Manager: Mike Hargrove (4th season, 204-281).
Last Season: 67-95, 4th place.
Key Additions: SS Deivi Cruz (signing/San Diego), LF Jack Cust (trade/Colorado), LHP Omar Daal (signing/Los Angeles), RHP Rick Helling (signing/Arizona), RHP Kerry Ligtenberg (signing/Atlanta), OF B.J. Surhoff (signing/Atlanta).
Key Losses: SS Mike Bordick (signing/Toronto), OF Chris Richard (trade/Colorado), OF Chris Singleton (signing/Oakland), RHP Josh Towers (signing/Toronto).
Top International Player: RHP Jorge Julio, Caracas, Venezuela. Julio has emerged as one of the best young closers in baseball. He has a fastball that approaches triple digits, a slider, a splitter and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2 to 1 (55-27). He finished his first year as a closer with 25 saves and a 1.99 ERA. The only concern this year is how often he'll get the chance to protect a ninth-inning lead (the bullpen didn't have a save opportunity after Aug. 23).
The Skinny: Besides Julio and rookie of the year runner-up Rodrigo Lopez (15-9, 3.57 ERA), the Orioles do not have much to build on. Past up-and-comers Towers and Richard are gone and the minor leagues are basically devoid of talent (the team's top three minor league affiliates last season -- the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, AA Bowie Baysox and A Frederick Keys -- finished 109 games below .500.) The team performed above expectations for much of the season and was at .500 (63-63) on Aug. 23, then closed out the season by going 4-32, the worst 36-game stretch in franchise history. Owner Peter Angelos replaced vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift with former Expos GM Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, but the biggest offseason story was Baltimore's unsuccessful attempt to acquire free agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Boston Red Sox
Manager: Grady Little (2nd season, 93-69).
Last Season: 93-69, 2nd place.
Key Additions: 1B-DH Jeremy Giambi (trade/Philadelphia), RHP Ramiro Mendoza (signing/N.Y. Yankees), 1B-DH-OF Kevin Millar (signing/Florida), 3B Bill Mueller (signing/San Francisco), 1B-DH David Ortiz (signing/Minnesota), RHP Robert Person (signing/Philadelphia), RHP Mike Timlin (signing/Philadelphia), 2B Todd Walker (trade/Cincinnati).
Key Losses: RHP Rolando Arrojo (signing/Pittsburgh), IF Carlos Baerga (signing/Arizona), 1B Tony Clark (signing/N.Y. Mets), 1B-OF Brian Daubach (signing/Chicago White Sox), OF Cliff Floyd (signing/N.Y. Mets), LHP Chris Haney (signing/Atlanta), OF Rickey Henderson (unsigned), RHP Dustin Hermanson (signing/St. Louis), 2B Lou Merloni (signing/San Diego), IF Rey Sanchez (signing/N.Y. Mets), RHP Ugueth Urbina (signing/Texas).
Top International Player: RHP Pedro Martinez, Manoguayabo, Dominican Republic. Martinez is simply the best pitcher of his era. He has the highest active winning percentage (152-63, .707), the best ERA (2.62), the best ratio of runners (walks+hits) per nine innings (9.10), and the second-best ratio of strikeouts per nine innings (10.56).
The Skinny: Members of Red Sox Nation have had much less to worry about this offseason than a year ago. The new owners have settled in nicely, Manager Grady Little is keeping Manny Ramirez and the rest of the clubhouse happy, Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra are healthy, and the starting rotation has fallen into place with the emergence of Derek Lowe as the number two starter. So what's left to worry about? There's has to be something. How about first base and the bullpen? No one has been able to make the Fenway faithful forget Mo Vaughn at first, and last year's duo of Brian Daubach and Tony Clark (175 combined hits, 183 combined strikeouts) didn't help. But the acquisitions of 1B-DHs Giambi from Philadelphia, Millar from Florida and Ortiz from Minnesota will go a long way in helping to solve that problem. And though losing Rich "El Guapo" Garces would help any bullpen, letting closer Urbina go to Texas has created a bit of a vacuum at the back of the pen. The Red Sox will go with the questionable "closer by committee," but will try it with a few good arms -- Alan Embree and newly acquired Timlin and Mendoza.
New York Yankees
Manager: Joe Torre (8th season, 685-445).
Last Season: 103-58, 1st place, lost in first round.
Key Additions: RHP Juan Acevedo (signing/Detroit), RHP Jose Contreras (signing/Cuba), LHP Chris Hammond (signing/Atlanta), OF Hideki Matsui (signing/Japan), RHP Antonio Osuna (trade/White Sox), OF Bubba Trammell (trade/San Diego), IF Todd Zeile (signing/Colorado).
Key Losses: IF Ron Coomer (signing/Los Angeles), RHP Orlando Hernandez (trade/Chicago White Sox/Montreal), RHP Ramiro Mendoza (signing/Boston), OF Shane Spencer (signing/Cleveland), LHP Mike Stanton (signing/N.Y. Mets), OF John Vander Wal (signing/Milwaukee), OF Rondell White (trade/San Diego).
Top International Player: 2B Alfonso Soriano, San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. The competition is fierce on the Yankees. Mariano Rivera (Panama) is arguably the best closer in baseball history, and Matsui's every move is watched in Japan, but the little man with the blazing bat speed has the most talent. He weighs 180 pounds, yet somehow fell just one home run short of becoming the fourth player in major league history to have 40 home runs and 40 steals in a season.
The Skinny: Led by Soriano (.300, 39 HR, 102 RBI), 1B Jason Giambi (.314, 41 HR, 122 RBI) and OF Bernie Williams (.333, 19 HR, 102 RBI) the Yankees will have the best offense in baseball if they cut down on their league-leading 1,171 strikeouts in 2002. The potential problems for the Yankees are pitching- and owner-related. After trading Hernandez in a three-way deal to Montreal this spring, New York has seven starters and all have issues. RHP Roger Clemens (13-6, 4.35 ERA), just seven wins from 300 and in likely his final season, will turn 41 in August; RHP Mike Mussina (18-10, 4.05) was inconsistent last year. Bullpen-wise, Rivera (28 saves, 2.74) had a shoulder problem that bothered him throughout last season and probably will not be be counted on for four- and five-out saves anymore. Throw in owner George Steinbrenner's impatience with a $150 million payroll that hasn't won a ring in (gasp!) two years and the circus that surrounds every swing of Japanese baseball hero Matsui and you have something that looks a whole lot like the Bronx Zoo of old.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Manager: Lou Piniella (1st season).
Last Season: 55-106, 5th place.
Key Additions: 2B Marlon Anderson (signing/Philadelphia), RHP Rob Bell (signing/Texas), C Jorge Fabregas (signing/Milwaukee), SS Rey Ordonez (trade/N.Y. Mets), LHP Jim Parque (signing/Chicago White Sox), RHP Jose Paniagua (signing/Detroit), RHP Steve Parris (signing/Toronto), RHP Blake Stein (signing/Kansas City), 1B-OF Lee Stevens (signing/Cleveland), 3B Chris Truby (signing/Detroit).
Key Losses: LHP Wilson Alvarez (signing/Los Angeles), 1B Steve Cox (sold to Yokohama), RHP Ryan Rupe (signing/Boston), IF Andy Sheets (sold to Hiroshima), RHP Tanyon Sturtze (signing/Toronto), RHP Paul Wilson (signing/Cincinnati), OF Greg Vaughn (released), OF Randy Winn (trade/Seattle), RHP Esteban Yan (signing/Texas).
Top International Player: Ordonez, Havana. Ordonez won Gold Gloves in 1997, '98, and '99 with the Mets. He holds the NL record for consecutive games without an error (101), consecutive chances without an error (419), fewest errors in a season by a shortstop (four, 1999) and highest fielding percentage in a season by a shortstop (.993 in 1999). But in the two seasons since breaking his left arm he has been more error-prone (31 in two seasons compared with 27 the previous three) and with 19-year-old prospect Jose Reyes ready to take over for the Mets at shortstop, Ordonez was expendable.
The Skinny: "The Youth Movement" is in Year 2, but is now led on the field by Piniella. The man who won an average of 100 games a year over the last three seasons with the Mariners, has set this year's goal at 70 wins.The prospects keep arriving in the outfield: Carl Crawford last season, and Baseball America's minor league player of the year Rocco Baldelli this season. But the Devil Rays have gotten rid of pitchers that started 104 of 161 games last season. The one holdover -- Joe Kennedy (23 years old, 50 career starts) -- will be the staff "ace" and will be followed by Victor Zambrano (27, 11 starts), Nick Bierbrodt (25, 16 starts) -- fully recovered after being shot twice in June while sitting in a fast-food drive-through in Charleston, S.C. -- Dewon Brazelton (22, 2 starts) and relative veteran Parque (27, 30-33, 4.85 ERA).
Toronto Blue Jays
Manager: Carlos Tosca (2nd season, 58-51).
Last Season: 78-84, 3rd place.
Key Additions: SS Mike Bordick (signing/Baltimore), OF Frank Catalanotto (signing/Texas), LHP Doug Creek (signing/Seattle), RHP Cory Lidle (trade/Oakland), C Greg Myers (signing/Oakland), RHP Tanyon Sturtze (signing/Tampa Bay), RHP Jeff Tam (signing/Oakland), RHP Josh Towers (signing/Baltimore).
Key Losses: RHP Chris Carpenter (signing/St. Louis), OF Jose Cruz Jr. (signing/San Francisco), LHP Felix Heredia (signing/Cincinnati), RHP Esteban Loaiza (signing/Chicago White Sox), SS Felipe Lopez (trade/Cincinnati), RHP Steve Parris (signing/Tampa Bay), RHP Luke Prokopec (signing/Los Angeles), LHP Mike Sirotka (signing/Chicago Cubs).
Top International Player: RHP Kelvim Escobar, La Guaira,Venezuela. Escobar spent severall years with the Blue Jays as a relatively successful starter (37-37). But then, he was converted into a successful closer. The hard-throwing righty had 38 saves in 46 attempts in 2002, the second-highest total in Toronto history. And with 11 September saves in 12 tries, the Blue Jays have found their closer.
The Skinny: The Blue Jays, under second-year general manager J.P. Ricciardi, continue to mirror the Oakland model built by his mentor, Billy Beane. The blueprint: Find bargain pitching wherever you can (preferably in your own farm system), fill lineup holes with proven veterans and build the team around young, successful position players that you can still sign to long-term, mid-range contracts. So, in the offseason Ricciardi traded for Oakland's fourth starter, Lidle, who immediately became Toronto's second starter behind Roy Halladay (19-7, 2.93). He signed established major leaguers to fill key roles (Myers, Bordick, Catalanotto). And in mid-March he signed 2002 AL rookie of the year (and former Oakland prospect) 3B Eric Hinske along with talented 24-year-old OF Vernon Wells to five-year contracts. Will Oakland-like success follow? This year will be Ricciardi's first real test.
Chicago White Sox
Manager: Jerry Manuel (6th season, 414-395).
Last Season: 81-81, 2nd place.
Key Additions: C Sandy Alomar Jr. (signing/Colorado), RHP Bartolo Colon (trade/Montreal), 1B-OF Brian Daubach (signing/Boston), RHP Tom Gordon (signing/Houston), RHP Billy Koch (trade/Oakland), RHP Esteban Loaiza (signing/Toronto), RHP Rick White (signing/St. Louis).
Key Losses: RHP Rocky Biddle (trade/Montreal), SS Royce Clayton (signing/Milwaukee), RHP Keith Foulke (trade/Oakland), C Mark Johnson (trade/Oakland), RHP Antonio Osuna (trade/N.Y. Yankeees), LHP Jim Parque (signing/Tampa Bay), RHP Todd Ritchie (signing/Milwaukee).
Top International Player: OF Magglio Ordonez, Caracas, Venezuela. Perhaps the most overlooked player in baseball, Ordonez is only the fifth player in major league history to hit .300 or better with 30 home runs and 100 RBI in four consecutive seasons (joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Manny Ramirez). And last season he established career bests in average (.320), home runs (38) and RBI (135). He is a three-time all-star, but last season was the first time he cracked the top 10 in the MVP voting.
The Skinny: The acquisition of Colon (20-8, 2.93) to top the rotation and Koch (44 saves) to fill the closer's role make the White Sox a contender for the AL Central crown. It's now a spring ritual to say "If only Frank Thomas can return to form." It's not going to happen. But if he can get closer to .300 and if 1B Paul Konerko can have a typically solid season, it's scary to think what kind of offensive numbers the Sox could put up with Ordonez between the two of them in the batting order. And if Minnesota's pitchers don't hold up, six guys -- the third, fourth and fifth hitters, Colon, LHP Mark Buerhle (19-12, 3.58 ERA) and Koch -- may be all a team needs to contend for a division title.
Manager: Eric Wedge (1st season).
Last Season: 74-88, 3rd place.
Key Additions: LHP Brian Anderson (signing/Arizona), RHP Jason Bere (signing/Chicago Cubs), C A.J. Finch (signing/Kansas City), 1B Travis Hafner (trade/Texas), RHP Aaron Myette (trade/Texas), OF Shane Spencer (signing/N.Y. Yankees).
Key Losses: C Einar Diaz (trade/Texas), RHP Ryan Drese (trade/Texas), 3B Travis Fryman (retired), RHP Charles Nagy (signing/San Diego), C Eddie Perez (signing/Milwaukee), 1B Lee Stevens (signing/Tampa Bay), 1B Jim Thome (signing/Philadelphia), RHP Jaret Wright (signing/San Diego).
Top International Player: SS Omar Vizquel, Caracas, Venezuela. The only player remaining from the club's 1995 World Series appearance failed to win a Gold Glove for the first time in nine seasons, but batted .275 and set career highs in home runs (14) and RBI (72). His offseason was a bit tougher. In his autobiography, "Omar! My Life On and Off the Field," Vizqel blames former Indians closer Jose Mesa for losing the 1997 World Series to Florida. Vizquel wrote, "The eyes of the world were focused on every move we made. Unfortunately, Jose's own eyes were vacant. Completely empty. . . . Not long after I looked into his vacant eyes, he blew the save and the Marlins tied the game." The book was released nine months ago, but Mesa responded this spring: "I want to kill him. I will not forgive him. Even my little boy told me to get him. If I face him 10 more times, I'll hit him 10 times. I want to kill him."
The Skinny: After six division titles in eight years, the Indians are in full rebuilding mode. They traded pitchers Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley, Paul Shuey and Ricardo Rincon during the 2002 season, let Thome go to the Phillies this offseason, watched Fryman retire, and traded Diaz. Wedge, 35, who has managed in the Indians' farm system for five years -- has some good pieces to build with. 2B Brandon Phillips, 21, already has been impressive enough to earn a starting position. Hafner, 25, cannot fill the shoes of Cleveland hero Thome, but he batted .342 with 21 HR and 77 RBI on the Phillies' Class AAA team. And C Josh Bard, 25, has been getting great reviews from his pitching staff. Top starter C.C. Sabathia, 22, and starter-turned-closer Danys Baez, 25, both have great stuff, but have to prove themselves in their roles. The Indians won't be a factor this season, but look out in 2005.
Manager: Alan Trammell (1st season).
Last Season: 55-106, 5th place.
Key Additions: LHP Steve Avery (signing/Cincinnati), LHP Adrian Burnside (trade/Pittsburgh), C Bill Haselman (signing/Texas), RHP Rob Henkel (trade/Florida), OF Gene Kingsale (trade/San Diego), RHP Gary Knotts (trade/Florida), RHP Nate Robertson (trade/Florida), OF Ernie Young (signing/Arizona).
Key Losses: RHP Juan Acevedo (signing/N.Y. Yankees), DH Robert Fick (signing/Atlanta), RHP Jose Paniagua (signing/Tampa Bay), LHP Mark Redman (trade/Florida), 1B Randall Simon (trade/Pittsburgh), 3B Chris Truby (free agent/Tampa Bay).
Top International Player: The Tigers have 11 players born in foreign countries on their spring roster -- Adrian Burnside/Australia, Jorge Cordova/Venezuela, Franklyn German/Dominican Republic, Oscar Hernandez/Venezuela, Wil Ledezma/Venezuela, Fernando Rodney/Dominican Republic, David Espinoza/Venezuela, Carlos Pena/Dominican Republic, Ramon Santiago/Dominican Republic and Gene Kingsale/Aruba. Each spent time in the minors last season but none has established himself.
The Skinny: Since Sparky Anderson retired after the 1995 season, Detroit has had four managers who have gone 466-666 -- a .411 winning percentage. In 27 years as a manger, Anderson had a .545 winning percentage and his teams won three World Series titles, one with the Tigers in 1984. Tigers ownership has reached back to the Anderson era, hiring his longtime shortstop, Trammell, as manager. But Trammell has no managerial experience, a potential starting rotation in which four starters have combined for 37 starts (the other is Steve Sparks, a career 56-63, 4.76 pitcher), some possible young talent (Brandon Inge, Eric Munson and Pena) and bench coach Kirk Gibson. It adds up to some nice memories of 1984, a lot of Sparky Anderson talk and a 10th consecutive losing season.
Kansas City Royals
Manager: Tony Pena (1st season).
Last Season: 62-100, 4th place.
Key Additions: RHP James Baldwin (signing/Seattle), C Mike DiFelice (signing/St. Louis), RHP Albie Lopez (signing/Atlanta), SS Desi Relaford (signing/Seattle).
Key Losses: 2B Luis Alicea (free agent), RHP Paul Byrd (signing/Atlanta), RHP Roberto Hernandez (signing/Atlanta), C A.J. Hinch (signing/Cleveland), LF Chuck Knoblauch (free agent), SS Neifi Perez (signing/San Francisco), RF Mark Quinn (released), RHP Blake Stein (signing/Tampa Bay), RHP Jeff Suppan (signing/Pittsburgh).
Top International Player: RHP Runelvys Hernandez, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In one season Hernandez has made the unheard of leap from Class AA to Opening Day pitcher. So what if he got the Opening Day gig when Pena flipped a coin between him and fellow youngster Jeremy Affeldt? Hernandez went 1-1, 3.75 in Class AA and earned his way to the parent club with his 8-3, 2.41 and a nearly 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio (86-24) in 14 starts at AAA Wichita. Whether he's a true number one starter in the majors is anyone's guess. But he's the best the Royals have -- at least by a coin flip.
The Skinny: The Royals lost 100 games for the first time in 2002, but Kansas City has talent at the heart of its lineup. 1B Mike Sweeney -- who bucked a trend and signed a five-year deal to stay in Kansas City -- finished second to Manny Ramirez for the batting title (.340) and has averaged .324, 26 HR and 108 RBI over a four-year span. CF Carlos Beltran is an up-and-comer. Since becoming a starter in 2001, he has averaged .289 with 38 doubles, 26 home runs, 103 RBI, 33 stolen bases and 110 runs. Last season he was one home run shy of becoming the Royals' first 30-30 player. Beltran is one of those rare players who can hit for average and power and field, throw and run. And 30-year-old career bench player LF Raul Ibanez, in his first season as a starter, hit .294 with 24 HR, 103 RBI and 70 runs, nearly doubling his six-year career output (27 HR, 112 RBI, 103 runs before 2002). While part of the lineup has proven it can play, none of the pitchers has. Byrd was the Royals' workhorse last season. Without him the staff went 45-89 with a 5.45 ERA. No other pitcher besides Byrd and Suppan won more than four games and they both signed with other teams in the offseason. Now the Royals' top two starters -- Hernandez (24) and LHP Jeremy Affeldt (25) -- have a combined four wins as starters (in 19 starts) in the majors. The only starter older than 23 is Darrell May (6-12, 5.67 ERA in his career) and the three players competing for closer have an average age of 25. The Royals made a concerted effort to trim payroll and go with their prospects. The youngsters have to come up big to avoid another 100-loss season.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (2nd season, 94-67).
Last Season: 94-67, 1st place, lost in ALCS.
Key Additions: RHP Mike Fetters (signing/Arizona), SS Chris Gomez (signing/Tampa Bay).
Key Losses: DH David Ortiz (signing/Boston), RHP Mike Jackson (signing/Arizona).
Top International Player: LHP Johan Santana, Tovar Meridia, Venezuela. On a team with few international players, the Twins do not have anyone who is a proven major leaguer. But in a few years they could have one of the best in baseball. Santana has only 23 career starts, but his stuff -- an explosive fastball, a nearly unhittable slider and a new change-up -- has people talking. He went 8-6 with a 2.99 ERA last season. But the one statistic that awed observers was his 137 strikeouts in 108 innings or 11.416/nine innings, which would be right in between Nolan Ryan's 11.48 in 1987 and Dwight Gooden's 11.395 in 1984 if he had thrown enough innings to qualify.
The Skinny: The Twins went from contraction candidate to the ALCS in 2002. And with the team vitually intact for 2003, a World Series appearance is not out of the question. 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, 2B Luis Rivas, SS Cristian Guzman and 3B Corey Koskie make up the league's best defensive infield (though they could each increase their offensive production). Gold Glove-winner CF Torii Hunter (.289, 29 HR, 94 RBI) emerged as an MVP candidate. And the Twins found a closer in Eddie Guardado (a team-record 45 saves). Minnesota also has the arms and the bullpen depth to make a playoff run, but their continued health is questionable. Eric Milton could be out until October after knee surgery and RHPs Brad Radke (9-5, 4.72, out two months, groin) and Joe Mays (4-8, 5.38, out three months, elbow) missed significant time last season because of injury. Veteran left-hander Kenny Rogers was signed to fill Milton's spot in the rotation. Radke and Mays appear to have recovered completely from injuries and Santana is ready to take a rotation spot if Rogers falters. There is no clearer favorite in any division than the Twins.
Manager: Mike Scioscia (4th season, 256-230).
Last Season: 99-63, 2nd place, World Series champion.
Key Additions: OF Eric Owens (signing/Seattle), LHP Rich Rodriguez (signing/Texas).
Key Losses: RHP Al Levine (signing/St. Louis), OF Alex Ochoa (signing/St. Louis) OF Orlando Palmeiro (signing/St. Louis).
Top International Player: Ramon Ortiz, Cotui, Dominican Republic. It is tempting to nominate Venezuelan phenom Francisco Rodriguez here after "K-Rod" burst on to the 2002 postseason scene, becoming the youngest pitcher to win a World Series game. But giving experience its due, the nod goes to Ortiz. The fifth-year starter's numbers have improved each year; now he will be looking to build on last season's 15 wins, 3.77 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 217.1 innings.
The Skinny: After a disappointing 2001 season, management resisted shaking up the team and gave its core players one more chance to prove themselves, a decision that obviously paid off. It was a no-brainer this year to keep the crew almost intact, but now the question is: Can they repeat? They certainly appear capable of doing so. The lineup is full of consistent hitters who test pitchers with their patient approach and provide plenty of RBI opportunities for the heart of the order, led by 50-homer threat Troy Glaus. Best of all, six of the nine starters are under 30. Still, there are concerns with the pitching staff, where there is doubt as to how much Kevin Appier, 36, has left in the tank, how well Aaron Sele will bounce back from shoulder surgery and who, if anyone, will perform like a prototypical number one starter. But the Angels' staff could actually be improved overall with full seasons from World Series Game 7 winner John Lackey, Rodriguez and talented youngster Brendan Donnelly.
Manager: Ken Macha (1st season).
Last Season: 103-59, 1st place, lost in first round.
Key Additions: DH Erubiel Durazo (trade/Arizona), RHP Jeremy Fikac (trade/San Diego), RHP Keith Foulke (trade/Chicago White Sox), LHP John Halama (signing/Seattle), C Mark Johnson (trade/Chicago White Sox), OF Chris Singleton (signing/Baltimore).
Key Losses: DH Ray Durham (signing/San Francisco), LF David Justice (retired), RHP Billy Koch (trade/Chicago White Sox), RHP Cory Lidle (trade/ Toronto), 1B-OF John Mabry (signing/Seattle), C Greg Myers (signing/Toronto), 3B-DH Olmedo Saenz (free agent), RHP Jeff Tam (signing/Toronto), 2B Randy Velarde (retired), LHP Mike Venafro (signing/Atlanta).
Top International Player: Miguel Tejada, Bani, Dominican Republic. The 2002 MVP, Tejada hit .308 with 34 homers and 131 RBI. He signed with Oakland in 1993, made his major league debut in 1997 and last season was able to seamlessly replace Jason Giambi in the batting order. But, like Giambi, Tejada will not spend his career in Oakland. His contract expires after this season, and on March 15 A's co-owner Steve Schott said: "We have absolutely no way we can sign Miguel to a long-term contract. . . .This is a small-market team and with the system we have, we cannot afford him. It's as simple as that."
The Skinny: Some of Oakland's small market thunder was stolen by its playoff loss to Minnesota. But once again, the A's trimmed payroll (David Justice and Randy Velarde retired, Billy Koch and Cory Lidle were traded and Ray Durham signed with the Giants) and will be a top contender in baseball's toughest division. The reason is simple. The A's have the best pitching staff in baseball (they led the league with a 3.68 ERA last season) thanks to the new "Big Three." And now that John Smoltz is a reliever and Tom Glavine is a Met, the best three starters in one rotation belong in the other city by the Bay. LHP Barry Zito and LHP Mark Mulder have each won 40 games over the last two seasons -- tied for the AL lead in wins over that span -- and RHP Tim Hudson is 53-24 over three years. The A's have a new manager for the first time in eight years, but Ken Macha was Art Howe's bench coach for four years, so the transition should be smooth. Their primary concern will be at closer, where they'll have their third in three seasons as Keith Foulke follows Jason Isringhausen and Billy Koch. As for the ever-shrinking payroll, GM Billy Beane continues to bring in bargain free agents with solid track records to fill key positions, such as 1B Scott Hatteberg last year. This offseason, he picked up Chris Singleton to play center field, allowing Terrence Long to play left, where he belongs, and Erubiel Durazo to DH, the perfect fit for a team that didn't really have a DH last season.
Manager: Bob Melvin (1st season).
Last Season: 93-69, 3rd place.
Key Additions: C Pat Borders (signing/Houston), 1B Greg Colbrunn (signing/Arizona), OF Randy Winn (trade/Tampa Bay).
Key Losses: RHP Paul Abbott (released), RHP James Baldwin (signing/Kansas City), LHP Doug Creek (free agent/Toronto), CF Charles Gipson (signing, Chicago Cubs), LHP John Halama (signing/Oakland), IF Jose Offerman (free agent), IF Desi Relaford (signing/Kansas City), OF Ruben Sierra (signing/Texas), RHP Ismael Valdes (signing/Texas).
Top International Player: Ichiro Suzuki, Kasugai, Japan. This is a man so popular in his homeland he already has his own museum, all the better to accommodate legions of fans stricken with "Ichiromania." The first Japanese positional player to perform in the major leagues, Ichiro -- who, in the manner of global mega-stars, goes only by his first name -- not only lived up to the hype, he eclipsed it, being named MVP his first season here. Ichiro fell off slightly last year from his stunning 2001 season, but most managers would take a .388 on-base percentage and a .425 slugging percentage any season.
The Skinny: For the first time in a decade, the Mariners have a new manager, and it remains to be seen whether the team will respond to Bob Melvin's new voice or miss Lou Piniella's fiery presence. Winn, who came as compensation for the defection of Piniella, will be a huge defensive upgrade over Rubin Sierra and should combine with Ichiro for a nightmarish 1-2 punch to opposing pitchers. However, Seattle will need solid contributions from its entire order as it lacks big boppers around the cleanup spot. In addition, Carlos Guillen is the only regular under 30, so injury (Edgar Martinez missed 65 games last year) and diminished performance threaten this talented team. Pitching is a strength, but the Mariners need Freddy Garcia to maintain the focus of a top starter and may have to patch a hole in their bullpen, as Arthur Rhodes is their only left-hander.
Manager: Buck Showalter (1st season).
Last Season: 72-90, 4th place.
Key Additions: C Einar Diaz (trade/Cleveland), RHP Ryan Drese (trade/Cleveland), CF Doug Glanville (signing/Philadelphia), OF Ruben Sierra (signing/Seattle), RHP John Thomson (signing/ Mets), RHP Ugueth Urbina (signing/Boston), RHP Ismael Valdes (signing/Seattle), RHP Esteban Yan (signing/Tampa Bay).
Key Losses: OF Frank Catalanotto (signing/Toronto), 1B Travis Hafner (trade/Cleveland), C Bill Haselman (signing/Detroit), OF Todd Hollandsworth (free agent/Florida), RHP Aaron Myette (trade/Cleveland), RHP Hideki Irabu (released), LHP Dennys Reyes (signing/Pittsburgh), LHP John Rocker (released), C Ivan Rodriguez (signing/Florida), LHP Kenny Rogers (free agent).
Top International Player: Rafael Palmeiro, Havana. Palmeiro's parents fled Cuba in 1971, bringing with them Rafael and two siblings but leaving an older brother, Jose, behind. Palmeiro didn't see Jose again until the latter left the island in 1992, and his experiences caused him to express strong opposition to the 1999 exhibition game played in Cuba by the Orioles, whom he had just left as a free agent. Palmeiro broke in with the Cubs in 1986 and was considered a high-average singles hitter; in typical Cubs fashion, it was only after they traded him to Texas in 1989 that he began to display his terrific power at the plate. Over the past decade, he averaged 39.5 home runs and 115.4 RBI, while playing 152.7 games a season.
The Skinny: Got pitching? As usual, and bizarrely so for a team with such a high payroll, Texas doesn't. Here's a telling fact: There has never been an Opening Day starter coming off four straight losing seasons. Ismael Valdes, tabbed to lead Texas pitching into 2003, would be just that. Perhaps he was chosen for the honor to take the pressure off nominal ace Park, who arrived last season with as a richly rewarded free agent and promptly turned in a 5.75 ERA. In fairness, the bullpen should be in better shape with the signings of Urbina, and set-up men Esteban Yan and lefty Aaron Fultz. Of course, the Rangers rarely lack for offense, and return with a lineup potent enough to let minor league star Hank Blalock develop at the bottom of the order. But the incomparable A-Rod is suffering from a herniated disk in his neck, and even though he plans to play on Opening Day, his health must be a concern, especially considering the fragility of Gonzalez and the age of Palmeiro (38). However, a potential silver lining to any absence of Palmeiro, only 10 home runs shy of 500, would be increased opportunities for coveted prospect Mark Teixeira (Severna Park).