Matthew Pouliot

Strike Zone

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2008 AL Projected Rosters

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Sorry about the absence of a column last week. Some family health issues have made things difficult around here for a little while.

Rather than the usual notes this week, I have two columns looking at projected lineups and rotations for 2008. There's some fun stuff here as far as trades and free agents, but I'm also trying to be realistic about what youngsters will enter next season with major roles. The AL rosters are below, and I expect to have the NL teams done in a couple of days.

With the season ending Sunday, the column will revert to being a once-weekly affair. The annual MVPs/LVPs column will be posted next Monday morning.


2008 American League Rosters

Baltimore

2B Brian Roberts
LF Andre Ethier/Jay Payton
RF Nick Markakis
1B Kevin Millar
DH Aubrey Huff
3B Melvin Mora
C Yorvit Torrealba
CF Felix Pie
SS Ronny Cedeno

Erik Bedard
Jeremy Guthrie
Vicente Padilla
Aaron Heilman
Adam Loewen/Garrett Olson

Scott Linebrink
Carlos Marmol
Jim Hoey

Yes, it's a little extreme, but the Orioles need to be about as busy as any team in baseball this winter. First, it's time to move Miguel Tejada, who has two years left on his deal. He's simply not a very good shortstop these days, and he's not ready to move to third base, at least not for a non-contender. His $13 million-per-year salary is hardly obscene and could be absorbed by several teams, including both Chicago squads. If he's willing to move to third, that opens up possibilities in Anaheim, Boston and maybe the Bronx, depending on what happens with Alex Rodriguez. The Cubs look like a fit if the outgoing ownership wants to add one more asset.

In all, I have four trades for the Orioles:

Tejada and Hayden Penn for Felix Pie, Carlos Marmol and Ronny Cedeno
Daniel Cabrera and Chad Bradford for Andre Ethier
Ramon Hernandez for Aaron Heilman
Jay Gibbons for Vicente Padilla

There's speculation that Luis Hernandez would take over at shortstop if Tejada is traded or switches positions, but the Orioles need to make getting a young shortstop a priority if they deal Tejada. Cedeno wouldn't be ideal, but he is more than a Tony Pena Jr. clone. If they don't get a shortstop, signing Juan Uribe would be a good idea.

Upgrading the pen is going to be a priority, even though the Orioles just spent $40 million on Danys Baez, Jamie Walker and Bradford last year. Expect them to land a veteran to fill in for Chris Ray in the closer's role. Eric Gagne, Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel are possibilities.

In the rotation, the Orioles have just two certainties in Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie. Cabrera still has quite a bit of trade value and could go. The Orioles can take on one or two substantial contracts, especially if they deal Tejada. The Rangers seem to want Padilla gone, so Gibbons gets moved in an exchange of bad deals. If all goes according to plan, the Orioles will probably have just one rotation spot open for Adam Loewen, Garrett Olson and Brian Burres.

The Orioles aren't going to contend next year, but with Tejada and Hernandez to sell and an improved farm system, they can set themselves up for 2009. There's certainly more reason for optimism than there has been in at least five years. They just need to tread carefully in this year's free-agent market. The time to splurge is a year away.


Boston

RF J.D. Drew
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
LF Manny Ramirez
3B Eric Chavez
1B Kevin Youkilis
C Jason Varitek
SS Julio Lugo
CF Jacoby Ellsbury

Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Curt Schilling
Tim Wakefield
Jon Lester

Jonathan Papelbon
Hideki Okajima
Hitoki Iwase

There's increasing speculation that Curt Schilling won't be back in Boston, but the club has money and there just aren't any better options out there to spend it on. Besides perhaps Andy Pettitte, who almost certainly will stay with the Yankees, there's no free-agent starting pitcher that's a better bet for 2008. Maybe they'll move on anyway and pursue Koji Uehara. However, it makes more sense to give Schilling the $13 million he wants and keep that money freed up for next winter, when Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Kazumi Saitoh and A.J. Burnett could all be available. Another possibility is that they'll forgo signing a starter and put both Lester and Clay Buchholz into the rotation to begin the year. However, unless they spend all of their money on Alex Rodriguez, they're going to want a safety net and will likely have Buchholz in that role.

Besides Schilling and Mike Lowell, the other big decision for Boston will be whether to free up a spot for Jacoby Ellsbury or give him the same role Melky Cabrera had at the start of this year and assume he'll get 400 at-bats anyway. I don't think a J.D. Drew trade is happening and there's been no talk of Manny Ramirez wanting out, so it will probably come down to how much demand there is for Coco Crisp. While Crisp has been a disappointment offensively again, he deserves a Gold Glove for the way he's played center field this year. He's also not very expensive at $11 million for two years or $18.5 million for three. There should be significant interest in him at that price. The A's need an upgrade in center and could look to dump Eric Chavez's contract. Since Boston isn't covered by Chavez's no-trade protection, there is a fit. The Red Sox would probably have to include either Jed Lowrie or Craig Hansen along with Crisp.

If the Red Sox instead re-sign Lowell, then they'll likely enter 2008 with largely the same team. They could look to Japan for some more bullpen help and sign a Ben Broussard or Ryan Klesko to aid the bench. With the farm system producting, there isn't a lot they need to do.


Chicago

SS Felipe Lopez
LF Josh Fields
DH Jim Thome
1B Paul Konerko
CF Torii Hunter
RF Jermaine Dye
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Joe Crede
2B Danny Richar

Mark Buehrle
Javier Vazquez
Jose Contreras
John Danks
Kris Benson/Gavin Floyd/Dustin Nippert

Bobby Jenks
Tony Pena
Matt Thornton

The White Sox need to get a whole lot better in center field and figure to target Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand. It'd be a surprise if they didn't sign one of the two, though they don't have as much financial flexibility as some teams after inking both Mark Buehrle and Jermaine Dye to extensions. That's why Jon Garland is expected to go. The haul won't be quite as strong as it would have been a year ago, as he has just one season left on his contract, but he will be in demand, with the Diamondbacks, Rangers and Phillies among those likely to come calling. I have him going to Arizona for a setup man with closer stuff in Tony Pena and a rotation candidate in Dustin Nippert.

The acquisition of Pena or a similar reliever would help address the team's second priority. Bobby Jenks is the only member of the bullpen to meet expectations this year, so GM Ken Williams will try to land a couple of setup men. Mike MacDougal, David Aardsma and Andrew Sisco all figured to be shopped as part of the makeover.

Also in the cards is a change at shortstop. The White Sox will probably decline Juan Uribe's option and give Omar Vizquel a look. David Eckstein is one more option, though he could be too costly if the club spends big in center. I have Felipe Lopez coming over from the Nationals for MacDougal, but the White Sox might prefer a superior defender.

That's pretty much it. Josh Fields has OBP troubles, but he's done enough to justify the starting job in left field. The White Sox aren't going to do better than Joe Crede at third without parting with young talent. Jose Contreras has had a strong enough finish that the White Sox may no longer feel it's worth eating a portion of his contract to move him. Gio Gonzalez should have a rotation spot eventually, but he'll probably have to wait a while as the White Sox add a veteran or two to compete with Gavin Floyd.


Cleveland -

CF Grady Sizemore
2B Asdrubal Cabrera/Marcus Giles
DH Travis Hafner
C Victor Martinez
1B Ryan Garko
3B Mark Teahen
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Brad Wilkerson/David Dellucci
RF Franklin Gutierrez/Brad Wilkerson

C.C. Sabathia
Fausto Carmona
Jake Westbrook
Kenshin Kawakami
Cliff Lee/Jeremy Sowers

Joe Borowski
Rafael Betancourt
Brian Fuentes

Might a first-place finish and the sale of the Jacobs Field naming rights cause the Indians to loosen the purse strings a bit? They should have enough flexibility to go after a quality starting pitcher or corner outfielder, and if they want to do it through a trade, they have Paul Byrd, Cliff Lee, Josh Barfield, Franklin Gutierrez, Andy Marte and more to offer up. As tough as C.C. Sabathia is going to be to retain after next year, a starting pitcher should be the priority.

Byrd figures to be more attractive to teams than Lee. I have him and Ben Francisco going to Kansas City for Mark Teahen, who can be put back at third base. He should be cheaper and better than Casey Blake. Barfield is also on the move. He's had a terrible year in the AL, but he still figures to be a long-term regular, and with four years left until free agency, he's quite an asset. The Rockies should be willing to trade one year of Brian Fuentes for him. Fuentes would be a luxury for an Indians team that has had Rafael Perez excel this year. Still, he'd be another fallback for Joe Borowski, whose option will be picked up, and he'd give the team one of the best pens in the AL.

Replacing Byrd is Kenshin Kawakami, one of the top two starters likely to make the jump from Japan to MLB this year. A trade for Joe Blanton is another possibility.

If the Indians keep Gutierrez, they should be planning on using him regularly. Trot Nixon will go and be replaced by someone to battle David Dellucci and Jason Michaels for playing time. Brad Wilkerson is a fine choice. Asdrubal Cabrera should be locked in as the Indians' second baseman, but some veteran insurance in the form of Marcus Giles or Jose Valentin would be nice. Odds are that the Indians will have just one rotation spot for Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers. Lee is deserving of another chance.

The Indians should enter 2008 as the heavy favorites in the AL Central. Still, their future might not be as bright as Detroit's unless they're willing to go to a $100 million payroll by 2009. Sabathia, who could top Barry Zito's deal, would be awfully tough to replace.


Detroit

CF Curtis Granderson
2B Placido Polanco
DH Gary Sheffield
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Carlos Guillen
C Ivan Rodriguez
LF Ryan Church/Marcus Thames
3B Brandon Inge
SS Tomohiro Nioka

Justin Verlander
Kenny Rogers
Jeremy Bonderman
Chris Capuano
Esteban Loaiza

Todd Jones
Joel Zumaya
Jeremy Affeldt

Despite an offense that exceeded expectations, the Tigers weren't quite good enough this year. Now they have to try to decide whether to try it again with essentially the same crew or jettison free agents Ivan Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones. Much could depend on whether Mike Illitch ramps up the payroll one more time. Odds are that they won't add another Gary Sheffield to help them overtake Cleveland in the AL Central.

I have the Tigers keeping all three free agents. Pudge has been a major disappointment offensively, but none of the free agent catchers will be better investments. $10 million for one year (subtracting the $3 million buyout) isn't too much to pay. Rogers says he'll pitch for Detroit or go home, and it doesn't seem like he's quite done. I thought Jones was a goner, but Joel Zumaya has essentially had a lost year because of the finger injury. With Jones only set to require a one-year investment and the top setup man likely to demand three or four years, it makes sense to maintain the status quo for a while longer.

The Tigers also have to decide whether to pursue a shortstop or a first baseman. It appears that they'd prefer Carlos Guillen at first. Trades for Edgar Renteria, Jack Wilson or Adam Everett are possibilities to fill the hole at short. Another would be to sign Tomohiro Nioka, a very solid defender with modest offensive upside. He'd make plenty of sense here.

Also to be addressed is the rotation. The Tigers have soured a bit on Nate Robertson and could deal him for another starter or a reliever. Esteban Loaiza has made a poor first impression in Los Angeles, and the Dodgers will be looking to add a lefty starter. A one-for-one deal could work. Chris Capuano arrives in exchange for Fernando Rodney. It'd be quite a blow to the pen, but Capuano was looking like one of the NL's top lefties only a few months ago.

The final need then would be in left field. It's possible for the club to get by with Marcus Thames while Cameron Maybin continues his development in the minors, but adding another left-handed hitter as insurance would make sense. Ryan Church, Shawn Green and Trot Nixon could be among the possibilities.


Kansas City

CF David DeJesus
2B Mark Grudzielanek
3B Alex Gordon
DH Billy Butler
RF Geoff Jenkins/Ben Francisco
LF Shannon Stewart/Joey Gathright
1B Ross Gload/Ryan Shealy
C John Buck
SS Tony Pena Jr.

Gil Meche
Paul Byrd
Brian Bannister
Zack Greinke
Kyle Davies/Jorge De La Rosa

Joakim Soria
David Riske
Jimmy Gobble

With Buddy Bell resigning, the Royals' first priority this winter will be deciding on a new manager. Terry Pendleton is looked at as a favorite, though he may pass and wait for the opportunity to take over for Bobby Cox in Atlanta. Then again, the Kansas City job is quite a bit more attractive now than it's been in some time. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are the biggest reasons why, but the Royals also have the makings of a solid pitching staff and an owner finally willing to spend some money.

The Royals will want to add at least one more starter this winter. It looked like it'd have to be two, but Zack Greinke has served notice that he belongs in the rotation and he should enter spring training with a spot to lose. With few quality starters available in free agency, the Royals should turn to the trade market. Paul Byrd would be ideal since he's pitched in Kansas City before and likely would be open to sticking around after 2008. Loaiza, Capuano and Dave Bush could also be possibilities. If the Royals do explore the free agent options, it figures that they'll be in on Carlos Silva, Jon Lieber and Kyle Lohse.

Joakim Soria's emergence means the Royals won't have to chase a closer. Still, if one falls into their laps, much like Octavio Dotel did last year, they could use Soria as a setup man.

The offense could be fairly well set except for the outfield. The Royals could pick up someone to play first base like Sean Casey or Dan Johnson, but they like Ross Gload and wouldn't be afraid to platoon him there with Shealy. The outfield could be completely jumbled with Emil Brown and Reggie Sanders expected to depart and both David DeJesus and Mark Teahen candidates to be traded. I have Teahen going for Byrd, opening up right field for a free agent. Geoff Jenkins would be a nice middle-of-the-order option, and he probably won't be very expensive. Signing a veteran to battle Joey Gathright for playing time in left field makes sense. With the lineup getting a little lefty heavy, Shannon Stewart, Craig Monroe or Scott Podsednik would work. I like the idea of trading for Jonny Gomes, but I'm guessing Dayton Moore doesn't.

The Royals could be a .500 team in 2009 with luck. In the National League, they'd have a realistic chance of getting there next year.


Los Angeles -

3B Chone Figgins
SS Orlando Cabrera
DH/LF Barry Bonds
RF Vladimir Guerrero
LF/DH Garret Anderson
CF Gary Matthews Jr.
1B Casey Kotchman/Kendry Morales
2B Howie Kendrick
C Mike Napoli/Jeff Mathis

John Lackey
Kelvim Escobar
Jered Weaver
Joe Saunders
Ervin Santana

Francisco Rodriguez
Scot Shields
Justin Speier

With Chone Figgins bouncing back, Casey Kotchman solidifying his status and Joe Saunders establishing himself, the Angels won't have a lot of needs this winter. They could pursue a left fielder or DH, but that might depend on how the offense performs in the postseason. If a big bat is needed, well, there are few bigger than that of Barry Bonds. They'd also be fools not to make a run at A-Rod if he becomes available, and they've displayed plenty of interest in Tejada in the past. Still, they could stick with what they have and let Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales battle it out, with Brandon Wood a possibility to enter the mix later. A full year removed from a broken leg, Rivera should be a more-than-adequate regular next year. I have Bonds landing in Anaheim, but I'm not sure there's anything more than a 10 percent chance it happens.

On the pitching side, the Angels should have a fine rotation even with Bartolo Colon likely to depart. They can add some veteran insurance, but they don't need anyone to start over Santana. Someone like Freddy Garcia or Randy Wolf would be nice, as the Angels aren't likely to need any help during the first couple of months.

It's possible the Angels' biggest move this winter will be to sign Francisco Rodriguez to an extension before he can become a free agent after next year. Especially if they go to the World Series, they're not going to make many changes to a formula that's working pretty well.


Minnesota

CF Kenny Lofton
SS Jason Bartlett
C Joe Mauer
RF Michael Cuddyer
1B Justin Morneau
DH Mike Piazza
LF Jason Kubel
3B Pedro Feliz/Brian Buscher
2B Nick Punto

Johan Santana
Francisco Liriano
Scott Baker
Matt Garza
Kevin Slowey/ Boof Bonser

Joe Nathan
Pat Neshek
Matt Guerrier

With a new GM after Terry Ryan surprisingly stepped down last week, it'd be nice to see the Twins be a little more aggressive this winter. Ryan's reputation was mostly deserved, but he had a spectacularly awful final year in Minnesota, even after factoring in what kind of budget he was working with. This time around, the Twins need to do something about big holes at second base, third base and DH, plus the one that's likely to open up in center field with Hunter set to do far better elsewhere.

The problem is that what money the Twins have just won't go as far as it used to. They're fortunate in that they need only make minimal additions to the pitching staff. However, they're still not going to be able to build a great offense around Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Odds are that they'll go with Nick Punto at second base, where his bat won't play quite as terribly. Brian Buscher doesn't have the glove to play third base regularly. Pedro Feliz does and would likely come rather cheap. Corey Patterson and Kenny Lofton would be adequate choices in center. Lofton makes more sense here since the Twins will want someone who can bat leadoff. That leaves the DH spot. The Twins didn't want Mike Piazza last year, but he still looks like a solid choice. They might instead go for Luis Gonzalez or Shawn Green. Scott Podsednik as a left fielder, with Jason Kubel DHing, is one possibility.

The rotation should be fine with Francisco Liriano expected to be ready for Opening Day. Carlos Silva is leaving, but the Twins can count on Scott Baker and Matt Garza and they'll have more candidates coming up behind Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey as the season progresses.

The Twins have four players among the best in the game at what they do, so rebuilding just isn't an option yet. Unfortunately, with Johan Santana and Joe Nathan both free agents after next season, time might be running out. The one move the Twins could make to get back into contention next year would be to sign Bonds. However, that's an extreme long shot. If they do nothing more than add a few $3 million-$5 million players, odds are that they'll finish in third or fourth place.


New York

1B Johnny Damon/CF Melky Cabrera
SS Derek Jeter
RF Bobby Abreu
3B Alex Rodriguez
LF Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
DH Jason Giambi
2B Robinson Cano
CF Melky Cabrera/1B Andy Phillips

Chien-Ming Wang
Andy Pettitte
Mike Mussina
Phil Hughes
Joba Chamberlain/Ian Kennedy

Mariano Rivera
Luis Vizcaino
Cla Meredith

It's hard to imagine the Yankees going a winter without picking up a key free agent, but all they really need to do right now is keep their own. That means giving Alex Rodriguez an extension worth close to $30 million per year, picking up Bobby Abreu's $16 million option and re-signing Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte ($16 million player option). If they do all that, they're probably not going to have a great deal of room in the budget anyway.

So, I have the Yankees retaining all five players, as well as setup man Luis Vizcaino, who is likely to command a three- or four-year deal worth about $5 million per year. The player most likely to depart might be Abreu. If that happens, Johnny Damon should move back to the outfield, opening up a spot for someone like Dan Johnson, Ben Broussard or Shea Hillenbrand at first base. Damon, though, needs to get a long look at first base anyway. He has too much physical ability to be wasted as a DH. A Damon trade is a possibility, but he's bounced back enough in the second half that the Yankees shouldn't pay someone to take him.

If the Yankees dump Abreu or Damon, then it's more likely that they'd add another starter. It sounds like they're still committed to putting Joba Chamberlain in the rotation, but he's been so dominant in the pen that some will push for him to stay there. I have him opening the season as the fifth starter, though that would leave Ian Kennedy out of the mix.

Any trades made would likely involve Kei Igawa, Wilson Betemit or Kyle Farnsworth. I have two going down. The Padres remain interested in Igawa and might give up Cla Meredith for him if the Yankees don't insist on getting a portion of the posting fee back in a deal. With A-Rod back, Betemit would be seen as expendable. Betemit and Carl Pavano to Oakland for Mark Kotsay and Kiko Calero, with the Yankees paying the difference between the salaries, could help both teams.

Even if the Red Sox hold on and win their first outright division title since 1995, the Yankees need only retain their current group to head into 2008 as the slight favorites in the AL East. After the run they've had in the second half, they'd deserve it.


Oakland

CF Coco Crisp
1B Daric Barton
RF Nick Swisher
DH Jack Cust
3B Wilson Betemit
2B Mark Ellis
LF Travis Buck/Chris Denorfia
SS Bobby Crosby
C Kurt Suzuki

Dan Haren
Koji Uehara
Rich Harden
Joe Blanton
Chad Gaudin/Carl Pavano

Huston Street
Justin Duchscherer
Alan Embree

Devastated by injuries, the A's have gotten to take long looks at players they didn't expect to this year. Some will likely be a part of next year's team (Jack Cust, Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki), while others probably shouldn't be (Dallas Braden, Donnie Murphy and Colby Lewis). With Eric Chavez, Rich Harden, Bobby Crosby and Mark Kotsay all getting hurt, it's clear that changes are needed. Durability might not be the new market inefficiency, but the A's need to take it heavily into consideration as they build next year's team.

First, a fresh start in center field and at either shortstop or third base would be nice. Kotsay's toughness isn't in question, but his back problems aren't going away and he's a massive liability when he tries to play at less than 100 percent. A reduced role seems necessary, so even if the A's keep him, they should make him a fourth outfielder. Chavez is owed $35 million for three years, so there are probably only a few teams out there that would be willing to gamble on him. The Red Sox could be one, and they have Coco Crisp to offer in return. A trade would give the A's the top defensive center fielder they covet and a lot more financial flexibility. With Esteban Loaiza's salary also off the books, the A's could potentially land Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami or perhaps Bartolo Colon.

The A's will get offers for Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and maybe Harden, but they need to add pitching. They'd almost have to get a quality young starter in return. A deal with the Mets involving Mike Pelfrey and/or Lastings Milledge seems even less likely than it did last winter.

Daric Barton's impressive September should mean that he'll be the first baseman. Dan Johnson can go in a deal for relief help or stay as insurance, something the A's need to make sure they have more of going forward. Travis Buck, who was rarely healthy as a rookie, should be a starter, but he needs a quality backup. Chris Denorfia can start over him against lefties. The A's could also have Chris Snelling around if he makes the team.

It's safe to assume that the Barry Bonds rumors will start as soon as the World Series ends. The A's could sign him as their primary DH and use Jack Cust in left field, but if that means Nick Swisher in center and Buck in right, they'd be leaving themselves with perhaps the game's worth outfield defense. I'm guessing they let him go elsewhere. They really shouldn't need him to contend. What they will need is a lot more luck on the injury front. 180 innings from Harden would go a long way.


Seattle

CF Ichiro Suzuki
DH Jose Vidro/Mike Lamb
LF Raul Ibanez
1B Richie Sexson
3B Adrian Beltre
C Kenji Johjima
2B Ray Durham
RF Adam Jones
SS Yuniesky Betancourt

Felix Hernandez
Jarrod Washburn
Miguel Batista
Noah Lowry
Brandon Morrow/Cha Seung Baek

J.J. Putz
George Sherrill
Sean Green

That they were especially fortunate when it comes to injuries helped fuel the Mariners' bid for a postseason spot this year. They came up a ways short, but the team's progress should be enough to buy GM Bill Bavasi at least one more year at the helm. Whether new manager John McLaren will get to stick around is another matter.

The Mariners received next to nothing from Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez this year, so they'll be trying two new starters in 2008. One might be Brandon Morrow, though if he's going to move back into the rotation as planned, he might need at least a month or two in the minors before he's ready to be an asset. The other figures to be a veteran. A trade for Jon Garland or Chris Capuano could be considered. Ideally, they'd be able to get someone rather young, as both Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista can only be counted on for so much longer. Noah Lowry seems ideal, and the Giants could be willing to part with him for two from the group of Jose Lopez, Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien. I have Lopez and Clement going to San Francisco, with Ray Durham's salary getting thrown back to make things a little more favorable for the Giants.

If the Mariners choose to give Lopez one more year, the offense could look essentially the same. Bavasi passed on a chance to dump Richie Sexson's salary at the trade deadline, so it remains to be seen whether he'll have any more interest in making the move this winter. There figures to be limited interest in the big first baseman after his disastrous season. The Mariners may make one more attempt to re-sign Jose Guillen, but they'd be better off going to Adam Jones in right field. If the Mariners do keep Guillen, they should put Jones in left, Raul Ibanez at first and jettison Sexson.

I still don't have a great deal of faith in Bavasi, but the Mariners have a makings of a 90-win team if Felix Hernandez takes a step forward and Sexson bounces back. Dumping McLaren might help.


Tampa Bay

3B Akinori Iwamura
CF B.J. Upton
1B Carlos Pena
RF Delmon Young
LF/DH Luis Gonzalez
DH/LF Rocco Baldelli
2B Brendan Harris
C Dioner Navarro
SS Tony Abreu

Scott Kazmir
James Shields
Chad Billingsley
Andy Sonnanstine/Edwin Jackson
Jason Hammel/Jeff Niemann

Dan Wheeler
Jorge Julio
Salomon Torres

The Rays have had some encouraging developments this year, with James Shields' development and B.J. Upton's successful transition to center field topping the list, but they still appear poised to finish with the game's worst record and their pitching staff has an ERA half a run higher than the next worst in baseball. There are some quality pitching prospects on the way, but it still might be time to cash in Carl Crawford and give the staff the boost it clearly needed.

Not that parting with Crawford would be an easy decision, as he's just 26 and he's one of the game's best defensive outfielders and basestealers. Still, he just hasn't made much progress offensively since 2005. In fact, he's striking out more than ever this year, hardly a good sign. If Crawford becomes available, the Angels, White Sox and Dodgers figure to top the list of interested teams. The Angels could no longer build a deal around Ervin Santana, but they could make Jered Weaver and Erick Aybar available. The Dodgers would have the best package to offer up if they were willing to move Chad Billinglsey. It'd be a high price to pay, but Crawford is GM Ned Colletti's kind of player and he's under control for three years at an affordable rate. Crawford and Al Reyes for Billingley, Jonathan Meloan and Tony Abreu would be fair.

If the Rays keep Crawford, Rocco Baldelli would likely enter 2008 as a regular DH. The Rays would have to give him a chance to rebuild his value before they considered moving him. Jonny Gomes would become expendable and might be anyway. He goes to Texas for Frank Francisco. The Rays also figure to move forgotten man Elijah Dukes. If Dukes can sort through his legal problems, he should be starting in some team's outfield next year. He'd be a smart pickup for a Pirates team in need of upside hitters. Let's send him there in return for Salomon Torres.

It's safe to assume that the Rays will continue to break in youngsters next year. Akinori Iwamura should be given time at second base in spring training. I'm guessing Evan Longoria won't break camp with the team, but he could claim a job at some point during May. The Rays also have Jeff Niemann and Mitch Talbot as spring rotation candidates, with Wade Davis and Jake McGee possibilities to arrive in the second half. Niemann will be a quite a sleeper if he's at full strength next March. At shortstop, the Rays will be on the lookout for a stopgap until Reid Brignac is ready. If they don't trade for a shortstop, then a one-year deal for someone like Cesar Izturis or Juan Uribe would be a possibility.

If the Orioles opt to rebuild, as they should, the Rays could finish out of last place in the AL East for just the second time in franchise history next season. .500 will probably be out of reach for another year, but at least the team will be fun to watch.


Texas

LF Frank Calalanotto/Jason Botts
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Michael Young
3B Hank Blalock
RF Jonny Gomes
DH Jay Gibbons/Sammy Sosa
1B Shea Hillenbrand
CF David Murphy/Marlon Byrd
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Kevin Millwood
Jon Lieber
Brandon McCarthy
Scott Olsen
Kason Gabbard/Edinson Volquez

Akinori Otsuka
C.J. Wilson
Joaquin Benoit

If Vernon Wells were available, I don't doubt that the Rangers would target him. However, now they have to decide whether it's worth pursuing Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones this winter when it's highly unlikely that they'll be in a position to contend in 2008. Hunter is the one they'd likely target, and he's believed to favor Texas as a possible destination. Still, since his price tag may reach $90 million-$100 million, it could make more sense to stay away.

I have the Rangers sticking with what they have in center field. While I've ripped Tom Hicks a time or two for being cheap, this just isn't the winter for the team to be spending big money. It'd be better to work around the edges and maybe make Kevin Millwood available, if his partial no-trade clause isn't too tough to deal with. The Rangers will try to move Vicente Padilla and could shop Gerald Laird to open up catching duties for Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

I have Padilla going to Baltimore for Jay Gibbons. To the White Sox for Jose Contreras probably won't work because Ozzie Guillen is less than fond of him. The Pirates should offer up Matt Morris, but Morris would probably be a Horacio Ramirez-type disaster in the AL.

Getting the troubled Scott Olsen from Florida would be a great gamble for GM Jon Daniels. Offering Florida a catcher for now (Laird) and the future (Taylor Teagarden) could get a deal done. With Salty around, both are expendable. The Rangers could also part with Frank Francisco or Wes Littleton to get Jonny Gomes from Tampa Bay, giving them a 25- or 30-homer guy in right field or at DH.

It's likely the Rangers will try to add one reliable starter. Jon Lieber or Carlos Silva would fit. Ideally, they'd leave just one spot for Kason Gabbard, Edinson Volquez or Kameron Loe. Gabbard would be the favorite. In the bullpen, the Rangers will look for a veteran closer if they don't think Akinori Otsuka will be back. It's possible Otsuka will be non-tendered in December if the Rangers are worried that he'll need Tommy John surgery. They could then go after Todd Jones or maybe even Eric Gagne.

Should the Rangers end up with Hunter, then they might as well go for it in 2008. Signing Uehara or Kawakami would be a good start. If they make those two moves and bring in Bonds, they could really mount a threat in the AL West. Still, it might be for the best if they avoid the big-ticket items this winter and save the extra cash to make a huge bid for Johan Santana or C.C. Sabathia next winter.


Toronto

LF Matt Stairs/Reed Johnson
RF Alex Rios
CF Vernon Wells
DH Frank Thomas
3B Troy Glaus
1B Lyle Overbay
2B Aaron Hill
C Gregg Zaun
SS John McDonald/Juan Uribe

Roy Halladay
A.J. Burnett
Shaun Marcum
Dustin McGowan
Matt Clement/Jesse Litsch

B.J. Ryan
Jeremy Accardo
Casey Janssen

The Jays have made it pretty clear that they want to bring back essentially the same team in 2008. A couple of months ago, it looked like they'd jettison A.J. Burnett, who has the option of becoming a free agent after next season, but his strong finish makes that far less likely. Troy Glaus, another candidate to go, shouldn't have any trade value left after steroid allegations and surgery for plantar fasciitis. He has a no-trade clause anyway.

GM J.P. Ricciardi seems to think better fortune in the health department will make the Jays contenders next year. Still, injuries are a part of the game and the Jays could use more depth, especially in the infield. Unfortunately, they seem content with John McDonald at shortstop, but bringing in Juan Uribe to compete with him would work. They also desperately need a legitimate backup at third base. Morgan Ensberg or Mike Lamb would be nice.

The pitching should be pretty well set. B.J. Ryan isn't a lock to be ready for Opening Day after missing a year following Tommy John surgery, but the Jays have Accardo as protection. Casey Janssen figures to remain in the pen after his impressive performance this year. He has the ability to start, but there's less of a need in the rotation now with the way Marcum and Dustin McGowan have stepped up. Jesse Litsch will probably have to battle a veteran for the final spot in the rotation. Matt Clement, Shawn Chacon and Tony Armas Jr. are possibilities.

If the top two starters stay healthy and McGowan continues to blossom, the Jays have the potential to top 90 wins next year. Of course, they're still in the wrong division. Another third place finish is likely.


Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot



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