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The A's, Twins and Orioles have all dealt young, ace pitchers this winter to 're-build' and build for the future. The Twins and A's were forced to because of financial restraints, and the Orioles are just dumb. But when you look to build a team to win, how should you build it?
Let's look at how the recent champions have been built -
Pitching: Top heavy both in their rotation and their bullpen. Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling were the only starters with ERAs better than league average, and Papelbon and Okajima were dominant in the pen.
Offense: Again, pretty top heavy. The top of order was the best in the league, while the bottom four was nothing but average.
Pitching: A bunch of average starters and a dominant bullpen did the trick for the Cardinals (remember Carpenter was hurt by the playoffs).
Offense: Albert Pujols and a bunch of average, so-so hitters were all the Cards had. You really have to chalk the Cards' win up to a hot streak at the right time.
Pitching: This was a team with tremendous depth in their pitching staff. Four starters with an ERA+ of 116 or better, and a bullpen with five relievers better than that 116 mark.
Pitching: Very similar makeup to the '07 team, though different players. Schilling and Pedro were dominant in the rotation, while the rest of the guys were average at best. Keith Foulke was dominant, but the rest of the pen was shaky.
Offense: This was a dominant offensive team. Five hitters hit .295 or better, and their #9 hitter, Mark Bellhorn, hit 17 homers and drove in 82.
Pitching: A solid, but unspectacular starting staff was aided by a dominant bullpen. K-Rod put the finishing touches on one of the best bullpens of the modern era when he came up as a 20 year old in September to blow everyone away.
Offense: Troy Glaus and Garrett Anderson had very good years in the middle of the lineup, and the rest of the lineup were filled out with workman-like guys such as Scott Spiezio, David Eckstein, and Adam Kennedy.
Offense: The D-Backs offense was all about Luis Gonzalez - his 128 runs were 62 more than the next D-Back (Reggie Sanders), his 142 RBI were 52 more than the next closest (Sanders), and his 57 homers were 24 more than his closest teammate (Sanders again). Once again, the offense was two big boppers in the middle of the lineup, and a bunch of no-namers surrounding them.
What we can learn from this?
Pitching: First off, with the possible exception of the '03 Marlins, every other team had a dominant closer and reliable setup man. As far as the starting staff goes, its a pretty even split between teams with top of the line guys who head the staff, and teams who are solid throughout the rotation. The Angels, Marlins and Cardinals have proven that you don't have to have that Cy Young candidate pitcher to win it all.
Offense: This is more clear. Other than the '04 Red Sox, these have not been dominant offensive teams who have won it all. What each team has had is two guys in the middle of the lineup who have big years. The rest of the lineup is made up of servicable, decent guys who will hold their own. They aren't automatic outs (you can't give away outs in the postseason), but the World Series is not won with nine guys bashing homeruns all over the park.
So who is set up to win this year based on this formula?
Boston: I'm not convinced that Lowell can repeat his production from last year, but Manny should come up big in his walk year to give the Sox a dynamic duo with Ortiz in the middle of the lineup. The pitching staff has the horses in the pen with Okajima and Papelbon, but the rotation is the question mark. The key here is Daisuke Matsuzaka - can he be the #2 starter the Sox need?
Yankees: Again, the offense is not the question. If the Yankees can stay healthy and get something from first base, they could score 1000 runs this season. The question marks are in the pitching staff. Who will be that top setup man for Mariano Rivera? The rotation should be fine, but it may take some time to sort out who is for real out of the contenders for the last 2-3 spots in the rotation.
Cleveland: The lineup features a bunch of pretty good hitters, but someone will have to step up to that elite level for the Indians to fit the model. Travis Hafner has done it in the past, but was certainly off last season. Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Ryan Garko are all young guys who could be big-time hitters. The rotation fits with the D-Backs model - two exceptional guys in Sabathia and Carmona will win the big ones. But can a team with Joe Borowski as its closer really win it all? I doubt it.
Detroit: Another team like the '04 Sox with a 1-9 lineup. They have the two dominant hitters in the middle in Miggy and Magglio, but their #9 hitter should hit 20 homeruns this year (Marcus Thames). The pitching staff is just as good - if Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman come back from off years the team will be strong 1-5 in the rotation, but no Cy Young candidates (with the possible exception of Justin Verlander). Worst case, the bullpen will be strong again once Joel Zumaya comes back sometime around the All-Star break.
Seattle: The Mariners just don't have the offense to fit the model. Who are the two guys in the middle of the lineup to strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitching staffs? Ichiro could be one, but who else? Richie Sexson? He hit .205 last year. Adrian Beltre? He has one season with more than 26 home runs. The pitching staff is set up well in the rotation, but question marks in the bullpen behind closer J.J. Putz also eliminate the Mariners from championship contention.
LA Angels: They are still operating off the same model that won it all for them in '02 - a solid 1-5 rotation and a dominant bullpen. The problem is that they still haven't found a Robin to team with their batman - Vladimir Guerrero. With Guerrero seemingly on the downside, time is running out.
Philadelphia: This is a team that fits the model pretty well. A strong front of the rotation, big hitters in the middle of the lineup, and good supporting players surrounding them. The question mark with this team is the bullpen. Can Brad Lidge be that dominant closer again now that he is out of Houston? (I say yes - his peripherals still point to a guy with dominant stuff). And can Tom Gordon be a reliable setup man at age 40? (I say no way).
Mets: This team fits the model as well or better than the Phillies. Dominant 1-2 punch in the middle of the lineup? Yes - Carlos Beltran and David Wright. The rest of the lineup filled with decent complementary players? Yup - veterans like Luis Castillo, Carlos Delgado, not to mention Jose Reyes at the top of the order. Rotation? With Johan and Pedro at the front they have no problem there. Bullpen? Billy Wagner is still listed in every poll as the hardest thrower in the league, and Aaron Heilman has been consistently good at getting him the ball. The only real question with the Mets is health - Pedro, Delgado, and setup man Duanar Sanchez all have health issues that could knock the Mets off the top of their division.
Cubs: The lineup actually has three dominant hitters - Derrek Lee, Alfonso Soriano, and Aramis Ramirez. The pitching staff is the problem. An unproven closer and a #2 starter (Ted Lilly) who has only been average throughout his career make the Cubs a long shot to win it all.
Arizona: The pitching is definitely there, especially with the acquisition of Danny Haren. The issue is with the lineup. Right now, there isn't anyone to fill that role of elite hitter who pitchers don't want to face. Chris B. Young and Justin Upton will eventually be that two-some, but they are not there yet. This team is probably one year away from being the team to beat in the NL, though they will probably win the division again.
Colorado: The rotation fits the model of having five solid starters, and the bullpen is dominant at the back end with Manny Corpas and Brian Fuentes. Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki form the fearsome middle of the order, giving the Rockies all the ingredients of contending for another NL Pennant.
O.k., so based on the look at what it takes to win it all, here are my rankings:
Have What it Takes: Boston, Detroit, Yankees, Philadelphia, Mets, and Colorado
Second Tier (One Player Away): LA Angels, Arizona, and Cleveland
Exit Left (First round Fodder for the real contenders): Cubs, Seattle