2010 MLB Division Previews: American League Central

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2010 MLB Division Previews: American League Central
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Last year, I pegged the Central division in the American League as one of the better divisions in baseball, because I thought they were the deep.

How things have changed after just one year.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t think the AL Central won’t be a wide open free-for-all. It’s a division that three teams could realistically win the division or be as bad as fourth place.

It is the only division that all five teams won at least once in ESPN’s 100 simulations in the latest edition of ESPN Magazine.

Cleveland has been a favorite pick the past two seasons, but after two years of injuries, traded, and disappointment, they seem to be a favorite pick for the basement with Kansas City.

After two straight years of going to 163rd game, everyone believes the Central could be the most muddled mess until the final game once again. Last year’s champion Minnesota is the favorite, but people love Chicago’s pitching and Detroit’s potential.

Is this the worst division in baseball?

I don’t know, maybe. What I do know is that it will probably be the most entertaining all season long.

*Denotes Free Agent has an Option Year

 

Chicago White Sox

Last Year: Finished Third in AL Central

Additions: 3B Mark Teahen, SS Omar Vizquel, OF Andruw Jones, P J.J. Putz, OF Juan Pierre, P Freddy Dolsi. SS Freddie Bynum, P Greg Aquino, P Freddy Garcia

Subtractions: OF Scott Podsednik, OF Jermaine Dye, 3B Josh Fields, 2B Chris Getz, P Octavio Dotel, 3B Wilson Betemit, OF Jerry Owens

2010 Free Agents: C A.J. Pierzynski, 1B Paul Konerko, P J.J. Putz, *P Matt Thornton

Three Strikes: 2B Gordon Beckham, OF Andruw Jones, P Mark Buehrle

Gordon Beckham has everything you look for in a young franchise player, but beware of the adjustment the league will make on him. Beckham might also be one of those guys who can avoid that all together though.

I really like Andruw Jones moving from one home run friendly park in Arlington to another in the south side of Chicago. If he’s the primary designated hitter, it would also keep him fresh.

Even though Mark Buehrle is the ace of this staff, he may be the fourth most talented. But he works hard and he knows how to pitch. Buehrle is also way too modest in saying Peavy should start opening day. He is the White Sox, that honor is his.

What’s different?

Aside from the actual players they acquired, nothing is different in Chicago. The White Sox are always active hot stove participants, regardless of what happened the previous year. They’re constantly changing the dynamic of their team and this year it was no different.

They let Jermaine Dye walk and added several outfielders into the mix in two former Dodgers, Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones. They also conducted a massive shake up in their infield with Josh Fields and Chris Getz both sent to rival Kansas City in exchange for Mark Teahen.

Freddy Garcia was brought back and is slated to be the number five starter in a deep rotation.

Perhaps the most interesting addition for the White Sox is former rival Omar Vizquel as the backup middle infielder and veteran presence. Vizquel now gets to play under fellow countryman Ozzie Guillen and perhaps have a chance at a World Series ring.

With Octavio Dotel departing, the White Sox may have improved with the addition of J.J. Putz to the back end of the bullpen. He has to prove he is healthy first.

As always, it was a very active offseason for the South Siders. 

Summary

The Chicago White Sox are kind of like Lady Gaga for me. I absolutely cannot stand her, but can’t help but tap my foot to her incredibly annoying songs.

I really don’t like the music the White Sox produce in general, but there are certain parts of their songs that I enjoy against my own will.

One of the parts of the Chicago White Sox that I like against my own will is the boom or bust type of talent they’ve got offensively. If Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios, Carlos Quentin, and young Gordon Beckham are all in the lineup at once, healthy, and producing, they’ll be dangerous.

But Quentin has had injury concerns, Ramirez had a skeptical 2009, Beckham is still very green and unpredictable, and Rios is a complete mystery to everyone in terms of what he’ll bring to the table.

I also like their pitching staff, with a veteran like Mark Buehrle as the anchor, one of the game’s best pitchers in Jake Peavy, and two young and talented pitchers in Gavin Floyd and John Danks.

However Bobby Jenks and Scott Linebrink are coming off worrisome seasons numbers-wise and who knows if J.J. Putz will return to form. This team has a lot of ifs to me, but so does everyone else in the Central.

However a lot if their ifs could pan out to be dangerous for everyone else in baseball. They’ve definitely got the most potential within this division.

 

Cleveland Indians

Last Year: Finished Fourth in AL Central

Additions: P Jason Grilli, 3B Brian Buscher, SS Luis Rodriguez, P Saul Rivera, P Mitch Talbot, OF Shelley Duncan, OF Austin Kearns, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, C Mike Redmond, SS Brian Bixler, P Hector Ambriz

Subtractions: C Kelly Shoppach, P Tomo Ohka, 2B Jamey Carroll, P Jose Veras, P Zach Jackson

2010 Free Agents: P Jake Westbrook, *3B Jhonny Peralta, *P Kerry Wood

Three Strikes: 3B Jhonny Peralta, P David Huff, P Justin Masterson

Jhonny Peralta will likely become a free agent in the offseason if he doesn’t get traded at the deadline. The club hopes a full spring at third will ease him back to his normal offensive numbers.

David Huff made the starting rotation by the skin of his teeth, but last year’s wins leader will grow this season. He has the pitch selection similar to former Indian Cliff Lee and a knack for making improvements once he gains experience.

Justin Masterson is a starter for now, but he is by far the most intriguing part of the rotation as he could be an effective back end of the bullpen arm if things don’t work out. Masterson has battled control problems, but he can strike out anyone he wants.

What’s different?

Their biggest moves came last summer when they dealt their best pitcher and franchise catcher in an effort to cut payroll and prepare for 2010. The biggest difference for Cleveland is the fact that they are entering a new era of their franchise with the hiring of Manny Acta as their manager.

Acta will provide a different type of atmosphere in the clubhouse as a more upbeat presence. He’ll still demand a lot from his players as Eric Wedge did, but it will be a different attitude.

All of Cleveland’s additions will be to the bench, save for Russell Branyan, whenever he is able to go. Branyan was signed to a deal worth two million that is a bargain for some, but a burden for others. Branyan will begin the year on the disabled list and the Indians hope to see him by mid-April.

Mike Redmond brings veteran leadership to the catching position as a backup and if he makes the team, Mark Grudzielanek will do it for the infield. Austin Kearns has a chance to be the opening day left fielder, but if not could make the club as a backup.

Mitch Talbot was acquired in a trade for Kelly Shoppach and has already locked up a rotation spot. Talbot was efficient all spring and looks to have an opportunity he never had with Tampa at the major league level.

A lot of new or young faces for the Indians this year, but a lot of old ones as well.

 

Summary

This is a team clearly in a transition period, but I would be lying to you if I didn’t feel a little bit of hope behind this 2010 squad. Sure they are young and they’ve got a lot of questions in the pitching department, but there is talent there.

The part about this team I’m most optimistic about is the core group of offensive players. This team can still score some runs, with or without a healthy Travis Hafner. I’d be confident in Grady Sizemore returning healthy and that’s all the Indians need to give them a boost from last season’s squad.

Pitching will be a work in progress, but count on at least one of the questions between Westbrook, Carmona, and Masterson panning through, and at least one young unknown to step out of the shadows.

That may seem depressing to think I can only count two pitchers coming through, but it’s two more than most fans believe will pan out. The law of averages won’t allow for all five rotation spots to suck all year, that’s just common sense.

Then again, it is baseball and anything could happen.

 

Detroit Tigers

Last Year: Finished Second in AL Central

Additions: P Max Scherzer, P Daniel Schlereth, P Phil Coke, OF Austin Jackson, P Phil Dumatrait, P Ruddy Lugo, P Jose Valverde, OF Johnny Damon

Subtractions: 1B Aubrey Huff, P Jarrod Washburn, P Fernando Rodney, 2B Placido Polanco, C Matt Treanor, P Brandon Lyon, P Clay Rapada, P Edwin Jackson, OF Curtis Granderson, P Freddy Dolsi, OF Marcus Thames, P Nate Robertson

2010 Free Agents: 3B Brandon Inge, P Jeremy Bonderman, P Bobby Seay, *OF Magglio Ordondez

Three Strikes: OF Austin Jackson, 2B Scott Sizemore, P Max Scherzer

Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore are both rookies, so therefore you cannot count on them. They could become important parts of your lineup, or leave you with holes. They will dictate the success of Detroit’s offensive output, because this team has lost some punch.

Max Scherzer may have just needed a change of scenery for him to realize his full potential. I could see him flourishing in spacious Comerica Park.

What’s different?

Detroit is without a doubt a very much younger team this season. They let deadline pickups like Jarrod Washburn and Aubrey Huff walk and even traded two of their younger veterans in Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson.

That youth movement they appeared to be conducting took a different turn with the late addition of Johnny Damon, but this is still a team that will rely on a young rotation and bullpen.

The lineup for the most part remains the same other than Damon’s addition and the two rookies in Sizemore and Jackson.

The pitching staff will be getting a bit of an addition if longtime Tiger Jeremy Bonderman can finally put his injuries in the past. Bonderman has been limited to just 81 innings the past two seasons after pitching in more than 160 the previous five.

Detroit lost their closer Fernando Rodney in free agency, but went out and replaced him with Jose Valverde. Phil Coke was included in the Granderson deal and will likely be one of the main cogs leading up to Valverde.

Summary

There are things to like about this team and things to be worried about. Their lineup isn’t bad, but it has far more questions in my mind than it has definite answers.

Gerald Laird and Adam Everett are not big time hitters, so it is very crucial the likes of Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, and Brandon Inge are all healthy, consistent, and productive.

As I’ve already mentioned, Sizemore and Jackson are rookies that you can’t count on either way until you see them in action and are likely to go through rookie growing pains at some point.

Miguel Cabrera is their best hitter, but you have to wonder where his head is. Hopefully his problems are all behind him, because he is one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous hitter in the American League.

Pitching-wise I always have concerns about the Tigers. Verlander is their ace, but beyond that they’ve got questions. Porcello is coming off a great rookie year but he’ll need to make adjustments to the league if he wants to take another step.

I’ve touched up on Bonderman, but the other starter in the rotation is going to be control-challenged Dontrelle Willis. I don’t think I need to go any further than saying his name to let you know he’s a question mark.

I could see things working out for Detroit and them repeating that success of 2009. But I could also see things crashing and burning. Last year I thought it would crash and burn and was wrong. I could go either direction this year and wouldn’t be shocked if I was dead wrong yet again.

 

Kansas City Royals

Last Year: Finished Fifth in AL Central

Additions: 2B Chris Getz, 3B Josh Fields, 3B Wilson Betemit, P Brad Thompson, C Vance Wilson, P Josh Rupe, OF Buck Coats, C Jason Kendall, P Philip Humber, OF Brian Anderson, OF Scott Podsednik, P Matt Herges, OF Rick Ankiel

Subtractions: P Jamey Wright, 3B Mark Teahen, C Miguel Olivo, OF Coco Crisp, 2B Tug Hulett, DH Mike Jacobs, OF Josh Anderson, C John Buck, P John Bale, SS Tony Pena

2010 Free Agents: OF Jose Guillen, *OF David DeJesus, *OF Rick Ankiel, *P Juan Cruz

Three Strikes: P Luke Hochevar, 3B Josh Fields, 2B Alberto Callaspo

Apparently they’ve figured out that Luke Hochevar isn’t very good because he can’t avoid the big inning. Well let’s see what the Royals do to change that. Hochevar has been working on a changeup to help him out and in an effort to establish consistency and pitching coach Bob McClure has Hochevar putting an extra step into his delivery.

I’ll forever be on the Josh Fields bandwagon until he finally breaks out or eventually retires a forgotten man. Sign me up for 25 surprising home runs and I’ll live or die with it.

Alberto Callaspo had a fantastic year in 2009, but that was 2009. Gritty Chris Getz has pushed him for the second base job but players who produce find at-bats. Callaspo will be the starter at third to begin the year and trust me, if he earns them, they’ll continue to find at-bat bats for him.

What’s different?

First off, holy White Sox, Dayton Moore!

Not only did the club trade for Christ Getz and Josh Fields, they signed former Chicago outfielders Brian Anderson and Scott Podsednik to one-year deals. It might look strange for those four about 20 times a year when the two teams meet.

Kansas City also added a few more veterans than you would expect. They brought in the likes of Jason Kendell to guide the pitching staff and Rick Ankiel to sure up center field. I didn’t expect the Royals lineup to look quite like this a few months ago and I wouldn’t even expect it to look the same at the end of this season.

Their pitching staff remains mostly intact returning five starters who all started at least 20 games for the club last year.

Summary

I would love to be able to sit here and type joyous words about the Kansas City Royals.

I can’t bring myself to do so right now. The pitching was third to last in the AL and the offense was second to last. Their defense was also pretty bad.

Their bright spots were Billy Butler on the offensive end and Zack Greinke winning the Cy Young award.

They’ve a good closer in Joakim Soria and well…

Yeah this isn’t easy to say because last year I felt the Royals could maybe make some sort of positive move record wise. Since they are in the Central, it doesn’t seem like a radical idea.

Alright here is what I do like. Chris Getz will help that infield defense a little bit. Rick Ankiel is a nice addition, but I hope they don’t put too much pressure on him offensively with no one really around him.

Billy Butler is going to continue to get better offensively and hopefully that will make the players around him a little better.

Okay the well is running dry here. As much as the AL Central is wide open, the Royals may be the one team that doesn’t have a shot at winning it. It is hard to find a lot of positives for this season alone.

 

Minnesota Twins

Last Year: Finished First in the AL Central, Lost in Playoffs

Additions: SS J.J. Hardy, P Clay Condrey, P Mike Maroth, 2B Orlando Hudson, DH Jim Thome, OF Jacque Jones, P Ron Mahay

Subtractions: 3B Brian Buscher, C Mike Redmond, 3B Joe Crede, OF Carlos Gomez, SS Orlando Cabrera, P Boof Bonser

2010 Free Agents: C Joe Mauer, 2B Orlando Hudson, DH Jim Thome, P Carl Pavano, P Matt Guerrier, P Jon Rauch, *3B Nick Punto, *OF Jason Kubel

Three Strikes: OF Jason Kubel, OF Delmon Young, P Francisco Liriano

Jason Kubel has a club option for 2011, but I have to wonder how much longer he’ll be a Twin after they’ve put a lot of money into Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

Denard Span is one piece, but if Delmon Young can finally take a big step, that will make the Jason Kubel decision a lot easier. Kubel would fit best in the designated hitter role that will be occupied mostly by Jim Thome this season.

I believe what we saw from Liriano in winter ball was for real. Not a bad guy to have as your fifth starter going into the season.

What’s different?

This team made a conscious effort to upgrade the middle of their infield by moving Nick Punto to third and replacing departed Orlando Cabrera with J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson. They also added some punch to the designated hitter spot with Jim Thome, but that will force Jason Kubel into the field more often than not.

Their rotation and bullpen for the most part returns with most of the pieces from last year. Two mid-season additions in Carl Pavano and Jon Rauch stick around as well. Rauch may prove to be much needed after the crushing blow dealt to the Twins early in spring.

The biggest change will be the one they didn’t plan for in Joe Nathan going down with a season ending injury.

Summary

Nathan going down is a big blow for the Twins as they enter a new era of their franchise. They just signed their hometown superstar catcher Joe Mauer to a long-term mega-deal to coincide with the opening of their brand new stadium.

And they lose one of the best closers in the entire game.

Minnesota won the division last year and return as favorites to claim a wide open Central. But perhaps with Nathan’s injury, it becomes even more wide open than it already was.

The Twins probably have the most well-rounded team in the entire division with the least amount of questions. Before Nathan went down, they had a respectable bullpen, a solid starting five, a defensively sound team, and a balanced lineup.

They still have all of that, but if you can’t end the game, then you can’t win the game.

For now it will be closer by committee and if everything else works out, it becomes their biggest concern.

I like what the Twins bring to the table. I hate to make it all about the loss of Joe Nathan, but it really is the biggest worry I would have about them. Ron Gardenhire always fields a competitive team that plays hard. Add in the established talent they’ve got all over the diamond and it isn’t hard to see why a lot of people like this team.

 

"2010 MLB Division Previews" is a part of a month long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "2010 MLB Division Previews, " other features, and a schedule, click here . Winners and projections will be available after all divisions have been previewed.

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