Bart Ewing / The Fantasy Insider
SOME EARLY TEAM COMMENTS
By Bart Ewing
First off, there are still a lot of impact players out there to be signed. The Jays just signed Frank Catalanotto for instance. Solid potential contributors such as Fullmer, David Ortiz, Ramon Martinez, John Thomson, Paul Wilson, Halama, etc., could have nice impacts on various teams. It's a buyers market. Small Payroll teams have no excuse this year.
Every one of course is jumping all over the Phillies. Rightly so, with Thome and Millwood in the fold. Wolfe, Millwood, Padilla, Myers and Duckworth is a great rotation. Brandon Duckworth is the best 5th starter in baseball and would be an ace on more than a few teams. The Phillie pen however raises questions. The key may be how Marlon Byrd responds to CF. Doug Glanville moving on is a plus but Byrd if he adapts quickly could be the missing piece in helping Jimmy Rollins set the table for the boppers. The Phils are good but right now I would have to pick the Mets to take the NL East. "Oh no he didn't." Oh yes I did!
Teams don't just benefit from acquiring players but also from removing bad players like oh let's see...hmmmm how about Rey Ordonoz. Ray Sanchez is not Arod but he won't hurt you and will play better if not as spectacular defense as Ordonez. I like Vaughn and Alomar to rebound. (Vaughn hit nearly .270 with 17 dingers in 2nd half FYI). I like Cliff Floyd in the order, though his numbers will go down being at Shea yet I like him doing a little better with stability of not moving to 3 different teams. The Mets have some questions at 3rd and a corner outfield spot, perhaps Ty Wigginton can handle the hot corner but the pitching puts them over.
The Mets rival the Phillie staff man for man with the advantage of having more proven arms. Glavine, Leiter, Astacio and Trachsel are as solid as one can hope for, The Mets have the advantage in the pen with Benitez, Scott Strickland and the theft of ex Yankee left hander Mike Stanton. They should have kept John Thomson though. Right now I pick Mets over Phils in close one.
Teams to watch. The Cubs pitching is about to explode. If Hee Seop Choi and Bobby Hill blossom sooner rather than later to give Sammy some RBI then watch out. Even if not Eric Karros and Grunz gives some nice vet support. Dusty play the kids first though.
The Reds have a potential HOF outfield with a health Junior (one can dream) Austin Kearnes and Adam Dunn. There's some potential on the infield as well but they right now are too thin as a staff.
Teams I don't like in the NL would start with Arizona. Unit is still the man but Schills looked a little worn out and old near the end. He should be OK but Dessens repeating last year may be tough. The Dbacks gave away some needed resources. Erubiel Durazo despite being injury prone was a no-brain keeper. Instead Arizona gives him to Oakland (proof right there that Durazo will be huge in 03 if Billy Beane wanted him) and commits to the washed up Mark Grace. The snakes also gave away a very underrated solid receiver Damien Miller to the rising Cubs. The Dbacks current catcher prospects are Rod Barajes and Chad Moeller. The washed up Grace at 1b, the soon to be disappearing Junior Spivey at 2b, the overrated Tony Womack at SS, the injury prone Matt Williams at 3b and an aging outfield leads me to believe the Dbacks may crash and burn in 03.
Atlanta-yes they screwed the pooch. Hey John quit whining no one held a gun to your head to sign Paul Byrd. The Braves still have a lot of talent. The outfield is one of the games best. The infield needs work. Hey John sign someone like David Ortiz/Brad Fullmer quick. Marcus Giles if not traded could surprise. Trading Javy Lopez and starting Henry Blanco would be the 2nd most awful decision they make this off season. In theory the rotation of Maddux, Hampton, Ortiz, Byrd, Marquis could be fine if everything goes like it's written up on paper, but we all know that's not going to happen. Best case scenario Byrd is the only one to stink and Marquis steps up with everyone else holding steady. Worse case scenario? Maddux looks another year older, Hampton discovers it wasn't Coors after all, Ortiz finally blows out the arm, Byrd returns to being Paul Byrd, Marquis doesn't move up but moves back. The pen also has been hurt bad. I like Smoltz and Ray King but not a lot after that.
In the AL I love what the Red Sox are doing. The young gun front office with Bill James experiment is looking quite productive. They have gotten solid players without giving much up while still upgrading.
C Variteck, 1b Jeremy Giambi, 2b Todd Walker, SS Nomar, 3b Hillenbrand, OF Ramirez, Damon, Nixon. They need 1 more bat (Brad Fullmer or David Justice?) and I don't expect Hillenbrand to stay at current level but it is reasonable to expect every other starter to do better in 2003 than 2002.
Rotation: Pedro, Lowe, Burkett, Wakefield (swing) Fossum/Rupe/Castillo
Looks pretty solid with first 3 if they can stay healthy. They have got some depth to work through the last 2 spots. They probably will go bullpen by committee. There is no established closer but several nice arms who HAVE closed. Timlin, Howry, Embree, and a true wild card Ramiro Mendoza have promise. Mendoza could be the key as a starter or reliever. The Yankees held him down but it may be time to bust out if he can find a clear role.
The Yankees are an interesting team of questions. Mussina and Pettite are solid but Clemens/Wells continue to age and the signing of Jose Contreras is a true gamble. More Cuban pitchers have busted than blown up. Where does El Duque fit in?
The pen looks weaker as well and they need Rivera to come back.
Hidecki Matsui will probably be good. He is a gamble though as Matsui will face consistently better and more complex pitching on a nightly basis. Ichiro being an extreme contact hitter had an advantage or Matsui who will be more of a free swinger. I don't like Todd Zeile in this offense. They want to dump Mondesi and Rondell White but the league finally wised up. There could be some dissension with people not playing. Nick Johnson could help by taking the next step and Soriano is very intriguing. He has tremendous power and speed yet absolutely no plate discipline. I could see Soriano possibly crashing but likely to maintain power/speed numbers but drop in batting average. The Yankees are a candidate to implode but likely will be good but the East will be competitive. Boston will challenge and Toronto is quietly slipping closer.
I like the Blue Jays starting lineup especially with Catalanotto there as a security blanket. Josh Phelps could be a nice additional bat and the outfield is nice. They need 1 more starter. Halladay, Lidle, Loaiza is a good start. Perhaps Cliff Politte could move to the rotation. If they can sign a Paul Wilson, John Thomson or John Halama then they may surprise.
Teams in AL that will disappoint? The AL teams are not taking chances. Most of the teams are content with where they were last year. The AL Central is showing nobody willing to really go after the Twins. That to me is crazy since it's the one division anyone could win. Texas looks still to be a mess. What do they do with Blaylock? They now have dumped 2 very good 1b prospects in Pena and Travis Hafner when they should have cashed in Raffy for pitching help 2 years ago.
Oakland will be good as long as they have that rotation but.... the offense continues to take steps back. Durazo was an important acquisition. Chris Singleton gives them defense and ability to move Long to LF but may hurt the offense. Dye should rebound, Chavez another step up but if I'm in the AL West I'm throwing lefties at them as often as I can. The A's window of opportunity is slowly slipping but they still have the rotation.