2008 MLB American League Preview
"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play, today."
"The boys are back in town."
"The boys of summer."
"The Mid-Summer Classic."
"The Fall Classic."
"The Home Run Derby."
The teams are spending time in Florida and Arizona (the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues), have cut the grass, lined the fields, and are ready to return home.
It's that time of year again. Time to 'PLAY BALL!' America's Pasttime is preparing for another season of thrills, chills, surprises, and lots of excitement. The 2007 season might go down as one of the craziest in a long time, but 2008 has a lot more in store for fans come opening day.
In an offseason plagued with the release of the Mitchell Report in December and Congressional hearings on the topic since then, baseball is hoping that the 2008 season on the field will help to return some' normalcy' to the sport.It's time to put the ramifications of the Mitchell Report behind us, at least while you read this article.
The 2008 Spring Training season is close to coming to an end with teams frantically cutting their rosters down to 25 players, weeding out the youngsters and sending them to Minor League camp. Who will be the surprise team in each league in 2008? Who will the division winners be? Who will the League winners be? How about World Series champion? All of these questions will be answered right here (or at least predicted for the time being) in this two-part article.
We will split the article into the American League and the National League.We will open things up with the American League.
The 2007 defending World Champion Boston Red Sox are the favorite to win the American League East Division, after winning it in 2007 for the first time in nine years. The Yankees won the previous eight in a row. There haven't been many changes for the BoSox-additions or subtractions-but one key cog of the club was re-signed to a 3-year contract early on in Spring Training. Manager Terry Francona was re-upped for another 3 years, until 2011. Since his arrival in Boston, the Red Sox have won two titles and have made the playoffs all four years he has been on the bench. His career playoff managerial record is 22-9. He is also the first manager in history to win his first eight consecutive World Series games. The BoSox return their young group of talented players who made huge strides a season ago: Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jonathan Papelbon. Mix them with the veterans on the team and you have a recipe for back-to-back titles. One note of importance: outfielder Manny Ramirez exclaimed that he hopes to retire with the BoSox. He doesn't wish to finish his career anywhere else.
Continuing with the AL East, the 26-time defending Champion New York Yankees will begin the 2008 season with someone other than Joe Torre at the helm for the first time since 1995. Torre's 12 year reign (1996-2007), came to an end in late October when the Steinbrenner boys didn't renew his contract. In his 12 seasons in New York, Torre guided the Bronx Bombers to the playoffs all 12 times. Replacing Torre is his former bench coach, former Yankee catcher, and former Florida Marlins manager Joe Girardi. The transition should be flawless, being that Girardi has played with or coached a good chunk of the players on the 2008 roster in previous years.
Following the Red Sox and Yankees in the East are perennial contenders the Toronto Blue Jays. They return career 500 home run hitter Frank Thomas and have added former Cardinal Scott Rolen. Rolen was traded for Troy Glaus after it was released that he was not seeing eye-to-eye with manager Tony LaRussa. Hhm?! That is the second manager Rolen has not gotten along with during his career in the big leagues. Maybe it's you Scott and not the managers...maybe you can't handle a tough manager. The Blue Jays will contend for the majority of the season in the East but will begin to fall behind as late July and August rolls around.
The Baltimore Orioles have done little to nothing during the off season to improve heading into the 2008 campaign. They have subtracted rather than adding. Shortstop Miguel Tejada was traded to the Houston Astros for former Phillies prospect Mike Costanzo, who had been traded earlier in the winter to the Astros in a five player deal. Tejada was one of the players listed in the Mitchell Report but Astros GM Ed Wade has reiterated countless times that they stand by trading for Tejada and intend for him to remain in the starting lineup all season long. Back to the hapless Orioles. They traded Eric Bedard to the Seattle Mariners, yet again, subtraction not addition. In return they received five prospects in return: OF Adam Jones, LHP George Sherrill, RHP Chris Tillman, RHP Kam Mickolio, and LHP Tony Butler. Jones might be the only one in the lineup come opening day for the Orioles.
Rounding out the A.L. East is the Tampa Bay Rays. A young, talented team, who changed their name and logo during the winter, the Rays will more than likely finish the season ahead of the Orioles in the division. B.J. Upton will be joined by Evan Longoria in Tampa Bay and Troy Percival in the bullpen. The Rays will showcase their youth, speed, and offense this summer but still have to deal with a more than suspect pitching staff aside from Scott Kazmir.
To conclude the A.L. East it is prediction time. The Red Sox will win another division title, followed by the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, and finally the Orioles.
Let's head west a tiny bit and travel to the Central Division in the A.L. Won by the Cleveland Indians in 2007, they are the frontrunners heading into 2008 to repeat as division champions, especially with the trade of Johan Santana to the Mets in the National League. The Indians return the majority of their starting nine, rotation, and relievers. Not many changes were made to the Central Champions, who blew a 3 games to 1 lead in the ALCS to the Red Sox. Manager Eric Wedge and his staff should be competing for a trip to the World Series come October. If not, there might be wholesale changes in Cleveland before the season comes to an end.
The Detroit Tigers will be breathing down the necks of the Indians for another season, trying to reach their second World Series in three years. The Tigers made possibly the best off season acquisitions of the winter, grabbing LHP Dontrelle Willis and 3B Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins for a handful of players. This makes them instant favorites to contend for the Central crown and a possible A.L. championship. Justin Verlander, and hopefully a healthy Kenny Rogers will anchor a veteran starting rotation in 2008 under third year manager Jim Leyland.
The Twins, a team that finished 79-83, good for 17 games behind the Indians in the division, got much worse during the winter. They traded star pitcher and former Rule 5 Draft Pick from the Astros, Johan Santana, to the Mets for four prospects. They are hoping that young phenom Francisco Liriano can stay healthy in 2008 and lead the rotation against the Central Division. If not, this team won't even come close to the 79 wins they posted in 2007 and will fall to the bottom of the division in 2008, in turn costing manager Ron Gardenhire his job.
The White Sox are looking to regain the success they had in 2005 when they won the World Series heading into the 2008 season. They are coming off a miserable season, one in which they posted a 72-90 record and lost the division by 24 games, only three ahead of last place Kansas City. This might be the year where GM Kenny Williams says goodbye to his manager Ozzie Guillen if the team doesn't get off to a hot start. If the team fails to return to the playoffs, this might be the end for not only Guillen but Williams as well. The White Sox have a lot of work to do to upend the reigning division champion Indians and leapfrog the now World Series favorite Tigers.
Rounding out the division is the hapless Kansas City Royals. Manager Buddy Bell stepped down after his team finished 69-93 in 2007, 27 games out of first place. Taking over for the well traveled Bell is former Japanese manager Trey Hillman. This is Hillman's first managerial job in the Majors. The Royals might be able to finish ahead of the Twins in the division after they broke a string of three straight 100-loss seasons in 2007. Look for the Royals and Twins to battle it out for last place in the Central.
The Central Division will be won by the Detroit Tigers, who will have to keep the Indians at bay for the majority of the season. Don't count the Indians out though, who will contend for the wild card until the very end of the regular season.
To wrap up the American League we shall head to the West Division, won in 2007 by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who will be looking for their 4th division title in 5 years.
The Angels are the clear cut favorite to win the West, again! They added more outfield depth in the offseason when they signed free agent centerfielder Torii Hunter away from the Twins for 5 years and $90 million to join an already dangerous lineup. Hunter is fresh off his seventh straight gold glove award. The Angels also picked up veteran pitcher Jon Garland from the White Sox for shortstop Orlando Cabrera to bulster their rotation. This might be the best team talent-wise that manager Mike Scioscia has had during his tenure at the helm of the franchise. Look for the Angels to fight the Tigers for a spot in the League Championship.
The Seattle Mariners will be the toughest competition for the Angels out west but won't be able to crack the top spot come playoff time. The Mariners will be competitive, as they are each season, but won't be talented enough to even clinch the wild card berth for the American League. Ichiro Suzuki remains one of the mainstays in the outfield and will lead the second best starting nine in the division. The team did improve the pitching staff by signing free agent Carlos Silva from the Twins and trading for Orioles lefty Erik Bedard. The rotation now boasts an impressive 1-2 punch with Bedard and Felix Hernandez at the top followed by Silva as the number 3 starter. The pitching staff should hold up on the starting end but the bullpen will be questionable throughout the long season.
Next in the West is Texas, yes the same Rangers who walloped the Orioles 30-3 last season. The Rangers will come in a distant third in the division in 2008 after finishing 2007 with a record of 75-87 good for 19 games out of first. They won only 28 games on the road last year. Their pitching staff is dismal to say the least with Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla at the top of the rotation and a lackluster bullpen. The team still hasn't re-signed reliever Akinori Otsuka, who posted a 2.15 ERA in a season in which he didn't pitch after July 1 because of a sore shoulder. He is still a free agent because he had surgery early in 2008. The Rangers will close in on the cellar of the West Division. Their lineup will keep them in games only for so long. Their pitching staff might be the worst in the American League.
The Oakland Athletics are working through another rebuilding process as GM Billy Beane traded another starting pitcher in the offseason, Dan Haren, to the Diamondbacks. He did receive six prospects in return, five of them were within the top 12 of Diamondback prospects in the system. He also shipped power hitter Nick Swisher to the White Sox for Gio Gonzalez and other prospects. Expect closer Huston Street to be moved at some point this season as well as Rich Harden if the team falls out of contention early. The A's might be a little bit better than the Rangers but will battle with the Rangers for last place within the division.
The West will be won by the Angels for the 4th time in 5 years with only the Mariners giving them competition throughout the season.
The Angels and Red Sox will battle for the LCS with the Red Sox coming away victorious. My World Series winner will be picked in the National League article.
Coming soon: my National League preview article for the 2008 season picking division winners, the league champion, and the World champion.
By Jim Vassallo
> View all of the 2008 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans