Saturday, November 26, 2005

AL Central Offseason

Chicago White Sox
Key players lost: Paul Konerko, Carl Everett, Aaron Rowand, Frank Thomas
Needs: CF, 1B/DH
The Sox took a step toward shoring up their offense with the addition of Jim Thome. If they can re-sign Paul Konerko (and it looks like they eventually will), they will take another big step toward offensive solvency. But they're still not a really good-hitting team. They've got Thome, Konerko (maybe), Jermaine Dye, and Tadahito Iguchi. That's not amazing, and neither is the rest of their lineup: Podsednik (steals and nada else), A.J. Pierzynski (mediocre), and Juan Uribe and Joe Crede (homers and a sub-.300 OBP). If they can get something good in center field, that will help, but they're not even approaching Cleveland yet.
They probably won't touch their pitching staff in the off-season, which is about right, since offense is their main concern. But of their Big 4 starters, only Freddy Garcia and Mark Buehrle can be somewhat counted on to repeat their 2005 performances. Jon Garland has never pitched even remotely as good, and you can't rely too much on the aging Jose Contreras, either.

Cleveland Indians
Key players lost: Kevin Millwood, Bob Wickman, Bob Howry, Scott Elarton
Needs: 2 starters, closer
The good news is that Cleveland's offense should be as good as 2005's, if not better next season. Young players like Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and Grady Sizemore have nowhere to go but up. They're a bit weak on the infield corners (the dismal Ben Broussard at 1B and Aaron Boone at 3B), as well as the corner outfield spots (Casey Blake and Coco Crisp). But they've got enough firepower elsewhere to make up for it.
Cleveland's top priority is their pitching staff, their rotation in particular. They've got 3 pitchers to put in the rotation for 2006: C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Jake Westbrook. Sabathia and Lee are good, but not great, with Lee's career year in 2005 especially suspect. Westbrook's true value probably lies somewhere between his great 2004 (3.38 ERA) and dreary 2005 (4.49). And that's all they've got right now. I've heard that they're trying to bring back 5th starter Scott Elarton, but that would still leave them short an ace. Pitching is what kept them out of the playoffs in 2005, so the Indians would do well to pursue a strong hand for the rotation.
They also have to replace closer Bob Wickman. Wickman wasn't as great as people thought in 2005 (45 saves, yes, but a 21:41 BB:K ratio with 9 HR allowed), but at least he was something. With B.J. Ryan apparently off the market and Billy Wagner out of their price range, the Indians will have to get creative.

Minnesota Twins
Key players lost: Jacque Jones, Joe Mays, Bret Boone
The Twins technically have most of their positions covered. By that I mean that they possess a human being who could realistically man those positions without being booed out of the building. But the problem is that none of them can HIT!
That's a bit of an exaggeration, yes. Joe Mauer was the AL's best catcher last year (372/411/294), and Torii Hunter is a decent enough hitter in CF (337/452/269). And Justin Morneau has the potential to become a big slugger at 1B, although he sure as hell didn't in 2005 (304/437/239). But the loss of Jacque Jones to free agency leaves the Twins with nothing else to fill in the gaps; and outside of Lew Ford in RF, the Twins don't even have any moderately good hitters. The outfield admittedly looks fine, with Shannon Stewart taking over in LF along with Hunter in CF and Ford in RF. But the infield, outside of Morneau at first, is a shambles. It's the true definition of replacement players, with minor-league wannabes Michael Cuddyer and Justin Bartlett at second and third, and the second coming of Neifi Perez, Juan Castro (279/386/257 in '05) at shortstop.
If the Twins can't solve these offensive troubles, even their amazing pitching staff won't be able to save them.

Detroit Tigers
Key players lost: Jason Johnson, Rondell White
Needs: CF, 2 starters
For some reason, people keep insisting that the Tigers are contenders. It happened when they signed Ivan Rodriguez in 2004 (90 losses) and when they signed Troy Percival in 2005 (91 losses). The Tigers have some . . . well, one good young player (Jeremy Bonderman), and even he's not the ace people think he is. He certainly has time to develop, but that's the story behind these Tigers. They've all got plenty of time before they start winning.
The starting rotation behind Bonderman currently consists of Mark Maroth and Nate Robertson. Put the kiddies to bed, Mama.
The offense isn't any great shakes, either. The infield looks good, with the newcomer Shelton at first, the solid Polanco at second, the great-hitting (and injury-prone) Carlos Guillen at short, and Brandon Inge at third. But the outfield is much uglier. Magglio Ordonez could be good in RF if he's remotely healthy, but Craig Monroe in left is thoroughly mediocre. And center field is empty right now, although the club will probably insist on playing someone like Nook Logan, the career pinch-runner in training.

Kansas City Royals
Key losses: Terrence Long, Jose Lima, Brian Anderson
Needs: A gun
The Royals are a thoroughly hopeless franchise. They have some good prospects, yes. But they've done a fine job of squandering good prospects over the past 10 years, and there's no reason to expect that they'll stop any time soon.
The Royals have the wonderful 1-2 punch of bad pitching and bad hitting. Their chief offensive threats are David DeJesus (decent prospect), Mike Sweeney (DL here I come), and . . . uh, Matt Stairs. Emil Brown is the most overrated player in the game, and prospects Mark Teahen and John Buck made little progress in 2005. Angel Berroa is the greatest punch line in the organization, as he won a Rookie of the Year Award he shouldn't have, and the organization signed him to a long-term deal before determining, you know, if he was actually any damn good.
Zach Greinke is the ace of the pitching staff, and the Royals are hoping for the 2004 Greinke (3.97 ERA) instead of the 2005 Greinke (5.80 ERA). There's nothing for them after that in the rotation, although there is hope in the bullpen with the likes of Andy Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos, and Mike MacDougal.

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