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)
A 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)
Anybody 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
Last 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.
Cleveland Indians: Pay a visit to Miss Cleo
The 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.