AL Central Preview
DETROIT TIGERS – (Last Year: 95-67) – I’m going to wonder for a long time what the Tigers would have done if Victor Martinez didn’t ruin his knee for the year this offseason. Would Prince Fielder still have happened? During the Fielder Press Conference Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch nearly made it sound like it wouldn’t have, but then again a nine year deal as a reaction to one player’s misfortune would be a panic move only explained by intoxicating substances or the practices of the insane.
Unfortunately I can’t comment on either theory.
What I can do is take a look at what that move, as well as the others they made this offseason, and provide a realistic expectation for the 2012 season.
|Notable Free Agent Acquisitions|
|Prince Fielder 1B|
|Octavio Dotel RHP|
|Gerald Laird C|
|Eric Patterson CF|
|Warwick Saupold RHP|
|Notable Trade Acquisitions|
|Collin Balester RHP (from Washington for Ryan Perry)|
|Magglio Ordonez RF|
|Carlos Guillen 2B|
|Ryan Perry RHP (traded to Washington for Balester)|
|Will Rhymes 2B|
|Joel Zumaya RHP|
|Wilson Betemit 3B|
|Brad Penny RH|
The Tigers are overwhelmingly expected to make the 2012 playoffs. That is equally exciting as it is scary. Sure, the Tigers by far have the best team on paper, but the Indians and Royals are both talented organizations and while there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the White Sox or Twins this year, Tigers fans are still new at this “winning” attitude. Remember, the 2003 season is still less than a decade behind us.
However, the powerful combination of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera hitting 3rd and 4th is a pretty tantalizing remedy to those fears, and young talents like Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila, and even Delmon Young have a lot to offer on the offensive side.
Justin Verlander anchors a fairly impressive rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello. The 5th spot wide open this spring, although Jacob Turner, the top prospect in the organization, is ultimately expected to win the job.
The bullpen features the always entertaining Jose Valverde at the back end, and a solid stockpile of arms in Dotel, Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, and 2011 surprise Al Albuquerque, once he returns from injury around mid-season.
The 5th spot in the starting rotation isn’t the only position battle this spring, as second base is a wide open melee between Brandon Inge, Ryan Raburn, and Ramon Santiago. Some think that even Don Kelly and Danny Worth have a shot if they impress enough.
If anything this Tigers team will be entertaining to see, as many critics are having a field day with Miguel Cabrera’s transition to third base. I bring this up only at the end because it must be noted, I personally can’t take any more talk of Cabrera’s potential failure at third base. It will either work or it won’t. It won’t make or break the Tigers season, they’ll just adjust as needed.
The bottom line is this: the Tigers’ main concerns right now are their 5th starter and second base. That’s a pretty good problem to have and a huge reason that fans are optimistic for the season ahead.
I know I am. I predict that the Tigers will finish 93-69, and will win the division by 5 games. ~ Joshua Worn (www.walkoffwoodward.com)
CLEVELAND INDIANS – (Last Year: 80-82) – The Indians had a relatively quiet off-season; their primary acquisitions this winter were Derek Lowe (via trade) and Casey Kotchman (via free agent signing). However, the Tribe brought nearly 20 players to camp on minor league deals, hoping to strike gold on a small budget.
While it seemed like most positions were settled heading into Spring Training, a few contests have opened up. With the loss of Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez Heredia, there is now a competition for the fifth starter slot. The primary candidates to replace Carmona/Hernandez in the rotation are Kevin Slowey, David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez. With the news of Grady Sizemore’s back surgery, Michael Brantley is expected to move to center field and a competition will open up for left field. The Tribe has a ton of outfielders in camp, a list that includes Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Spilborghs, Felix Pie, Fred Lewis, and Ezequiel Carrera. While they may look outside the organization for a replacement, it’s likely one of those players wins the spot.
For the Indians to find success this season, they need comeback years from Ubaldo Jimenez and Shin-Soo Choo and they need the offense to find its stride. The Indians struggled to score runs after the first two months of the season in 2011, but with a healthy productive year from Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner and Jason Kipnis, the offense could potentially become the team’s strong point.
At our local SABR meeting in early February, one of our members gave an excellent statistical presentation on the 2012 Indians and predicted 85-88 wins this season. If they can keep everyone whose name is not Grady Sizemore off of the DL for most of the year, I see no reason why they couldn’t earn 88 wins this season; an 8 win improvement over last year. ~ Stephanie Liscio (www.itspronouncedlajaway.com)
MINNESOTA TWINS – (Last Year: 63-99) As they look to right the ship after a disastrous 99-loss season, the Twins know they have plenty of obstacles to overcome. Injuries decimated the roster in 2011, and while the boys have had an offseason to heal their wounds, ongoing health concerns will continue to be the club’s top story entering the new campaign.
The additions of Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Ryan Doumit and Jason Marquis help negate the losses of Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Joe Nathan and Kevin Slowey, but it’s returning players that will be under the microscope here in 2012. Can Justin Morneau and Denard Span shake the concussion symptoms that haunted them last year and persisted into the winter months? Will Joe Mauer’s balky knee hold up well enough for him to stick at catcher? Can Scott Baker put an achey elbow behind him? What will become of the enigmatic and inconsistent Francisco Liriano? These are the questions that will dictate whether the Twins can return to contention in the AL Central. I predict 80 wins. ~ Nick Nelson (www.twinsdaily.com)
KANSAS CITY ROYALS – (Last Year: 71-91) – The influx of youth in the lineup last season means the Royals are fairly set as 2012 approaches. The lone change to the starting nine from 2011 is in center field where Dayton Moore sold high on Melky Cabrera and shipped him to San Francisco in exchange for starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. Sanchez is supposed to shore up a rotation that was among the worst in the league in ERA last summer, but the move away from AT&T Park and to the American League has me skeptical. Sanchez was the only major move the Royals made this winter, although they did bring Bruce Chen back on a two year deal and signed Yuniesky Betancourt to be a utility infielder. Also, they added Jonathan Broxton to an already solid bullpen as insurance in case their starters stumble once again. Last year, Royals relievers threw the third most innings in baseball. It can’t hurt to have a few extra arms in the pen.
With the youngest roster in the majors, there will be some growing pains in Kansas City, but it should be an exciting squad with tons of potential. Gone are the days of watching veterans play out their career with bloated contracts – I’m looking at you, Jose Guillen – and in it’s stead are a bunch of guys who are part of The Process. The biggest question mark is how the starting pitching will hold up as the young bats of The Process are about a year ahead of the young arms.
The Royals are an up and coming team in the AL Central but they’re still a year away from seriously thinking of contention. For 2012, 80 wins seems a reasonable expectation. ~ Craig Brown (www.royalsauthority.com)
CHICAGO WHITE SOX – (Last Year: 79-83) – I don’t know what the Sox motto is yet for the 2012 season, but it could be, “What if”. The Sox season, unlike any other since 2004, is full of question marks.
Will the real Adam Dunn stand up. Is he the guy who knocked 40 bombs with regularity, or the guy who had mostly wall power in 2011? I think he’ll come back to hit right around 30 home runs, while driving in about 90. His average should be in the low .200’s. What if his career continues to slide…That quite a deal the Sox will have to swallow.
Same with Alex Rios. Rios has all the tools, but it’s the mental game that does him in. He gets down on himself when he doesn’t perform, which leads to extended slumps on both sides of the ball. What if he plays this year like last year?
What if John Danks wilts under the pressure of his huge new contract, and being the number one guy. Danks will win around 16 games
What if Jake Peavy is never the same. Peavy has the fire of 20 ball players, but injuries have derailed many a career. I expect no more than 14 wins from Peavy
What if the Sox can’t replace Sergio Santos? My opinion, by mid-season at the latest, Addison Reed will be the closer. He followed the same path as former Sox farm hand Daniel Hudson. Reed has electric stuff, and a good head on his shoulders.
What if Paul Konerko starts showing his age? He can’t hit 30 home runs, bat .300 and drive in over 100 runs every year, can he? As the Captain goes, so goes the Sox.
The Sox made no real moves this off-season, unless you count Fukudome, and I am not.
The expectation, I believe is for the Sox to take the next step, with the thought of truly contending in 2013.
Oh, I should mention the mounting pressure on Chris Sale, who is being anointed, unfairly, as the future ace. Let him start a game before retiring his #.
And that’s leaves us with Gordon Beckham. If his on field playing catches up to his off field personality and charisma, the Sox will soar.
My opinion, too many question marks for the Sox to contend this year. However, if a few pieces do fall in place, watch out. The Central, past Detroit, isn’t that strong, so the Sox could surprise. ~ Bill Mahoney (www.whitesoxgab.com)