BASEBALL 2004: Thinks To Watch

By Tony McClean
Updated: November 19, 2007

Major League Baseball BRISTOL, CT.— Somewhere between the Marlins’ victory parade, the ARod trades (real and proposed), and the steroid scandal, there apparantly will be some baseball played this season.

The usual suspects (Yanks, Red Sox, Cubs, A’s, etc.) are among the favorites for postseason play with a bit of a twist. The Angels and Astros have put themselves into the conversation along with the Phillies and a few others.

Instead of asking questions, will give you some folks to keep an eye on this coming season. It could be a player, front office person or some unknown entity (no, not any trainers!!) that can tip the balance of power in baseball.

NATIONAL LEAGUE THE MARLINS’ ROTATION Unlike that 1997 fire sale following their last World Series title, the core of the Marlins’ team will return. Yes, Pudge and Derrek Lee will be missed, but a rotation that includes World Series MVP Josh Beckett and NL Rookie of the Year Dontrelle Willis has to be taken seriously. When you add the return of A.J. Burnett (possibly in June or sooner), Florida could rival the Phillies with the best starting rotation in the NL East. How quickly have people forgotten that it was pitching and defense that led the Fish to playoffs in the first place.

COREY PATTERSON, OF, CUBS Right from Opening Day, the Cubs’ centerfielder was having an All-Star season (.298 BA, 13 HRs, 55 RBI in 83 games) before he went down with a season-ending knee injury. While adding a future Hall of Famer (Greg Maddux) to the rotation strengthens an already loaded staff, how Patterson comes back will say a lot about Chicago’s postseason aspirations. Let’s just hope that Patterson doesn’t get bitten by a goat or drops a foul popup in Arizona.

OCTAVIO DOTEL, P, ASTROS Back in 1996 when the Yankees let reliever John Wetteland leave after being World Series MVP, it cleared the way for Mariano Rivera’s emergence as the game’s best closer. Now that Billy Wagner has been sent to Philly and the Yankee duo of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens has been added, the Astros are hoping that Dotel can turn the same trick. There are some that think he should have been given the job sooner. Last season, the righthander put up numbers (6-4, 2.48 ERA, 97 Ks in 87 IP) that some middle relievers would kill for.

RICHIE SEXSON, 1B, D-BACKS Batting between Luis Gonzalez and Shea Hillenbrand in the Arizona lineup could mean even bigger numbers for the power-hitting Sexson.

Playing everyday in Bank One Ballpark should help as well. In 45 career at-bats at the BOB, Sexson has hit .348 with six homers and 16 RBIs. As long as he and the other D-Backs stay healthy (Arizona players missed 646 games due to injury in 2003), they could definitely contend in the NL West.

AMERICAN LEAGUE BILLY BEANE, VP/GM, ATHLETICS The book “Moneyball” has turned the Oakland executive into a cult figure by some baseball fans. Possessing one of baseball’s best rotations (Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito) along with three AL West crowns in four seasons lends some credence to that fact. But the A’s have yet to get past the division series in all of those trips. Not to mention that Beane has allowed two MVPs (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada) to walk without even trying to negotiate new deals. With the Angels adding Bartolo Colon and Vladimir Guerrero, it could be put up or shut up time for baseball’s resident “genius”.

JAVIER VAZQUEZ, P, YANKEES While the deals for ARod, Gary Sheffield, and Kevin Brown made large headlines, acquiring this righthander from the Expos may prove to be Steinbrenner’s most shrewding off-season move. We’ve seen the numbers that he’s put up with a Montreal team that rarely gave him ample run support. He now enherits a lineup that on paper looks to give him more runs in one inning than he got in three starts with Montreal. If he can handle the NL/AL transition along with the bombastic New York press, it could be another coup for the Pinstripes.

TONY PENA, MGR, ROYALS Remember that old Rocky The Flying Squirrel skit with Bullwinkle saying, “Wanna watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat?” That correctly descibes what the K.C. manager did last year with the Cinderella Royals who just missed making the playoffs. The Royals went from 62 wins in 2002 to 83 wins in 2003 and earned Pena A.L.

Manager of the Year honors. The loss of Raul Ibanez will sting, but if Mike Sweeney can stay healthy and if their young pitching staff listens to ageless (i.e. old, REALLY OLD!!) catcher Benito Santiago, the Royals could be back in the playoffs.

ALFONSO SORIANO, 2B, RANGERS How can a two-time All-Star become a forgotten man? When he’s traded for one of the game’s best players. While Soriano was castigated by the New York fans and media (no surprise) when he was let go, the one thing that has become forgotten in all the hype is that he’s only going to be 26 years old on Opening Day. He’s destined to become another great ex-Yankee farmhand that went on to fame and fortune in another place. Move over Willie McGee, Fred McGriff, and Eric Milton, you’ve got some company.