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“The Teams That Did It Last Year”

by Kevin Burke

 The 2001 season of Major League Baseball is approaching fast.  After an offseason that was filled with player exchanges, huge signings, and the usual monetary complaints, spring training has finally arrived. Soon players across MLB will take to the field ready to compete for the World Series championship that has been held firmly by the New York Yankees. With all of the player acquisitions across Major League Baseball, the question remains if the Yankees will really win it all for a fourth consecutive time.

In order to find out if anyone can beat the Yanks, a look at the playoff
contenders of last season and what they bring to the plate in April is
needed.  But first let us see what the Yankees themselves have to compete this year. In the offseason, the New York Yankees lost pitchers Jeff Nelson, Denny Neagle, David Cone and Jason Grimsley.  However, the only real loss out of any of these pitchers is Jeff Nelson. The Yankees improved their starting pitching staff by signing ace Mike Mussina, but depleted their bullpen in losing Nelson.  As always, the Yankees’ rotation should be one of the best in baseball, even though it lacks a fifth starter at the moment. 

Although the bullpen is shaky with injury-prone Ramiro Mendoza and
journeyman Doc Gooden, the Yankees can always rely on their almost robotic closer, Mariano Rivera. Yet, if one of the Yanks’ starters fails to get out of the second inning, few pitchers remain in the bullpen to help him.  They will therefore have to rely on their stable lineup.

In the offseason, the Mets lost pitcher Mike Hampton, outfielder Derek Bell, shortstop Mike Bordick, and infielder Kurt Abbot.  In order to make up for Hampton’s loss, the Mets signed pitchers Kevin Appier and Steve Trachsel. Appier was a good signing and should do well for the Mets, but Trachsel had the worst record in baseball two years ago.  Also, Trachsel seems to only win on even years, so this year might not be a lucky one for him.  The Mets therefore will have to rely on their deep bullpen to get them through yet another season.  In order to make up for the loss of Bell and Bordick, the Mets also signed Darren Bragg and Desi Relaford.  Neither of these signing should prove to be big for the Mets, because Relford was booted off a struggling Phillies team because of his poor defense and Bragg has not made a big MLB impact in years.

Last year, the Oakland Athletics were the only other team to give the
Yankees any real problem in the playoffs.  Except for losing pitcher Kevin Appier, second baseman Randy Velarde, and outfielder Ben Grieve, the core of the A’s is still there.  They still have potent pitchers Tim Hudson and Barry Zito and also gained outfielder Johnny Damon to fill Grieve’s place, but nobody to fill the hole at second.  There are many questions in the Athletics spring training camp to be answered, but they still stand a very good chance this season as long as their rotation and lineup play as well as they did last year.

The San Francisco Giants may not have faced the Yankees in the playoffs last year, but they certainly have the next best chance of overtaking the World Series Champions.  If the Giants had faced the Yankees in the World Series, it is possible that the boys of San Francisco could have taken the title home.  The Giants have one of the most complete pitching staffs in both their starting rotation and bullpen.  Not only can the Giants pitch, but they also had the fewest errors and scored 925 runs last season.  In the off-season, the Giants only lost third baseman Bill Mueller and outfielder Ellis Burks. Although both of these players made significant contributions to the team, the Giants hope to replace their production with outfielders Shawon Dunston and Eric Davis and farm team third base star Pedro Feliz.

The greatest boost in the off-season for the Chicago White Sox is veteran pitcher David Wells.  With Wells, the Sox get a proven veteran talent and clubhouse leader.  The core of the White Sox remains the same, but if the mainly young pitching staff does not repeat their 2000 season performance, the Sox will not win the central division.  If the White Sox cannot play as well as they did last year, they should not make the playoffs.

Of the last three playoff teams from last year, none of them made
acquisitions that in themselves will help them win the world series.  The
St. Louis Cardinals got pitcher Dustin Hermanson from the Expos, but lost power in trading third baseman Fernado Tatis.  The Atlanta Braves did not make any significant acquisitions and other than Rafeal Furcal, they have no real young talent existent on the team.  The Seattle Mariners lost superstar Alex Rodriguez and although Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, and newcomer Ichiro Suzuiki will try to make up for his absence, they should not be able to replace what Rodriguez gave the team every game.  None of these teams have enough in any department to get to the World Series yet. So, the question remains: who can replace the New York Yankees as the new World Series
Champions?

Honestly, in the 2001 season, the outlook for a champion other than Yankees does not seem completely plausible.  Unless the Boston Red Sox or Toronto Blues Jays can take over first place in the East from the Yanks, it looks as if the idea of a four-peat is entirely plausible.