March 30, 2007

AL Central Preview

Man, I've been lazier than I thought I would be on these things.

Kansas City (74-88)
The astounding Gil Meche contract notwithstanding, at least this team is finally getting to the point where there might actually be some light at the end of the tunnel. New GM Drayton Moore has really cleaned house, with his masterstroke being the demotion of the awful (and awfully high-paid) Angel Berroa. Their farm system is starting to look good again, and they have the top prospect in baseball breaking into the big leagues this year. And, whaddya know, he's a local kid ans actually LIKES playing in KC. We'll see if he still feels that way after 5 years.

On offense, they'll have a good core of Alex Gordon, Billy Butler (when he eventually makes the team), Ryan Shealy, and Mark Teahen. Teahen was the only good story on an awful Royals team last year. Of course, with Gordon in his natural position it would probably be best for the Royals to trade him for a commodity they more clearly need (i.e. Pitching). The rest of their offense are mainly stopgaps that don't really have any long term future with the team or, really, baseball.

Pitching-wise, they might at least bring themselves up to league average in the near future. Meche clearly isn't their long-term ace, but he would be a quality 3rd starter in a good staff. Now that Grienke has gotten over his anxiety-related problems, he should become a quality pitcher, as should Luke Hudson. Odalis Perez was a great pickup from LA, he probably just needed a change in scenery.

Conclusion on the Royals: will be in the basement again, but they will likely be a great spoiler team in the second half for what should be a great playoff race in this division. Watch out in 2008-2009.

Minnesota (80-82)
Just like last year, their fate will depend on how soon their management wises up and starts playing its best players rather than its highest paid players. Case in point - Matt Garza is being sent to AAA while the highly paid and highly erratic Carlos Silva is sticking around in the rotation. This has shades of the Francisco Liriano situation from last year, because he can only contribute to the team if he plays. Of course, Garza is not nearly in the same class as Liriano...but Silva is not nearly in the same class as Garza either. Changes need to be made.

Aside from that, this is still a pretty solid team. I'm still surprised by last season's surge, though having Liriano and Santana as your top two starters for a stretch means you're pretty much guarunteed to win 40% of your games. This year it's again Santana and the also-rans, though some of the also-rans have some good upside. Boof Bonser, aside from having one of the most hilarious names ever, has a good chance to grow into a solid 3rd starter for any team. He'll probably experience some more growing pains this year though. Garza also has lots of upside, if he ever pitches. The rest of the rotation though...well...let's just say that the Twins's quality bullpen will definitely prove its worth if the team gets anywhere this year. If this team played all its home games at Wrigley or Coors then I think the combo of Ponson, Silva, and "Gopherball" Ortiz would set a new MLB record for number of homers coughed up in a season. The Twins desperately need to upgrade in those three spots if they ever expect to contend again.

As far as position players go, they're looking pretty good. Mauer, Cuddyer, and Morneau, who got the MVP award that Mauer or Santana deserved more just own his own team, are a solid core to a decent offense. Kubel should do a decent job in the DH role if the Twins stick with him. Torii Hunter is going to swidnlle a lot of money from someone next offseason - he's clearly overrated with his bat and his defensive skills are slipping too. Their non-Morneau infield is meh, though they have a cool nickname (The Pirhanas) they're all light hitting infielders who had a bit too much luck last season. Clearly though, the Twins cuold do better than Rondell White in LF. He's a decent enough bat when he is healthy...but he's never healthy. His backup isn't much of an upgrade either.

Unless there's a major ovarhaul in the pitching staff, I think this team might be lucky to be at .500, especially given the division they are in.

White Sox (82-80)
On offense, the Sox are fielding nearly the exact same lineup as last season. Only in center field has the name been changed to protect the terrible production out of the position. They should still to a decent job of scoring runs, though I would expect declines from Crede, Pierzynski, and especially Podsednik. The real issue here is pitching.

This offseason GM Kenny Williams planned to ensure that his team could contend for a few more years. There are a few problems with his plan and the reasons behind it though.

1. The AL central is the toughest division in baseball, and probably will remain so for the next few years.

2. He traded both one of his blue chip starters and his highly touted (though probably overrated) starters away. In return, he got a few more prospects but failed to move the pitchers he should have moved (i.e. Jon Garland). They ended up with a 5th starter with upside (Danks) a 5th starter with downside (Gavin Floyd), and a quality prospect in Gio Gonzalez.

3. Given the quality of the division they play in they needed to go for the jugular while their championship window was still open. How many quality teams manage to keep together so many pleayers after as good a 2 years as the Sox have had? They're mortgaging their present for a shot at the postseason in teh future...but the odds are about the same either way. Why mess with what is working?

Detroit (85-79)
What a great year these guys had last year. They should do well again this year but fall short of the playoffs...too many offensive players had career years, and their pitching will likely backslide a bit too. Sheffield should be a fantastic addition to their lineup, and will make quality starters like Guillen + Pudge better players. The rest of their team should be pretty good as well...but they clearly need to limit the damage done by Sean Casey at 1B. If they can get Marcus Thames to get some ABs there they will be a much better team.

On the pitching side, Bonderman is a bona fide ace. Verlander, however, is due to have a disappointing sophomore slump largely from the number of innings he pitched last season. The back end of the rotation features Robertson and Maroth, who are spectacularly okay. With Rogers out of the picture as well this team had better hope that they can score some more runs this season, though their quality bullpen will make sure this won't hurt them as much as it might other teams.

Cleveland (89-73)
I think this team is going to be great, but I don't forsee multiple 90 game winners from this division again this year. Their lineup is incredibly stacked from top to bottom...the only real question are whether Jhonny Peralta will bounce back from last year's awful season (yes), and whether Andy Marte will live up to all the prospect hype he's had the past few years or just be merely okay (answer: okay).

The big question mark here is the pitching, followed by an even bigger question mark next to the bullpen. Sabathia is a money pitcher and is the well-deserved ace of this staff, and Westbrook is a quality number 2. Cliff Lee (now injured) is good when he's good, as Yogi Berra would say. He's maddeningly inconsistent though. Sowers has tons of upside however, and will probably be the team's 3rd best starter after the season plays out. Byrd is an innings-eater at best, and if his control falters at all hopefully he will be outta there in favor fo Fausto Carmona, who is another great youngster with upside.

The bullpen will be this team's Achilles Heel. No one really stands out at all in this group, so the Tribe should swing a deal later this season to shore up this part of their team. With that offense though...the bullpen might not need to be better than merely average.

CLE 89-73
DET 85-79
ChW 82-90
MIN 80-82
KC 74-88