New York Yankees

Manager: Joe Torre

2002 finish: 103-58, first place

Story line: The owner is miffed, and Torre and his coaching staff have been put on notice. First place isn't good enough in the Bronx. The Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2000, and that qualifies as a significant drought in George Steinbrenner's world.

Changing faces: No longer content to hoard all the best U.S. free agents, the Yankees signed Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui and Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras. Their bullpen needed some patching after Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza departed as free agents. Left-hander Chris Hammond joined them after resurrecting his career in Atlanta, and he'll replace Stanton as the left-handed setup man. Todd Zeile will back up at third and first base.

Burning question: Can Matsui's power in Japan translate into prodigious home runs in New York, or will bigger ballparks and better pitching slay Godzilla? Early-season struggles would make him a rather large target at Yankee Stadium. Matsui and Contreras are in for a serious case of culture shock.

Boston Red Sox

Manager: Grady Little

2002 finish: 93-69, second place

Story line: New general manager Theo Epstein is out to prove that 29 is old enough to hang with the big boys. It's his turn to build a team capable of overtaking the Yankees and playing deep into October. Will afternoon naps become all the rage at Fenway Park?

Changing faces: With Shea Hillenbrand falling out of favor, the Red Sox signed Bill Mueller to play third base. Their closer, Ugueth Urbina, relocated to Texas, but the bullpen has added Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Timlin and Chad Fox. Seeking to improve their on-base average, with little regard for defense, the Red Sox added Jeremy Giambi, Todd Walker and David Ortiz.

Burning question: Will the closer-by-committee approach work in Boston? It's not a proven method, but the Red Sox will give it a whirl. Epstein believes the save statistic is overrated. Let's see whether he's right.

Toronto Blue Jays

Manager: Carlos Tosca

2002 finish: 78-84, third place

Story line: The Blue Jays will try to escape third place, and at least make a run at the wild card, with a redesigned rotation and a manager getting his first full season in the majors after replacing Buck Martinez in 2002. They're banking on some prospects being ready to contribute this season.

Changing faces: The rotation has a new look with Tanyon Sturtze and Cory Lidle. Frank Catalanotto most likely will play right field, filling a vacancy created when Jose Cruz was non-tendered. Former Oriole Mike Bordick will challenge shortstop Chris Woodward for playing time and provide veteran leadership. Two other former Orioles, pitchers Josh Towers and Doug Linton, signed minor-league deals.

Burning question: Who fills out the rotation behind Roy Halladay, Lidle and Sturtze? Left-hander Mark Hendrickson, a former NBA journeyman, will be given a shot, and the Blue Jays also like Pete Walker and Justin Miller. Not exactly a championship-caliber staff.


Manager: Mike Hargrove

2002 finish: 67-95, fourth place

Story line: The most significant changes have been made in the front office, where Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan are calling the shots and attempting to restore credibility to a franchise that takes more beatings than a dusty rug. They're trying to remain fiscally responsible while adding the necessary players to get this team out of fourth place.

Changing faces: The Orioles added depth to their bullpen with Kerry Ligtenberg, and a much-needed left-hander to their rotation with Omar Daal along with another veteran in Rick Helling. They also replaced shortstop Mike Bordick with Deivi Cruz. Infielders John Valentin and Jeff Reboulet and outfielder B.J. Surhoff signed minor-league contracts.

Burning question: How much heat will Hargrove catch if the Orioles start off slowly or go through another 4-32 stretch? In the final year of his contract, he no longer has Syd Thrift as a lightning rod, and job security becomes an issue. Stay tuned for the dreaded vote of confidence.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Manager: Lou Piniella

2002 finish: 55-106, fifth place

Story line: It's all about Piniella, the most interesting figure to emerge within this sorry franchise. He brings credibility to a team that otherwise has none. If Piniella can turn the Devil Rays into a winner, he also should be able to turn water into wine.

Changing faces: The Devil Rays non-tendered pitchers Tanyon Sturtze, Paul Wilson and Esteban Yan, and released Ryan Rupe, as part of a busy winter. Among the additions: first baseman Travis Lee, shortstop Rey Ordonez, second baseman Marlon Anderson, first baseman/DH Lee Stevens, catcher Jorge Fabregas, outfielder Ryan Thompson and pitchers Steve Parris, Jim Parque and Mel Rojas.

Burning question: Who's going to pitch for this club? As spring training approached, only Joe Kennedy spent a full season in a major-league rotation, and nobody held down the closer's job for a significant period of time. Piniella should regret this career move sometime around March 1.

Teams are listed in order of last year's finish.

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