Dugout Central’s American League Central Division Preview
By Cameron Nelson
While not as exciting as the AL East or having standout studs like the NL West and its pitching, the AL Central is always fun to watch. As a fan of the division, and my hometown Royals in particular, I’m proud to be the one to give Dugout Central a preview of (what I think) will happen in the AL Central this year.
I’ll take a look at the teams, what they did in the offseason, what to watch for, what they should pray won’t happen, and my predictions for the team.
In alphabetical order, we go to…
Chicago White Sox
The Offseason: Chicago decided to go all-in this season, and given the run they made last season, I agree with the move. Reinsdorf wants to put out a winner on the field and they’re trying their damndest. Adam Dunn is the DH for the next four years, welcome back Paulie and AJ, and the bullpen lost Putz and Jenks, but Thornton is resigned and guys like Will Ohman and Jesse Crain cushioned the blow somewhat. This lineup looks absolutely beastly and US Cellular’s outfield will need to give out free hardhats.
What to Watch For: It still seems like Chicago wants to get rid of Carlos Quentin and still want to see if they can make some moves, so I guess I could say that Chicago’s roster isn’t finalized just yet and that’s the main thing to watch. Other than that, I want to keep an eye on the team’s homer totals. I call this team next year’s Blue Jays. Plus, there’s a legit DH in Chicago now. About damn time, even Ozzie can’t screw that one up.
What to Dread: Another set of substandard years from the rotation. Gavin Floyd and John Danks had slow starts, Mark Buerhle kinda vanished, and Jake Peavy went up in smoke. If they can stay healthy and on top of their game, they’re one of the best rotations in the league. Chris Sale looks to be a combination setup man to Thornton and sixth starter. I’m calling it right now, this kid’s on the DL in less than two months with Tommy John surgery. Tried his delivery once to see how he could do it. …It hurt like hell.
My Prediction: The top of the AL Central is hard to call, but Chicago looks like a very legitimate contender. If the pitching does its job, the lineup will carry them to a 90+ win season and they’ll finish first. That rotation could cost them a winning season yet again, though. Proceed with caution when placing money on the ChiSox.
The Offseason: Pretty much, all they did was get Austin Kearns, something I find amusing as they traded him to the Yankees for Zach McAllister and got him back in the offseason anyway. As one of the lower-payroll teams in the league, no one expected them to make a splash. A glance at the minor league transactions show a nice set of low-risk moves, though.Travis Buck, Jack Hannahan, Adam Everrett, Anthony Reyes, and a trade for Preston Mattingly form a decent security blanket at AAA. I’d say passable for the Indians. They know they aren’t contending, so actively avoiding anything stupid is a good thing for them. Also, that little middle finger to the Yankees of taking McAllister AND re-signing Kearns gets a couple extra points for comedy value.
What to Watch For: Returns of a healthy Carlos Santana and Grady Sizemore are going to make baseball in Cleveland somewhat watchable again. These two guys are major sparkplugs, very young, and it’ll keep ‘em going. Shin-Soo Choo should be an under-the-radar success yet again. The real thing to watch for is the young guys like Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Justin Masterson, and Carlos Carrasco. If they can start to approach expectations, we’ll see something exciting. Spring Training might have some battles, such as Lonnie Chisenhall at third and seeing if Zach McAllister can crack the rotation. You may have noticed that outside the young guys, I didn’t mention the pitching much. Really, nothing to say. Outside of Fausto Carmona and Chris Perez, you couldn’t pick the rest of them out of a lineup, expect both the rotation and the bullpen to finish in the bottom half in ERA.
What to Dread: Injuries. Santana and Sizemore going down really hurt the team, and Asdrubal Cabrera missed a lot of time too. While there are good youngsters there, they can’t replace the few marquee players they have. There’s a decent outfield depth there, but production will drop pretty heavily if anyone goes down.
My Prediction: 4th in the AL Central, top 10 draft pick in 2012. These guys are on the upswing with a good crop of young talent at the ML level and the farm’s coming along, but the team is still too green and placed in a tough division that’s very heavy at the top. They’ll be good in a few years, but not now.
The Offseason: Only a small handful of moves, and it’s both good and bad. Victor Martinez is a very good catcher, but his bat isn’t necessarily good enough to play as an everyday DH (even worse in Comerica’s huge outfield) and he’s not fit enough to be an everyday catcher. While he’s a good player, the contract could come back to bite them in the ass later. Joaquin Benoit is a good pitcher, not good enough for 16 million dollars, and pray that Brad Penny doesn’t pitch like his last trip to the AL. Jhonny Peralta came back and Ryan Raburn got an extension to round out the other major moves. My one huge beef was bringing back Magglo Ordonez. Not that Mags isn’t popular in Detroit or a good player, but you could’ve had Manny Ramirez for 2 million instead of Mags for 10 million.
What to Watch: Miguel Cabrera, but that’s a given. The rotation easily figures to be one of the most electric with 5 fastballs that average in the mid-90s led by one of the league’s true aces in Verlander. The young guys like Sizemore, Jackson, Coke, Zumaya, and Boesch are still there and look to make a good core of players to support Cabrera and Verlander. A good lineup and a stacked rotation will make them a very solid team.
What to Dread: Sophomore slumps. Boesch was streaky enough as it is, Jackson’s Ks could kill his production up front, and the other young guys could go down and hurt the team. Brad Penny was a cancer in Boston’s rotation and if he repeats, yikes. Magglio Ordonez going down last season hurt the production and he could repeat this season and he’s a year older too. It’s a precarious position they find themselves in.
My Prediction: All things considered, I’ll call them for another third place finish, but I also say they’ll have a winning record at just a shade of finishing over .500. If injuries and slumps strike again, though, I could pretty much see a carbon copy of last year’s Tigers.
Kansas City Royals
The Offseason: Possibly one of the best in the league. Gil Meche retired, that saved us 12 million bucks, 8 of which went back into paying Billy Butler this year. Locking up Butler is a very god move for KC as it solidifies the lineup of the future by keeping him here and his doubles and mid-range homer power is gonna be nice with the studs that’ll be in front of him in a few years. Outside of that one, it’s been the emphasis of low-risk free agents with the likes of Bruce Chen, Jeff Francis, and the like. Again, not contending this year, no need to go for broke. The trade for Zack Greinke made most fans in KC sad (not me, I was rip-roarin’ pissed, but that was because of Greinke being a Royal asshat), but we got a premier defender in Escobar and solidified spots that we’re thin in (middle infield, a legit CF, and RHP). Cain, Escobar, and Jeffress figure to help KC at the major league level and they’ll be good, but not enough to save the team.
What to Watch For: Seeing if general admission tickets get any cheaper? Honestly, outfield tickets are five bucks with all-you-eat food and Rivals Sports Bar in RF if you want to drink the game away. The rotation is Hochevar and bunch of guys who are castoffs of other rotations, the bullpen is dreadfully thin outside of Soria, and the lineup is DREADFUL. However, there are a few shining bits of hope. Spring Training could see the coming of Mike Moustakas, but he could start in Omaha to avoid Super Two status. Still, expect Moose to come up at some point midseason, and folks like Eric Hosmer, Aaron Crow, Mike Montgomery, and the like as possible September callups.
What to Dread: Having to watch “The Fuckin’ Royals” for another year. This team is going to be good in a couple of years, but when your best hitters (outside of Butler) are Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera with a staff ace of Luke Hochevar…
My Prediction: Dead last in the ML.
The Offseason: Minnesota’s offseason had a noticeable amount of loss. Their once-solid bullpen lost Jon Rauch, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, and Brian Fuentes with no real pickups coming in to fill the big shoes they left. The middle was shored up by Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Carl Pavano is back, and Jim Thome anchors the bench yet again, but the major story is what they lost here.
What to Watch For: Twins fans rejoice! Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan are back. Morneau lost half a season and Nathan a full season and they still had a 90 win season. The rotation still has no defined ace, but it’s still a very solid group of guys. I think they’ll still be one of the most baffling success stories in the MLB, but don’t mess with a good thing, I guess. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a .350 hitter in Japan and could be a Rookie of the Year favorite if he plays up to expectations. Oh yeah, they also have the Joe Mauer guy, I heard he’s good.
What to Dread: The comeback kids’ injuries. Remember the post-concussion slump David Wright had? Morneau could have one too. Nathan’s back from TJ and while he could throw harder than ever, he could be injured again. Just a note of caution. Also, the rotation still has no definite ace still. I’ve been waiting for the pitching to collapse for years and it could happen. The bullpen’s also noticeably thin, be careful. Capps and Nathan are a very good duo, but it’s pretty much just them back there.
My Prediction: The Twins really didn’t change all too much, so I could say Ron Gardenhire could lead them to another 90 win season and another ALDS loss… But with the combination of the weakened bullpen and Chicago’s strong push, I’m calling a win total in the high 80s and a second-place finish. If injuries and the under-performance I’ve been calling for years before finally strike though, they could be this year’s Tigers. Realistically, I say they finish second behind the White Sox.
Well, this was my first Dugout Central story. Let me know if you want more.