Dugout Central’s 2012 American League Central Preview
By Cameron Nelson
Well, it’s another season gone by and now it’s another season where I try to predict the fate of the American League Central. Last year I proved that things can look good on paper, but things can always implode for no real reason. I predicted Chicago and Minnesota to finish first and second and, all told, both had pretty terrible seasons. I expected Detroit to be the middle of the road and they ran away with the division, producing the league MVP, and Cleveland almost stumbled their way to a .500 record. I don’t really know how any of this happened, as the only thing I came closest to predicting right was the Royals being terrible. While we weren’t the worst in the league, we were top 5. Considering that, I’m calling it a moderate success. Last year, I thought the American League Central was gonna be a pretty close race and be an exciting division to watch. Well, I can’t really say the same this time. There’s some terrible teams here, some guys who could sniff .500, but mainly it’s gonna be a one-Tiger show in the Central. But, in fairness, let’s take a look at how the division breaks down and what I think is gonna be the ALC this year.
Chicago White Sox
The Offseason: Last year, Chicago decided to go all-in, trying to shore up its bullpen and adding marquee slugger Adam Dunn in an attempt to take the division by storm. This offseason was almost a complete 180, selling off everything they could there. The biggest hit the team will feel most likely is losing Carlos Quentin. While this guy was an absolute butcher in the field, he was still one of their prime power threats and a guy who can make pitchers nervous. Now he’s a Padre and Chicago didn’t get a hell of a lot for him. Mark Buerhle’s gone too. While he didn’t give them great numbers, he’s a guy who helped save the bullpen’s innings. One of their core hitters is gone and so is their biggest workhorse. On top of that, their manager is gone. While I had my criticisms of Ozzie Guillen, the guy was also one of the few guys who can light a fire under just about anyone’s ass and get them going. He’s gonna have a hell of a time in Miami this year, but I think this team’s gonna struggle to find an identity under new manager Robin Ventura, who hasn’t managed a team before. This team pretty much got neutered in the offseason and the only real bright side is that John Danks got a pretty reasonable extension. One of my buddies in Chicago has a conspiracy theory that Jerry Reinsdorf imploded the White Sox to pay for Derrick Rose’s seven year contract extension with the Bulls. …I tend to agree with him because that’s the only rationale I can find in what the hell happened to a team that looked to be one of the best in the league suddenly imploding and then pissing on its own ashes.
What to Watch For: This team’s pretty much all about praying for comebacks. The only steady performers really are Alexei Ramirez and Paul Konerko. Adam Dunn had a bafflingly bad season last year and I think he’ll find a way to rebound from that but damn. Dayan Viciedo’s had a good run in the minors and he’s getting a good chance at finding an everyday job with them now, Chris Sale is settling in nicely, so there’s some youth on the team to watch. Alex Rios is always one to watch as he CAN be one of the best center fielders in the league if he tries… Or is in Canada, I forget which. The thing is, don’t get your hopes up. Watch the White Sox for stuff to improve on, not to watch a winning team.
What to Dread: Looking anything like last year’s White Sox. The young anchors of the rotation of Floyd and Danks had slow starts and they’ll probably start slow again this year. Quentin’s gone, so there’s an even bigger spotlight on Adam Dunn to perform and if he rides his cold streak, he could find himself traded somewhere else by the deadline. Gordon Beckham is still playing, so there’s the constant reminder that one of the promising rookies of the game will still be a bust, and I think Juan Pierre is still in the Chicago lineup. Why? I don’t know.
My Prediction: Much as I’m bashing this team, I’m calling them fourth in the league. This season, I see one team worse, but with a much bright future.
The Offseason: I don’t think the Indians actually did much. The major transaction for Cleveland was the acquisition of veteran innings-eater Derek Lowe. I like this move, as they get a guy to help mentor that rotation full of incredibly young arms. Well, young arms and Fausto Carmona. Yet another latin birth certificate scandal. At this point, it’s almost become mundane in baseball. The real additions to this team are coming from call-ups like Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis. They’re giving a long-struggling lineup some youth and pop, good to see. I could’ve said the same for the rotation, but Alex White and Drew Pomeranz are Rockies… Oh that’s right, Ubaldo Jiminez is an Indian. I kinda forgot since that was technically a midseason acquisition, but if we’re talking about Cleveland’s changes, you gotta really start and end with Cleveland having a certifiable ace in the rotation for the first time in three seasons.
What to Watch For: These guys came in close to .500 last year, so really the big thing is seeing if they can turn out a winning season. With people like Chisenhall and Kipnis finally making their names heard in Cleveland and that rotation fronted by guys like Jiminez and Masterson, there’s things to like about this team. Grady Sizemore’s also on a one last chance signing, so fingers crossed, Tribe Fans. Lastly, there’s Shin Soo-Choo. He can be a good player when healthy, but who knows if we’ll get the good Choo or the bad Choo here. While I don’t see this becoming the 90s all over again, there’s stuff to like here.
What to Dread: A regression. That rotation, while it can be good, is largely green and riding one good season collectively for its reputation. That lineup also has perpetual underachievers like Travis Hafner and Matt LaPorta in it. There’s also an asterisk to that rotation in Ubaldo Jiminez. While he has good stuff and is an ace, he also has a bad habit of getting shelled on a regular basis when he’s off. He’s a hit-or-whiff guy with seemingly no middle ground. While Progressive Field should mitigate that as opposed to being in Coors, he can end up not quite being what Cleveland wants him to be. Still, there’s not a lot to me that screams imminent danger here, just another 80 – 82 season.
My Prediction: If I’m to place a number on their season, I’ll say 80 – 82 again, but it’s a coin flip for which side of .500 they’re on. They won’t be 2 wins or losses past .500 though. This team is a middle of the road team, but in a weak AL Central, that’s still good for second in the division.
The Offseason: This is the team I was gonna end up talking about, you all knew it. This team is fielding a 3-4 of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. In a division with plentiful amounts of weak pitchers, this is gonna be ridiculous to watch. I actually wanna make an interesting note. Miguel Cabrera’s slimmed down a bit and Detroit now wants him to move back to third base. Then again, the depth chart also lists Delmon Young as the DH and the left fielder, so nothing is set in stone. This will easily be one of the worst defensive teams in the league, but with that pitching and that offense in this division, it really doesn’t matter.
What to Watch: The home run totals? Honestly, this team is gonna run away with the division. The lineup is stacked top-to-bottom and when you can lose Victor Martinez and essentially not care about it, that’s something special. The bullpen is anchored by a trio of Valverde, Benoit, and Dotel, with strikeout machine Al Alburquerque behind them and a rotation so thick that Jacob Turner and Andrew Oliver are fighting for the fifth spot and could possibly both team up to force Rick Porcello into long relief. Any way you look at this team, it all adds up to being one of the most dominant in the league.
What to Dread: Uh… A plane crashing into Comerica Park and killing the team? Honestly, I got nothing. The only thing I can say is try not to pay attention to how god-awful the defense on this team is gonna be.
My Prediction: First in the division by no less than fifteen games, easily within 20, possibly the only team I can say is a lock for 100 wins without any caveats.
Kansas City Royals
The Offseason: The only real outside addition I can think off the top of my head is Jonathon Broxton. Other than that, this team is pretty much home-grown and something to like. The lineup consists of four sophomores in Hosmer, Moustakas, Giavotella, and Perez, and anchored by long-time Royals Gordon and Butler. Defensively, the outfield is set in the corners at least and the infield all around is pretty solid, along with a good bullpen to set things up. The team’s still looking on its big wave of pitchers to come up through the pipeline, but for once, Royals fans can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What to Watch For: Right now, we can see what our guys look like in a full season. Eric Hosmer absolutely crushed the ball in the time he had and Salvador Perez and Johnny Giavotella are performing better than anticipated. Moose is a bit slow, but a guy his size is supposed to be. Butler’s gonna be Butler and now we have Gordon finally living up to expectations. On top of that, the bullpen is no longer a concern. Soria was spotty last year and Broxton has had a bad stretch in LA, but Crow and Collins are more than capable of cleaning that mess up. If we’re lucky, we’ll even see guys like Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi in Kansas City before too long.
What to Dread: The rotation. Luke Hochevar is once again our “ace”, followed by Bruce Chen. The rest of the rotation is Jonathon Sanchez, Felipe Paulino, and Danny Duffy. All these guys have more than enough heat to produce Ks but all can easily get shelled. I gotta tell you, this rotation scares the crap out of me and barring a rookie callup, I don’t see an ERA under 4.50 in the bunch. Go to the bullpen early and often here.
My Prediction: I’m starting to see a little bit of hope for my boys in blue. I’m calling mid-to-high seventies in the win total and third in the division.
The Offseason: This team added a couple guys like Willingham and Carroll to try and stem the bleeding, but they lost Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel and, subsequently, their two best power hitters since a ball to the head made Justin Morneau forget how to hit. This team is pretty much the team that imploded in a grand fashion last year. A rotation full of mediocre to bad pitchers, a one-trick-pony bullpen, and a lineup that is allergic to home runs.
What to Watch For: The bright side is there’s talent in the farm. Ben Revere’s already here and Aaron Hicks is on the way to make this team a defensive dynamo in the outfield. While not a big power crew, either, Mauer, Morneau, and Valencia are all guys who can still hit for good contact and if they try to small ball their way around, there’s hope for these guys down the line. As it is…
What to Dread: This team sucks. While Joe Mauer is still the best catcher in the league, there’s not really another thing to like here besides him. Look forward to the future with guys like Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson to get the Twins back to a team that will contend with home-grown talent much like we’ve seen from them, but there’s a bleak future in Minnesota.
My Prediction: Last in the division and a top five draft pick this year. When teams like Seattle, Houston, and Oakland populate the MLB, I can’t call them the worst team in the league, but they have to be up there.
That’s the division this year. It’s not exactly great and it’s gonna be a Detroit runaway, but there’s two teams with very bright futures here and Minnesota will get back in it before too long if you ask me. This season is an exception rather than the norm, seeing as we have a clear favorite. Watch the division for some interesting baseball and the future of baseball… And probably the MVP and Cy Young of the league in Cabrera and Verlander, but this isn’t a division to watch winning teams this year.