Seattle Mariners

Projections and predictions for the three divisions in the American League

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Boston Red Sox

Last season: 86-76 (third place).

Manager: Terry Francona (564-570 career record, .497 winning percentage).

Key newcomers: The Red Sox hope to get their $103.1 million worth with the purchase of RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka. Last year’s closer, Jonathan Papelbon (35 saves), has changed his mind and will remain in the same role. Added to the bullpen were Brendan Donnelly from California and Joel Pineiro from Seattle. RF J.D. Drew (.283, 20 HRs, 100 RBIs) comes from the Dodgers with a reputation for being brittle. The new double-play combo is free agent Julio Lugo (.278, 13 HRs, 37 RBIs) and rookie 2B Dustin Pedroia.

Old hat: DH David Ortiz (.287, 54 HRs, 137 RBIs) and LF Manny Ramirez (.321, 35 HRs, 102 RBIs) are the AL’s most dangerous 3-4 hitters. 3B Mike Lowell (.284, 20 HRs, 80 RBIs) started fast, but ran out of gas. CF Coco Crisp (.264) hopes to bounce back from an injury-plagued season. C Jason Varitek (.238) showed signs of decline. 1B Kevin Youkilis (.279, 13 HRs, 79 RBIs) needs to produce more.

Bottom line: The Red Sox are good enough to win it all. Yet with so many older players, this is also a team capable of breaking down physically. If healthy, the Sox should be penciled in for 95 to 100 wins.

New York Yankees

Last season: 97-65 (first); lost AL division series to Detroit.

Manager: Joe Torre (1,973-1,702, .534).

Key newcomers: LHP Andy Pettitte (14-13, 4.20 ERA with Houston) returns after a three-year hiatus from New York. Pettitte has suffered from a back injury during the exhibition season. LHP Kei Igawa of Japan is viewed as a fifth-starter type. 1B Doug Mientkiewicz was signed for his defense and should see a lot of action against righthanders.

Old hat: SS Derek Jeter (.343, 118 runs, 14 HRs, 97 RBIs) is the team leader. 3B Alex Rodriguez (.290, 35 HRs, 121 RBIs) still must live down a reputation for not coming through in the clutch. Former Phillie RF Bobby Abreu seems to have recovered from an oblique injury suffered early in spring training. DH Jason Giambi (.352, 37 HRs, 113 RBIs) must be more consistent. LF Hideki Matsui (.302) missed more than half of last season with a broken wrist.

Bottom line: If injuries don’t hurt the staff, this is another World Series contender.

Toronto Blue Jays

Last season: 87-75 (second).

Manager: John Gibbons (187-187, .500).

Key newcomers: The Jays welcome 38-year-old DH Frank Thomas, who had 39 HRs and 114 RBIs for Oakland. SS Royce Clayton adds depth to the infield.

Old hat: LHP B.J. Ryan (38 saves) is a quality closer, and workhorse LHP Scott Downs leads a list of ordinary setup men. This is an above-average offense, with many key returnees including LF Reed Johnson (.319), CF Vernon Wells (.303, 32 HRs, 106 RBIs), RF Alex Rios (.302, 17 HRs, 82 RBIs), 1B Lyle Overbay (.312, 22 HRs, 92 RBIs), 3B Troy Glaus (.252, 38 HRs, 104 RBIs), and second baseman Aaron Hill (.291).

Bottom line: In any other division, the Jays might contend, but there doesn’t appear to be enough quality starting pitching or middle relief to have this team stay in the race. Toronto will be out of the playoffs again despite another probable winning record.

Baltimore Orioles

Last season: 70-92 (fourth).

Manager: Sam Perlozzo (93-124, .429).

Key newcomers: Middle relievers Danys Baez, Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker all received lucrative free-agent contracts. Two new RHPs to the rotation are Jaret Wright (11-7, 4.49) and Steve Trachsel (15-8, 4.97). INF-OF Aubrey Huff (.266) signed as a free agent from Houston. OF Jay Payton (.296) comes from Oakland, but is suffering from a hamstring injury sustained late in the exhibition season.

Old hat: SS Miguel Tejada (.330, 24 HRs, 100 RBIs) is among the best players in the league. Others back include 2B Brian Roberts (.286), 3B Melvin Mora (.274), RF Nick Markakis (.291), DH Jay Gibbons (.277), C Ramon Hernandez (.275, 23 HRs, 91 RBIs) and 1B Kevin Millar (.272). RHP Chris Ray was solid as the closer (4-4, 2.73, 33 saves).

Bottom line: On paper, the Orioles are improved, but it may not mean much while competing in the AL East. It’s hard to see the Orioles winning more than 75 games.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Last season: 61-101 (fifth).

Manager: Joe Maddon (88-125, .413).

Key newcomers: 3B Akinori Iwamura will attempt to make the transition from playing in Japan.

Old hat: The outfield is one of the best in baseball with CF Rocco Baldelli (.302, 16 HRs, 57 RBIs), LF Carl Crawford (.305, 18 HRs, 58 stolen bases) and RF Delmon Young, who hit .317 in 126 at-bats. Baldelli (hamstring) and Crawford (groin) have been battling injuries this spring. The rest of the regulars are 1B Ty Wigginton (.275, 24 HRs, 79 RBIs), 2B Jorge Cantu (.249), DH Greg Norton (.296), C Dioner Navarro (.244) and SS Ben Zobrist (.224). INF B.J. Upton must improve defensively.

Bottom line: Other than Scott Kazmir, the rotation consists of a bunch of No. 5-starter types, and that won’t cut it in this division. Another tough season for a team whose goal should be to avoid 100 losses.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Detroit Tigers

Last season: 95-67 (second, wild-card team); lost World Series to St. Louis Cardinals.

Manager: Jim Leyland (1,164-1,198, .493).

Key newcomer: Gary Sheffield was limited to 151 at-bats last year for the Yankees, but is still a dangerous hitter and will DH.

Old hat: This is a veteran team. Among the key position players are 2B Placido Polanco (.295), a former Phillie; C Ivan Rodriguez (.300, 13 HRs, 69 RBIs); SS Carlos Guillen (.320, 19 HRs, 85 RBIs); RF Magglio Ordonez (.298, 24 HRs, 104 RBIs); CF Curtis Granderson (.260, 174 strikeouts); LF Craig Monroe (.255, 28 HRs, 92 RBIs); 3B Brandon Inge (.253, 27 HRs, 83 RBIs); and first baseman Sean Casey (.272). Can Detroit milk another 37-save season from former Phillie Todd Jones? Waiting in the wings is RHP Joel Zumaya (6-3, 1.94, 97 strikeouts in 831/3 innings pitched).

Bottom line: The young pitchers, especially Justin Verlander, have to prove they can duplicate last year’s success. With the arrival of Sheffield and the presence of Casey for the entire season, the Tigers should be better offensively. That makes Detroit the team to beat in the Central.

Chicago White Sox

Last season: 90-72 (third).

Manager: Ozzie Guillen (272-214, .560)

Key newcomers: LHP John Danks, acquired from Texas, has been named the No. 5 starter in the rotation. RHP Gavin Floyd has been hit hard this spring after being acquired from the Phillies. Darin Erstad was added to play CF after an injury-plagued season with the Angels.

Old hat: RHP Bobby Jenks (41 saves) is a solid closer. The middle of the order is strong with RF Jermaine Dye (.315, 44 HRs, 120 RBIs), DH Jim Thome (.288, 42 HRs, 109 RBIs) and 1B Paul Konerko (.313, 35 HRs, 113 RBIs). 2B Tadahito Iguchi (.281), 3B Joe Crede (.283, 30 HRs, 94 RBIs) and catcher A.J. Pierzynski (.295, 16 HRs, 64 RBIs) need to duplicate their production from last year.

Bottom line: The key is how the pitching bounces back this season. The White Sox are good enough to contend for the division or a wild-card spot, but their starting pitching makes them questionable.

Cleveland Indians

Last season: 78-84 (fourth).

Manager: Eric Wedge (319-329, .492).

Key newcomers: RHP Joe Borowski saved 36 games last season for Florida and will be the closer. 2B Josh Barfield will start after being acquired from San Diego. LF David Dellucci (.292) was signed as a free agent from the Phillies. Two other ex-Phillies were added to the bullpen: LHP Aaron Fultz and RHP Roberto Hernandez. RF Trot Nixon brings postseason experience from Boston.

Old hat: This is a proven offense with such key players as CF Grady Sizemore (.290, 134 runs scored), RF Casey Blake (.282), DH Travis Hafner (.308, 42 HRs, 117 RBIs), C Victor Martinez (.316, 16 HRs, 93 RBIs), and SS Jhonny Peralta (.257, 13 HRs, 68 RBIs).

Bottom line: The Indians were a major disappointment last season, and improvement is likely. If the bullpen improves and the starting pitching is more consistent, the Indians should contend in this deep division.

Minnesota Twins

Last season: 96-66 (first); lost AL division series to Oakland.

Manager: Ron Gardenhire (455-354, .562).

Key newcomers: RHP Ramon Ortiz was 11-16 with a 5.57 ERA last year for Washington. RHP Sidney Ponson, another free agent, is expected to join Ortiz in the starting rotation. Jeff Cirillo adds depth to the infield.

Old hat: The bullpen is excellent, led by closer Joe Nathan (7-0, 1.58, 36 saves) and RHP Juan Rincon (3-1, 2.91). Top to bottom, the lineup isn’t scary, but the middle of the order is. The Twins are led by batting champion Joe Mauer (.347, 13 HRs, 84 RBIs) and MVP 1B Justin Morneau (.321, 34 HRs, 130 RBIs). RF Michael Cuddyer (.284, 24 HRs, 109 RBIs) and CF Torii Hunter (.278, 31 HRs, 98 RBIs) are other key performers.

Bottom line: With this pitching staff, matching last year’s record will be difficult. It’s hard to see the Twins repeating as division champions.

Kansas City Royals

Last season: 62-100 (fifth).

Manager: Buddy Bell (450-631, .416).

Key newcomers: The Royals were criticized for giving RHP Gil Meche (11-8, 4.48) a five-year, $55 million contract, but he is a major upgrade over what they had. RPH Octavio Dotel, who only pitched 10 innings last year, was signed to be the closer. Rookie Alex Gordon is the organization’s best prospect and will start at 3B.

Old hat: 2B Mark Grudzielanek (.297) might not be 100 percent early in the season while recovering from knee surgery. RF Reggie Sanders (.246, 11 HRs, 49 RBIs) is a candidate to be traded. DH Mike Sweeney (.258) has been injury-prone. Mark Teahen (.290, 18 HRs, 69 RBIs) has moved from 3B to the OF to make room for Gordon. Not a lot of household names returning among CF David DeJesus (.295), 1B Ryan Shealy (.280) and LF Emil Brown (.287).

Bottom line: This is an improved team, but moving up in baseball’s deepest division will be difficult.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Texas Rangers

Last season: 80-82 (third).

Manager: Ron Washington (first season).

Key newcomers: CF Kenny Lofton hit .301 with the Dodgers, but is a liability on defense. RHP Brandon McCarthy (4-7, 4.68) was acquired by Chicago and should hold one of the rotation spots. Former Dodger Eric Gagne will begin the season on the disabled list after missing most of the last two years with arm and back problems. Upon his return, he will be the closer. Utility man Frank Catalanotto (.300) signed as a free agent from Toronto. After not playing last year, OF Sammy Sosa has enjoyed a strong spring and could get upwards of 400 at-bats.

Old hat: 1B Mark Teixeira (.282, 33 HRs, 110 RBIs) and SS Michael Young (.314, 14 HRs, 103 RBIs) key the offense. 3B Hank Blalock (.266, 16 HRs, 89 RBIs) needs a comeback season. C Gerald Laird (.296 in 243 at-bats) will be the full-time starter for the first time in his career.

Bottom line: This is a flawed team, but contention is likely because the division is so balanced.

Oakland A’s

Last season: 93-69 (first); lost AL Championship Series to Detroit.

Manager: Bob Geren (first season).

Key newcomers: LHP Alan Embree should add bullpen depth. Mike Piazza is the new DH, but at 38, can he match his numbers of last year in San Diego (.283, 22 HRs, 68 RBIs in 399 at-bats)?

Old hat: Closer Huston Street (702/3 IP, 37 saves) wore down from too much work last year. RHP Justin Duchscherer (2-1, 2.91) is a solid setup man. Offensively, the A’s have too many players who don’t hit for average, such as 3B Eric Chavez (.241), LF Nick Swisher (.254, 35 HRs, 95 RBIs, 154 strikeouts), 1B Dan Johnson (.234), 2B Mark Ellis (.249), and injury-plagued SS Bobby Crosby (.229). Johnson will begin the season on the disabled list with a torn labrum in his hip.

Bottom line: Anybody is capable of winning the West, but Oakland should take a step back this year.

Anaheim Angels

Last season: 89-73 (second).

Manager: Mike Scioscia (609-525, .537).

Key newcomers: CF Gary Matthews has made more headlines for stories linking him to unlawful trafficking of human growth hormone (which he has denied) rather than his career year last season in Texas, when he hit .313 with 19 HRs and 79 RBIs. INF Shea Hillenbrand hit just .248 with two teams, but gives the Angels a much-needed bat.

Old hat: RHP Francisco Rodriguez (2-3, 1.73, 47 saves) remains an elite closer, while Scot Shields (7-2, 2.87) is a top setup man. RF Vladimir Guerrero (.329, 33 HRs, 116 RBIs) could use more offensive help. LF Garret Anderson (.280) appears on the decline. 3B Chone Figgins (.267) was disappointing last year and will miss the first month of the season with a fractured finger.

Bottom line: In a balanced division, the Angels should contend, but matching last year’s win total will be difficult.

Seattle Mariners

Last season: 78-84 (fourth).

Manager: Mike Hargrove (1,143-1,140, .501).

Key newcomers: RHP Jeff Weaver was signed as a free agent after a strong postseason with St. Louis. Two other newcomers expected to be in the rotation are RHP Miguel Batista (11-8, 4.58 with Arizona) and LHP Horacio Ramirez (5-5, 4.48 with Atlanta). OF Jose Guillen and 2B-DH Jose Vidro are proven strong bats who have battled recent injuries. Chris Reitsma was signed to help the bullpen.

Old hat: CF Ichiro Suzuki (.322, 110 runs scored) remains one of the game’s top all-around players. 3B Adrian Beltre (.268, 25 HRs, 89 RBIs) has been a disappointment.

Bottom line: Any team can contend in the AL West, but the Mariners don’t make enough contact and their middle relief is unproven. At the most, this is probably an 80-win team.

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