Season 32: 91-71
Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: One of the top 1 or 2 offenses in the AL with 864 runs (t 2nd), 235 HR's (5th) and a .282 BA (1st). 1B Matt Lawrence had a huge career year with .295/46/147 and had plenty of help: 5 other Sox batsmen topped 20 longballs (and 2B Eddie Hines was right there with 19). The pitching, with a 4.31 ERA, wasn't bad...it was good enough to get within 1 game of the WS. But it's probably where Boston will seek upgrades. The top end of the staff, with Sherry Grey (16-7, 3.21) et al. was fine. But they had a few guys pitching 100 innings and turning in 5+ ERA's. Felipe Tavarez is the ultimate mystery - his ERA's are always in the 3's or over 6 - never in the 4's or 5's. The Sox' ML payroll is in the $100 million range, so they'll have to be picky about free agency help.
Addressed In Offseason: They added SP Yorman Morales (4.86 ERA over 9 seasons) and short RP Daryl O'Halloran (4.36 ERA over 6 years). They also promoted David Fernandez late last season - he could see a lot of work as both a SP and LR.
Season 32: 75-87
Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: A little under the AL average with 749 runs scored - a little better on the contact/on-base skills, and a little worse on the power categories(180 HR's - 11th). C Ralph Dunn (.317/22/82) and LF Philip Rose (.283/38/102) had huge seasons and CF Joe Smith swiped 89 bases. The Tribe could really benefit from a couple more solid bats. The pitching was just above league average with a 4.24 ERA. Ace Murray Hudson was excellent agin with a 3.00 ERA, but only pitched 165 innings - perhaps a non-DL injury. They got great work out of many of their MR and setup guys - Serra, Park, Meacham, Stairs and Burton - but the bulk of the starts went to guys whose ERA's were pushing 5. Of special note, SS Kurt Blackley set a Major Leagues record by becoming the only SS in world history to win 5 Gold Gloves - and he's still pickin' at 32. With a ML payroll around $78 million, the Tribe has some room to add FA talent.
Addressed In Offseason: The Tribe was eerily silent this offseason - no free agent signings and no promotions.
Season 32: 73-89
Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: The Yanks are in a rebuild phase after the long and successful mikeymel era. They were competitive despite scoring a league-low 691 runs. More importantly, how is that rebuild project coming? Well, they've signed their last couple of first rounders, IF Sean Benard (Sea 31 # 24) and SP Vin Gumbs (Sea 32 #1). And they've dipped into the IFA waters for 2B Frank Bong, RP Rosell Miro (looks like a huge bargain), OF Harry Cayones, and RP Aurelio James. And they've got the ML payroll trimmed all the way down to $20 million. With some good prospects in the pipeline, it's not impossible to imagine the Yanks going for a big FA splash this season.
Addressed In Offseason: In a bold move, NY promoted last year's #1 overall, SP Vin Gumbs, to the ML roster after only 100 innings in the minors (AAA last year). He was a pretty advanced 22 year-old college draftee, he has the stuff to pitch now in the majors, and he'll keep getting better...why not? Their six shortstops made 35 errors and bad plays last year - they stabilized that situation by promoting Juan Torres and signing Phil Singleton, both pretty good defenders.
Season 32: 63-99
Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: The Birds have been rebuilding for 4 seasons now...are they getting anywhere? Not if you look purely at last year's results: 63 wins, 15th in runs scored and 14th in runs allowed. But they've drafted reasonably well (Adrian Garcia - #5 last year, Eugenio Cespedes - #2 in Sea 31, Keith Townsend - #3 in Sea 30, Randy Grant - Sea 29 #9) and added the occasional useful IFA (Vin Torrealba last year, Albert Banuelos in Season 30). If we ranked farm systems, Baltimore's would be up there. Combine what's coming with the existing young talent (SP Flip Harris, Season 28's #1 overall pick, and DH Rudy House, who hit a promising .321/14/47 in 190 ML AB's last year. One glaring hole last year was Woody Brown's 49 errors and bad plays at SS; he'd be a good defender and plus hitter at 3B. They need to go find a real SS to plug that sucking chest wound.
Addressed In Offseason: Baltimore mostly stayed away from FA, but they did add some pop with C Lonny Soto. They filled all the other open slots by promoting C Arthur Parkinson, 1B Mitch McConnell, and LR Marvin Roth - not a lot of talent, but at least they're cheap.
Division Outlook: I wish I could say there's something shaking this division up some, but I just don't see it. The Red Sox win handily. Cleveland could improve but it looks like a struggle to get to wild-card territory. And the Yankees and Orioles keep pumping up their farm systems.
Eddie Hines OPS'd .826 as a rookie, with 19 HR's, 35 doubles, 31 SB's and good 2B defense. Pump those up 20% and you have an MVP contender. Darkhorse candidate, but conceivable. Cleveland's Murray Hudson has the stuff to win a CY, but needs to get more innings and wins. Baltimore's Rudy House could hit enough to win a ROY (even as a DH, and if he still qualifies as a rookie). Could Flip Harris win 15 with a not-too-good team? He'll win a CY or 2, just not this year. Vin Gumbs will get a head start on many AL ROY candidates and has to be one of the favorites.