2000 Major League Baseball Preview
The more things change, the more they stay the same
by Michael Morrison
Red Sox fans and Yankees fans will never get along, but the players seem to. Here shortstops Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter share a laugh during Game 5 of the A.L.C.S. (Source/AP)
For the first time in history, the Major League Baseball season will begin on a continent other than North America. The season kicks off with a two-game series on March 29 and 30 between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets at the Tokyo Dome in Japan.
It's a new millennium for baseball but the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Yankees and Braves will be good this year. The Brewers and Twins will be bad. Check out Infoplease's annual preseason predictions and what's in store for your favorite teams.
New York Yankees—They won 16 fewer games in 1999 than in 1998, but it just didn't matter. They were, and still are, head and shoulders above any other team in the majors. The starting foursome of El Duque, Clemens, Pettitte and Cone will account for 60-65 wins between them and Georgie Porgie will hoist the team's 26th championship trophy.
Boston Red Sox—The acquisition of centerfielder Carl Everett and the mere presence of Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez make the Sox playoff contenders. But it's the effectiveness of reconstructed pitchers Ramon Martinez and Jeff Fassero that will determine how far they'll go.
Toronto Blue Jays—If the Jays were in the A.L. West, they'd be favorites to win the division. But they're not. The pluses: First baseman Carlos Delgado will hit 50 homers and drive in 140, and Chris Carpenter will become the team's ace by midseason. The minuses: They did virtually nothing in the offseason to improve on last year's third-place finish. Trading Shawn Green for Raul Mondesi won't help.
Baltimore Orioles—The average age of the Orioles' projected starting lineup is 35. While that translates to a whole lot of experience and wisdom, it can also translate to a host of strains, pulls, and tears. Mike Mussina is the best pitcher in the A.L. not named Pedro, but if the MVP of this team ends up being the trainer, it's going to be a long year for new manager Mike Hargrove.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays—Sure they're improved, but someone in this division has to lose. The club added about 80 home runs by acquiring Vinny Castilla and Greg Vaughn but there are still too many holes to fill, beginning with the pitching staff. Expect a ton of homers and a 75-win season.
Cleveland Indians—As usual, they should have the division wrapped up by the all-star break. But questions still persist. Chuck Finley should take some pressure off Bartolo Colon, but he has to find a way to stay healthy. Paul Shuey and/or Steve Karsay must step up to fill the hole left by the departure of closer Mike Jackson. Other than that, their offense and defense is bettered by no one.
Chicago White Sox—The White Sox have quietly developed one of the best bullpens in the league behind Bob Howry and set-up man Keith Foulke. After a horrible 1999, Frank Thomas is healthy, angry, and focused on reclaiming his spot as the most feared hitter in the game.
Kansas City Royals—In Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran and Jermaine Dye, the Royals have perhaps the best young outfield in the league. Unfortunately, one of them (probably Damon) will have to be traded for a pitcher for the team to make it to the next level. Behind top starter Jose Rosado, there isn't much else.
Detroit Tigers—New ballpark. New star. Same mediocre results. The Tigers' off-season trade for slugger Juan Gonzalez proved the team is willing spend some cash to get better. The pitching staff, however, is led by retread Hideo Nomo and the unproven Jeff Weaver. Unless Brian Moehler can find a better hiding spot for his sandpaper, this team will be under .500 once again.
Minnesota Twins—Brad Radke and Eric Milton give the Twins the best righty-lefty pitching combo in the American League. If only the team could generate a little run support, each of these guys could be 20-game winners. But when Matt Lawton and Corey Koskie are the team's offensive leaders, something's wrong.
Texas Rangers—Apparently tired of winning the division and then caving in to the Yankees in the playoffs, Texas decided it was time to make a move. So they shipped Juan Gonzalez, the only player to cause even a little damage against the Yankees, to Detroit. Go figure. The nucleus of their offense is still intact and they should still win the division behind their lefty-heavy pitching staff. But they're still only the fifth-best team in the A.L.
Oakland A's—The low budget A's surprised everyone last year by making a run at the Wild Card spot. Their pitching staff is solid, especially if Tim Hudson can avoid a sophomore slump, but they're just flat out not as good as Texas. They're a fun team to root for though.
Seattle Mariners—If Mike Cameron hits 25 homers and Brett Tomko wins 17 games, maybe the loss of Ken Griffey Jr. will be a little easier to swallow. All is not lost in Seattle. Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud still comprise a dangerous threesome in the middle of the lineup. Jay Buhner needs to find his 40-HR swing, which left him in the last couple of years (actually his swing was still there, he just wasn't hitting anything).
Anaheim Angels—Cheer up Angels fans. It can't possibly be as bad as last year. The pieces are all in place for this team to be as good offensively as any other. Unfortunately a pitching staff that's as bad as any other keeps them at the bottom of the division.
New York Mets—This is clearly the year for the Mets to make the leap past the Braves. The addition of pitcher Mike Hampton and Atlanta's loss of John Smoltz gives the Mets the edge. If Todd Zeile can adequately replace John Olerud at first base and Rickey Henderson doesn't screw up the clubhouse atmosphere too badly, they'll be the best team in the N.L. But are they the best team in the city?
Atlanta Braves—Of course the loss of Smoltz is a killer, but the Braves still have three pitchers that would be aces on most other staffs. The offense is improved over last year's version with the return of Andres Galarraga and Javy Lopez and the acquisition of Reggie Sanders and Quilvio Veras. They have enough veterans to get past the distractions caused by John Rocker.
Philadelphia Phillies—The Phillies will be improved this year but the two teams ahead of them make the playoffs unattainable. Scott Rolen, Bobby Abreu and catcher Mike Lieberthal form an impressive, young nucleus in their lineup and the addition of pitcher Andy Ashby will be good for another 15 wins. They'll go nowhere, however, without a healthy Curt Schilling.
Montreal Expos—Vladimir Guerrero may be the best all-around player in the game. Rondell White is talented but his all-out style of play makes him injury-prone. A healthy season by him would help but the team is just too young—a side effect that comes from being forced to trade all of your best players for prospects.
Florida Marlins—They're the Expos, but without a superstar. In Clifford Floyd, they have their own version of Rondell White. Outfielder Preston Wilson and shortstop Alex Gonzalez are nice players to build around, but this team is a long way off.
Cincinnati Reds—They already led the National League in homers and runs last year. And then added Junior. Needless to say, offense won't be a problem. They did lose 45 HRs in Greg Vaughn, but they replaced him with Dante Bichette, a player that never seems to garner much respect, despite driving in no less than 118 runs in the last five years. The pitching staff is shaky at best, however, something Griffey is used to seeing. Ironically, Seattle may now have better pitching than the Reds.
St. Louis Cardinals—The Cards completely overhauled their pitching staff, taking chances on veterans Andy Benes, Pat Hentgen and Darryl Kile. To that threesome, add rookie of the year favorite Rick Ankiel and it could result in a division title for Tony LaRussa. And much to the chagrin of Philadelphia fans, this should be the year J.D. Drew becomes the player they never got the chance to see.
Houston Astros—One step forward. Two steps back. Losing Carl Everett to the Red Sox will be a blow to the Astros but the return of left fielder Moises Alou should more than make up for that loss. But who's going to replace 22-game winner Mike Hampton? Not Octavio Dotel. And certainly not Dwight Gooden.
Pittsburgh Pirates—Last year the Pirates hovered around the .500 mark for most of the season. The return of catcher Jason Kendall from his freakish ankle injury should boost them over that mark. Pitching is this team's strength. Kris Benson and Francisco Cordova will win 30 games between them and Todd Ritchie is the real deal. They could do some damage.
Chicago Cubs—Sammy Sosa's home run rampage may have masked the fact that the Cubs were horrible last year. Only Florida was worse in the N.L. Welcome new manager Don Baylor and welcome back ace Kerry Wood. This will help but they'll still lose more games than they'll win. Newly acquired pitcher Ismael Valdes will be counted on heavily if he can overcome his "dead arm" caused by 8.1 innings of spring training work.
Milwaukee Brewers—The Brewers won't win more than 70 games under new manager Davey Lopes, but they're on the road to recovery. The outfield (Jeromy Burnitz, Geoff Jenkins and Marquis Grissom) is more than respectable. They gambled in the offseason, trading their best hitter, Jeff Cirillo, for Jamey Wright and Jimmy Haynes, two pitchers with plenty of potential but even more question marks.
Los Angeles Dodgers—With Shawn Green, Gary Sheffield and Eric Karros in the heart of the lineup, this team can't help but score runs. But every year the Dodgers are picked to win the West, and every year they under achieve. They've got a sure thing in staff ace Kevin Brown, but it's time for Chan Ho Park and Darren Dreifort to perform like they should.
Arizona Diamondbacks—Team owner Jerry Colangelo was surprisingly quiet during the offseason, Maybe he shouldn't have been. His team was as good as it can possibly be in 1999 thanks to several veterans having career years. Consequently they won 100 games, but were really no match for the Mets in the N.L. Divisional Series. They're still good but will win only 90 this year.
San Francisco Giants—Go ahead. Count Barry Bonds out. That's just what he wants you to do. Last year was the worst in Bonds' hall of fame career, as injuries limited him to just 102 games (he still hit 34 HRs). In the new Pacific Bell Park, measuring just 307 feet down the right field line, he should return with a vengeance. Other than Bonds, the Giants have no other stars, but they refuse to go away.
San Diego Padres—After reaching the World Series in 1998, the Padres were completely dismantled in a garage sale bettered only by the Florida Marlins. Tony Gwynn and closer Trevor Hoffman are the only stars that remain. Their best hope for run production now comes from newly acquired Ryan Klesko, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
Colorado Rockies—Speaking of dismantled teams, we present to you the 2000 Colorado Rockies. The team's "all offense-no pitching" theory just wasn't working, so they dumped Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette and brought Masato Yoshii and Rolando Arrojo to Coors Field to watch their ERAs balloon. Last year, Rockies pitching gave up six earned runs per game. If they can bring that down a run, they'll crack the .500 barrier. And hell will freeze over.