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Because I just bought myself a Fedora hat and I feel rebellious, I’ll start my AL Central run-down in reverse order of last year’s standings. Eat it!

Kansas City Royals: Keep drinking that PR Kool Aid (and then add another starter)

treyhillman.jpgA habit of mine is to browse the PR machines for each team whenever I need some research for my posts. Fortunately, I’ve learned to wear my reporter’s hat and cull the spin for what it is and extract the good bits of information. It’s a bit sad, however, to know that there are legions of fans out there who, in their hunger for news about their favorite teams, will eat up this stuff whole.

If we are to believe the Royal’s Press Machine, the team is poised to climb up the ranks this year. If only we could slice away one-third of the season, the Royals would’ve had a .500 record in 2007!

So with that in mind (and now that they have Trey Hillman as their new manager), the Royals think they’re all set for 2008, save a starter or two. Gil Meche will continue to be an underachieving, overpriced, overpaid veteran; Brian Bannister will be a decent second tier starter who can get you 12 wins, and then, well, then things get interesting. The enigma that is Zack Greinke will start out of the third slot in the rotation and you can stop counting there. Jorge de la Rosa could have a good year, but it doesn’t mean the Royals will stop looking for other starters (et tu, Bartolo?)

In their defense, the Royals have been able to hold on to a group of talented young players, out of which, superstar-in-the-making Alex Gordon stands out. Of course, last year’s pleasant surprise was Joakim Soria’s emergence as the team’s closer – and come to think of it, the departure of David Riske has left a gaping hole (ok, not really, but hey, it’s the Royals) in the bullpen, so a good set-up man wouldn’t hurt.

Chicago White Sox: *sigh* A center fielder (and maybe keep losing)

alexei.jpgAnybody who’s going to say that Nick Swisher was the Sox’ pick to start at center field in 2008 needs to brush up on their White Sox news. After failing (miserably) to land a good CF, White Sox GM Kenny Williams decided to pull some of his trademarked “under-the-radar” moves. This time, however, the moves where so off the radar, they bewildered even the most ardent fans. First, he signed reliever Scott Linebrink to a 4-year, $19 mil deal. Four years! 19 million! His only move during the winter talks was trading for Carlos Quentin. Then he singed Alexei Ramirez, an unproven Cuban exile that can play short, second or the outfield; and then Williams broke the talent pool and traded for Swisher.

One thing’s clear: The Sox have lots of great players, they just don’t know what position they’ll play. With Ramirez, they have three short stops; ditto second base, Pablo Ozuna’s been the super sub for a while, so he’ll backup Richar there. And then there’s the outfield. Swisher can play some first, though he’s likely penciled for center, while Quentin is in left (or is that the other way around?). Jermaine Dye is a lock at right (though Swisher actually played some right field last year), and then the young outfielders, Jerry Owens and Brian Anderson will try to fill in the reserve spot.

The #1 goal this offseason was to improve the team via trades or free-agent signings. With the Garland-for-Cabrera trade, Williams struck quick, but then the ship fell apart. Torii Hunter signed with the Angels, Fukudome with the crosstown-rival Cubs, and even Andruw Jones relocated elsewhere. Nothing against Nick Swisher, but something tells me we could’ve gotten a better consolation prize.

So the Sox enter 2008 once again with a potent line-up that may or may not produce runs (we all know it’ll produce home runs, though), a starting rotation that is relying a wee too much on rookie or second year arms (and a few irregular vets) and a bullpen rich in question marks but with a formidable setup man (Linebrink) and closer (Bobby Jenks).

Come to think of it, the White Sox really just need to rebuild. But a good center fielder would’ve been nice.

Minnesota Twins: That new stadium already

new-twins-stadium.jpgLast year, the Twins needed money bad. This year, they could’ve use that money they never had. As expected, Torii Hunter skipped town; Santana is either going to become a free agent at the end of this year, or will be traded for way too much before the season starts; and with Joe Mauer signing a $33-million deal, Justin Morneau’s contract extension talks have stalled.

What happens in 2008 will depend greatly on what the Twins get in return for Santana, but one obvious gaping hole is Hunter’s departure from center field. Now that the Mets have entered the Santana sweepstakes, and have offered a young outfielder in their package, the Twins might move Santana soon enough to allow some flexibility before the season starts to sign Morneau. That is, if the Mets also include prospect Fernando Martinez, something the Twins want to seal the deal, but seems unlikely.

If only that new ball park were poised to open its gates. At least, the thing is finally getting built.

Detroit Tigers: Play their first game

No question that the Tigs are the most improved team this off season. They traded for two of the best young players in baseball, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera, and they signed one of the better veteran short stops, both defensively and offensively, in Edgar Rentería.

The front line of their rotation looks something like: Verlander, Willis, Robertson, Bonderman and Kenny “It ain’t tar, its dirt” Rogers.

They have a solid bullpen, and with the return of flamethrower Joel Zumaya, Todd Jones’ role as closer might be in jeopardy. But that’s a good thing, Tigers fans.

Oh, right, and they still have Magglio Ordoñez, who came in second in MVP voting behind A-Rod.

Scary.

Cleveland Indians: Pay a visit to Miss Cleo

wedge.jpgThe Indians could very well shake up that magic 8-ball to know what’ll happen in 2008. Their roster has not been tinkered with (not much anyway), and except for the addition of INF Jamey Carroll and Japanese reliever Masahide Kobayashi, the same team that was one win away from the Fall Classic will step out on the field.

Granted, Travis Hafner missed a significant chunk of time last year, so his “return” to top form will boost a line-up that already features Victor Martinez and Grady Sizemore.

So that’s that, the AL Central is again shaping up to be a tough division; the standings might actually end up looking similar to what they did in 2007 . Even though the White Sox made some moves, it’s not clear they’ve upgraded their outfield; the Twins are still trying to figure out what to do about Santana; the Royals are just a pinch of hope away from contending, and the Indians are playing it safe by not doing much. But it’s been the Tigers, by far, the team that stepped up to fulfill their needs.

8 Responses to “What they still need – AL Central: 2008 style”

  1. Nick Kapur says:

    Yeah, I completely agree on the White Sox. Part of being a good GM is knowing when you have a shot to win this year, and knowing when you need to give up and rebuild.

    The White Sox clearly need to rebuild. Because there is no way they are going to win that division. Even if they could improve the team dramatically from last year and get up to 87-88 wins, that division is going to take about 95 wins to win, so what Kenny Williams has been doing is just foolish. He should be trading away anyone saleable and getting pieces to win in 2010.

    In fact, he probably should have started this rebuilding process a long time ago. Now he’s just wasting time and money.

  2. Nick,
    The White Sox won the World Series in 05, in 06 they won 90 games. You say they should have started rebuilding a long time ago, huh? I do think Kenny should have started to rebuild this year instead of doing what he has done. The problem is the White Sox fans would go ape shit and not show up if they chose to not resign Dye, trade Konerko and Thome. Management has told the fans if they filled the stadium, which they have the last 3 seasons, then they would spend money on payroll. Reinsdorf and Williams kind of painted themselves into a corner. If they had chosen to rebuild fans would not be buying tickets and Jerry has that at the top of his list of priorities. The problem is they are spending money and they probably won’t win anyway but they will probably have decent advanced ticket sales. Part of the conundrum for them is that they won’t spend crazy money like Boston or New York but they can’t drastically slash payroll and rebuild either. It also doesn’t help that they are in quite possibly the toughest division in baseball. They would like to deal Crede but he doesn’t have much value until he can play and prove that his back is healthy.

  3. Nick Kapur says:

    Exactly, Melissa – the White Sox do play in a tough division, so if they are not going to put a team on the field that can win that division, then they should start building one that can. I can understand Reinsdorf not wanting to spend $130 million like the Tigers, but then he should get going on building a cheap, young team from within like the Indians.

    If Reinsdorf is putting a priority on putting butts in the seats in the short term, than that is just foolish, because in the long run winning championships or even just making the post-season is going to be worth a lot more than the marginal short-term gain in regular season ticket sales that keeping Jermaine Dye might bring. Because all the numbers I’ve seen show that even just making the postseason at all is worth an extra $15-$25 million.

    When I said the White Sox should have started rebuilding “a long time ago,” I meant last summer, which I guess isn’t too long ago. With a team that clearly wasn’t going anywhere, and had no chance of being improved enough through free agency to be competetive with the aging core they have, I thought they should have traded Dye at the deadline for lots of prospects and then maybe look to deal Konerko, Burhle, Thome, etc. They already dealt Garland, but they should have dealt him for prospects, not for a shortstop who has no chance of being around when the Sox next win anything, which isn’t going to be for a while at this rate.

  4. Paul Moro says:

    I think we all agree that the White Sox need to rebuild. I also think we all agree that the White Sox are being very very short-sighted in not doing so. And ZIPS projections agree too.

    The ONLY hitter projected to produce better than the average player at their respective positions is Jim Thome, at least in terms of OPS. Sure, guys like Dye and Konerko will get their share of RBIs based solely upon their spot in the batting order, but again, as far as OBP and SLG are concerned, ZIPS thinks they’ll be below average.

    Their pitching fares better, but not by much. The only pitcher projected to have an ERA below 4 is Jenks.

    Again, this is just ZIPS and it’s been wrong before. But things like this have a way of being startling accurate at times. The PECOTA projections before last season had the team winning 72 games and a lot of people thought it was a bunch of crap. And they ended up winning exactly 72 games. Yes, it’s unusual for it to be THAT accurate, but a lot of times, they’re in the (excuse the pun) right ballpark.

  5. Larry Patrick says:

    Did you or did you not know Detroit’s bull pen is not so solid since Joel zoom zoom Zumya got hurt this off season?

  6. Sarah Green says:

    Larry, I think it’s pretty clear from the post that Detroit’s bullpen will be solid “with the return” of Zumaya, expected about halfway through the season. No?

  7. Alejandro Leal says:

    While I did know Zumaya had been injured, I wasn’t so sure as to how long he’d be out.

    Yes, people suggested the Tigers get better arms in relief, but there’s an argument to be made, though, that they have a strong enough bullpen.

    They say so themselves.

    Still, *when* Zoom Zoom Zumaya returns, the bullpen will definitely be solid.

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