez may obscure that, but who else on this team is significantly above average? Segui and Buhner (if healthy) are par for their position, Dan Wilson isn't all that good, and if Russ Davis and Butch Huskey play at the top of their game, they're a little above average. The rotation should be good with Freddy Garcia joining Moyer and Fassero, but this is Piniella's team. And their solution to the worst bullpen woes in baseball? Jose Mesa. Uh-huh.
Anaheim, 76-86: Nice outfield. Love that new first baseman, and the third baseman is awfully promising. Who's in your starting rotation? Oh. Any promising pitchers in the minor leagues in case somebody gets hurt? I see. If Chuck Finley shows his age - or his workload - this year, it could be a long, long year at Disneyland. I have no faith in Ken Hill, and Tim Belcher isn't happy about the fences being moved back in. I'm not saying they have no hope; Percival could be this year's Hoffman in terms of season-long dominance in the late innings, and Todd Greene could catch 100 games and get Charlie O'Brien out of the lineup. But I am saying they are my pick to finish last in the division.
I nearly picked the A's for first, but the starting pitching just won't let me. The offense will surprise a lot of people, and the bullpen is deeper than it has been in recent years. Team defense is also still a major concern, and that coupled with the shaky rotation will probably have them falling short of first, and missing the wild card by about 5-8 games. Texas, therefore, is the division winner by default, although they too will have starting pitching problems, and will see increasing pressure to deal Ruben Mateo and make a last grasp for the World Series. Seattle's pitching woes are now coupled with an offense on the downside, and Anaheim's nine pitchers beyond Finley and Percival would form the majors' worst staff.
Now I'll go out on a limb. In the '99 book, we said of Oakland, "One pitcher short of winning the division." If they trade Kenny Rogers, they'll be two pitchers short. If they get that pitcher, they'll win the West. I'm hedging my bets and picking them for second place. They will also be more entertaining than any other team in the division, and will lead the league in errors. The other teams all have similarities: one or two superstars surrounded by dreck. Texas by default.
A train wreck. All four of these teams have at least one gaping flaw in the picture. The Rangers have a shaky rotation and the likelihood of low OBP at the top of the lineup. The Angel rotation is older than Gloria Stuart, but doesn't throw as hard. The Mariners continue to field four or five great players and 20 winners of a "Be a Mariner for a Week" contest, and the A's are still two rotation starters and a middle infielder away.
So who wins? While I'd love to pick the A's, I have very little faith in Art Howe's decision-making, and feel he's going to limit the playing time of Eric Chavez and Ryan Christensen, to the detriment of both players and the team. The Mariners will score runs, but give them up in bunches with their usual shaky bullpen and a rotation you'll see on Showtime late at night: "When Soft-Tossing Lefties Go Bad".
Angels or Rangers...Angels or Rangers...the Angels could have a terrifying lineup if the right people got injured. Unfortunately, it's Jim Edmonds starting the year on the DL [and now Mo Vaughn also gone] instead of Garret Anderson. They do have an excellent bullpen, and Terry Collins is good at managing relievers, so they may be able to survive the inevitable collapses of Ken Hill and Omar Olivares.
I think it's more likely that the pen fails after the All-Star Break, forced to throw too many innings behind the likes of Tim Belcher, and the team can't plug the holes in the rotation fact enough. The Rangers get just enough out of Aaron Sele and Rick Helling to make up for the rest of the staff's ineptitude, and scramble to 86 wins and the division title.
1. Rangers - Offensive talent plus a starting staff that will pitch a lot if not particularly well will win the division.
2. Angels - They'll score runs, but the rotation is more fragile than Methusela.
3. Mariners - The best two players in the league can't overcome all the holes, including the one in the manager's office.
4. Athletics - 1999 will be a satisfying building year for the offense, but the pitching will not be pretty.
Seattle - Their powerhouse offense should hold steady or improve from last year; a full season of Jay Buhner and rookie Carlos Guillen will help. Their starting pitching staff should improve, if only because Billy Swift is gone. And I don't think their bullpen can be as bad as last year, Pinella or no.
Texas - A great offensive team in 1998, partly because they were virtually injury-free. The offense will drop off some this year, because of luck and age. Any improvement in their starting pitching could be offset by a decline in the bullpen. The second place team in this division will have a good chance to win the wild card.
Anaheim - They won 85 games last year, partly because they got really good pitching, and partly because they were lucky. I don't see either continuing in 99.
Oakland - One of these years, the A's are going to get the pitching to support their impressive collection of young offensive stars. Not this year, though.
A good offense and a makeshift pitching staff will still be enough for the Angels to take the division narrowly over the Mariners, despite the latter having ARod & Junior finish #1/#2 in the MVP voting. Aaron Sele won't win 19 games while giving up over a hit an inning again, and Palmeiro, Gonzalez, and Rodriguez won't be enough to generate the runs the Rangers will need to win. Oakland improves, but will have to wait until 2000 to reach .500.
Thanks for reading. The NL is up on Friday.