2001 American League Preview
by Michael Morrison
American League East
New York Yankees
Will George Steinbrenner ever be satisfied? In the offseason, after winning their third consecutive World Series, and fourth in the last five years, "The Boss" acquired baseball's most coveted pitching free agent, Mike Mussina. It certainly won't make them worse. There are some chinks in the armor but they're still amazing.
Boston Red Sox
Spurned by Mussina, the Red Sox gave slugger Manny Ramirez $160 million to juice up their offense. They have some holes (most notably the starting rotation after Pedro) but they also boast five legitimate stars in Ramirez, Pedro, Nomar, Carl Everett and Derek Lowe. If Nomar's absence is closer to 6 weeks rather than 6 months, and Everett can keep his head straight and off the umpires', forget the wildcard?they could take the division.
Toronto Blue Jays
As expected, first basemen Carlos Delgado fulfilled his mammoth potential and entered the league's elite last season. What hurt them in 2000 was the poor performance of their second-line starters, led by Chris Carpenter. They need better from him this year, especially with ace David Wells now in Chicago.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The middle of their lineup (Ben Grieve, Fred McGriff, Greg Vaughn and Vinny Castilla) should produce 120 homers and 400 RBI. They're still not close to the playoffs but they'll get out of the division cellar for the first time since... well... ever.
Signing high-priced veterans just wasn't working so the front office decided to rebuild from within. It could be a long couple of years for Orioles fans, especially when they have to watch longtime-ace-turned-Yankee Mike Mussina beat them. Cal Ripken Jr. shouldn't have to go out this way.
American League Central
Subtract one Manny Ramirez and add a Juan Gonzalez and an Ellis Burks and what do you get? An offense that is still tops in the league. Don't let last year's 90-win "slip-up" fool you. The Tribe's veterans won't let them cave in now that they have some divisional pressure.
Chicago White Sox
They have a stellar offense, a heck of a bullpen and now a staff ace in David Wells. But they'll only go as far as the arms of second-line starters Cal Eldred and James Baldwin will take them.
Kansas City Royals
Much like the Oakland A's, the Royals hustle and they're a fun team to root for. Unlike the A's, their pitching is awful. Closer Roberto Hernandez will help out, but the Royals could have done better for trading star Johnny Damon.
The departure of outfielder Juan Gonzalez leaves a gaping hole in the middle of their lineup that management has neglected to address. Instead, they opted to shift their offensive strategy from power to speed, as evidenced by the acquisition of Roger Cedeno. They just don't really have enough of anything to compete.
See last year?and the year before that - two excellent starters (the righty/lefty combo of Brad Radke and Eric Milton) and a handful of impressive young hitters that should translate into a 70-win season.
American League West
The pre-season buzz of this A's team is as high as it's been since the late 80's when the Bash Brothers were driving in Rickey Henderson and Carney Lansford. Rightfully so. Tim Hudson and Barry Zito should be good for 35 wins between them and the trade for leadoff hitter Johnny Damon might give the offense the boost they need to take down the Yankees.
The Rangers won the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes in the offseason, luring the slick-fielding, power-hitting shortstop to Texas with a quarter-billion dollars. They're probably the only team in baseball with the majors' best player at two positions (Ivan Rodriguez at catcher is the other). The team could break all kinds of offensive records in 2001 and will be in the hunt for the playoffs, even with a shaky pitching staff.
How many superstars can a team lose before it starts to get bad? First the Mariners lost Randy Johnson then Ken Griffey Jr., and now A-Rod. Better starting pitching and a real closer (Kazuhiro Sasaki) has kept them near the top of the division, but they'll settle back to .500 in 2001.
The loss of first baseman Mo Vaughn (likely out for the season with an arm injury) all but ruined the Angels' hopes of making the playoffs. However, outfielder Darin Erstad and third baseman Troy Glaus are two of the league's most exciting players and will see to it that this team wins more than it loses.