Yankees begin on top

Originally Published: February 18, 2005
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Yankees 1. New York Yankees: They won 101 games last year and added Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and depth to their bullpen. Jason Giambi's status is still a huge question.

Red Sox 2. Boston Red Sox: Alex Rodriguez has become the focal point of Boston's competitive rage; it's like he's the side of beef in the movie "Rocky," and all the Red Sox are taking their shots.

Cardinals 3. St. Louis Cardinals: They lost Edgar Renteria, Tony Womack and Mike Matheny, but gained a potential staff ace in Mark Mulder -- if he's healthy. The nagging injuries to Albert Pujols are a concern.

Marlins 4. Florida Marlins: They could be very, very good -- but they'll only go as far as Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Guillermo Mota lead them. Carlos Delgado brings a lot of power and balance to the lineup.

Angels 5. Anaheim Angels: Added two terrific major-league veterans in Steve Finley and Orlando Cabrera, and their only major question is if the relievers will respond in new roles.

Braves 6. Atlanta Braves: The biggest story of the spring that's not related to steroids is whether the Braves can sign Tim Hudson to a long-term deal. Questions in the corner outfield spots are a concern.

Cubs 7. Chicago Cubs: They're going to need some leaders on their team this year, and who better than Wood, Maddux, Prior and Zambrano? Closer situation is very shaky.

Twins 8. Minnesota Twins: They locked up Johan Santana to a four-year deal; when small-market teams are able to retain their pitching, that's a measure of parity (but not much).

Giants 9. San Francisco Giants: Filled their biggest hole with the addition of closer Armando Benitez. But they might want to see if they can play an extra outfielder between Bonds and Alou.

Mets 10. New York Mets: And with the start of spring training, the big search for middle relief begins; the rotation will be undermined without it. Reyes-Matsui flip flop will be interesting.

Padres 11. San Diego Padres: They didn't make any big offseason acquisitions, but they did improve their bench and added Dave Roberts to play center field. Peavy and Eaton are underrated.

Indians 12. Cleveland Indians: They're going to rack up a lot of runs, and if they can hold leads, they should be able to win a lot of games this season. Definitely a sleeper to watch.

Rangers 13. Texas Rangers: Considering the state of their starting rotation last year, they overachieved. Would not be a big surprise if they took a small step back this year in the tough AL West.

Mariners 14. Seattle Mariners: They've added some power in the middle of their batting order in Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, and now they desperately need to get some healthy arms on their staff.

Phillies 15. Philadelphia Phillies: There was a notion that the Phillies' struggles were caused by the fiery personality of former manager Larry Bowa. Now that he's gone, we'll find out if that was true.

Dodgers 16. Los Angeles Dodgers: They've made a lot of changes, and are banking a lot on J.D. Drew to lead the team. How he'll respond is among the major questions heading into the upcoming season.

Astros 17. Houston Astros: Lots of offense went out the door with the departure of Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent. Either a young player must emerge to pick up the offensive slack, or a trade will need to be made.

Athletics 18. Oakland Athletics: The offense is stronger than it has been since the 2001 season, and they've got a lot of good arms on their staff. The big question: How quickly will the pitchers mature?

Tigers 19. Detroit Tigers: Jeremy Bonderman pitched like an ace down the stretch last year, and if the Tigers are to have a real chance in the AL Central, he'll have to continue that again this season.

Orioles 20. Baltimore Orioles: Slammin' Sammy would make more of an impact if he brought along a friend -- say, a No. 1 or No. 2-type starting pitcher? The O's rotation, without a doubt, is really lacking.

White Sox 21. Chicago White Sox: They decided to shuffle the deck, trading Carlos Lee and not re-signing Magglio Ordonez, and added some pitching (Orlando Hernandez, Dustin Hermanson) along with catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Diamondbacks 22. Arizona Diamondbacks: The new ownership worked hard in the offseason to change the face of the team -- but they've got a long way to go, after winning just 51 games all of last season.

Brewers 23. Milwaukee Brewers: Slowly, they're on the rise to respectability. They should be an interesting team this year, with the expected addition of some high-level, young position prospects.

Pirates 24. Pittsburgh Pirates: They're piecing something together, and appear to be moving in the right direction -- but can they hold it together for an extended period of time? We'll see about that.

Reds 25. Cincinnati Reds: In what's become the usual, Ken Griffey, Jr. is the biggest question heading into spring training-- can he stay healthy, finally? If so, they'll have some depth in their outfield.

Blue Jays 26. Toronto Blue Jays: Somebody should raise the idea of rotating the Jays and Devil Rays out of the AL East, because unless the Yankees and Red Sox are run incompetently, it's hard for Toronto to compete.

Rockies 27. Colorado Rockies: Maybe young left-hander Jeff Francis will turn into the pitching savior the Rockies need so very much. If not, the 2005 season could be worse than it's expected to be.

Devil Rays 28. Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Easiest prediction of the year: The fiery and always colorful Lou Piniella is definitely going to blow a gasket as he watches this team lose time and time and time again.

Nationals 29. Washington Nationals: Baseball's Bingo Long All-Stars have finally found a permanent home. It'll be a while longer before you can realistically expect them to win on a consistent basis.

Royals 30. Kansas City Royals: The window of opportunity that seemed to be open last spring has closed, and now they've got to work toward another.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine

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