Previewing the 2010 American League Central
This division is the anti-AL East. For the past two years, the division winner did so with less than 90 wins. The Twins are the best team on paper, but not by much, and it took a superhuman season from Joe Mauer last year for them to win the AL Central in a one-game playoff. Obviously they’ve lost Joe Nathan, which will hurt, but their bullpen is still very good. They added J.J. Hardy, Orlando Hudson, and Jim Thome to bolster both the offense and defense. The outfield defense will be pretty bad with Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel in the corners, but they’ll both hit enough to make up for it. The biggest question is the rotation, consisting of Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, Nick Blackburn, and either Francisco Liriano or Brian Duensing. Pavano and Liriano have checkered pasts with respect to injuries; they, as well as Slowey and Blackburn, also have checkered pasts with respect to effectiveness.
If the Twins falter, and they might, as they have a fairly small margin for error, two teams will be waiting to nab the division title. The Tigers had an interesting offseason, unloading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson in an attempt to both shed payroll and re-stock the farm system; at the same time, they added Johnny Damon and Jose Valverde to win now. The Tigers plan on running two players out on opening day, Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore, who have never had a major league at-bat. They also lost closer Fernando Rodney in free agency, but picked Jackson, Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, and Phil Coke in the trades for their two stars. The Tigers are a decent enough team, but I really struggle to like them or understand them. My main issue with the Tigers is this: they have a 130 million dollar payroll for 2010, but couldn’t afford two of their best players because 65 million dollars of that money is going to Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis, and Nate Robertson. Ouch.
Another candidate to win the Central is the Chicago White Sox, who are in danger of becoming the Detroit Tigers v 2.0. General Manager Kenny Williams added Jake Peavy and Alex Rios last summer basically by agreeing to pay them so their former teams didn’t have to. Rios should be more valuable to the Sox playing centerfield (he couldn’t in Toronto because of his contract nightmare brother, Vernon Wells), making his contract a little more palatable to Chicago. Their big free agent signings this offseason were Juan Pierre, J.J. Putz, Andruw Jones, and Omar Vizquel. The depth chart looks like a team that was a contender in 2005. To really challenge for a playoff berth, they need several things to break correctly for them, namely a bounceback season from Carlos Quentin and Jake Peavy to be the pitcher he was in San Diego. Gordon Beckham looks like the real deal at the plate and will move to second base, making him even more valuable provided he can actually play the position. Mark Buerhle, Peavy, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd make up four-fifths of a slightly above average rotation, but there could be serious issues in the bullpen. Bobby Jenks had a mediocre 2009 and seemingly gets worse every year, they’re depending a lot on J.J. Putz, and Matt Thornton is the only reliever who’s been consistently good for the last few years. They might have the highest ceiling of these three teams, but they also have the most question marks.
The Cleveland Indians are going to win the 2010 World Series. Ok, maybe not, but a guy can hope. Again, the Indians have a few issues around the diamond, but their position players should be pretty good. An outfield of Matt LaPorta, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo will be among the best in the game. The Tribe signed Russell Branyan to a one-year deal to play first base; they’ll be even better in the future if Michael Brantley (who’s a terrific defender) can take over left field and LaPorta can move to first. Asdrubal Cabrera is an above average middle infielder, especially if his defense picks back up to where it was in 2007 and 2008, and Johnny Peralta just won’t go away. The future looks bright at catcher, as Carlos Santana is coming fast, having won MVP awards the past two years in the minor leagues. As many nice things as I said about the position players, I can say just opposite about the pitching staff. The opening day starter, Jake Westbrook, didn’t pitch in 2009. The number two starter, Fausto Carmona, spent two months in extended spring training, because Single A hitters still would have worked him over. Justin Masterson will try to throw a full season as a starter for the first time, and the cloned trio of David Huff, Aaron Laffey, and Jeremy Sowers will “fight” for the last two spots in the rotation. Infield defense is going to be huge for the Indians in 2010, as Westbrook, Carmona, and Masterson are all extreme groundball pitchers. The bullpen looks plenty bad also, but with the this team, you never know about the bullpen until the season starts. The Indians are going to have to score a lot of runs, because they’ll give up plenty.
Lastly, one of my favorite punching bags, the Kansas City Royals. First, the positives: Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and David DeJesus are pretty good players who will, in the case of Butler and Gordon at least, get better. Zack Greinke had an unfathomable 2009 and is one of the game’s best pitchers. Joakim Soria is the best closer nobody knows, and the farm system isn’t as barren as it used to be, but it’s two biggest stars are in the big leagues. And that’s about it. This team is a disaster. They employ Jason Kendall, Rick Ankiel, Yuniesky Betancourt, Scott Podsednik, and Jose Guillen as everyday starters – I think I could stop there and everyone would understand. Betancourt, Podsednik, Guillen, and Ankiel refuse to walk, despite the fact that they can’t hit. Jason Kendall has been worthless with a bat in his hands since 2004. This is the worst lineup in the major leagues, and they have five guys playing everyday who are blocking someone in Triple-A, whether they are ready or not, from the major leagues. The pitching staff isn’t too much better; after Greinke, Gil Meche is their best starter, and he’s been inconsistent and, last year, injury-prone after his manager left him out there to die. They are trying to turn Kyle Farnsworth, who’s been good for three seasons out of his eleven season career, into a starter. They do have some interesting bullpen arms, and Brian Bannister is fun to watch try to outsmart the opposing hitters, but this team is many pieces short of being anywhere near contention. In short, GM Dayton Moore is fairly clueless and HEY ROYALS, I KNOW A GUY WHO COULD HELP.
Again, let me know what you think too. Put your predictions in the comments and we’ll check them throughout the season and in October.
2010 Projected Standings