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2010 Baseball Previews: AL Central– Has the Tiger’s Hot Stove Hurt or Helped?

Posted on March 10, 2010 by Don Spieles

Last season the closest race in the Major Leagues was the American League Central.  Aside from in April when Kansas City (no, that is not a mistake) led the division, the Tigers held the reins up until the very end. They blew a three game lead in the last four days of the season and ended up in a one game playoff with the Twins.  Detroit lost that game in Minnesota in extra innings on a walk-off single by Alexi Casilla.

They just don’t get any closer than that.

1.  Chicago White Sox

The Chi-Sox have put together (almost under the radar) a very interesting pitching rotation.

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle pitches against the New York Yankees

Mark Buehrle, who threw a perfect game in '09, will lead a very interesting White Sox rotation in 2010.

  1. Mark Buehrle (LHP)
  2. Jake Peavy (RHP)
  3. John Danks (LHP)
  4. Gavin Floyd (RHP)
  5. Freddy Garcia (RHP)

While most fantasy players are still thinking harder about the Yankees and Red Sox rotations, this one-through-five is nothing to scoff at.  White Sox GM Ken Williams agrees, has this to say to MLB.com:

“[The White Sox] are as good as you can possibly be, one through five.  Actually, one through six.”

While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, a season of health for the five men listed above could mean great things for the South Siders.

At least on defense.

On the run-scoring side of the coin, things are not as obviously sparkling.  There’s Carlos Quentin, the injury prone left fielder who has yet to play a full season in Chi-town.  Last year, plantar fasciitis limited him to jut 99 games.  The good news might be that in those games he managed 21 home runs (34 prorated to a full season).  Not out of this world, but not bad.  His batting average needs to come up (.236 in ’09) to make the fans happy.

Of bigger concern is Alex Rios, acquired from Toronto mid-season ’09.  Traded from the Blue Jay’s  because of a large salary (remainder of a seven year, $68 million dollars) and lackluster performance (.264 average, 14 home runs, .427 slugging). When he landed in Chicago things got worse.  In 41 games he batted .199, hit only 3 home runs, struck out 29 times to only 6 walks over 154 plate appearances.  There is reasonable probability that he’ll experience some resurgence on 2010 (he just turned 29).  The White Sox, on the hook for at least 59.7 million through 2015, certainly hope so.

Chicago picked up Juan Pierre who was a huge asset to the Dodgers last season when Manny Ramirez was suspended.  It’s entirely possible that Pierre will start in left and Quentin will begin the season as the regular DH.  There question mark there deals with the idea that Ozzie Guillen wants to use the DH as a rotating spot for keeping people fresh, a change in philosophy after years with standard DH’s like Jim Thome and Frank Thomas.

The White Sox are certainly not styled to be a juggernaut, but if the Twins DL contains the name we’ve been hearing that it may, the Chi-Sox are in like Flynn.

Who Will Win the AL Central?

  • Chicago White Sox (56%, 9 Votes)
  • Detroit Tigers (31%, 5 Votes)
  • Minnesota Twins (13%, 2 Votes)
  • Kansas City Royals (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 16

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2. Minnesota Twins

Minnesota's star catcher, Joe Mauer, will be a free agent after this season unless the Twins can get him signed.

The Twins have added Orlando Hudson (.283 BA, .357 OBP, 99 K’s for ’09) the strike out prone second baseman that all the pundits seem to think was a fantastic move for the club.  Some projected line-ups have Hudson batting in the two spot, which seems very high considering his recent work.  J.J. Hardy brings his .169 average against lefties to the line-up, as well as Brendan Harris who loses over 100 average points (.311 vs. .207) when they play on the road.

All is not dark at the plate.  Of course they still have Joe Mauer (138 games, 28 homers, .365 BA, and .444 OBP for ’09) and perhaps even more of him since last season he spent some time on the DL.  Perennial home run derby entrant Justin Morneau (30 homers, .274 BA, .363 OBP for ’09) is still at first base.  In 2009 he only played in 135 games, but did you know that in the three years prior he missed only ten starts out of 487 possible, including a perfect 163 in 2008?

Pitching remains very stable for Minnesota, if not wholly promising.  Carl Pavano gave some folks hope last season but ended 5-4 after arriving in town. Francisco Liriano could be the key.  He was abysmal on ’09 (5-13, 5.80 ERA).  Supposedly he’s looked very good in winter ball, but winter ball isn’t MLB.

The big mystery for this years Twins will be Target Field.  While it will not be the frozen tundra that some seem to think, it will mean very few domed games for the Twins this year.  At home last year the Twins had a winning rate of .598 against .469 on the road. It is certainly possible to conceive of scenarios where there home winning rate drops due to the new, outdoor venue.

Traditionally looked at as the small market team they are with a budget to match, a contract extension for Mauer should put the Twins payroll over $100 million.  PECOTA says the Twins are spending wisely, predicting then as finishing atop the division.  At least they did prior to the news about Joe Nathan’s elbow problems, which effectively eliminate them from that possibility.  Either Nathan takes the season off to have Tommy John surgery or he tries to work through it.  In either scenario, the Twins are going to miss some wins – whether it’s due to a injured Nathan or a DL Nathan.

Joe Nathan’s value over replacement player (VORP) is five wins.  For a team that needed a 1 game playoff in the last two seasons in order to get to the playoffs, five less wins is the kiss of death, at least for finishing first.

3. Kansas City Royals

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Los Angeles Dodgers

Royals catcher jason Kendall adds some verteran experience to the squad.

The Royals are the team that everyone wants to rank higher but can’t.  They have the reigning AL Cy Young winner, Zach Greinke, and are counting on him doing more of the same in 2010.  The have Joakim Soria had 42 and 30 saves in ’08 and ’09 with a combined ERA of 1.91 over 120.1 innings.  Brian Bannister could be helpful if he can perform like he did in the first half of ’09 (3.66 ERA) and not like he did after the All-Star Break (6.63 ERA).  Last year this all added up to only 65 wins, even with a hot start.  This year it should add up to more.

Some free agent acquisitions could add to the level of improvement the Royals see. Rick Ankiel came from the Cardinals where his pitcher-turned-slugger story went through a tough chapter in ’09 (11 home runs, .231 BA, .672 OPS) after such a big splash in ’08 (25 home runs, .264 BA, .843 OPS). Scott Posednik had a resurgent year for the ChiSox in ’09 (.304 BA, .764 OPS) and could be a viable replacement for Coco Crisp in the lead off spot.  The Royals have also brought in verteran catcher Jason Kendall, a defensive improvement who, while not hitting home runs, does have a .343 OBP over the past three seasons.

There is a slightly better combination of veterans and young guys with some talent than in years past.  If the Royals can get some guidance for the youth out of vets like Kendall and David DeJesus, they will experience an improvement of 12 wins or so over last season.

4. Detroit Tigers

March 31, 2008 - Kansas City Royals v. Detroit Tigers

Miguel Cabrera is the early favorite for AL MVP. The Tigers eventual standing in the division could hurt his chances.

The Tigers have been one of the busier teams over the winter break in terms of personnel moves.  Some very recognizable names will not be in the Detroit media guide this season.  Most notable of the group is Curtis Granderson who will now patrol the outfield for the Yankees.  Other departing players include Aubrey Huff, Edwin Jackson, Jared Washburn, and Placido Polanco. They picked up some players, too, though. Johnny Damon finally signed to take up the slack of the departing Ganderson, and the Tigers now have Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth and Jose Valverde.

Granderson’s presence will be sorely missed.  His career high 30 home runs helped them reach the league average 183, placing them 7th in the AL.  Damon’s presence might help soften that loss, but as a visitor last season in Comerica Park, Damon posted a lackluster .231 batting average and a paltry .308 slugging percentage.

There is some good news, however.  The first it the positive outlook that seems to be building around Miguel Cabrera.  PECOTA is prediction Cabrera to be surpassed in home runs on 2010 by only Prince Fielder.  While it’s never good to look only at statistical analysis, the point his he’s going to have a big year.

According to the MLB Network, Magglio Ordonez has come back to camp a slimmer version of himself and ready to roll.  The hitch in Mags will be another year where his starts and plate appearances can force the club to take the 2011 option they have to $15 million. Tiger fans recall the headache last season of wondering why Mags was out of the line-up – was it practical or was is for contract considerations.  If he is not off to a stellar start, watch for a rerun of that soap opera this summer.

Pitching is not as much of an issue for Detroit, but it is still not a relaxing point, either. Justin Verlander will be the ace and the Tigers are counting on a continuation of last season from Rick Porcello.  Scherzer is currently penciled in the third spot and then Jeremy Bonderman.  There is a bit of a log jam for the fifth spot. Some feel like Dontrell Willis, who is said to be bouncing back well from his emotional issues, will be that guy.  There are also rumors that Jim Leyland likes Phil Coke so much that given a strong Spring training, he would consider putting Coke in a starting role.

The bottom line on Detroit is that the dip in offense and back-of-the-order question marks will keep them from having to worry about any one game playoffs in 2010.

5.  Cleveland Indians

Remember the opening title sequence to Major League?  There is a montage of newspaper headlines that pay homage to the battered and bruised history of the franchise.  There have been some highlights since ’89 when that film came out, but there has also been more of the same frustration for Tribe fans.  2010 will undoubtedly be more of the same.

MLB: Indians v Rangers July 20, 2007

Faousto Carmona will be the highlight of a weak rotation if he can get back to 2007 form.

The most notable change in the off season was not players, but staff.  Manny Acta, formerly of the Washington Nationals, will be the manager for 2010.  Mark Shapiro, the long time GM will be “movin’ on up” as the saying goes and be replaced for general manager duties by Chris Antonetti. The biggest loss on offense is that of Victor Martinez who went to Boston last July.  This year will find Lou Marson (don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of him) who has a total of 17 Major League games totaling 24 at-bats.  So, no, he’s not a viable offensive replacement for Martinez.

On the hill, Cliff Lee is gone, also having left last summer.  While he has ended up in Seattle, the Indians have ended up with a starting rotation that looks to be, well, a bit lacking:

*Missed all of season after Tommy John surgery

One possible ray of light is Matt LaPorta who is most likely going to start in left field. LaPorta played 52 games last season and looks to have a future as a formidable hitter.  But whether that happens this season (and whether it would matter) is a matter of some debate. Overall, the Indians appear anemic in almost every way a team can be measured.  For instance, getting Indians for your fantasy roster should be a breeze since there are only two of them in the top 100 fantasy prospects.  Grady Sizemore comes in at a respectable 27th overall, 7th among outfielders.  The other is Shin-Soo Choo in right field at 61 overall and 21 among outfielders.

Summary

In the end, the AL Central will be won for the same reason it has been in the last few years – because someone has to.


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