Now that spring training is done, let’s try and forget about the fact one team has a payroll of $26 million (Tampa Bay), while another has a payroll of $166 million (Yankees).
Here’s a look at some clubs hoping to make a run to the World Series.
PHILADELPHIA: There are high expectations in Philadelphia after a big winter. The Phils have been grooming several talented young players in Pat Burrell, (37 HRs, 116 RBI, 89 walks), RF Bob Abreu (31 steals, 104 walks, .309), SS Jimmy Rollins (31 steals) and catcher Mike Lieberthal, along with pitchers Vicente Padilla (14-11), Brandon Duckworth and lefty Randy Wolf.
This team went 35-19 to end last season and believes they’re ready to blossom. The organization signed 1B Jim Thome (52 home runs) and acquired 18-game winner Kevin Millwood (18-8, 3.24, 217 IP) from the Braves. The missing pieces? Perhaps. They sure help. Pitching, however, is still a concern, especially the middle relief staff. Closer Jose Mesa (45 saves, 2.97 ERA) was a godsend, but consistency from year to year has been a problem for him.
ATLANTA: The Braves pitching staff will be interesting to watch, with three new starters. Ace Greg Maddux and 24-year old Jason Marquis will be joined by Mike Hampton, Paul Byrd and Russ Ortiz ”” all former aces with other teams. Ortiz was 14-10 in 214 innings for San Francisco last year and could win 20 games with his stuff, the Braves defense, and spacious Turner Field.
Hampton is the key. The lefty was 7-15 last year with Colorado, but there’s plenty of upside. He’s only 30 and a former ace, winning 22 and 15 games in 1999 and 2000 for the Astros and Mets respectively. The Braves believe he simply needs to get out of Coors Field.
CHISOX: Rebuilding Chicago has given fans on the South Side some hope for a rosy summer with two big off-season trades. Bartolo Colon was 20-8 between the Indians and Expos (233 innings, 2.93 ERA). The 29-year old right-hander combines with ace lefty Mark Buehrle (19-12, 3.58 ERA) to form the best lefty/righty duo in the AL. Hard throwing closer Billy Koch (44 saves, 2.98 ERA) was also added in a trade with Oakland.
The offense is stocked with power in Paul Konerko (27 HRs, 104 RBI), Frank Thomas (28 HRs, 98 RBI), Magglio Ordonez (38 HRs, 135 RBI), Jose Valentin (25 HRs) and LF Carlos Lee (26 HRs, 80 RBIs). Starting pitching depth is a concern, with a slew of kids in the No. 3, 4, and 5 spots.
OAKLAND: The best organization, top to bottom, in baseball, won 103 games last season with a payroll of $40 million. The A’s look devastating again with three ace starters in Cy Young winner Barry Zito (23-5, 2.75 ERA), Mark Mulder (19-7, 3.47) and Tim Hudson (15-9, 2.98). Ted Lilly and newly acquired John Halama (6-5, 3.56 ERA in 101 IP with Seattle) give the A’s a remarkable four left-handed starters. Adding closer Keith Foulke (2.90 ERA with Chicago) looks like a solid upgrade, and he walked just 13 batters in 77 IP.
Oakland’s offense and defense is just as good, led by a speedy outfield (Terrence Long and newcomer Chris Singleton), SS Miguel Tejada (34 HRs, 131 RBI), 3B Eric Chavez (34 HRs, 109 RBI), RF Jermaine Dye (34 HRs, 86 RBI), and C/1B/DH Scott Hatteberg (15 HRs, .280). An interesting move was the addition of 1B Erubiel Durazo, who has tremendous talent and potential (16 home runs and 48 walks in just 222 at bats last year with Arizona).
SEATTLE: Ancient Mariners? This could very well be the last chance for Edgar Martinez (40), INF/OF Mark McLemore (38), lefty Jamie Moyer (40), reliever Jeff Nelson (36) and closer Kaz Sasaki (35). The offense is again solid, with leadoff-man RF Ichiro Suzuki (.321, 31 steals), 1B John Olerud (.300, 22 HRs, 98 walks), 2B Bret Boone (24 HRs, 34 doubles, 107 RBI) and CF Mike Cameron (25 HRs, 80 RBI, 31 steals). They’re all brilliant defensive players.
Bob Melvin takes over for Lou Piniella, and the starting pitching is strong led by ace Freddy Garcia (16-10, 223 IP), Moyer (13-8, 3.32), and 24-year old righty Joel Piniero (14-7, 3.24 ERA, 194 IP). Piniero should team with Garcia to form a strong, young punch atop the rotation. The bullpen is outstanding with Sasaki (37 saves) and lefty Arthur Rhodes (10-4, 2.33, 81 Ks in 69 IP).
BOSTON: It’s been a positive spring training for Boston, which in itself is unusual. SS Nomar Garciaparra (.310, 56 doubles) looks in fine form after spending the last two seasons battling wrist problems. Batting champion Manny Ramirez (.349, 33 HRs) isn’t talking to the media and is crushing the ball.
There are strong complimentary players on offense in CF Johnny Damon (31 steals), C Jason Varitek, RF Trot Nixon (24 HRs), and 3B Shea Hillenbrand (.293, 43 doubles, 83 RBI). The Red Sox have a terrific one-two punch on the mound in Pedro Martinez (20-4, 2.26 ERA) and sinkerball extraordinaire Derek Lowe (21-8, 2.58 ERA). Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield will start (11-5, 2.81 ERA in 163 innings), along with aging John Burkett (13-8, 4.53) and young lefty Casey Fossum (5-4, 3.46, 106 IP, 101 K’s), who’s had a terrible spring.
The Red Sox will go with an unorthodox "Closer by Committee" strategy, with Mike Timlin, Chad Fox and Alan Embree.