keyboard_arrow_uptop

CHICAGO WHITE SOX (1998: 931 runs allowed, last in the AL)

Rotation
James Baldwin, R
Mike Sirotka, L
Jim Parque, L
John Snyder, R
Jaime Navarro, R

Bullpen
Bobby Howry, R
Bill Simas, R
Keith Foulke, R
Sean Lowe, R
David Lundquist, R
Bryan Ward, L

Alternatives
Chad Bradford, R
Carlos Castillo, R
Kevin Beirne, R
Tom Fordham, L
Scott Eyre, L

Despite enduring the league’s worst pitching last year, Ron Schueler and
Jerry Manuel didn’t really have as many choices as all those potential
alternatives would lead you to believe. Until the team decides to eat or
manages to trade Jaime Navarro’s contract, there really wasn’t a rotation
spot open. The front four all earned their places in this year’s rotation
on the basis of what they did during the second half last year. I expect
Baldwin, Sirotka, and Parque to build on that success, but the Sox have
reasons to worry about Snyder’s long-term durability. That and the
Navarro nuisance should create two open slots at some point during the
season, and first cracks will probably go to past failures like Fordham
or Eyre, followed by real opportunities for Beirne or possibly Aaron
Myette. The Sox have several other starting pitchers they could sort
through, but for anyone like a Pat Daneker or a Jason Lakman (among
others), much will depend on having a hot streak at the right time.

The Sox will enter the season with a tag team at closer, splitting the
duties between Bobby Howry and Bill Simas, with Simas undoubtedly on the
block and dealt by the end of July. Keith Foulke will be very effective
as the main setup man. Sean Lowe and David Lundquist won jobs on the
basis of what they did in camp. Both are useful as relievers, but two bad
weeks from either of them will be enough to bring Chad Bradford or Carlos
Castillo back up. Overall, the Sox pen is a source of strength.

Sox defense has been much-maligned in the local media, but that’s the
misinterpretation of defensive statistics for you. I expect serious
improvement from Mike Caruso at short in his sophomore campaign, in no
small part from working with the league’s best second baseman, Ray
Durham, in a second full season. Losing a great gloveman like Robin
Ventura at third will hurt, but Greg Norton is an ex-shortstop, and
should be more than adequate. The return of Frank Thomas to first will
only remind folks that as bad as he’s been over his career, he was still
better than Wil Cordero; Paul Konerko will probably only be slightly
better. Outfield defense is solid: Magglio Ordonez is an athletic and
talented right fielder, left fielder Jeff Abbott could probably handle
center if given the chance, and the various center fielders (notably
McKay Christensen and Brian Simmons, but also Darrin Jackson) are all
good defensive players.


CLEVELAND INDIANS (1998: 779 runs allowed, 5th in the AL)

Rotation
Jaret Wright, R
Bartolo Colon, R
Dave Burba, R
Charles Nagy, R
Doc Gooden, R

Bullpen
Mike Jackson, R
Steve Reed, R
Paul Shuey, R
Paul Assenmacher, L
Ricardo Rincon, L
Jerry Spradlin, R
Steve Karsay, R

Alternatives
What, you need them when you’re already carrying a dozen?
Jason Rakers, R
Kevin Appier, R
Mark Langston, L

The big question about the Indians rotation is which of several pregnant
possibilities is going to pop out of the oven first. Are either of Jaret
Wright or Bartolo Colon going to grow into top starters? Can Colon
survive the workload he endured last year? Will Chuck Nagy ever bounce
back? Can Doc Gooden be as good as he was down the stretch last year?
Let’s put it this way: if one of the bad things happens before any of the
good things happen, don’t bet on Jason Rakers getting an open rotation
spot. Indians starting pitching is basically solid for the 162 game
slogging match, being slightly better than average, which with a
full-bore offense makes for a simple recipe for the requisite 85-90 wins
to "run away" with the AL Central.

The bullpen is that most ungainly of animals: the seven-man pen. I don’t
think anyone has ever tried it and gotten good results in terms of what
it means for the team or its roster, but the Indians don’t rely on their
bench much in the first place, and if keeping all these relievers
encourages Hargrove to pull Colon or Wright in the sixth inning a little
more often, it will have served a fine long-term purpose. The additions
of Spradlin and Rincon to what was an already strong pen give the Tribe
the league’s best bullpen. Strange guess of the year: I could see Steve
Karsay winning 10 games as a mopup man; he’ll usually come in when the
Indians are losing (or blowouts), and with this offense, that means
getting onto the hook because of frequent rallies.

Indians defense is solid. This isn’t a team of old veterans who’ve lost
it afield, but neither are they a collection of players at their peaks.
The infield is reasonably tight on the left side with Vizquel at short
and Fryman at third, but the right side of Thome and Alomar could be a
problem. I’m not sure asking David Justice to play left is a good idea,
but if the alternative is Wil Cordero, I’d ask for a third choice. Kenny
Lofton and Manny Ramirez are neither serious problems or strengths.


DETROIT TIGERS (1998: 863 runs allowed, 10th in the AL)

Rotation
Justin Thompson, L
Brian Moehler, R
Willie Blair, R
Bryce Florie, R
Beiker Graterol, R

Bullpen
Todd Jones, R
Matt Anderson, R
Doug Brocail, R
Masao Kida, R
Sean Runyan, L
C.J. Nitkowski, L
Felipe Lira, R

Alternatives
Theoretically, Mike Drumright, R
or Matt Drews, R
Seth Greisinger, R (DL)
Jeff Weaver, R

Tigers’ pitching will improve, but not as much as they’re expecting. I’ll
agree with the proposition that Justin Thompson could bust out with a
huge season, and that Brian Moehler may turn in an encore performance.
I’ll agree that Willie Blair is a great bet to crank out around 160
league-average innings. I won’t buy the proposition that Bryce Florie is
destined for bigger or better things, and the fifth spot of the rotation
should be an open wound between now and whenever the Tigers decide top
’98 pick Weaver is ready.

The bullpen is an interesting collection of talent. The worst pitcher of
the lot (leaving a relative unknown like Kida aside) may be the team’s
closer of the moment. How long Jones holds the role is an open question.
But as is, the Tigers look like they have two of the best setup men
aroung in Brocail and Anderson, and a pair of handy lefties in Nitkowski
and Runyan. It’s a potentially outstanding bullpen.

Tiger defense isn’t a strength. The right side of the infield (1B Tony
Clark and 2B Damion Easley) is adequate, and 3B Dean Palmer is a
liability. A lot will depend on whether or not Deivi Cruz stays healthy
and improves, because he has the potential to be the best
defensive shortstop in the league. Brad Ausmus will be handy enough
behind the plate, helping to control the running game. In Tiger Stadium,
that’s about as important as giving people on ground zero umbrellas.
Outfield defense is weak. Bobby Higginson, Juan Encarnacion, and Gabe
Kapler have all been little better than adequate recently, and Brian
Hunter isn’t a good enough centerfielder to justify getting his weak bat
into the lineup.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS (1998: 899 runs allowed, 13th in the AL)

Rotation
Kevin Appier, R
Jose Rosado, L
Jeff Suppan, R
Brian Barber, R
Jim Pittsley, R

Bullpen
Jeff Montgomery, R
Scott Service, R
Jose Santiago, R
Matt Whisenant, L
Jay Witasick, R
Don Wengert, R

Alternatives
Glendon Rusch, L
Hipolito Pichardo, R (DL)
Orber Moreno, R
Chris Fussell, R

The Royals’ rotation is an interesting collection of parts. Appier is
there for show, in the hopes that he yields somebody or something that
contributes to the next good Royals team. Rosado and Suppan will have
every opportunity to be parts of that team, while Barber and Pittsley are
hanging on to resurrect once-promising careers derailed by injuries
before they ever really got started. I wouldn’t be surprised to see
Barber fashion a respectably mediocre little multi-year run, but I don’t
like the odds of both Suppan and Rosado breaking through, and Rosado’s
been abused in the past.

The bullpen is an equally amusing strange brew, even if it’s currently
lacking the epitome of near-mediocrity, Hipolito Pichardo. If Jeff
Montgomery ever manages to have his hot streak in the first half instead
of the second, the Royals could potentially get some tempting offers for
him. At 37, there’s literally no chance that he’s in that fuzzy future
image of a good Royals team, so they should entertain the offers. Scott
Service quietly demonstrated that his years of toil in the minor leagues
were proof of his effectiveness, and Matt Whisenant was a suitably wild
and frightening lefty. Jose Santiago has a good chance of being the new
Hipolito Pichardo: the Royals love him for no good reason, and seem
committed to keeping him around. Jay Witasick could end up being a handy
pickup, either in the pen or in the rotation; he’s definitely in the
right place to finally fashion a career. As for Don Wengert, his career
is a perfect example of professional inertia. He’s been lousy for a long
time, but he’s done it for several major league teams, and they’re
professionals, so his carcass gets dragged in for one more spin with a
team that would be better off using the roster space on Herschel
Krustofsky.

Royals defense will probably be a zoo this year, as several players on
vaguely familiar with one another learn how to play as a unit. For some,
like Los Dos Carlitos, Beltran and Febles, that means keeping their heads
above water and logging major league experience. For others, like Rey
Sanchez or Jeff King, the decks of their careers are already awash as
they founder under their limitations. For guys like Jermaine Dye or Joe
Randa, the sun is a white spot you see from the sea floor. Expect
collisions, missed signals, angry speeches by Tony Muser, and eventual
improvement.


MINNESOTA TWINS (1998: 818 runs allowed, 8th in the AL)

Rotation
Brad Radke, R
LaTroy Hawkins, R
Eric Milton, L
Mike Lincoln, R
Benj Sampson, L

Bullpen
Rick Aguilera, R
Mike Trombley, R
Eddie Guardado, L
Joe Mays, R
Dan Perkins, R
Boomer Bob Wells, R

Alternatives
Doghouse King Frankie Rodriguez, R

Twins pitching was an unheralded success last year, and although much of
the credit goes to departed veterans Bob Tewksbury and Mike Morgan, 1998
was also a year where LaTroy Hawkins and Eric Milton got to make regular
major league starts, and I expect both of them to improve, Hawkins
slightly, and Milton potentially much more than that. Those two now back
up staff ace Brad Radke, but the concern here is that with four rookies
on the pitching staff, Tom Kelly will ask for or expect Radke to hand in
260 innings, which would be dangerous. This rear’s rookie tandem at the
back end of the rotation is Lincoln and Sampson, at least for now, since
they could flip-flop them with bullpen rooks Mays and Perkins. I’m not a
strong believer in any of them, with the possible exception of Sampson,
but there’s little consensus on whether any are what you would consider
good pitching prospects.

The bullpen situation is essentially four veterans and whichever rookies
Tom Kelly’s mad at. Aguilera is a serviceable major league closer, but
the window of opportunity for trading him (again) for good stuff has
almost certainly passed. Trombley and Guardado make an adequate
righty-lefty pair of setup men. Bob Wells is batting practice fodder, and
should inspire fond memories of Keith Atherton for indoor bleacher
creatures.

Twins defense will suffer from some of the same communications problems
the Royals will have, but Kelly’s crew is made of better clay. Several of
the outfielders (Lawton, Hunter, Jones) are talented glove men, and
Cristian Guzman should be a big improvement over Pat Meares at short.
Todd Walker will never contend for the Gold Glove at second, but neither
will he end up sporting the honorary Tim Teufel lead model. None of the
various platoon partners and part-timers on the infield corners are
excellent defensive players, although Doug Mientkiewicz could turn into a
good first baseman.