Expansion seasons in Major League Baseball usually means headaches for pitchers -- and collectors. Arizona and Tampa Bay begin play this week, swelling the number of teams to 30 but more important, diluting an already thin pool of talented pitchers. If previous expansion years are any indication, get ready for some high-scoring, three-hour plus affairs with frequent trips by managers to the mound for pitching changes.
For those who love offense -- and most fans would rather watch a home run than a double play -- it's going to be a great year. But for collectors, it will provide a challenge.
In previous years, avid followers of the game could look at early season rosters and decide which players would stick with the club, succeed and thus make their trading cards and other memorabilia worth holding on to -- or trade. Expansion throws a monkey wrench in to the process.
This year, frequent roster changes are likely -- particularly with pitching staffs -- because of the lack of depth at that position. In addition, back up position players also figure to fluctuate on a weekly basis and some players who didn't figure to even be considered for a 25-man roster may wind up sticking -- and succeeding. And, there are even those who were practically out of baseball one year ago, suddenly finding themselves with either a bench or even a starting position because of the addition of the two new teams.
Best advice for collectors: invest more heavily on established teams that figure to contend; Avoid marginal clubs whose rosters will likely change on a regular basis through minor league demotions, waiver deals or trades with another marginal clubs. Tampa and Arizona players are likely to be good bets to hold on to because of their potential resale values once the franchises become more established. Because of free agency and some wild spending by both the two new teams, the wait for them to be competitive figures to be shorter than in the days when the Mets, Astros, Angels and Senators (the second Washington club) entered the league in the early 1960s.
Everyone has an opinion on how the races will shape up so here goes another prognostication to help those undecided about who will be in the penthouse and who will be in the outhouse in this year's long baseball season.
- American League East.
- New York Yankees. Established players, solid everyday lineup and if David Cone stays healthy, a Cy Young Award winner. Rivera in bullpen may wind up being best in league.
- Baltimore. Last year's division champs will miss Randy Myers out of bullpen but still have strong lineup.
- Toronto. Roger Clemens isn't likely to match last year's performance but they do have Myers and improving young lineup.
- Boston. Would be higher but have some injury problems. If Martinez duplicates last year's magic, Red Sox could move up.
- Tampa Bay. Stuck in best division in AL, but they may wind up with better record than Twins, Royals and A's.
- AL Central
- Cleveland. Tribe must get mileage out of young pitchers, still have best everyday lineup in league.
- Chicago White Sox. Only questionable starting staff prevents them from getting nod over Indians; look for Albert Belle to rebound from problems in 97.
- Detroit. Most improved franchise in majors over last two years, one year away from serious contention with young roster.
- Minnesota. Lots of loveable veterans but little punch in lineup after 42-year old Molitor.
- Kansas City. Once-proud franchise paying price for not paying salaries; lots of unknowns.
- AL West
- Anaheim. Angels surprised last year and should emerge from tight three-way race with Mariners and Rangers.
- Seattle. Ken Griffey, Jr., still best in league but iffy bullpen again will plague Mariners.
- Texas. Rangers find way to mess up each year despite load of talent; could move up to top if Gonzalez finds MVP form.
- Oakland. Without McGwire, not only will team be bad again but they will be boring.
- NL East.
- 1. Atlanta. Glavine, Maddux, Neagle and Smoltz. Enough said.
- 2. New York Mets. If young arms recover and Todd Hundley is healthy, could challenge for wild card spot -- and may be even the Braves.
- 3. Philadelphia Most experts pick them again for last but they have developed some good young talent at third and outfield.
- 4. Florida. They still have Sheffield, Bonilla, Johnson and Renteria but starting staff depleted after off-season fire sale.
- 5. Montreal. Felipe Alou a Houdini managing unheralded talent but well may have run dry this year.
- 1. Houston. No one likes defending division champs, but they have three superstars in Bagwell, Biggio and Alou and great one-two starting punch with Hampton and Reynolds.
- 2. Chicago Cubs. Most improved team in league, should get off to fast start and surprisingly deep with starting pitching.
- 3. Cincinnati. Chronic underachievers, Reds will miss oft-injured Larkin to start season but have solid stopper in Shaw.
- 4. St. Louis. Great offense (McGwire, Jordan, Lankford, Gant), little pitching. Each year club beset by injuries, it will again doom Redbirds this year. If they ever get healthy, could wind up first.
- 5. Milwaukee. Brewers' pitchers will learn to hit; will have advantage in interleague games and should stay in contention in tightly-wrapped league.
- 6. Pittsburgh. A surprise last year, Lamont's club will come down to Earth this season.
- NL West
- 1. San Diego. Addition of Brown gives Padres nod in most balanced division in baseball.
- 2. Colorado. Finally added some pitching to monster bats but still lack strong five-man rotation.
- 3. Los Angeles. Rupert Murdoch's best chance for Homer rests with Simpsons instead of moody Dodger bats; still, new owner will make moves down stretch if Dodgers are close.
- 4. San Francisco. Giants lost 11 free agents from division winning squad; still a strong club but not first place material in league's best division.
- 5. Arizona. Diamondbacks will be competitive but still bring up rear in tough NL West.
AL: Yankees, Orioles, Indians and Angels.
NL: Braves, Astros, Padres, Rockies.
AL winner: Yankees
NL winner: Braves
World Series winner: Yankees