Friday, December 19, 2003
Here's my fantasy football column for this week:
Fantasy football: For those with an eye on next year, here are 20 keepers
He's dead to me now
I was looking forward to the clock striking 5 p.m. on Thursday. Why? Because I wanted all of the rumors surrounding the Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra to be over with. At this point, I didn't even care whether or not the traded happened, I just wanted the whole ordeal to end. I was tired of spending so much time thinking about it.
Well, the deadline came and passed and the Red Sox and the Player's Association were not able to come to an agreement and Bud Selig ended the negotiating window, and somehow the trade is still not dead yet. Well, it is for me. I'm through with it. From this moment forward, I'm just going to operate under the assumption that Ramirez and Garciaparra will be playing for the Red Sox when the 2004 season opens. The only thing that will make me think otherwise is a press conference with Rodriguez putting on a Boston jersey.
So, since the Red Sox are not trading for Rodriguez, I'm going to give my take on what's in store for Boston now that perhaps the most talked about non-trade has, in fact, not happened. First, let's address the reason some (many?) people think the deal is not dead after all.
Thursday night, after the deadline had passed and no agreement had been reached, Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino issued the following statement:
"The proposed trade between the Boston Red Sox and the Texas Rangers is dead. The Players Association's intransigence and the arbitrary nature of its action are responsible for the deal's demise today. Reports that negotiations are continuing and shall continue are inaccurate."
Obviously that quote isn't a reason to think the deal still has life, but Texas GM John Hart contradicted Lucchino by saying there is still a possibility that the trade could be made and that he expects Texas owner Tom Hicks to continue talking with the Red Sox about the trade.
These conflicting statements caused many people to believe that Lucchino is just posturing to put pressure on Hicks to reduce his demands for the Red Sox to pay a portion of Ramirez's contract. The main reason people think this is that they think the Red Sox have gone too far in this to go back. They think that this whole situation has progressed to the point that the fans, Ramirez and Garciaparra will all be distraught if the trade ends up not happening. Well, let's look at those parties one at a time:
The fans - You may or may not realize it, but Red Sox fans are pretty well split on this trade. Some fans are going to be upset if the trade does not go through because they were so looking forward to the arrival of Rodriguez in Boston. Some fans are going to be upset if the trade does go through because they are very fond of Garciaparra and don't want to see him go.
When I went home for Thanksgiving, I visited a friend from college and at some point our conversation turned to the Red Sox and Rodriguez. My friend's mom was there and she asked me what would happen to Garciaparra if the Red Sox traded for Rodriguez. My response was that he would get traded elsewhere. What did she think of that?
"Uh-uh. I don't like that," she said while shaking her head.
A great many Red Sox fans feel the same way, so this trade won't please all of the Red Sox fans whether it happens or not. Plus, Boston's front office isn't in the business of placating the fans. It's in the business of building a winning baseball team. If attempting to do that results in some fans getting their hopes up for no reason, then that's too bad, but there's nothing to be done about it.
Ramirez - Ramirez has seemingly been unhappy ever since he arrived in Boston. This season, he cause quite a stir by missing a series against the Yankees with an illness, but being healthy enough to visit a friend at the Ritz. A friend who happens to play for the Yankees. When the season ended, Ramirez apparently expressed a desire to play for the Yankees. The Red Sox placed Ramirez on irrevocable waivers, but the Yankees (and every other team) passed on the opportunity to obtain the services of Ramirez.
So, Ramirez was stuck on a team he didn't want to be on. Except that his agent recently announced that Ramirez does, in fact, want to be in Boston after all. It was probably just posturing so that Ramirez would look like the good guy, but it was there nonetheless: Ramirez wants to be in Boston, but Boston doesn't want him. Clearly, this is a situation in which Manny cannot exist, and certainly it's a situation in which Manny can't be as productive as normal. Isn't it?
No, it absolutely is not. So, the Red Sox aren't entirely thrilled by the prospect of having Ramirez on the team, so what? Is that going to make Ramirez a worse hitter? From what I understand, the one thing that Ramirez loves more than anything is hitting. He spends a ton of time working on his hitting and the only situation that would probably make him truly happy is the one in which he is allowed to just hit to his heart's content and not worry about anything else at all.
That situation does not exist. Not in Boston, not in Texas and certainly not in the Bronx. Wherever Ramirez goes, he's going to have to deal with the media to some extent and eventually he's going to get frustrated and express his displeasure. That does not mean he's going to start hitting worse.
Manny Ramirez is a hitter. It's what he does and it's what he loves to do. He takes great pride in it, and he's not going to do a worse job at it just because you or anybody else doesn't like him.
Garciaparra - Garciaparra became a Boston icon almost as soon as he joined the Red Sox. Over the course of his career, he has become the most idolized Boston athlete of this generation. However, he's always been reluctant to deal with the press, and many people have speculated that he'd rather play baseball on the West Coast, where he grew up.
However, having turned down a contract extension in spring training, Garciaparra is now heading into the final season of his contract. When news of the potential trade for Rodriguez became public, Garciaparra expressed his desire to remain in Boston, saying that he and his new wife, Mia Hamm, were purchasing a house near Boston and that he wanted to finish his career in Boston. However, most people seem to think Garciaparra will be unable to return to Boston now that the Red Sox have openly courted his replacement.
Why? If Garciaparra is the starting shortstop for the Red Sox on Opening Day, is he going to perform worse than he would have had the Red Sox not tried to replace him? Of course not. He'll be in the final year of his contract, after all, and he'll need to have a good season to get the new contract he feels he deserves. Boston's actions this off-season may have made it harder to negotiate an extension with Garciaparra, but it certainly doesn't make it impossible for Garciaparra to be the starting shortstop for the Red Sox in 2004.
So, there's no reason the Red Sox can't go into next season with Garciaparra still on the team and, if his interest in remaining in Boston for the rest of his career is genuine, discussions about a new contract should not be derailed just because the Red Sox showed interest in a different shortstop.
Okay, so we've got that settled. The Red Sox have not alienated Garciaparra, Ramirez or the fans to the point that the world will end if this trade does not happen. In fact, the Red Sox pretty much have all the leverage here. They are perfectly capable of proceeding with the team as is. If the Rangers feel that what Rodriguez has done this off-season will make things too difficult to keep him on the team, then they can bite the bullet and trade him to Boston at Boston's price.
Since I'm no longer concerned with the trade for Rodriguez, it's time to examine the Red Sox roster should they not make any more significant moves, which I hope is the case. Here's how it looks:
C - Jason Varitek
1B - Kevin Millar
2B - Mark Bellhorn
3B - Bill Mueller
SS - Nomar Garciaparra
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Johnny Damon
RF - Trot Nixon
DH - David Ortiz
Extra utility player?
Rule V Draftee?
That is a pretty good team. For starters, the pitching is obviously better than it was last year. The bullpen is a lot more settled and the rotation features Schilling instead of John Burkett, which is a tremendous improvement.
The offense looks pretty darn good too. It's almost the same offense that scored 962 runs last year. I would expect Garciaparra and Ramirez to do about what they did last year, I would expect Mueller to decline significantly, I would expect Nixon, Varitek and Ortiz to decline slightly, I would expect Millar and Damon to improve slightly and I would expect Bellhorn to give them at least as much offensively as Todd Walker did.
So, with the pitching improving significantly and the offense declining marginally, if at all, the team looks to be very much improved overall. Why would any fan have a problem with this team? Why would any players have a problem being part of this team? I love this team and I wish I could watch it play now instead of having to wait another few months.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a busy day ahead of me. I have to spend most of the day reading, so I can figure out if this damn trade for A-Rod is going to happen or not.
Monday, December 15, 2003
It seems that the AL East is the place to be. The Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles all have a lot of money to spend and the Blue Jays have a very smart front office to help make up for the fact that they don't have as much money. In case you haven't noticed, all of that has resulted in a lot of quality players moving into the AL East this off-season. That gravitation of talent has some people wondering if it will be a lot harder for the second-place team in the AL East to win the wild card than it otherwise would have been.
Well, it's true that the AL East is a tougher division now than it was when the season ended. The top four teams in the AL East have all gotten better talent-wise since the season ended. Meanwhile, in the other two AL divisions, the third-place team has improved itself while the top two teams have gotten worse. Let's take a look at the 10 teams that either had a shot at the playoffs last year or have gotten significantly better this off-season.
New York Yankees
The Yankees have (or soon will have) added Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill. They've lost Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Nick Johnson and Jeff Weaver.
I don't think anybody can seriously argue that the Yankees haven't improved themselves. I love Johnson's potential, but Sheffield's a better, and certainly more durable, offensive performer. So, the offense should be better in 2004 than it was in 2003 unless Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams completely fall apart.
Last year's Yankees rotation was Mike Mussina, Pettitte, Clemens, David Wells and a combination of Weaver and Jose Contreras. This year's rotation looks like Mussina, Vazquez, Brown, Wells and Contreras. Mussina should be better than last year, Vazquez and Brown should be at least as good as Clemens and Pettitte were, Wells will probably be worse than he was last year and Contreras should certainly be better than the combination of him and Weaver from last year (since Weaver made 24 starts and Contreras made nine). So, overall, I think the Yankees rotation looks at least a little bit better than it did last year.
Finally, the bullpen should be better with Gordon and Quantrill than it was last year. So, the Yankees look to be better on paper than the team that won 101 games and went to the World Series last year. I know they're old and there are a lot of question marks and there could be personality issues and they don't know how some of their new players will play in New York and on and on and on. They still have to play the games, no doubt about that, but the Yankees look to be improved.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have added Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke. They've lost Todd Walker, John Burkett, Todd Jones, Robert Person and Jeff Suppan.
It's pretty simple, the two pitchers Boston's added so far had a 2.65 ERA in 254.2 innings last year while the four pitchers the Red Sox have lost so far had a 5.39 ERA in 285.2 innings last year. It's pretty clear that the Red Sox pitching staff is quite a bit better right now than it was when the season ended. I really hope the Red Sox keep both Byung-Hyun Kim and Scott Williamson, but the pitching staff should be better even if they cannot.
Some people think Kim could be about as good as Schilling in 2004 and some people don't think Foulke is that big an improvement over Williamson. I disagree with both sets of people.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Kim is able to post the same ERA as a starter in 2004 as Schilling. I think that's a big leap, but let's make it just for the sake of argument. Over the last three seasons, Schilling has averaged 7.28 IP/GS. If he's able to make 33-35 starts, and I don't think there's any reason to expect that he won't be able to, then he'll throw 230-260 innings. In his dozen starts last season, Kim averaged 6 IP/GS. Even if he improves by a third of an inning, he would only throw 220 innings if he makes 35 starts. So, not only do I think Schilling will pitch better than Kim, he's almost sure to pitch more than Kim as well.
Williamson has been a very good reliever in his career. He was a workhorse in his first two seasons, 205.1 innings while posting a 2.89 ERA. Then he got hurt, and in the two seasons since recovering he's only pitched 136.2 innings while posting a 3.49 ERA. He may still be able to provide the quality he did during his first two seasons, but he's no longer able to provide the quantity. Meanwhile, Foulke has averaged 88 innings pitched over the last five seasons while compiling an ERA of 2.48. He's a better pitcher than Williamson (at least slightly) and he's able to pitch 15-20 more innings than Williamson is.
So, even if Kim and Williamson are both gone by the time Opening Day rolls around, the Red Sox pitching staff will be improved. If they are both still in Boston, the pitching staff will simply be even better.
Most people expect the offense to decline, but the only player they've lost from that offense so far is Walker. Also, they've reportedly purchased Mark Bellhorn from the Rockies. Bellhorn probably won't be the full-time second baseman, but if he was, he would be better defensively than Walker and he could be better offensively as well.
The Red Sox did see four players (Bill Mueller, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek and David Ortiz) have career-type seasons, but I think Mueller is the only candidate to really slide most of the way back to his normal production. Also, the Red Sox were by some accounts pretty inefficient on offense last year, and should have scored 80 more runs than they did based on all of their other numbers.
Let's assume the worst case scenario, that while the pitching has gotten better, the offense has gotten worse. If you think the offense will score 80 fewer runs, I don't think it's unreasonable to think the defense will also allow 80 fewer runs. That would put the Red Sox at 882 runs scored and 729 runs allowed. That would give the Red Sox a Pythagorean Record of 96-66 (their Pythagorean and actual records were both 95-67 in 2003). So even the worst case scenario, in my opinion, has the Red Sox improving by a game.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays added Ted Lilly, Miguel Batista, Pat Hentgen, Kerry Ligtenberg and Justin Speier. They lost Bobby Kielty, Mark Hendrickson, Kelvim Escobar, Mike Bordick, Corey Lidle and Tanyon Sturtze.
Toronto scored a lot of runs last year -- 895 to be exact. With most of the offense returning and a few players likely to improve and a few players likely to regress, the Blue Jays will score a lot of runs again this year. The Blue Jays also gave up a lot of runs last year -- 826 to be exact.
In an effort to improve that number, they replaced Escobar, Hendrickson, Lidle and Sturtze with Lilly, Batista, Hentgen, Ligtenberg and Speier. The four pitchers who have left posted a 5.29 ERA in 620.2 innings. The five pitchers who have arrived posted a 3.93 ERA in 665 innings. Those numbers don't say anything about where or in what roles each of the pitchers pitched, but I think they do show that the Toronto pitching staff should be significantly better than it was last year. When you replace over 600 terrible innings with over 600 above average innings, that's a very good thing.
With the offense probably staying about the same and the pitching probably getting significantly better, it's pretty hard to expect the Blue Jays to be any worse than they were in 2003, when they won 86 games and should have won 87 based on their run differential.
The Orioles have only added Miguel Tejada so far and they've lost Hentgen, Ligtenberg, Deivi Cruz, Tony Batista and Brook Fordyce. However, they're supposedly going to add Vlad Guerrero and either Ivan Rodriguez or Javy Lopez as well. If the Orioles do make those two additional signings, then the AL East could very well be home to the four best offenses in the league in 2004.
Even without signing Guerrero and Rodriguez or Lopez, the Orioles have helped themselves significantly by upgrading from Cruz to Tejada. Cruz hit .250/.269/.378 (.647) for an OPS+ of 72, his third straight season with an OPS+ below 80. Tejada hit .278/.336/.472 (.807) for an OPS+ of 117, his fourth straight season with an OPS+ above 110.
And while I listed Cruz, Batista and Fordyce under the losses part of the ledger, they really aren't losses at all. Just like Cruz, Batista made outs 73-percent of the time, hitting .235/.270/.393 (.663) for an OPS+ of 76. While that's a significant dropoff from what he did in 2002, Batista's career OBP is .302, so it's not like he's ever been really valuable. Fordyce, meanwhile, hit .273/.311/.371 (.682) for an OPS+ of 83, his best season in the past three years.
Even if the Orioles just replace Batista and Fordyce with average hitters, the offense will be better. If they replace them with good hitters like Guerrero and Rodriguez, the offense will be significantly better than last year, when it scored 743 runs. Still, you can't get too crazy with your expectations for the Orioles, because they really don't have much in the way of a pitching staff.
The Twins have only added Joe Nathan and Carlos Silva. They've lost LaTroy Hawkins, Eddie Guardado, A.J. Pierzynski, Eric Milton, Dustan Mohr, Kenny Rogers and Rick Reed.
Minnesota is burdened by a low budget, and that has caused the Twins to have to make some tough choices. Hawkins and Guardado were their two best relievers last year and they would have liked to have kept at least one of them. They could not, however, and at the moment the bullpen is worse than it was last year because Nathan and Silva are simply not as good.
Pierzynski was traded because the Twins have uber-prospect Joe Mauer, and they apparently feel comfortable giving him the starting job without seeing him play a single inning in AAA. I think Mauer will become an excellent player, but I don't think he'll be as good for the Twins in 2004 as Pierzynski would have been. The rest of the offense is still kind of up in the air. Mohr wasn't going to play much anyway as Shannon Stewart and Torii Hunter are penciled into two of the three outfield spots, and Michael Cuddyer will probably get the final one after Jacque Jones is traded.
The big problem for the Twins is the starting rotation. They didn't lose anybody who was great for them last year, but with Joe Mays out for the year, Minnesota now has just three starting pitchers. Unless they sign a free agent or two before the season starts, they're counting on Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse to stay healthy all season AND two starting pitchers to emerge from a group that probably includes Grant Balfour, Brad Thomas, Adam Johnson and Carlos Pulido. That doesn't look to me like a recipe for success.
I'd still say the Twins are the favorites to win the AL Central, but I don't think they're a good bet to improve upon their 90-win 2003 season. I simply think 85-87 wins may be enough to take the division.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox lone addition thus far has been, drom roll please, Juan Uribe. Meanwhile, the White Sox have lost Bartolo Colon, Tom Gordon, Scott Sullivan, Tony Graffanino, Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett.
Colon pitched 242 innings last year and posted a 3.87 ERA. Replacing that many innings with that ERA is not an easy task at all. When you combine that with the fact that Esteban Loaiza is likely to experience a significant dropoff from his 2003 performance, then you can see that Chicago's starting rotation will be considerably worse.
They could probably replace the loss of Gordon and Sullivan in the bullpen if they just fixed whatever's wrong with Billy Koch, but it sounds like they're going to trade Koch away and it doesn't sound like they'll get much in return. So, in addition to the rotation, the bullpen is also likely to be worse than it was.
Finally, you get to the offense, where Everett and Alomar weren't around for all that long, but were both significantly better than the guys who will be replacing them. Losing Graffanino also hurts, because he was the perfect platoon partner for Jose Valentin, who has absolutely no business being on the field whenever a left-handed pitcher is on the mound.
The offense could get some help because Joe Crede and Paul Konerko are unlikely to duplicate their miserable performances from the first half of 2003, but the White Sox are trying to trade Konerko. Even worse, if they can't trade Konerko (and they probably can't), they might trade away Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee or Frank Thomas. Doing so would probably help the pitching staff (because they would be trading for pitching), but it would hurt the offense just as much.
Part of me thinks that the White Sox are still a very dangerous team, and they might be, but the rest of me thinks they're going to have trouble winning more games than they lose unless the rest of their off-season is a lot more impressive than the beginning of it has been.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals have added Matt Stairs, Benito Santiago, Sullivan and Graffanino. They've lost Raul Ibanez, Rondell White, Michael Tucker, Brent Mayne, Paul Abbott and Jose Lima.
First of all, the losses of Abbott and Lima are pretty insignificant. They combined to pitch 121 innings with a 5.06 ERA. I think the Royals can come up with a starter who can do at least that well without too much trouble.
Second, the Santiago signing will help the Royals. The team could have improved more by signing Pudge Rodriguez or Javy Lopez, but that wasn't going to happen. Santiago is 39 and he's not a great hitter, but he did hit .279/.329/.424 (.753) in a good pitcher's park for an OPS+ of 96 (he had a 107 OPS+ last year). He is replacing Mayne, who hit .245/.307/.344 (.651) in a good hitter's park for an OPS+ of 64, his third straight season with an OPS+ below 70.
Stairs is a fine replacement for Ibanez because neither of them should really play much against lefties. Over the last three years, Stairs has hit .270/.375/.517 (.892) against righties while Ibanez has hit .304/.364/.523 (.887) against righties. Ibanez (.693 OPS) has been better against lefties over that time than Stairs (.550 OPS), but you don't really want to use either of them too much against lefties. If the Royals platoon Stairs with Ken Harvey (.333/.377/.564 (.941) versus lefties last year), they will have a very, very good 1B-DH threesome (with Mike Sweeney playing every day).
The loss of White and Tucker doesn't really hurt too much because Aaron Guiel and David DeJesus should be able to join Carlos Beltran to form a pretty good outfield. The Royals might want to sign a good fourth outfielder to rotate in and out with Guiel and DeJesus, but overall the outfield doesn't look any worse than last year. The Graffanino signing helps because it means that Desi Relaford shouldn't have to provide 500 at-bats this year. Unfortunately, Graffanino and Relaford are both righties, but Graffanino's presence certainly shouldn't hurt the quality of the infield.
Sullivan is a quality reliever, and the Royals have very nice bullpen depth with him, Curtis Leskanic, Jason Grimsley, Mike MacDougal and Jeremy Affeldt. The KC rotation is a bit of a question, but there were a ton of injuries there last year. I think the Royals rotation will improve simply with some good luck this year.
So, I think the Royals have obviously improved. However, you have to remember that the Royals were a bit lucky to win 83 games last year. I think they've improved to the point where they shouldn't need to rely on being lucky to have a shot at winning half of their games. However, they're probably not good enough to win the division, unless they do have some good luck again.
The A's have essentially only added Kielty and Mark Kotsay, but I guess you can count Marco Scutaro and Mario Ramos too if you want to. They've lost Foulke, Tejada, Lilly, Ramon Hernandez, Chris Singleton, Terrence Long, Jose Guillen and John Halama. They've also traded for Michael Barrett, but it sounds like they've already traded him to the Cubs for a PTBNL.
The outfield should be better with Kotsay and Kielty coming in and Long, Singleton and Guillen heading out. However, the catching situation will be worse, unless they've got something up their sleeves for a quality catcher. Also, Bobby Crosby is an excellent prospect who hit .308/.395/.544 (.939) in Sacramento, but I don't think he'll be quite as good a hitter as Tejada right away. At any rate, I don't think the offense will be much different. It may be a little better, it may be a little worse, but I don't think it will be a dramatic change.
The rotation should be fine with the "Big Three," although it remains to be seen how they do without Rick Peterson and Hernandez. Rich Harden should be able to take Lilly's spot as the fourth starter and somebody (maybe Justin Duchscherer) will be fine as the fifth starter.
The bullpen, however, will definitely miss Foulke. Not in the sense that they don't have a proven closer anymore, but more in the sense that it's tough to replace 86.2 innings of the quality that Foulke provided.
All in all, though, I'd expect the A's to be fine. They'll have flaws, just like they always do, and Billy Beane will do his best to fix them during the season, just like he always does. If any of the "Big Three" gets hurt, they could be in some trouble, but right now I'd expect them to win the division.
The Mariners have added Ibanez, Guardado, Scott Spiezio and Quinton McCracken. They've lost Mike Cameron, Greg Colbrunn, Arthur Rhodes, Rey Sanchez, Armando Benitez and John Mabry. Also, they are supposedly about to trade Carlos Guillen for Omar Vizquel.
As a Red Sox fan, I'm happy about what's been going on in Seattle. However, I do feel bad for Seattle fans. Two years ago, the Mariners won 116 games and now the roster looks a bit like a joke. In the blogosphere, Peter White is considering trading in his Seattle Blue for Boston Red and the crew of the U.S.S. Mariner is downright depressed. One of them is taking a vacation from baseball to gain some serenity and another member of the crew is talking about being punished for not adhering to the Buddhist principles of ridding oneself of desires.
By replacing Cameron with Ibanez, the Mariners have made the outfield worse both offensively AND defensively. In the infield, Vizquel is a little better than Guillen defensively, but he's also significantly worse offensively AND he's more expensive. Spiezio will play third base, where he will provide better offense than Jeff Cirillo. However, Cirillo is a very good defensive third baseman while Spiezio is one of the worst defensive third basemen in the major leagues. Also, the Mariners have four hitters who are very poor hitters against left-handed pitching, but they just traded a pinch-hitter in Colbrunn who has done very well against lefties the past three years for an outfielder (McCracken) who had an OPS+ of 38 last year.
So, the defense looks worse overall, the offense looks worse overall and the bench looks worse. The rotation is almost certainly going to lose Freddy Garcia and even if Rafael Soriano gets the starting spot he deserves, the rest of the rotation will suffer from the worse defense. And the bullpen may not be any better with Guardado replacing Rhodes.
I look at the Mariners right now, and I see a team that will have serious trouble posting a winning record. Forget competing for a play-off spot, this team may have to worry about fighting the Texas Rangers to stay out of last place before all is said and done.
The Angels have added Colon and Escobar and lost Spiezio, Brad Fullmer and Eric Owens.
The Angels had a lot of bad luck with injuries last year, especially on offense. So, even though they haven't added any hitters, they may score more than the 736 runs they scored last year just by having better luck. Of course, Fullmer was one of the unlucky injured last year, but there were several other players who should have been able to contribute more than they did.
As for Colon and Escobar, they should help tremendously. Aside from Kevin Gregg making three starts with a 1.35 ERA, the Angels best ERA from a starting pitcher last year was 3.89, and that was from Scott Shields, who only made 13 starts. Overall, the Angels starting pitchers had a 4.90 ERA, and I'd guess Colon and Escobar might be able to drop that number by about half a run.
Since the offense should get at least a little bit better, the starting rotation should get a lot better and the bullpen should still be very good, I see no reason why the Angels shouldn't be a much improved team next year. With that said, they only won 77 games last year. So, even if they improve by 10-15 games, it might not be enough to make the playoffs.
It is certain that the AL East has improved. However, since the top four teams have all improved, I don't see any reason why their records against each other should change significantly from what would have been expected. The bad news is for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who have probably improved a little themselves but still may get worse in the standings.
Instead of taking wins from each other, I think the AL East will just take more wins from the other two divisions. I think the AL East could see three teams win 90 games and four teams finish with winning records. Meanwhile, I don't think any AL Central team will win 90 games, and it wouldn't surprise me if four of them finish below .500.
Basically, Toronto would probably run away with the AL Central, and could certainly contend in the AL West. Baltimore could contend in the AL Central, and would fight for second in the AL West, instead of being relegated to fourth (and I'll still be surprised if that's not where they finish) in the AL East.
If you hate the East Coast and you're an American League fan, then the 2004 season may not be a lot of fun for you.
Well, I was right in the middle of making a post when ESPN.com went down (or at least become inaccessable to me), which makes the rest of the post very difficult to complete. So, I'm going to push the post back to tomorrow and hope that things don't change too much between now and then.
As if I was there
I suspect that almost every die-hard baseball fan in America would love to have been in New Orleans this weekend, but very, very few of us were actually able to be there. Luckily, Alex Belth has given us an opportunity to live vicariously through him. He has been in the Big Easy since Friday night, and he made a post Sunday detailing his experiences at what is momentarily the center of the baseball world.
I am not recommending that you read this post, I'm demanding it. You absolutely have to head over to Bronx Banter and soak in every word of what Alex has to say, because it's simply fascinating. As one of the people in his comments section says, it may very well be the post of the year.