What Might Have Been (Part Two: AL)

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).

Cleveland Indians

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 Thome

We’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 Baez

The 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 Williams

Well, 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 Rivera

Pettitte 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 …

Oakland A’s

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 Giambi

In 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 Harden

We’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.

Seattle Mariners

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 Martinez

It’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 Fuentes

Oh, 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?

Texas Rangers

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 Teixeira

That’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 Kolb

That 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 Delgado

Last 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 Timlin

Jose 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 LeCroy

That 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 & 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.

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