AMERICAN LEAGUE

TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST (In order of predicted finsih)

SEATTLE MARINERS

WHO'S NEW: 1B--David Segui. OF--Glenallen Hill. P--Bill Swift, Tony Fossas, Jim Bullinger.

WHO'S GONE: 1B--Paul Sorrento. P--Norm Charlton. INF--Mike Blowers. OF--Roberto Kelly.

STRENGTHS: How many teams have a No. 9 hitter who had 20 home runs last year? The Mariners, with Russ Davis, are one such team. There's very little speed, but with Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Segui and Jay Buhner, Manager Lou Piniella won't need to flash many stolen-base signs.

WEAKNESSES: Piniella is confident his bullpen will be better, but Heathcliff Slocumb has been so shaky this spring that Bobby Ayala might open as the team's closer. Randy Johnson heads a strong rotation, but one major injury to a starter could be devastating to a staff with little depth.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 2B--Joey Cora, SS--Rodriguez, CF--Griffey, DH--Martinez, 1B--Segui, RF--Buhner, LF--Hill, C--Dan Wilson, 3B--Davis. SP--Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Jeff Fassero, Ken Cloude, Swift. RP--Slocumb, Ayala, Mike Timlin, Paul Spoljaric, Fossas.

OUTLOOK: Johnson is still unhappy the Mariners have not traded him or signed him to a contract extension, and that probably will be a distraction all season. But Seattle still has one of baseball's most lethal offenses.

ANAHEIM ANGELS

WHO'S NEW: DH--Cecil Fielder. P--Jack McDowell. 2B--Norberto Martin. C/INF--Phil Nevin. C--Matt Walbeck.

WHO'S GONE: 2B--Tony Phillips. P--Mark Langston, Dennis Springer. INF--Luis Alicea, Jack Howell. OF--Rickey Henderson. C--Chad Kreuter.

STRENGTHS: A rotation of Chuck Finley, Ken Hill, McDowell, Allen Watson and Jason Dickson is the deepest and most talented since Langston, Finley, Jim Abbott and Kirk McCaskill pitched for the Angels in 1991. Closer Troy Percival should return to his dominating 1996 form, and the Angels have the potential to score many runs.

WEAKNESSES: The loss of injured catcher Todd Greene, a 25-homer threat, and second baseman Randy Velarde will take a chunk out of the offense. What the Angels lack in speed they again will have to make up for with aggressive, smart baserunning and clutch hitting.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 1B--Darin Erstad, CF--Jim Edmonds, 3B--Dave Hollins, RF--Tim Salmon, DH--Fielder, LF--Garret Anderson, C--Walbeck/Nevin, 2B--Martin, SS--Gary DiSarcina. SP--Finley, Hill, McDowell, Watson, Dickson. RP--Percival, Mike James, Mike Holtz, Rich DeLucia, Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

OUTLOOK: Velarde, sidelined all of 1997 because of elbow reconstruction surgery, might return in April, but Greene, recovering from shoulder surgery, might be out a month or two. Without Greene, the Angel offense might be a notch below Seattle's.

TEXAS RANGERS

WHO'S NEW: SS--Kevin Elster. P--Aaron Sele. INF--Luis Alicea. OF--Roberto Kelly.

WHO'S GONE: SS--Benji Gil. C--Jim Leyritz. INF--Bill Ripken. OF--Damon Buford.

STRENGTHS: Texas' rotation is deep and capable, though not intimidating. Having a sound Juan Gonzalez for a whole season will boost the offense, and the bench was upgraded with the addition of Alicea and Kelly.

WEAKNESSES: Tom Goodwin has more stolen bases in the last three years than any other player, but his .314 on-base percentage last season was awful for a leadoff hitter. Will Clark has been on the disabled list five times in the last two seasons, and Mark McLemore had off-season surgery on both knees.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Goodwin, 2B--McLemore, LF--Rusty Greer, RF--Gonzalez, 1B--Clark, C--Ivan Rodriguez, DH--Lee Stevens, SS--Elster, 3B--Fernando Tatis. SP--John Burkett, Darren Oliver, Sele, Rick Helling, Bobby Witt/Roger Pavlik. RP--John Wetteland, Danny Patterson, Xavier Hernandez.

OUTLOOK: This team still has the talent to make it a three-way race in the West, but it cannot afford major injuries.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

WHO'S NEW: P--Tom Candiotti, Kenny Rogers, Mike Fetters. OF--Rickey Henderson. 3B--Mike Blowers. SS--Kurt Abbott.

WHO'S GONE: OF--Jose Canseco. INF--Scott Brosius. C--Brent Mayne.

STRENGTHS: The A's don't have much home run power, but they have a lot of contact and line-drive hitters and should have decent extra-base power. The bullpen has improved to a point where teams actually were inquiring about trades for A's relievers this spring.

WEAKNESSES: Oakland is young and, aside from Henderson, who is returning for his fourth stint with the A's, there is little speed. The rotation drops off considerably after Candiotti and Rogers, and those two aren't that great, either. The defense stinks.

PROJECTED LINEUP: LF--Henderson, CF--Jason McDonald, RF--Ben Grieve, DH--Matt Stairs, 1B--Jason Giambi, 3B--Blowers, 2B--Scott Spiezio, C--A.J. Hinch, SS--Abbott. SP--Candiotti, Rogers, Jimmy Haynes, Brad Rigby, Mike Oquist/Ariel Prieto. RP--Fetters, Bill Taylor, T.J. Mathews, Mike Mohler, Buddy Groom.

OUTLOOK: Grieve, a rookie-of-the-year candidate, has a sweet left-handed stroke that will give A's fans reason to be optimistic about the future, but the present looks bleak. A 70-win season would be a major achievement.

CENTRAL

CLEVELAND INDIANS

WHO'S NEW: OF--Kenny Lofton, Geronimo Berroa. 3B--Travis Fryman. P--Dwight Gooden, Steve Karsay. 2B--Shawon Dunston.

WHO'S GONE: 3B--Matt Williams. OF--Marquis Grissom. P--Orel Hershiser, Brian Anderson, Albie Lopez, Jack McDowell. 2B--Tony Fernandez, INF--Bip Roberts, Kevin Seitzer.

STRENGTHS: The offense might be better than it was in 1997, when the Indians came within a game of winning the World Series. The speedy Lofton is glad to be back in Cleveland, and the bullpen, despite Jose Mesa's occasional late-inning transgressions, is still as good as any in baseball.

WEAKNESSES: Though Jaret Wright could emerge as one of baseball's best young pitchers, the rotation is thin. The Indians will be shaky at second base no matter who plays there--Dunston or rookie Enrique Wilson--and catcher Sandy Alomar has been slowed because of a pulled groin.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Lofton, SS--Omar Vizquel, DH--David Justice, RF--Manny Ramirez, 1B--Jim Thome, LF--Berroa, 3B--Fryman, C--Alomar, 2B--Dunston. SP--Charles Nagy, Wright, Gooden, Bartolo Colon, Karsay. RP--Mesa, Paul Shuey, Mike Jackson, Paul Assenmacher, Eric Plunk.

OUTLOOK: A fourth consecutive division title is well within reach, but Cleveland might not have the dominant pitcher or two necessary to win a short playoff series. Of course, General Manager John Hart could have that pitcher by July and be primed for another World Series run.

DETROIT TIGERS

WHO'S NEW: INF--Bip Roberts. 3B--Joe Randa. P--Tim Worrell, Frank Castillo, Bryce Florie. OF--Luis Gonzalez.

WHO'S GONE: 3B--Travis Fryman. P--Willie Blair. C--Matt Walbeck. C/INF--Phil Nevin. 1B--Bob Hamelin. P--Mike Myers. OF--Melvin Nieves.

STRENGTHS: The top of the lineup has excellent speed in Brian Hunter, the first Tiger since Ty Cobb to lead the majors in stolen bases (74) last season, and power in Tony Clark, one of baseball's up-and-coming sluggers who has shortened his stroke this spring without losing power. Todd Jones and Doug Brocail (1.08 earned-run average in his last 50 innings last season) head a solid bullpen.

WEAKNESSES: Brian Moehler is a capable pitcher, but he's more of a No. 4 or 5 starter, and the fact that he's second behind the gifted Justin Thompson doesn't bode well. Thompson had elbow surgery this winter. Smooth-fielding shortstop Deivi Cruz (broken ankle) won't return until late April.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Hunter, DH--Roberts, RF--Bobby Higginson, 1B--Clark, LF--Gonzalez, 2B--Damion Easley, 3B--Randa, C--Joe Oliver/Raul Casanova SS--Bill Ripken. SP--Thompson, Moehler, Worrell, Castillo, Scott Sanders. RP--Jones, Brocail, Florie, A.J. Sager, Sean Runyan.

OUTLOOK: The Tigers make the most of their $23-million payroll and already have locked up several key players (Clark, Higginson, Easley) to long-term contracts. They're not quite ready to contend but are poised to spend more and make a strong run when their new stadium opens in 2000.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

WHO'S NEW: C--Chad Kreuter, Charlie O'Brien. SS--Benji Gil. OF--Wil Cordero.

WHO'S GONE: SS--Ozzie Guillen. OF--Dave Martinez, Lyle Mouton. P--Doug Drabek. C--Ron Karkovice.

STRENGTHS: Albert Belle has lost some weight without losing muscle, and the temperamental left fielder appeared to have a much better attitude this spring. If Belle, Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura have the seasons they're capable of, the heart of Chicago's order is as good as any in baseball.

WEAKNESSES: The White Sox don't have the starting pitching to contend, and they will get very little offense from a catching platoon of Kreuter and O'Brien. A team that was tied for last in fielding percentage in 1997 must improve defensively.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 2B--Ray Durham, CF--Mike Cameron, DH--Thomas, LF--Belle, 3B--Ventura, RF--Magglio Ordonez, 1B--Greg Norton, C--Kreuter/O'Brien, SS--Mike Caruso. SP--Jamie Navarro, Scott Eyre, James Baldwin, Jason Bere, Mike Sirotka. RP--Matt Karchner, Jim Bullinger, Keith Foulke, Nelson Cruz, Tony Castillo.

OUTLOOK: Ordonez is Chicago's seventh opening-day right fielder in seven years, but the multitalented rookie-of-the-year candidate should put an end to that streak. Additionally, a 20-year-old (Caruso) will start at shortstop. Too much inexperience and not enough pitching to contend.

MINNESOTA TWINS

WHO'S NEW: OF--Otis Nixon. P--Mike Morgan.

WHO'S GONE: OF--Rich Becker. P--Rich Robertson.

STRENGTHS: Tom Kelly has a reputation for getting the most out of his teams, but he'll be hard-pressed to turn this bunch into winners. Still, with an abundance of contact hitters, the always-reliable Paul Molitor and Kelly's use of the hit and run, Minnesota could give opponents problems.

WEAKNESSES: The Twins, last in the league in homers last season, haven't added much power. Brad Radke's 20-win season in 1997 was one of baseball's most incredible accomplishments, but there isn't much pitching behind him.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Nixon, RF--Matt Lawton, DH--Molitor, LF--Marty Cordova, 3B--Ron Coomer, C--Terry Steinbach, 1B--Orlando Merced, 2B--Todd Walker, SS--Pat Meares. SP--Radke, Bob Tewksbury, Morgan, LaTroy Hawkins, Eric Milton. RP--Rick Aguilera, Greg Swindell, Eddie Guardado, Mike Trombley, Frank Rodriguez.

OUTLOOK: The Twins will need huge years from Tewksbury and Morgan, who will tie a major league record (held by Ken Brett, Bob L. Miller and Tommy Davis) by playing for his 10th team, to be merely competitive.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

WHO'S NEW: OF--Jeff Conine, Ernie Young. DH--Hal Morris. P--Lee Smith.

WHO'S GONE: SS--Jay Bell. DH--Chili Davis. INF--David Howard.

STRENGTHS: Well, the Royals certainly have some older guys in Smith (40), Tim Belcher (36), Jeff Montgomery (35), Morris (33) and Jeff King (33), but Manager Tony Muser gladly would exchange some of that experience for talent.

WEAKNESSES: Kevin Appier, who had shoulder and collarbone surgery, probably won't pitch until the all-star break. The Royals are weak defensively and lack power and speed.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Johnny Damon, 2B--Jose Offerman, DH--Morris, 1B--King, LF--Conine, 3B--Dean Palmer, RF--Larry Sutton/Young, C--Mike Sweeney, SS--Felix Martinez. SP--Belcher, Appier, Jose Rosado, Chris Haney, Hipolito Pichardo. RP--Montgomery, Matt Whisenant, Smith.

OUTLOOK: The Royals are coming off back-to-back last-place finishes for the first time in franchise history, and they're a good bet to three-peat. Perhaps the situation might improve when the Royals finally find a buyer for the franchise, which is currently up for auction.

EAST

NEW YORK YANKEES

WHO'S NEW: 2B--Chuck Knoblauch. DH--Chili Davis. 3B--Scott Brosius. P--Darren Holmes.

WHO'S GONE: 3B--Wade Boggs. DH/1B--Cecil Fielder. P--Dwight Gooden, Kenny Rogers. 3B--Charlie Hayes, 2B--Pat Kelly. INF--Mike Stanley.

STRENGTHS: This lineup is downright scary, an impressive blend of power from both sides and speed at the top with Knoblauch and Derek Jeter. If David Cone remains sound and Hideki Irabu maintains his composure, New York will have a formidable rotation. The bullpen is so deep the 10th player on the pitching staff (Holmes) has a multiyear contract.

WEAKNESSES: Cone has looked great this spring, but the Yankees are somewhat concerned about the shoulder surgery he had this winter and how he'll hold up. The rotation also becomes a bit unstable with Irabu and Ramiro Mendoza.

PROJECTED LINEUP: 2B--Knoblauch, SS--Jeter, RF--Paul O'Neill, CF--Bernie Williams, 1B--Tino Martinez, DH--Davis, LF--Chad Curtis/Darryl Strawberry/Tim Raines, 3B--Brosius, C--Joe Girardi. SP--Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Cone, Irabu, Mendoza. RP--Mariano Rivera, Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton, Graeme Lloyd, Holmes, Willie Banks.

OUTLOOK: The Yankee-Oriole rivalry is the hottest in baseball, and owners George Steinbrenner and Peter Angelos seem to spend each winter trying to outdo each other, but Steinbrenner's acquisition of Knoblauch should give the Yankees the upper hand. New York has the front-line pitching to get back to the World Series.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

WHO'S NEW: OF--Joe Carter. P--Doug Drabek, Norm Charlton.

WHO'S GONE: P--Randy Myers, Shawn Boskie. OF--Geronimo Berroa.

STRENGTHS: The addition of Carter and the presence of Eric Davis for a full season give Baltimore more offensive depth, and the Orioles believe they'll get more production from Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro, who is in the last year of a contract. Mike Mussina is one of baseball's best pitchers.

WEAKNESSES: Catcher Chris Hoiles had a 13% success rate throwing out base stealers last season, and backup Lenny Webster is having elbow problems after surgery. Myers, who had 45 saves in 46 chances last season, will be a tough act for new closer Armando Benitez to follow.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Anderson, 2B--Roberto Alomar, 1B--Palmeiro, RF--Davis, DH--Carter/Harold Baines, 3B--Cal Ripken Jr., LF--B.J. Surhoff, C--Hoiles, SS--Mike Bordick. SP--Mussina, Scott Erickson, Jimmy Key, Scott Kamieniecki, Drabek. RP--Benitez, Arthur Rhodes, Alan Mills, Charlton, Terry Mathews.

OUTLOOK: There is more than enough pitching and hitting to contend for a wild-card spot, but the Yankees were actually 7 1/2 games better than the Orioles from last July on, and Baltimore does not appear to have improved enough to repeat as division champion.

BOSTON RED SOX

WHO'S NEW: P--Pedro Martinez, Dennis Eckersley. C--Jim Leyritz. OF--Darren Lewis, Damon Buford.

WHO'S GONE: P--Aaron Sele, Jeff Suppan. OF--Wil Cordero, Shane Mack. C--Bill Haselman.

STRENGTHS: With Mo Vaughn at first, Nomar Garciaparra at shortstop and John Valentin at third, few teams pack more infield punch; they combined for 83 homers and 271 runs batted in last season. Martinez, Boston's $75-million man, should have little trouble adjusting to the AL, and the bullpen is competent.

WEAKNESSES: Second baseman Jeff Frye is out for the season because of a knee injury. Third baseman Tim Naehring is recovering from elbow surgery and is out indefinitely. There is no power in the outfield, and the team ranked last in the league in fielding in 1997.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Lewis, SS--Garciaparra, 3B--Valentin, 1B--Vaughn, C--Leyritz, DH--Reggie Jefferson, LF--Troy O'Leary, RF--Darren Bragg, 2B--Mike Gallego. SP--Martinez, Tim Wakefield, Derrick Lowe, Brian Rose, Bret Saberhagen. RP--Tom Gordon, Eckersley, Jim Corsi, Ron Mahay, Steve Avery.

OUTLOOK: The rotation thins out considerably after Martinez, but if Boston gets any pitching it could compete for a wild-card spot. The Red Sox led the major leagues in hitting (.291) last season and were fifth in runs (851).

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

WHO'S NEW: P--Randy Myers. DH--Jose Canseco. 2B--Tony Fernandez. 1B--Mike Stanley. INF--Craig Grebeck.

WHO'S GONE: OF--Joe Carter, Orlano Merced. C--Charlie O'Brien. 2B--Mariano Duncan.

STRENGTHS: Every manager in baseball, with the possible exception of Atlanta's Bobby Cox, would trade his rotation straight up for Toronto's. Roger Clemens (1997) and Pat Hentgen (1996) have won the last two Cy Young awards, and Juan Guzman appears healthy again.

WEAKNESSES: The Blue Jays don't need to be the 1927 Yankees to win, but they can't be the 1997 Blue Jays again. That team ranked last in the major leagues in batting (.244) and second-to-last in runs (654). Catcher Benito Santiago (knee injury) and DH Carlos Delgado (shoulder) are out until at least June, and the Toronto outfield is very young.

PROJECTED LINEUP: LF--Shannon Stewart, 2B--Fernandez, RF--Shawn Green, DH--Canseco, 1B--Stanley, CF--Jose Cruz, C--Darrin Fletcher, 3B--Ed Sprague, SS--Alex Gonzalez. SP--Clemens, Hentgen, Guzman, Chris Carpenter, Erik Hanson/Woody Williams. RP--Myers, Kelvim Escobar, Paul Quantrill, Dan Plesac.

OUTLOOK: If you could combine the Blue Jay pitching staff with the offense of Seattle or Cleveland, you might have the second coming of the 1976 Cincinnati Reds. But until Toronto can add some legitimate pop to its lineup, the Blue Jays won't be able to contend with the Yankees or Orioles.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS

WHO'S NEW: Everyone.

STRENGTHS: The rotation, with Wilson Alvarez, Rolando Arrojo, Tony Saunders and former Angel Dennis Springer, isn't bad for an expansion team, and the Devil Rays have plenty of left-handed power with Fred McGriff and Paul Sorrento, whose eyes will light up at Tropicana Field's 315-foot right-field porch.

WEAKNESSES: It might be a stretch to have aging Wade Boggs hit third, but the Devil Rays will have good speed in front of him and will use the hit and run often. If Alvarez or Arrojo suffer a major injury, there is virtually no starting pitching in the organization.

PROJECTED LINEUP: CF--Quinton McCracken, LF--Mike Kelly, 3B--Boggs, 1B--McGriff, DH--Sorrento, RF--Dave Martinez, C--John Flaherty, SS--Kevin Stocker, 2B--Miguel Cairo. SP--Alvarez, Arrojo, Saunders, Springer, Rick Gorecki. RP--Roberto Hernandez, Albie Lopez, Jim Mecir, Ramon Tatis.

OUTLOOK: The Devil Rays' magic number is 70, the record for victories by an expansion team, set by the 1961 Angels. That might be within reach if Tampa Bay gets good starting pitching. A bullpen headed by closer Hernandez also should be an asset.

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