New York Yankees
1. Will Roger Clemens return?
Clemens has that strange option, where he picks up more than $10 million next season whether he pitches for the Yankees or not, part of George Steinbrenner's strange accounting practices. The Yanks would like Clemens back -- but there's a limit to how much they'll be willing to spend. Clemens filed for free agency and could go for career win No. 300 (he's at 293) in his native Texas, or return to the Yankees.
|2002 SEASON STATISTICS|
2. What can the Yankees do to make their rotation younger?
Bringing back the 40-year-old Clemens won't help. Moving Jeff Weaver into the rotation would. Three other spots are controlled by Andy Pettitte (who has a team option on his contract), Mike Mussina and David Wells, all of whom are 30 or older. There's not much youth on the free-agent market, either -- the best available starters (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Jamie Moyer) are probably past their primes.
3. Do the Yankees move Alfonso Soriano to the outfield?
There's been talk about shifting Soriano to left and signing another second baseman (Jeff Kent?). Or moving Bernie Williams to left and Soriano to center. That will depend on whom the Yanks can get to upgrade their infield. Despite Soriano's problems at second, the Yanks should be careful about uprooting him from the infield and relocating him to the outfield.
4. Will there be any takers for Raul Mondesi or Rondell White?
Steinbrenner has ordered GM Brian Cashman to move two of last seasons's biggest busts, but that won't be easy given their performance and salaries. Mondesi has a year remaining on a $13 million salary -- about half of which Toronto will pay -- and White has another $5 million due. Dumping these two underachievers would have been difficult any offseason; this winter, with so many teams trimming payroll and particularly wary of the luxury tax, it would seem impossible.
5. Will the luxury tax -- to say nothing of the increases in revenue sharing -- slow Steinbrenner's spending habits?
The Yankees are on a downward progression. After reaching the World Series in 2001 only to lose in the seventh game, they were knocked out in the Division Series last month. In Steinbrenner's mind, that's disastrous. He'll swallow whatever he has to to get the Yankees back to the level to which they're accustomed.
Boston Red Sox
1. Who will be the new general manager?
All else pales in comparison to this question. The Sox are just about resigned to the fact that they won't be getting one of their top choices (Billy Beane, J.P. Ricciardi) and will have to be happy with some first-time GM growing into the job. There's a lot of work to be done with the barren farm system and a payroll that is going to be slashed about 20 percent. It's starting to dawn on some that this job isn't as attractive within the industry as first thought.
2. Can they afford to re-sign free agent Cliff Floyd?
When he was obtained at the trading deadline, Floyd provided protection in the batting order for Manny Ramirez, but is eager to see what else the market has to offer. There are some concerns about his durability, and those questions are valid as Floyd enters his 30s. As the Sox try to cut payroll, they have to hope that the market correction that so many anticipate will help keep Floyd's asking price within their reach.
3. Do they have a closer?
Not right now. There's talk about re-signing Alan Embree and using him as part of a bullpen-by-committee approach in the late innings. But Embree hasn't closed much in his career (six career saves) and that would be a risky proposition. On the other hand, it's clear they're not going to bring back Ugueth Urbina, and there aren't a lot of other possibilities out there.
|2002 SEASON STATISTICS|
4. Will the Sox consider breaking up their collection of superstars?
This core has failed to make the playoffs the last three seasons, despite payrolls that have topped the $100 million mark each season. The Sox must look ahead to the winter of 2004 when Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek all reach free agency at once. It seems impossible that a team looking to manage its payroll more carefully could afford to retain all four, so don't rule out the club shopping around Garciaparra this offseason.
5. What happens to Fenway Park?
The club has announced changes to add seating, including some on top of the famed Green Monster, but there are no plans for building a new ballpark. Land costs are too prohibitive, and the Sox would have to finance any construction costs. After shelling out $700 million for the club, the new owners don't have enough money left to build a new Fenway.
Toronto Blue Jays
1. Was the Blue Jays' second-half surge for real?
Over the second half of last season, the Jays had the best record of any non-playoff team in the American League (44-32). Some of their success could be attributed to youthful enthusiasm, as rookies provided some short-term energy to the club. The trick will be to sustain that over the long-term and ensure the improvement continues.
2. Is there pitching behind Roy Halladay?
If the Jays discovered nothing else about their team last year, they at least found out that Halladay is capable of being a front-line staff leader (19-7, 2.93). Now, in order to take the next step forward, they'll have to fill in the rotation behind him.
3. What do they do with Carlos Delgado?
Delgado had a decent year (33 homers, 108 RBI), but his output was hardly commensurate with his salary ($17.5 million). And that's the problem. The Jays would love to move Delgado to remove that burden from the payroll, but his failure to match his 2000 career season, to say nothing of the salary and a no-trade clause, make that virtually unthinkable.
4. Who plays shortstop?
The Jays gave playing time to Felipe Lopez and Chris Woodward last season, with Woodward playing more in the second half as Lopez got some additional seasoning at Triple A. Lopez has more raw talent, but Woodward is steadier, for now at least. Don't be surprised if the Jays end up shopping Lopez for some pitching.
5. Can baseball make a comeback in Toronto?
Perhaps. There was a surge of interest in the Jays over the final month or so, a "buzz" as GM J.P. Ricciardi termed it. The Jays have been on the slide since the strike of 1994-95 and haven't reached the postseason since last winning the World Series in 1993. But the team full of young players captivated the city a bit late last summer and they should build on the 1.6 million they drew last season (down from the 4 million they drew in the early '90s).
1. Baltimore Orioles
1. Is owner Peter Angelos selling the Orioles?
That's what Angelos is telling people, though there's no concrete evidence to support that. If it's true, that could have an effect on the team's short-term direction. Angelos could look to make some short-term fixes to increase the value of the club, but that would be a step backward in the long run.
2. What is GM Syd Thrift's future?
The answer to this question is closely tied to the first. Angelos has been unfailingly loyal to Thrift and might find it difficult to push him aside. Still, the Orioles probably need a change at the top. Thrift has at least started the rebuilding process, but plenty more needs to be done and it's best done by someone new.
3. Is Mike Hargrove on a short leash?
Perhaps. The O's stumbled embarrassingly in the final month, winning just four of their final 36 games (they were 63-63 at the time), and seemed to squander the improvements made earlier in the season. Angelos has little history terminating managers in the middle of contracts, but the Orioles can't play like they did in September if Hargrove is to stay on the job.
4. What do the Orioles do at shortstop if Mike Bordick retires?
Bordick set a record for most consecutive errorless games, but was leaning toward retiring at the end of the season. After having the sure-handed, steady Bordick at short last year, the Orioles know they can't put the erratic Melvin Mora back at the position next year. Worse, there's no immediate help within the system.
5. Can anyone pitch behind Rodrigo Lopez?
Lopez was the O's most pleasant surprise last season, winning 15 games as a rookie and giving the Orioles a chance to win most of his starts. But no one else reached double figures in wins. The O's have to hope that Pat Hentgen returns from surgery and contributes, while some of the other younger pitchers develop.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
1. How much difference can Lou Piniella make?
In the standings, probably not much -- at least not right away. But Piniella does give the Rays something they've lacked since their inception -- instant credibility. It may take some time, but Piniella will instill some much needed discipline and competitive spirit in the organization.
2. Does Piniella know what he's getting into?
Probably. As bad as the Rays have been, the Mariners weren't much better when Piniella went to Seattle. And the Mariners were bad for a longer period of time before Piniella arrived to set them straight. The Rays have some prized young players and Piniella now has more patience to work with them. What the Rays don't have much of is money, and that will be a problem.
3. What do they do to make up for the loss of Randy Winn?
There was a cost to prying Piniella from the Mariners and it came in the form of Winn, arguably their best veteran player. They'll miss his speed (27 steals) and defense in center field. But if there's one thing the Rays have, it's outfield prospects. Athletic Carl Crawford could be the answer in center.
4. Is Rocco Baldelli close?
Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year seems a can't-miss player. The former No. 1 pick shot up through the Tampa system and reached Triple A by the end of last season. He needs a little more time to develop, but few doubt that he'll be in the Devil Rays outfield by the second half of next season.
5. Is Josh Hamilton still in the picture?
Hamilton's health is still an issue, as his arrival to the big leagues has been sidetracked by injuries. This is an important season for him if he's to make good on his promise and, along with Baldelli and Crawford, give the Rays one of the most exciting young outfields in the game.
Sean McAdam of the Providence Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.