Does Mark Buehrle make the cut for the AL Central squad?
In recent memory, we've always heard about how the AL East is Major League Baseball's toughest division, with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays beating up on each other, along with the rest of the American League.
Some people make a case for the NL East, where the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves have a stronghold, combined with an over-acheiving Florida Marlins squad and an even more under-acheiving New York Mets team.
It's easy to say one division is better than the other based on records alone, so I had an idea: What if we take the best player at each position, from each division and create separate "All-Star" teams? Which division would have the most talented squad?
That's exactly what we are going to do in hopes we can finally come to a realization of which division is MLB's best. You might be surprised at how good (or bad) some of the teams end up being.
The selection process is simple: It will be the best player at each position today. It won't be based on future potential, and it won't be based on a player having a monster season five years ago.
This will be a seven part series over the next two weeks: one part for each of baseball's six divisions, followed by a summary piece that will hopefully allow us to figure out and debate which division really is MLB's best.
We begin with the AL Central.
The Twins Ron Gardenhire leads the AL Central squad.
This wasn't an easy decision, especially since Ozzie Guillen won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox back in 2005. That was six years ago, and in the time since, Ron Gardenhire has done nothing but impress as the manager of the Minnesota Twins.
I don't know if any manager has ever done more with less. Take last year, for instance, when Justin Morneau was lost for the season. Gardenhire, currently the reigning AL Manager of the Year, was able to rally his team and wrap up a second consecutive division title, while winning six total AL central crowns in nine years on the job.
HONORABLE MENTION: Ozzie Guillen (Chicage White Sox)
The Twins Joe Mauer mans the backstop for the AL Central All-Stars.
It doesn't matter what division Joe Mauer is in; he is clearly the best backstop in baseball. The 2009 AL MVP and four-time AL All-Star is the face of the franchise in Minnesota, and deservedly so.
Mauer may have some competition in the near future, however, as Cleveland Indians slugger Carlos Santana is an up and comer with the tools to be an elite catcher. Only time will tell if he can live up to the hype and give Mauer a run for his money.
HONORABLE MENTION: A.J. Pierzynski (Chicago White Sox)
Miguel Cabrera holds a .314 career batting average
I think everyone can remember Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera bursting onto the scene as a 20-year-old for the Florida Marlins back in 2003, leading them to an improbable World Series victory. Off-the-field issues aside, Cabrera can rake, and he is about as consistent as they come.
Cabrera, a five-time All-Star with a .314 career batting average, has averaged 35 home runs per season since 2005. He is also coming off of a 2010 season where he led the AL with a 7.4 WAR.
I briefly considered White Sox first basemen Paul Konerko, as well as the Twins' Justin Morneau. Had Morneau not been dealing with concussion issues the last couple seasons, he could have made a run at the top spot.
HONORABLE MENTION: Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox)
Gordan Beckham makes the cut at second base.
This was tough, as second basemen in the AL Central are unproven, to say the least. In the end, I had to give the nod to Gordan Beckham of the Chicago White Sox.
After being called up midway through the 2009 season, Beckham looked like a natural, smacking 14 homers and finishing with a .347 OBP in 430 plate appearances. He seemed to take a step back in 2010, but the future is still bright for the 24-year-old.
There is plenty of unproven talent at second base within the division, with the Royals' Mike Aviles and Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka coming to mind. There is also Orlando Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians, but his age, defense and inability to get on base left Beckham as the most logical choice.
HONORABLE MENTION: Mike Aviles (Kansas City Royals)
Ramirez has uncharacteristic power for a shortstop.
Alexei Ramirez has a big swing for his 175 lb. frame, which puts him at the top of a division with relatively young shortstops. He has hit at least 15 home runs in each of the past three seasons and has managed a .282 batting average in the process.
Asdrubal Cabrera had been a serviceable shortstop until the injury bug crept up on him the last couple seasons, but he is still young enough to rebound. The Royals have former top prospect Alcides Escobar, who was the centerpiece in this winters Zack Greinke trade, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a big year to take over the top spot.
HONORABLE MENTION: Asdrubal Cabrera (Cleveland Indians)
Can Danny Valencia handle the Hot Corner?
This is arguably the AL Central's biggest weakness: serviceable and/or experienced third basemen.
While I generally wouldn't select a a guy with less than 100 games, Danny Valencia burst onto the scene in 2010 with seven homers and 40 RBI's in less than 300 at-bats while also managing a .313 batting average and a .351 OBP.
Small sample size, yes, but when you are up against the likes of the Tigers Brandon Inge and the White Sox Brent Morel, it doesn't take a whole lot. Morel has a lot of upside, but right now, I'd have to give the edge to Valencia.
HONORABLE MENTION: Brandon Inge (Detroit Tigers)
Did Delmon Young show a glimpse of what's to come in 2010?
The Minnesota Twins finally got what they bargained for out of Delmon Young in 2010, three years after acquiring him from the Tampa Bay Rays after his breakout year in 2007. After hitting only 22 home runs in his first two years as a Twin combined, Young went deep 21 times a year ago while driving in 112 runs.
That is a solid performance, which made Young's spot on the AL Central squad a no-brainer. Jaun Pierre and Austin Kearns were other possibilities, but obviously, neither of them come close to the production of Young.
Honorable Mention: Juan Pierre (Chicago White Sox)
A change of scenery certainly helped Alex Rios.
Many in the baseball world were laughing at the White Sox for claiming Alex Rios off waivers two seasons ago. Who's laughing now?
Rios reaffirmed why the Blue Jays gave him a massive contract extension a few seasons ago, as he set career highs in 2010 with 34 stolen bases and 88 RBI's. The multi-tooled Rios also provides above-average defense in center field.
Honorable Mention: Denard Span (Minnesota Twins)
The Korea native Shin-Soo Choo rounds out the AL Central outfield.
After finally being given the chance to start for the Cleveland Indians in 2009, Shin-Soo Choo hasn't stopped to look back. Whether a late bloomer or just the consequence of being given a chance to play every day, Choo continues to improve each year, and has turned into a multi-tooled asset for the Indians in right field.
Choo joined the 20/20 club in each of the previous two seasons (20 home runs/20 stolen bases), and his combination of hitting and defensive skills earned him a 7.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which was second highest in the league last season.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Quentin (Chicago White Sox)
White Sox DH Adam Dunn should rake for the AL Central
No longer a defensive liability, White Sox DH Adam Dunn is clearly the only man for the job. Dunn has hit between 38 and 46 home runs in each of the last 7 years, and has even seen his batting average jump to .260 and above the last two seasons.
I also considered Detroit Tigers DH Victor Martinez, as well up and comer Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals, but Dunn's raw power and knack for hitting 40+ homers separated him from the rest.
HONORABLE MENTION: Victor Martinez (Detroit Tigers)
Verlander anchors the rotation for the AL Central squad.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, the 2006 Rookie of the Year and 3 time All-Star, has mostly impressed in his years with the team. After a sub-par 2008 campaign, Verlander has bounced back with 37 wins over the past two seasons.
Verlander has been consistent as well, throwing at least 200 innings over the last four years. His ERA will probably always be in the mid-3.00's, but when he gets his fastball working he is as dominant as they come.
White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle earns the #2 spot in the Al Central rotation.
With 10 straight years of double digit wins and 200+ innings pitch, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle seems like a logical choice for the AL Centrals No. 2 starter. Buehrle has never been an overpowering pitcher, and his ERA is usually only slightly above average, but somehow he always seems to get the job done.
He has, however, won back to back Gold Gloves in 2009 and 2010, and was part of one of the best defensive plays in recent memory last year on Opening Day. Buehrle has 4 All-Star game selections to his credit, along with a no-hitter AND a perfect game under his belt. He was also a Sammy Sosa walk away from becoming the first pitcher to throw two perfect games.
Can the Twins Francisco Liriano hold the fort as the Centrals #3 starter?
Although Minnesota Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano hasn't pitched up to expectations following his 2006 performance as a rookie, most of that is due to lagging injuries. He proved in 2010 that his "stuff" is back, garnering 14 wins and reaching the 200 strikeout plateau.
If he can finally stay healthy and keep command of his pitches, Liriano should be a solid No. 3 pitcher for the AL Central squad. Those are big "ifs," though, so don't be surprised if he disappoints.
A much improved John Danks grabs the AL Centrals #4 spot.
As far as pure skills go, White Sox pitcher John Danks has the potential to be a top of the rotation type starter. His ERA went up a little the last two seasons after his breakout campaign in 2008, but that trend shouldn't continue into the future.
On the plus side, Danks has increased his wins total in each of his four seasons in the league, and he has reached 200+ innings pitched the last two years. All signs point to him heading in the right direction.
Scherzer is looking to follow-up on his breakout 2010.
After being traded to the Detroit Tigers from the Arizona Diamondbacks, pitcher Max Scherzer started the 2010 season on rocky ground. That didn't last long, as Scherzer soon found his form and had a breakout season to the tune of 184 strikeouts with a 3.50 ERA, picking up 12 wins along the way.
It was tough to decide on the No. 5 starter, but I had it narrowed down to Scherzer, the Cleveland Indians Fausto Carmona, and the Twins Carl Pavano. There is a good argument for Carmona, but in the end, Scherzer seemed like the right choice.
HONORABLE MENTION: Fausto Carmona (Cleveland Indians), Carl Pavano (Minnesota Twins)
Soria is amongst the best closers in the game.
Joakim Soria represents the lone Kansas City Royal on the squad, but his roster spot wasn't given out of sympathy. Soria has established himself as one of the best closers in the game, which is all the more impressive considering who he plays for.
The 2-time All-Star sports a career 1.99 ERA to go along with 133 saves, and he is still just 26 years of age. Just as impressive, his career WHIP sits at 0.988 while striking out almost 10 batters per 9 innings.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jose Valverde (Detroit Tigers)
The Minnesota Twins had 4 selections for the AL Central team.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (Minnesota Twins)
Catcher: Joe Mauer (Minnesota Twins)
First Base: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)
Second Base: Gordan Beckham (Chicago White Sox)
Shortstop: Alexei Ramirez (Chicago White Sox)
Third Base: Danny Valencia (Minnesota Twins)
Left Field: Delmon Young (Minnesota Twins)
Center Field: Alex Rios (Chicago White Sox)
Right Field: Shin-soo Choo (Cleveland Indians)
Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn (Chicago White Sox)
SP No. 1: Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers)
SP No. 2: Mark Buehrle (Chicago White Sox)
SP No. 3: Francisco Liriano (Minnesota Twins)
SP No. 4: John Danks (Chicago White Sox)
SP No. 5: Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers)
Closer: Joakim Soria (Kansas City Royals)
The White Sox lead the way with 6 selections, with the Twins sitting at 5 selections, the Tigers at 3 selections, and the Indians and Royals each with 1 selection.
What do you think? Are they as good as you would have expected? How will this team compare to other divisional teams?
NEXT UP: AL West