O's, Red Sox piece together share of title No one beyond compare in position-by-position AL East breakdown

March 29, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

In a position-by-position analysis, the Boston Red Sox and Orioles stack up very closely in the American League East, with the New York Yankees not far behind. The Detroit Tigers are a distant fourth and the Toronto Blue Jays somewhere just above Triple-A.

First basemen

1. Mo Vaughn, Red Sox: Vaughn won AL MVP last year, hitting .300 with 39 homers and 126 RBIs. But he struck out 150 times and is a defensive liability.

2. Rafael Palmeiro, Orioles: He is a very, very close second. Palmeiro is better defensively, and his production is almost identical -- .310 average, 39 homers and 104 RBIs.

3. Tino Martinez, Yankees: He had a terrific season for the Mariners, batting .293 with 31 homers and 111 RBIs in '95 after career highs of .265, 20 and 66. He'll benefit from the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium but miss the stacked Seattle lineup.

4. Cecil Fielder, Tigers: His defensive and base-running liabilities no longer are overshadowed by his power.

5. John Olerud, Blue Jays: Sure, he batted .291 and drew 84 walks for a .398 on-base average, but at SkyDome he had just one homer and 18 RBIs.

Second basemen

1. Roberto Alomar, Orioles: Montreal manager Felipe Alou recently talked about how there are few players with a gift for greatness, mentioning Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente -- and Alomar, all in the same breath. Great defense, great offense, great presence.

2. Wil Cordero, Red Sox: The Red Sox got him from the Expos and moved him from short to second, hoping to lessen his shoulder trouble. He is a solid hitter.

3. Mark Lewis, Tigers: He had potential for stardom when Cleveland made him the second pick overall in the draft in 1988 but hadn't showed it in the majors until batting .339 in 81 games last year for the Reds.

4. Mariano Duncan, Yankees: Duncan is a good veteran, perfectly suited as role player. But as a regular at second base, in the absence of the injured Pat Kelly and Tony Fernandez, Duncan is out of his element.

5. To be named, Blue Jays: Domingo Cedeno, Felipe Crespo and Tilson Brito all might get a chance to follow Alomar.

Third basemen

1. Wade Boggs, Yankees: He's breaking down more frequently now, his speed has gone from bad to worse, and his 1995 Gold Glove probably was a result of there being so few good third basemen in the league. But Boggs still hits: .324 with 22 doubles, four triples and five homers in '95.

2. Travis Fryman, Tigers: A strong Gold Glove candidate, he batted .275 with 15 homers and 81 RBIs.

3. B. J. Surhoff, Orioles: He is the most underrated of the Orioles' acquisitions, a line-drive, left-handed hitter who can hit left-handed pitchers. He'll struggle in the field, at least early.

4. Tim Naehring, Red Sox: Naehring, hampered by injuries for much of his career, had his best season last year, a career-high 10 homers with 57 RBIs and a .307 batting average. He is one of Boston's better defensive players (that's not saying much, really).

5. Ed Sprague, Blue Jays: He is consistent, no question. He batted .275 in his first year, and since then his average hasn't fluctuated much -- .234, .260, .240, .244. He may be the most average player in the East.

Shortstops

1. John Valentin, Red Sox: Other than Cincinnati's Barry Larkin, he's the best all-around shortstop in baseball. Last year, Valentin hit .298 with 27 homers, 108 runs, 102 RBIs, 20 steals and 37 doubles. He drew 81 walks. He's average defensively.

2. Cal Ripken, Orioles: His consecutive-games streak is at 2,153 games and counting. Ripken catches everything hit to him, and he's fabulous on grounders up the middle. Nearing his 36th birthday, Ripken is a complementary offensive force now -- he hit 17 homers and drove in 88 runs.

3. Derek Jeter, Yankees: He is a rookie shortstop in New York, and that will present problems when he struggles. But there is every reason to believe Jeter eventually will be a star. Only 21, he hit .317 with 20 steals, 27 doubles and nine triples in Triple-A. He's erratic defensively.

4. Alex Gonzalez, Blue Jays: A big disappointment in 1994, he bounced back to hit .243 with 19 doubles and 10 homers. He made 17 errors.

5. Chris Gomez, Tigers: Gomez hit .223 with 50 RBIs and is serviceable until Detroit finds somebody better.

Catchers

1. Mike Stanley, Red Sox: The Yankees let him go because they didn't think he could handle pitchers anymore. Apparently the Red Sox didn't agree -- they signed Stanley to be their everyday catcher and bat No. 5 or No. 6.

2. Joe Girardi, Yankees: He's a good defensive player who will bat for a decent average, but few people can figure out why New York dumped Stanley, then traded prospects the Rockies to for a relatively expensive singles hitter.

3. Chris Hoiles, Orioles: If Hoiles can't catch effectively with shoulder arthritis, he'll be used in other roles, such as DH. He batted .291 after the All-Star break.

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