16 down, 16 to go. The AL East gets spotlighted next, with little drama in the 4 seasons of the league. Louisville is the 4-time defending champs, with the Scranton team (formerly Charlotte) nabbing a wild-card bid two straight seasons. So what will happen this season?
- I think I'm going to start in Boston, narrowly over Louisville. They've made a lot of changes in the offseason, dealing Hideki Martin and star Bob Koplove to Houston in what was one of the biggest trades in the offseason. As part of that trade they get RF Brian Saitou, who drove in 100 runs for four straight seasons in Houston. They also acquired slugging LF Trever Russell from Chicago- Russell hit 48 HRs last season. If he can approach that in Boston, he and Saitou should combine with 1B Wilson Petrick (.261-47-111) to form a huge middle of the order. The fate of this team, however, could fall on the rest of the infield- they could very well start 3 rookies in SS Daniel Koch, 2B Tommy Jordan, and 3B Frank Campbell.
- Louisville has a talented middle of the order as well. Holdovers include the big-time slugging DH Ernest Montgomery, C Cy Hughes, 1B Ismael Polanco, and RF Pete Mercedes- all drove in at least 88 runs last season. LF Wilt Gardner moves over from Vancouver- if he can fill the leadoff role these guys would be even more dangerous.
- New York comes next, led by DH Pete Duvall (.279-38-109). 2B Orlando Franco puts up decent numbers, but I don't think his .794 OPS is good enough for a player with his talent. CF R.J. Figueroa had an off year last season and LF DeWayne Castillo also needs to return to his prior form for this team to compete.
- Scranton will hinge quite a bit on stolen base machine CF Justin Hernandez. He steals bases and scores runs, but his on-base percentage has gone down each of the last two seasons. RF Randall Fisher took a big step up in his second season and looks to be the big cog in the middle of the lineup this season. He'll have 3B Greg Whitaker behind him, but he won't have departing free-agent Moose Coleman or 1B Lyle Barber, who left via trade.
- Louisville may or may not have the best starter in this division in ace Lance Stevens, but it's hard to argue that they don't have the most depth. Carlton Fleming is a solid option, although he took a big step back last season (and Louisville still has $48.3 million due on his contract over the next three seasons). The depth comes from young starters Danny Little and Hipolito Maradona at the #3 and #4 spots. The bullpen is in good hands with closer Tom Beltran and setup men Dave Peterman and Mac Sung.
- Boston added to their rotation with the Houston deal as well, adding the well-travelled Stephen Tucker to the top of the rotation. He should help solidify a rotation that also welcomes back Darryl Cashman from a knee injury last season- they'll be the top 2, bumping top winner from last season Christy Castillo to the #3 spot. Buzz Linden (acquired from Washington) is nothing special, but should eat innings. Davey Guzman was solid as the closer, and will be set up by Billy Ray Ennis
- Scranton's pitching staff will be led by J.R. Guerrero, who was 14-10 last season. Dennys Fox was solid as the number 2 guy, and Clarence Forsch was great in 20 starts, going 10-2. Norm Edwards struggled in his first full season as a starter. The Janitors can go with Vic Trevino or last year's closer, Andres Rivera, at the end. Larry Stokes won 10 games in relief.
- The best New York player last season, hitter or pitcher, easily was starter Jason Sprauge (18-5, 3.28)- he'll return. There are some question marks behind him, as Perry Herman went 9-16 last season and Max Jacquez is 38. Young, talented close Eduardo Moya was inconsistent at times. Dan Daley and Freddie Hampton are probably the best options out of the bullpen.
1. I don't like picking the favorites all the time, so I'll call for a bit of an upset and take Boston to win the division.
2. Louisville hasn't lost all that much- I'll pencil them in for a wild-card slot.
3. New York could be in the hunt. Unless they make a deal or two, I don't see them in the playoffs, though.
4. I don't see Scranton winning 90 games or even making 3rd place here.
5. I'd say the big-time name most likely to be dealt is Justin Hernandez. Jason Sprague may be the most sought after, but I think New York resists the urge to trade him.
6. Scranton SS Al Rodriguez does not test positive for a banned substance.