AL Spring Job Battles
By Derek VanRiper
Left Field, First Base, DH: When the Orioles signed Aubrey
Huff, they threw a significant wrench into their projected everday lineup. With
hot rookie Nick Markakis locked into right field and Corey Patterson a regular
in center field, there are only three starting spots for Huff, Millar, Gibbons
and Payton. Huff, Millar and
Gibbons figure to win out, with Payton perhaps spot starting for each of them
as well as perhaps platooning with Patterson in center field. The unfortunate result seems to be that
the regular rotation will be unpredictable until the regular season
starts. The younger Huff and
Gibbons will probably be the two of the four to maintain the most regular playing
time, but both are lefties, and as the Orioles have struggled against southpaws
in the past, manager Sam Perlozzo might be forced to juggle his lineup more
than he would like. It will be
good for the team to have extra capable bodies if Perlozzo can manage the
clubhouse effects of the time-share, but the unpredictability of the situation
could drive fantasy owners nuts.
Closer: One of the more significant of the wide-open job battles this spring is the closer's job in Boston. Joel Pineiro was signed this winter and is the reported front-runner for the job thus far, but a slew of other candidates are in camp to provide competition. Mike Timlin, Brendan Donnelly, Julian Tavarez and Craig Hansen are all potential ninth-inning options for the Red Sox, while converted starter Jonathan Papelbon is still an alternative if the competing group can't produce a viable option. Still, the organization would prefer that they not use Papelbon in the closer's role again this season, which could open up the possibility of a trade before Opening Day, with Washington's Chad Cordero being named as a potential fit. The Red Sox are also hoping to keep the "Closer of the Future" tag on Hansen for another year, so he's all but fallen out of consideration at the present time.
No. 5 Starter: The early verdict on Pavano this spring is
that he's looked good during bullpen sessions and that he's taken the first
step towards repairing the damaged in the clubhouse, most notably by meeting
with Mike Mussina after reporting to spring training in Tampa Bay. Pavano
worked with a new trainer during the offseason, which lead to the discovery
that the right-hander suffers from a hip dysfunction that may have been the
cause of his nagging back problems. Phenom Philip Hughes is waiting in the
wings if Pavano slips up, but the Yankees would rest easier if Pavano could
stay healthy and return to his 2004 form by hitting the 200-inning plateau.
First Base & DH: Competitors include Jonny Gomes, Ty Wigginton, Greg Norton, Carlos Pena, Elijah Dukes, Hee Seop Choi and Joel Guzman. The good news is that it may turn into three or four semi-regulars out of this bunch getting around 300 at-bats, which makes them important in AL-only leagues. The bad news is that no one may get enough at-bats to matter in more shallow mixed leagues, with the exception of Gomes, if he is able to claim an everyday role at DH. Gomes and Wigginton are the early favorites, followed by Dukes and Pena in part-time, platoon or super-sub roles.
Closer: Seth McClung is the incumbent, but Al Reyes, Dan
Miceli, Chad Orvella and perhaps Juan Salas will get chances if they impress.
Don't be surprised if this goes to a shootout between McClung and Reyes.
No. 5 Starter: The job might go to Edwin Jackson out of
spring training just because he's out of options, but Brian Stokes, JP Howell,
Jason Hamell and Jae Kuk Ryu are all in the hunt.
Left Field: Top-prospect Adam Lind will have a shot to take
the job away from Reed Johnson, but as it currently stands it will be Johnson,
Vernon Wells and Alex Rios from left to right in the Toronto outfield for
Opening Day. Lind also figures to be in the mix for more at-bats if anything
happens to injury-prone DH Frank Thomas, or if the Jays swing a trade this
spring that sends Alex Rios packing.
No. 4 & No. 5 Starter: Tomo Ohka and John Thomson should
round out the back of the rotation, although Dustin McGowan could win a spot if
either of the veterans falter. Early signs point to McGowan being the sixth
starter and reporting to Triple-A Syracuse to open the year.
Left Field & Center Field: The inside track belongs to Brian Anderson. If he rebounds from last year, the job in center is his to lose. Left field will depend greatly on the health of Scott Podsednik, but look for Darin Erstad to get the first crack at everyday time until Podsednik is ready. The "Josh Fields to Left Field" experiment seems to be losing steam before it really began, but a big spring could change that. If Podsednik can't go, Pablo Ozuna could wind up in a platoon with Erstad. If Brian Anderson can't hold the center field job, it would seem to open up a chance for Fields with Erstad moving over to center. Rookies Ryan Sweeney and Jerry Owens could work themselves into the mix with strong springs, but appear to be secondary options at this point.
No. 5 Starter: A slew of possibilities in Gavin Floyd,
Charlie Haeger, Gio Gonzalez, John Danks, Lance Broadway and Nick Masset, but
it's Floyd's job to lose as spring training starts. Both Gonzalez and Masset
have impressed early on, but Floyd hasn't pitched himself out of the job thus
far. Both Haeger and Masset will likely earn bullpen spots with Danks, Gonzalez
and Broadway heading back to the minors.
Left Field: Heading into the season, the Indians have no reservations about David Dellucci and Jason Michaels platooning in left, with Dellucci seeing playing time against righties and Michaels facing lefties. As such, neither player is a viable option outside of AL-only leagues.
Right Field: Trot Nixon and Casey Blake will platoon in right field, with Nixon playing mostly against righties. The other issue is health, which has been a problem for Nixon of late. Blake's versatility will keep him in the everyday lineup, as he's listed as the Tribe's Opening Day first baseman and is capable of playing third base if Andy Marte struggles.
First Base: Ryan Garko is working to improve his defense as he completes the transition from behind the plate. He's got major-league ready power and should contribute in that category even if he's limited to 250-300 at-bats. Depending on matchups, Blake will slot in at first, just as he's slated to on Opening Day against the White Sox.
No significant battles for playing time this spring.
Third Base: It will take the most unlikely of events for
Alex Gordon to not be the Opening Day third baseman for the Royals. Mark Teahen
will move to the outfield, but will probably still see some ground balls at
third throughout the spring to keep him fresh in case of a serious injury.
Right Field: Mark Teahen will have to be horrendous with the
glove this spring to miss out on the everyday job, assuming he can carry the
confident bat he ended the 2006 season with. The Royals' greatest hope is that
Teahen shows he can handle the outfield and veteran Reggie Sanders shows that
he is healthy enough to be traded.
Left Field: Emil Brown, Shane Costa, Mitch Maier, Billy
Butler, Chris Lubanski and others will be fighting for this position, which
will probably become a platoon between Brown and Costa. If Maier shines and
Costa stumbles, however, it could very well go to Maier. Butler and Lubanski
are all but sent to Triple-A already, but will get some experience with the big club in the spring.
Catcher:The best-case scenario for the Royals is if Jason LaRue and John Buck do well in the spring and make the Royals decide. If the race is a dead heat, it's Buck's job. The worst-case scenario is having LaRue out play Buck this spring, as it would be a pretty strong indicator that Buck won't ever develop into the hitter they want.
No. 4 & No. 5 Starter: Gil Meche, Odalis Perez and Luke
Hudson are considered locks for the rotation, but two of those names were on or
near the scrap heap just one season ago. That means there could potentially be
more room for Zack Greinke, Brian Bannister, Jorge de la Rosa and, when he is
healthy, Scott Elarton. Tyler Lumsden is a dark-horse candidate, but new Royals
general manager Dayton Moore hopes to be methodical with his young players.
That means Lumsden and Luke Hochevar are bound for the minors to start the
DH: Jason Kubel will get the job, but how much? He could
platoon against lefties with Jeff Cirillo, Matt LeCroy or even Ken Harvey (if
healthy) as the right-handed part of the platoon.
No. 4 & No. 5 Starter: The Twins are saying Sidney
Ponson has a spot in the rotation to lose this spring, which makes the fifth
starter job a contest between Boof Bonser, Matt Garza and Scott Baker. That's
the company line. It would be very surprising if Bonser didn't make it, and he
may actually wind up as the No. 2 starter. We think there is a good chance
at least one of Ponson, Ramon Ortiz or Silva (if not all three) lose their spot in the rotation before June, so the younger pitchers should get a chance at some point.
First Base: With Juan Rivera out, Shea Hillenbrand is the
likely DH most of the time. The starting first base job will then come down
between Casey Kotchman and Kendry Morales. Both players have options left, so
the loser likely goes down to Triple-A Salt Lake, with Robb Quinlan as the
Third Base: Not really a battle, as Chone Figgins will be
the starter here, but it's worth noting that the Angels have moved shortstop
uber-prospect Brandon Wood to third base this spring, grooming him as the
eventual starter there. Dallas McPherson is essentially out for the season
after undergoing back surgery, and his future in the organization is pretty
First Base/Left Field: Nick Swisher is penciled in as an
everyday player, but where he plays will depend on the outcome of the battle
between first baseman Dan Johnson and outfielder Shannon Stewart this spring.
Johnson struggled with double vision in 2006, but he has undergone successful
eye therapy during the offseason with the hope of saving his young career.
Stewart will need to show he's healthy after battling plantar fasciitis last
season, but he'll figure into the team's plans in some capacity if he's over
the injury. This battle could go on through spring training and into the early
part of the regular season.
No significant battles for playing time this spring.
DH: Sammy Sosa will go toe-to-toe with Jason Botts for the everday DH job this spring, with Botts likely moving into a platoon in left field with Frank Catalanotto if Sosa is able to show flashes of his pre-2005 form. As it stands, the Rangers want Sosa to be in the lineup everyday if he's still capable of being a productive major-league player. Once spring training games begin, Sosa's chances of making the team will become much clearer.
Thanks to the RotoWire Beat Writers for each team, who helped provide much of this info.
Article first appeared 2/24/07