American League outlook

KEN FIDLIN

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

EAST

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

CHANGES: Pitchers Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Scott Williamson, Jamie Walker and Jaret Wright are in, along with outfielders Aubrey Huff, and Jay Payton. Gone are pitchers Bruce Chen, LaTroy Hawkins Russ Ortiz, as well as outfielder David Newhan and catcher Chris Widger. The Orioles were an off-season curiosity, spending big money to rebuild their bullpen, virtually from the ground up, with veteran free agents.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Despite the revamped bullpen, the Orioles are counting on their Canadian Connection to come through in the starting rotation. Lefties Erik Bedard (Navan, Ont.) and Adam Loewen (Surrey, B.C.) are keys to the O's future. The lineup also features Miguel Tejada, a perennial MVP candidate at shortstop.

PROGNOSIS: The Orioles are improved by their acquisitions and by the fact their young talent is another year wiser. Huff, hitting behind Tejada, will be a key. Need catcher Ramon Hernandez to produce as he did last year (23 HR, 91 RBIs). They'll go as far as their young arms will take them, which is about fourth in the tough East.

BOSTON RED SOX

CHANGES: Japanese invaders Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima caused a stir in Florida, but so will OF J.D. Drew and SS Julio Lugo when the shooting starts for real. Gone are Mark Loretta, Trot Nixon and Keith Foulke.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: It has been all about Dice-K this spring but the old reliables, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are still the bread and butter of the Bosox offence. How Drew fits in will be important. In the absence of another option, Jonathan Papelbon is once again a reluctant closer.

PROGNOSIS: Matsuzaka was the best free agent pitcher available in the off-season and the Sox paid huge to get him, but the burden of results will still rest with Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling and the big bangers, Ramirez and Ortiz. Back to the playoffs, at least, and maybe a division title.

NEW YORK YANKEES

CHANGES: Andy Pettitte's return was the big catch of a quiet off-season for the Yankees. LHP Kei Igawa was New York's answer to Dice-K in the Japanese sweepstakes. Gone are previously big producers Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: This is a team of stars and that may be the problem. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano. Is there room for all those egos? Count on a big year from A-Rod who is looking to score one final monster contract when he opts out of his Yankees deal at the end of the year.

PROGNOSIS: Yanks pitching is coming out of spring a bit nicked up so they could have trouble out of the gate. These are the Yankees who haven't missed the playoffs in 13 years. Could this be the season? Despite all those post-season appearances, no World Series wins since 2000.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

CHANGES: As always, there will be new faces on the Rays but most of the names mean little to the average fan. Most notable newcomer in Tampa is slugging third baseman Akinori Iwamura, one of few position players to join the Japanese wave.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Aside from pitcher Scott Kazmir, one of the top young lefties in the game, Tampa will rely on its young outfielders for marquee value. Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, rookie-of-the-year candidate Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes have shown so well as to make Jonny Gomes expendable.

PROGNOSIS: The Rays are inching closer to respectability but, because of their youth and a tiny payroll of $20-something million, it's still hard to imagine them anywhere but last.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

CHANGES: Slugger Frank Thomas brings his Hall-of-Fame credentials to an already potent lineup. Royce Clayton will be at shortstop and Tomo Ohka has solidified a rotation spot. Gone are Frank Catalanotto, Ted Lilly, Justin Speier and Bengie Molina.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: With Vernon Wells, the $126-million man, setting the tone on the field and in the locker room, there's no shortage of star power. Roy Halladay, Thomas, Troy Glaus, Alex Rios and Lyle Overbay are right there with Wells.

PROGNOSIS: Back end of the rotation will have to support Halladay and A.J. Burnett and somebody will have to step up to be the set-up man for bullpen ace B.J. Ryan. Thomas adds pop. Will contend for a wild-card spot and perhaps the division title.

CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

CHANGES: The Sox picked up a couple of spare parts in Darin Erstad and Toby Hall (who is out for the year injured) but didn't offset the departures of pitchers Freddy Garcia and Brandon McCarthy, at least not from outside the organization.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Thumpers Jim Thome, Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko are all holdovers from the World Series champs of 2005. Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras anchor the rotation while flamethrower Bobby Jenks closes the door.

PROGNOSIS: The Central Division has got stronger overall while the Chisox have more or less been treading water. Volatile Ozzie Guillen could turn out to be one of those managers with a finite shelf life and may be too disruptive. Still strong, but not enough to win it.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

CHANGES: Busy off-season. Added 2B Josh Barfield, closer Joe Borowski, OFs Dave Dellucci and Trot Nixon (late last season). Said goodbye to Aaron Boone and Ronnie Belliard.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: CF Grady Sizemore one of game's most well-rounded players. Travis Hafner is a dream DH. Tribe has something to offer at virtually every position and don't forget they won 93 games two years ago. C.C. Sabathia and Jake Westbrook a good one-two rotation punch.

PROGNOSIS: As many holes as GM Mark Shapiro filled with the additions of Barfield, Borowski and Dellucci, it's hard to see Cleveland staying with Detroit or Minnesota.

DETROIT TIGERS

CHANGES: Gary Sheffield represents potentially the most impactful addition to any team in the division. Also added veteran bullpen pitcher Jose Mesa.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: This is a team that is going to be good for many years. They have talent, youth and ownership committed to winning. Starters Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman are both 24. Flame-throwing closer-in-waiting. Joel Zumaya is just 22. Sheffield, Craig Monroe, Pudge Rodiguez and Magglio Ordonez are thumpers on offence.

PROGNOSIS: As great as last season was in Motown, it ended with a bad taste in everyone's mouth, losing to St. Louis in the World Series. In the process, that may have made the Tigers hungrier going into this year. With pitching like they possess, they're going to be tough to beat.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

CHANGES: Royals spent big money (five years, $55 million) to get Gil Meche, an average starter. Also added closer Octavio Dotel and catcher Jason LaRue. Moved out a lot of players, but few of any significance.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Defensively challenged outfielder Emil Brown led the team with 81 RBIs last season and that tells you about the slim pickings on the star front here. Mark Grudzielanek provides Gold Glove work at second. Meche (11 wins with Seattle) is the only pitcher on the team with more than seven big-league victories last year.

PROGNOSIS: With the Meche signing, the Royals are trying to send a message that they are serious players. But the sad fact is they just don't have enough to be taken seriously. Dead last again.

MINNESOTA TWINS

CHANGES: Added 3B Jeff Cirillo, RHP Ramon Ortiz. Said goodbye to Brad Radke, a staple in their rotation for a dozen seasons, Shannon Stewart, Kyle Lohse and Phil Nevin.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Best lefty in baseball, Johan Santana, anchors a shaky rotation. Canadian Justin Morneau won the AL MVP last season, although there was a body of thought that he wasn't even as good as 24-year-old teammate Joe Mauer, the AL batting champ at .347. Look for a big year from pending free agent Torii Hunter.

PROGNOSIS: The Twins always seem to find a way to compete and expect more of the same in 2007. The loss of young pitcher Francisco Liriano (12-3, 2.16 last year) will keep their win total below the 96 games they won a year ago.

WEST

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

CHANGES: Signed set-up man Justin Speier, DH Shea Hillenbrand and OF Gary Matthews. Said goodbye to long serving players Tim Salmon, Darin Erstad and Adam Kennedy.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Vlad Guerrero one of the most exciting players in baseball, combines speed and power. Owner Omar Moreno expected Matthews to bring his highlight reel glove but wasn't counting on a drug controversy. Francisco Rodriguez is a reliable lockup man, Ervin Santana and John Lackey are a decent one-two rotation punch, followed by Kelvim Escobar.

PROGNOSIS: Doubtful if Matthews can put up better numbers than last year, but he will save his pitching staff some runs. Angels should be improved enough to overtake Oakland at the top of the division.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

CHANGES: Most notable addition is Mike Piazza, but it's doubtful he can match the numbers of the DH he is replacing in Frank Thomas. Also, the A's will miss Barry Zito, his 35 starts, his 223 innings and his 3.61 ERA compiled over his six years in Oakland.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Eric Chavez hopes to bounce back from a year when he hit only .241 with 22 homers. Nick Swisher hopes to duplicate his 35-homer season. Joe Blanton (16 wins) and Dan Haren (14 wins) bring consistency to the rotation.

PROGNOSIS: Like the Twins, the A's always seem to find a way to scramble for wins, but this is going to be a tough test. Canadian Rich Harden must remain injury-free and that's a stretch. Not quite good enough to stay with the Angels.

SEATTLE MARINERS

CHANGES: Mariners added ex-Jay Miguel Batista, RHP Jeff Weaver and infielders Jose Vidro, Ben Broussard. Gil Meche and Joel Piniero are out.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Once you get past Ichiro Suzuki, the pickings are slim, although late-bloomer Raul Ibanez had his best year ever (33 HR, 123 RBIs) at the age of 34. And Richie Sexson is always good for 30-plus homers and 150-plus strikeouts.

PROGNOSIS: This a team without enough pitching to survive, especially in a division that contains three good hitting teams. They are ordinary in most every way and will probably finish at the bottom of the division. Look for Ichiro to be traded at the deadline since he is a free agent at the end of the season.

TEXAS RANGERS

CHANGES: The Rangers were busy in the off-season, adding outfielders Frank Catalanotto, Kenny Lofton and DH/OF Sammy Sosa. They also added Brandon McCarthy to the pitching staff, along with Eric Gagne. Gary Matthews, Jr., jumped to the Angels. Sosa has been a pleasant surprise and though he won't hit 60 homers anytime soon, he gives Texas a respectable DH.

STAR ATTRACTIONS: Former Jays farmhand Michael Young is a fixture now in Texas, signed through 2013. He hit .314 with 14 homers and 103 RBIs last year. 1B Mark Teixeira swatted 33 dingers and drove in 110. Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla are at the top of the rotation.

PROGNOSIS: The Rangers are probably improved, but not by enough to make a difference at the top of the standings. It's unlikely they can hang with the Angels and A's, but should finish ahead of the Mariners.


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