What Might Have Been (Part Two: AL)by Matthew Namee
June 22, 2004
Last Thursday, we looked at the five National League teams that can form a team of active players who originally signed with their organization. Today, let's look at the half-dozen American League teams who can do the same thing. Remember, every player is put back with the organization he started in, regardless of whether he played a game for the big-league club. We're also trying to form lineups that could reasonably play in 2004 (meaning no Craig Biggio at catcher).
C Victor Martinez 1B Sean Casey 2B David Bell 3B Russell Branyan SS Marco Scutaro LF Manny Ramirez CF Dave Roberts RF Brian Giles DH Jim ThomeWe're obviously going to have to do some position shuffling here. The Indians don't have a true shortstop, which means current Oakland 2B Marco Scutaro has to move over. That leaves a hole at second base, where Philles 3B David Bell is capable of playing. But what about third base? Russell Branyan's in Triple-A right now, but he's hitting .263/.385/.526, which is pretty good. Yes, he strikes out about as often as Bonds walks, but he can hit the ball out of the park and he gets on base at a decent clip.
Outside of Casey, all the infielders are stretching themselves defensively, but it'll have to do. With a heart-of-the-order of Ramirez-Thome-Giles-Casey-Martinez, we can afford to sacrifice on defense.
In terms of quality, the pitching staff brings back memories of the 1990s Tribe teams (just replace Charles Nagy with Sabathia, and Orel Hershiser with Colon):
S1 C.C. Sabathia S2 Bartolo Colon S3 Jaret Wright S4 Ryan Drese S5 Jason Davis Top relievers: Danny Graves, Danys BaezThe pitching staff is mediocre, and the defense is pretty weak, but that lineup is just amazing. Casey's fighting for a batting title, Ramirez and Thome lead their respective leagues in home runs, and Victor Martinez is one of the best young players in baseball. Richie Sexson would make this offense even more potent, but he's on the DL for the rest of the year.
New York Yankees
C Jorge Posada 1B Nick Johnson 2B D'Angelo Jimenez 3B Mike Lowell SS Derek Jeter LF Hideki Matsui CF Alfonso Soriano RF Juan Rivera/Shane Spencer DH Bernie WilliamsWell, the Yankees lose A-Rod, Giambi, and Sheffield, but that's still an excellent offense. On the plus side, they've now got more than their share of second basemen, with both Soriano and Jimenez.
Mike Lowell also returns to the Bronx. Before the 1999 season, in the wake of the Marlins' notorious fire sale of '97-'98, they robbed the Yankees, grabbing Lowell in exchange for Ed Yarnall (5.40 career ERA in 20 IP), Mark J. Johnson (7.50 ERA in 24 IP), and minor leaguer Todd Noel.
Here's the pitching staff:
S1 Andy Pettitte S2 Eric Milton S3 Al Leiter S4 Zach Day S5 Victor Zambrano Relief ace: Mariano RiveraPettitte has been hurt this season, and if he's out, I guess that would push Jose Contreras into the rotation. Eric Milton and Al Leiter have both been deceptively mediocre this year: Milton has a gaudy 8-1 record, but a lousy 4.60 ERA and 15 HR allowed in 72.1 innings. Leiter has a 2.05 ERA that would lead the National League if he had enough innings, but he's also got an ugly 33-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio and an FIP of 4.97 (FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching, meaning, with an "average" defense behind him, Leiter's ERA would be around 4.97).
The Yankees are still good, but this team isn't as good as Toronto. Of course, for that, you'll have to read on a bit ...
C Ramon Hernandez/Miguel Olivo 1B Scott Spiezio 2B Mark Bellhorn 3B Eric Chavez/Tony Batista SS Miguel Tejada LF Eric Byrnes CF Jeff DaVanon RF Ben Grieve DH Jason GiambiIn Batista and Spiezio, the A's have two capable third base replacements for the injured Eric Chavez. Spiezio's presence also helps out Jason Giambi, who won't have to worry about playing defense. The outfield isn't too illustrious, but this team is up to its eyeballs in shortstops -- Bobby Crosby and Angel Berroa are riding the bench.
The starting rotation is in pretty good shape, too, thanks to the Oakland-bred Big Three:
S1 Tim Hudson S2 Mark Mulder S3 Barry Zito S4 Jeremy Bonderman S5 Eric DuBose Relief ace: Rich HardenWe'll grant Peter Gammons his wish and make Rich Harden the closer. I suppose we could also just call up Joe Blanton from Triple-A and hand him the closer gig. In reality, Billy Beane wouldn't do either of those things; he'd trade for somebody, but for our purposes, Harden will do.
C Jason Varitek 1B Tino Martinez 2B Bret Boone 3B Alex Rodriguez SS Omar Vizquel LF Jose Cruz Jr. CF Ken Griffey Jr. RF Ichiro Suzuki DH Edgar MartinezIt's easy to forget that Jason Varitek started off in the Seattle organization, but he was the club's first-round pick in 1994. Along with Derek Lowe, Varitek went to Boston in exchange for Heathcliff Slocumb (who had a 5.79 ERA at the time of the midseason deal). Omar Vizquel was the Mariner shortstop for five years, but was traded to Cleveland in 1993 for Felix Fermin and Reggie Jefferson. Jose Cruz Jr. went to the Blue Jays as a rookie for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric. Bret Boone, who rejoined the M's in 2001, was originally traded away in 1993, with Erik Hanson to the Reds for Dan Wilson and Bobby Ayala.
The Mariners traded away Varitek, Lowe, Vizquel, Cruz, and Boone, and all of those guys went on to become fine players. In return, the best the M's got was Dan Wilson and a year and a half of Mike Timlin.
S1 Joel Pineiro S2 Derek Lowe S3 Ryan Franklin S4 Mike Hampton S5 Shawn Estes/Rafael Soriano Relievers: Damaso Marte, Brian FuentesOh, I almost forgot about Mike Hampton. Like Vizquel and Boone, he was sent packing after the 1993 season. Hampton went to Houston with Mike Felder, and in exchange, Seattle received Eric Anthony (who batted .237/.297/.412 in his lone season with the M's). Where was Stand Pat Gillick when they needed him?
C Ivan Rodriguez 1B Travis Hafner 2B Mike Lamb 3B Hank Blalock SS Jose Hernandez LF Laynce Nix CF Scott Podsednik RF Sammy Sosa DH Mark TeixeiraThat's simplifying things ... This team also has Juan Gonzalez, Carlos Pena, Kevin Mench, Craig Monroe, and Ruben Sierra available to play DH/1B/corner OF. Also, Mike Lamb has played only one major-league game at second base, but the alternative is Rey Sanchez. Another option is to play Hank Blalock at second base and Lamb at third.
And finally, the Rangers have some pitching:
S1 Kevin Brown S2 Kenny Rogers S3 Wilson Alvarez S4 Doug Davis S5 Aaron Harang/R.A. Dickey Relief ace: Danny KolbThat isn't the greatest rotation the world, with the fragile Brown, the not-as-good-as-his-record Rogers, and a mediocre 3-4-5, but this bunch is better than what Texas has been running out there in recent years.
Three of the four AL West clubs are able to field full homegrown teams. How do they rank? Oakland has an edge thanks to their pitching, and the young talent on Texas makes them a hair better than Seattle. Those are all strong teams, though.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are last alphabetically (and in the current AL East), but their "Might Have Been" offense is one of the best:
C Craig Wilson 1B Shawn Green 2B Orlando Hudson 3B Jeff Kent SS Michael Young LF Shannon Stewart CF Vernon Wells RF Reed Johnson/Jay Gibbons DH Carlos DelgadoLast week I was reminded (or, more accurately, "told for the first time") that the Pirates' Craig Wilson was originally drafted by the Blue Jays. He went to Pittsburgh in a 1996 deal that brought Dan Plesac, Carlos Garcia, and Orlando Merced to Toronto. Wilson caught 21 games last year, and he's been behind the plate twice this season, so to get his bat into the lineup, he'll catch for this Jays team. Kevin Cash and Pat Borders are on hand as defensive replacements.
How did the Jays lose Michael Young? In July 2000, they traded Young and a pitcher named Darwin Cubillan to the Rangers for Esteban Loaiza.
Jeff Kent started his career as a third baseman, and was a regular at the position as late as 1996. To make room on this team, he'll move back to the hot corner. Reed Johnson and Jay Gibbons will be used in a strict righty-lefty platoon, and Josh Phelps and John Olerud are the team's pinch-hitters. Chris Woodward, Alex Gonzalez, and Cesar Izturis are backups in the middle infield, and Casey Blake is around in case Kent can't cut it as a third baseman.
S1 Roy Halladay S2 David Wells S3 Kelvim Escobar S4 Chris Carpenter S5 Woody Williams Relievers: Jose Mesa, Mike TimlinJose Mesa??? Raise your hand if you knew that Jose Mesa was originally signed by the Blue Jays. Okay, so all you guys who frequent Batter's Box already knew that, but I sure didn't.
Mesa signed with Toronto way back in 1981, but he was traded to the Orioles in 1987 to complete a deal that brought Mike Flanagan to the Jays. Flanagan pitched really well after the midseason trade (191 ERA+ in 49.1 IP), but was mediocre in his 2+ years in Toronto. Meanwhile, Mesa stumbled along as a replacement-level starter until 1994, when the Indians moved him to the bullpen.
The Blue Jays are one of the deepest teams in this little "study." They have an outstanding offense, the best bench of any team, and a solid starting rotation, which makes them the best team in the American League.
The Twins miss the cut because they lack a full rotation, but take a look at their lineup:
C Joe Mauer 1B Doug Mientkiewicz 2B Todd Walker 3B Corey Koskie SS Enrique Wilson LF Matt Lawton CF Torii Hunter RF Jacque Jones DH Matt LeCroyThat looks a heck of a lot like the actual 2004 Twins. The team is incredibly deep at catcher (Mauer, A.J. Pierzynski, Damian Miller, Chad Moeller, and Matt LeCroy). They've also got Bobby Kielty and Justin Morneau, and instead of ranting that Michael Cuddyer should be playing second base instead of Luis Rivas, Aaron Gleeman can rant about how Cuddyer should be playing second base instead of Todd Walker.
Other big returns: Jeff Bagwell finally gets to make his Red Sox debut (though it's a little too late), Roger Clemens also returns to Beantown, and Mike Mussina and Armando Benitez are back with the Orioles.
References and Resources
Thanks to everyone who wrote in with corrections. I made a few mistakes, and I appreciate the emails. The article has been corrected to reflect the proper lineups.
Matthew Namee cofounded The Hardball Times in 2004, when he was working as the assistant to baseball author and Red Sox executive Bill James. Matthew still lives in Kansas, where he is currently pursuing a law degree. He can be reached at mfnamee [at] gmail [dot] com.
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