1. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox improved their pitching staff by trading for Jake Peavy, who did very well in the second half with Chicago, posting a 3-0 record and a 1.35 ERA. He may be the Opening Day starter, and he is a solid strikeout pitcher who should get more wins since the White Sox are likely to give him better run support than the Padres ever did (barring his '07 19-win season).
If Peavy isn't the Opening Day starter, then Mark Buehrle will be. He threw a perfect game in against the Rays last July. He isn't a strikeout pitcher, though, and he allows many hits. That said, he consistently finishes each season with his ERA under 4.00, and has pitched over 200 innings in all nine seasons in the majors.
The next two pitchers in the rotation, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, are both young. Danks pitched solidly in '09 but wore down late in the season, allowing 12 home runs in his last eight starts. He pitched 200 innings for the first time in his career, though, and should gain endurance in 2010. Danks can accumulate a fair amount of strikeouts, as can Floyd.
Floyd went from a 17-win season in '08 to an 11-win year in '09, but he improved in strikeouts and pitched fewer innings. If the White Sox get their offense back together, Floyd will get more wins.
Freddy Garcia is expected to be the fifth starter. He hasn't been a regular starter since '07, and his performance may be the difference maker for the White Sox in their hunt for the AL Central title.
Moving to the bullpen, Bobby Jenks suffered injuries and had a bit of an off year in '09, allowing nine home runs. He has averaged 35 saves over his last four seasons. J.J. Putz was signed for insurance, and he's a great setup man who can also close. Matt Thornton is a reliable setup man as well, and he provides the bullpen with a left-hander. He recorded 87 strikeouts in 72 innings last season. The White Sox finished second in ERA in the American League last year, and adding Peavy only makes their pitching staff better.
The White Sox signed CF Juan Pierre, who is bound to get more playing time after being stuck in a deep Dodgers outfield. He proved that he still has value while taking over for Manny Ramirez during his 50-game suspension, hitting .308 and stealing 30 bases in only 380 at-bats. He should be a perfect replacement for free-agent departure Scott Podsednik.
At second base, Gordon Beckham was a frontrunner for the AL Rookie of the Year Award last season. He should be able to hit 20 home runs, 80 RBI, and 40 doubles. LF Carlos Quentin was a steal, acquired in a trade with Arizona. He had a breakout 2008 season and may have been MVP if he hadn't gotten injured the last month. He hit 36 home runs and 100 RBI two years ago, and played even less last season and still hit 21 home runs. His injury-plagued 2009 season was a contributing factor to the White Sox's offensive struggles. If Quentin can stay healthy, he could make a great fantasy bargain and bolster the offense.
1B Paul Konerko proved last season that he still has some energy left in him by hitting 28 home runs after a down 2008 season. He's not capable of hitting 40 homers anymore, but he can still hit 25 with 90 RBI.
RF Alex Rios was claimed off of waivers last August and struggled in Chicago, hitting .199. He still has potential though, and can bounce back to get the White Sox's offense back up to par. A 20-80-20 season is a realistic goal for Rios.
DH Andruw Jones is someone to keep an eye out for. He was a mega-bust for the Dodgers before the Rangers claimed him. He hit 17 home runs in only 281 at-bats, so he still has power left in him, but one can only expect him to hit home runs or strike out most of the time as evidenced by his .214 average. At least the White Sox didn't overpay him. They're paying him $500,000 while the Dodgers ended up eating $15 million out of his contract.
C A.J. Pierzynski isn't the best catcher, but he's consistent. He'll get you 12-17 home runs and 55-65 RBI a year. He hit .300 last year too, and he has solid durability behind the plate.
SS Alexei Ramirez had a bit of a drop-off in '09 after his 21-homer '08 season, but he still cut down on strikeouts and improved his walk rate. He should be able to hit .280-20-80 this year. 3B Mark Teahen was acquired in a trade for infielders Josh Fields and Chris Getz, and his presence should help improve the White Sox's defense and provide 15 home runs and 60-70 RBIs. Omar Vizquel will be a backup at short.
The White Sox have an offense that is more than capable of bouncing back and a great pitching staff that should be enough to lead them to an AL Central title.
2. Minnesota Twins
The Twins have a young pitching staff that was plagued by injuries to Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, and Kevin Slowey. Luckily, Scott Baker had a strong second half to help lead them to the playoffs.
Baker, the Opening Day starter, had 15 wins last season and pitched 200 innings. Slowey went 10-3 before having a season-ending wrist injury but pitched a 4.86 ERA. He pitched a 3.99 ERA the season before though, so look for him to improve it from last season, and he improved his strikeout rate from 6.9 to 7.44 per 9 innings.
Nick Blackburn had a respectable '09 season with a 4.03 ERA but only had 11 wins. He pitched 205 innings, so he's durable, but he needs to improve his K/9 rate, which was only 4.29, and lower his H/9 rate, which was 10.5. Carl Pavano was claimed off waivers from the Indians, and he did okay with a 5-4 record and a 4.64 ERA with the Twins. He has proven to be a one-year wonder, and he needs to cut down on hits allowed as well.
The fifth starter for the Twins is a toss-up, but will likely be Francisco Liriano, who was pitching a Cy Young-caliber season in '06 before suffering a season-ending injury. He hasn't been the same since, and he makes trips to the disabled list often. If he isn't the fifth starter, it will either be Glen Perkins or Brian Duensing.
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan set a franchise record with 47 saves last season, posting a 2.10 ERA and a 11.66 K/9 rate. Jose Mijares proved to be a valuable setup man in his first full season with the Twins with a 2.34 ERA. Jon Rauch is a serviceable seventhth-inning reliever, and he made 88 appearances in '07 with the Nationals. He had 75 last year. Matt Guerrier is another reliever who is extremely durable, as he made 79 appearances last year and had a 2.36 ERA. The Twins have a deep bullpen, and it had a 3.87 ERA in '09. The rotation is a question mark though since it pitched 4.84 ERA.
CF Denard Span proved to be a great leadoff hitter. He hit .311 and drove in 68 runs. He stole 23 bases, and he's an excellent fielder with an accurate arm. SS J.J. Hardy was acquired in a trade for Carlos Gomez from the Brewers. He had a terrible '09 season though, and he was even demoted to AAA in August. The Twins are hoping the guy that hit 25 home runs is back. C Joe Mauer has already bought his ticket to the Hall of Fame with three batting titles, and he had his best season yet last year with 28 home runs and 96 RBIs and a whopping .365 average, and he's an excellent defensive catcher too. He's the franchise face for the Twins. 1B Justin Morneau is a former AL MVP as well as Mauer, and he can be counted on to hit 30-100, and he has a golden glove at first base. DH Jason Kubel had a career high in home runs, RBIs and batting average with .300-28-103. He needs to improve his outfield defense though. RF Michael Cuddyer is an underrated player who hit 32 home runs and has a strong, accurate arm in the outfield. LF Delmon Young has yet to build on his rookie season with Tampa Bay, and he needs to cut down on strikeouts. 2B Orlando Hudson signed a one-year deal with the Twins, and he should provide experience and good defense at second. He can hit okay numbers too. 3B Brendan Harris isn't a great hitter, but he provides versatility defensively, and he performed well in the ALDS against the Yankees. Infielders Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto provide solid depth since they both have starting experience, and Jim Thome will be pinch-hitting for the Twins. He still has a little juice left in him.
The Twins have a solid pitching rotation and an excellent bullpen, and they have a balanced lineup that can lead them to a second consecutive AL Central title. Look for them and the White Sox to battle it out this year.
3. Detroit Tigers
Justin Verlander led the AL with 269 strikeouts and had 19 wins. He finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting. He's an innings eater too, throwing 240 last year. Rick Porcello is only 20, and he has already pitched his rookie season, and he did well, winning 14 and pitching a 3.96 ERA, although he struggled in the middle of the season and only had a 4.69 K/9 rate. He should improve on that this season though and gain endurance. Max Scherzer was traded from Arizona for Edwin Jackson. Scherzer is a strikeout pitcher, as evidenced by his 9.19 K/9 rate. His wins should go up now that he has a better offense with Detroit than he did in Arizona. Armando Galarraga experienced a sophomore slump with a 5.64 ERA and only six wins. Jeremy Bonderman has suffered countless injuries, but luckily the Tigers have Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis as insurance. Jose Valverde is the Tigers' new closer, and he has pitched a 2.84 ERA and a 10.26 K/9 rate over the last three years. He can get 30 saves too, maybe even 40. He's done it before twice, but his transition from the NL to the AL may be difficult. Phil Coke was one of the players involved in the Curtis Granderson trade. He is being rumored as a rotation pitcher, but he will still likely be a setup man, and he should because he had 21 holds last season. Although he had a 4.50 ERA, he still had a .209 BAA. Ryan Perry could be the setup man. He had an 8.76 K/9 rate in '09. He has a lot of upside and can throw a 95-mph fastball, and a lot is being expected of him since he was a first-round draft pick in 2008.
LF Johnny Damon, after exploring many teams through free agency, finally signed a one-year deal with the Tigers. He's on the decline and won't match his 24-homer season in the Bronx and won't likely steal more than 15 bases. CF Austin Jackson will be the new leadoff man for the Tigers. He came from the Yankees in the Curtis Granderson trade, and he's a big-name prospect who hit .300 and stole 24 bases in AAA last season. 1B Miguel Cabrera recently revealed his alcohol problems, and he will need to truly be rid of them if the Tigers expect to be AL Central champions. He is one of the most consistent batters in the majors. He can hit .300-30-100 each year. RF Magglio Ordonez had a huge drop-off last year with 9 home runs and 50 RBIs after having two consecutive 20-100 seasons. DH Carlos Guillen is on the decline as well, hitting .242 last season. 2B Scott Sizemore will replace Placido Polanco, who signed with the Phillies. Sizemore had 17 home runs and 21 steals in AAA last season, so he appears to be a promising young prospect. 3B Brandon Inge had a breakout season with 27 home runs and 84 RBIs, but he strikes out a lot, and his consistently low batting average proves that. SS Adam Everett doesn't have much of a bat, but he's a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. OF Ryan Raburn will be the key bench player, and he appears to have power since he hit 16 home runs in only 261 at-bats last season.
The Tigers have a declining offense with Granderson gone and Guillen and Ordonez past their primes, and two of their hitters are unproven rookies. Plus, the back end of their rotation is weak, so the Tigers won't likely be making the playoffs this year.
4. Kansas City Royals
The Royals had a Cy Young winner last year in Zack Greinke, who had 242 strikeouts and 16 wins. If the Royals had a good offense, he probably would've been a 20-game winner. He conquered depression and finally lived up to his hype. Other than Greinke, there isn't much to the Royals' rotation. Gil Meche suffered back and shoulder injuries last season and posted a 5.09 ERA, but his first two seasons in KC were much better. He averaged a 3.82 ERA in '07 and '08. If he stays healthy, the Royals' rotation should improve. Brian Bannister showed some promising potential with a 3.66 ERA in the first half but had a 6.63 ERA in the second half. He needs to improve his durability. Luke Hochevar, the 2006 first overall draft pick, isn't living up to his hype so far. He had a 6.55 ERA last season, but he has potential. He posted a 13-strikeout game last season. Kyle Davies is a viable fifth starter who always finishes strong. He went 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his last four starts last season and went 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA in September of the '08 season. Joakim Soria is another bright spot in the otherwise shaky Royals' pitching staff. He has a 2.09 ERA and a 9.98 K/9 rate over his last three seasons. Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth head the rest of the bullpen. Cruz had a 2.88 ERA and a 12.62 K/9 rate between 2007-08, but his ERA spiked to 5.72, and his K/9 rate plummeted to 6.79. He should be able to bounce back this season based on his previous success. Farnsworth can still strike out a batter per inning, and he may possibly move into the rotation.
LF Scott Podsednik will be the Royals' new leadoff batter. He hit .304 and stole 30 bases for the White Sox last year. RF David DeJesus is another hitter with speed and excellent contact. DeJesus also has a bit of power. He hit 13 home runs and 71 RBIs last year. 1B Billy Butler broke out last season with 21 home runs and 93 RBIs, a .301 average, and 51 doubles. He has been a big-name prospect, and he appears to be living up to his expectations. He should be able to hit .300-25-100 this season, and he'll only be 24 this season, so he has many years ahead of him. CF Rick Ankiel provides some power as well, and he should be able to get more at-bats away from the deep Cardinals' outfield. He hit 25 home runs in '08 but only 11 in '09. The Royals are hoping he can regain his power stroke. 3B Alex Gordon hasn't lived up to his expectations so far and strikes out a lot, but maybe last year's demotion to AAA did the trick. DH Jose Guillen only played 81 games last season, but his move to DH should keep him healthy, and he has plenty to offer with his bat. He can hit 20 home runs and 90 RBIs, but his age and injuries could result in a decline. SS Yuniesky Betancourt is possibly the most impatient hitters in the majors. His career-high in walks is 21, and he doesn't have much to offer with his bat. The biggest question surrounding the Royals at the moment is who to start at second base. Alberto Callaspo hit .300 with 11 home runs and 73 RBIs, so he provides great offense, but Chris Getz provides much better defense even though he isn't much of a hitter. He stole 25 bases last season, so he has speed. Getz will likely start since the Royals are looking to improve their infield defense, so Callaspo will likely be a frequent pinch-hitter. C Jason Kendall has no power and can't hit at a high batting average anymore, but if anything, he has good speed for a catcher. He stole seven bases last season.
The Royals may have a bright future ahead of them. They won't finish any higher than fourth this year, but they have a young team with promising talent.
5. Cleveland Indians
The Indians have gone from having one of the best to the worst rotations in the majors. CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee are gone, and Fausto Carmona was a one-year wonder. Jake Westbrook is slated to be the Opening Day starter, and he's being counted on to bounce back from Tommy John surgery. He is a possible sleeper since he's in a contract year, and he may become trade bait if he does well in the first half of the season. He needs to stay healthy though. Carmona's '07 season was definitely a fluke, but he can do better than the 6.32 ERA, 12-loss season he posted in '09. Justin Masterson finally gets a chance to show his stuff as a starter now that he's away from Boston. He has promising talent since he pitched a complete game and struck out 12 in his final start. He's a good ground ball pitcher too. Aaron Laffey is good at getting grounders as well, but he's a terrible strikeout pitcher. He had 59 in 121 innings last season and 43 in 93 innings in '08. David Huff went 11-8 with a 5.61 ERA as a rookie, and although his overall ERA was bad, he finished the season strong with a 2.00 ERA in September, so he may have some upside. The bullpen in Cleveland isn't strong either. Kerry Wood is being overpaid, and he didn't do well last season as a closer. He had six blown saves in 26 chances. Their setup man Chris Perez may take over if he does well in the first half and Wood gets traded. Tony Sipp is a solid middle reliever who had 48 strikeouts in 40 innings with a 2.93 ERA. There isn't much else to the Indians' bullpen.
CF Grady Sizemore played hurt most of last season and is expected to be healthy for this season. He's one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. He has a great combination of power and speed. His only downside is his batting average which will likely be .260-.270. SS Asdrubal Cabrera had a breakout 2009 season with a .308 average, 68 RBIs, and 42 doubles. He isn't a power hitter, but he's an excellent contact hitter and base stealer. He went 17-for-21. RF Shin-Soo Choo had a great all-around season with a .300 average, 20 home runs, 86 RBIs, 21 steals, and 86 runs. His chances of a repeat look good since he wasn't crazy in any category. DH Travis Hafner just never stops getting injured, which is a shame for the Indians because he has incredible power. He used to be able to hit 40 home runs and 100 RBIs, but his brief power run is over. He hit 16 home runs last year in 338 at-bats, so he still has power, but he can't be counted on for more than 400 at-bats a season. The Indians owe him $40 million. 3B Jhonny Peralta moved from shortstop and is doing better on defense now. He can hit 15-20 home runs and 80-90 RBIs. 1B Matt LaPorta was involved in the trade for CC Sabathia and may be worth it. He'll be capable of hitting 20 home runs and 80 RBIs in his rookie year and may be hitting 30-100 later in his career. Russell Branyan was signed to a one-year contract, so he'll get more time to develop. Branyan is a great power hitter who had 31 home runs last year, but he strikes out a lot(149 in '09), so he will probably hit near .250 again. 2B Luis Valbuena has a pretty good bat that can produce 15 home runs, but he struggles on defense and may have to platoon with Jason Donald. C Carlos Santana, an uber prospect, will likely become the starter after Lou Marson logs some time behind the plate to give Santana a little more time before he takes over. Santana is expected to replace Victor Martinez, who was traded to the Red Sox last season. He hit 23 home runs and 97 RBIs in AA last season and has excellent plate discipline, so he should provide great power when he enters his prime. LF Austin Kearns has lost his power, but he's a great outfielder defensively, so he should win a starting job over Michael Brantley, who has blazing speed.
The Indians traded away their best players in Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia, and Cliff Lee, so they pretty much admitted that they're in rebuilding mode, so they will likely have a last place season.