BASN’s AL Spring Training Previews: 10 Burning Questions

By Tony McClean
Updated: February 22, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — When we last left the yearlong party called Major League Baseball, the Cardinals put the broom to Tigers in the Fall Classic and sent us into a winter of discourse and discontent.

Over the last few months, we saw a 40-40 man leave the Nation’s Capital, a Cy Young Award winner cross over the Bay Bridge to team with that Bonds fella, all while the media thinks we really care if ARod and Derek are talking in the locker room.
Football is still months away, March Madness is just around the corner, and that can only mean one thing — baseball’s back. By the time you read this, all the phenoms and hopefuls will be in Florida and Arizona.
Over the next two days, your buddies at BASN will take a sneak peek at what to look for in 2007. We’ll ask the some predictable questions, but also ask some ones that you make be asking about your favorite and or least favorite teams.
Today, we start with the American League.
1. Can the Tigers repeat as AL champs?
With a staff that includes youngsters like Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and barring injuries, Detroit will be in the AL pennant race for a long time. Adding OF Gary Sheffield’s bat between SS Carlos Guillen and DH Magglio Ordonez will definitely help the lineup as well. While the element of surprise is now long gone, the Tigers are team that will be reckoned with throughout 2007.
2. Just how much with Oakland miss Frank Thomas and Barry Zito?
In all likely hood, Zito will be missed more than Thomas Middle rotation guys like Esteban Loaiza and Joe Blanton will have to step it up for them to contend. While Mike Piazza may serve to be an adequate replacement for the Big Hurt, Oakland is looking for OF Milton Bradley to take up some of the offensive slack left by Thomas’ absence. They’ll also need a full season from SS Bobby Crosby to help add even more to the lineup.
3. How many DL stints will J.D. Drew have in Boston this year?
While the Boston media loves to hate on Manny being Manny, pencil in the talented (but injury-prone) Mr. Drew for at least two trips to the DL this year. There’s no doubt he’ll put up good numbers in Fenway when he plays, but look for him to become somewhat of a whipping boy for the Beantown fans by the All-Star break. The workman like efforts of Trot Nixon over the years will be sorely missed sooner than you think.
4. Did the Yankees really do anything to improve themselves this winter?
Let’s see….an aging pitching staff adds an older Andy Pettitte and is chasing another ghost in Roger Clemens. After Chien-Ming Wang, you have a declining Mike Mussina and a reclamation project in Carl (hi, remember me??) Pavano. It appears that the Yankees are using the old Red Sox and current Texas Rangers blueprint of “Lets just outscore them!!!” By mid season, Joe Torre may wish he had been fired after two months of losing games 10-9, 9-8, 8-7, and 7-6. Where’s Joe Cowley when you need him?
5. Speaking of the AL East, can anyone else compete for the division?
The Blue Jays re-upped Vernon Wells and added Frank Thomas, but don’t have much starting pitching after Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett (if healthy). Losing RHP Kris Benson for the season damages a young Baltimore pitching staff that doesn’t have much punch behind them on offense already. As for the D-Rays, they’re finishing the fifth year of their three-year rebuilding plan. Oh well, you get the picture.
6. Can the White Sox bounce back after last year’s disappointment?
Not many teams can call a 90-72 campaign a disappointment. But when you miss the playoffs after winning a World Series crown, its not a good consolation prize. You do get the feeling that Ozzie Guillen and GM Kenny Williams won’t stand for that in 2007. A potent lineup along with what should be a return to form for Mark Buehrle and the South Siders should fine themselves in the pennant chase all year.
7. Wont the Twins, the team that won the AL Central, be in that argument to?
Any team with Johan Santana pitching every fourth or fifth day will be in the mix. But the will miss phenom Francisco Liriano. Much like the aforementioned Chisox, Minnesota’s everyday lineup is one of the best in the game. Also the core of this team (Morneau, Mauer. Cuddyer) is very young. If they add another quality arm during the season, this will be a dangerous team.
8. Will OF Gary Matthews Jr. be the missing link for the Angels?
Lil’ Sarge will give Anaheim/Los Angeles (just pick a one, will ya!!!) a great defensive player and a quality leadoff hitter. When you add Shea Hillenbrand and that Guerrero fella to an already decent hitting lineup, the Angels will score some runs. But for them to really contend in the AL West, the pitching must come through. Staff ace Bartolo Colon may not be back until mid season which leaves John Lackey, Kelvim Escobar, and phenom Ervin Santana trying take up the slack.
9. How long will it take Texas to wipe the smile off Ron Washington’s face?
Like a lot of teams, the Rangers have some potent bats. But the frown will probably come when Mr. Washington looks at his starting rotation. After Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla, there’s not much left. Ironically, a bullpen with Akinori Otsuka and Eric Gagne isn’t really all that bad. But they may be burnt out by the All-Star break. As usual, the Rangers will look like world beaters in the batting cage and eggbeaters when it comes to contenting for the postseason.
10. The Royals can’t lose 100 games for a fourth straight year. Can they??
Well, you can’t yell at them for trying. Between spending $55 million on Gil Meche (insert joke here) and acquiring the likes of Octavio Dotel, Odalis Perez, and Brian Bannister, management is trying to use the Twins’ formula of pitching and defense. Well, we can all dream can’t we? One thing to watch in K.C. will be the continued development of Mark Teahen, who hit .290 last year before shoulder surgery shelved him for the season in September.
Tommorrow: The National League.