Andy Jessen

NCB MLB Preview–AL Central

The previews keep marching on.  Time for the AL Central; arguably baseball’s weakest division in 2012, even though it did represent the AL in the World Series.  Let’s see if they’ve improved in 2013:

Detroit Tigers

Notable offseason additions:  Torii Hunter

Notable losses:  Delmon Young, Jose Valverde

Outlook:  Last year, it was difficult to find a prediction that didn’t have the Tigers crushing this division by 10+ games.  In the end, they did end up winning it, but only by 3 games, and not until late September.  There were several things working against Detroit last year though that won’t be in 2013.  Victor Martinez missed all of 2012, but he’s good to go for 2013, giving a significant boost to an already potent offense.  Anibal Sanchez only spent 2 months with the Tigers in 2012, but he’ll be with them from the start this year as part of the best rotation in baseball.  Delmon Young made a strong run at Worst Player in Baseball last year; he was garbage both at the plate and in the field.  He’s been shipped off  and replaced with Torii Hunter, who can still contribute.  And there was a train wreck of a platoon at 2B in 2012; in 2013…well, the Tigers addressed most of their issues from last year.

Oh, and Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander are good at baseballing, to use a technical term.  I’m taking a mulligan on last year’s prediction and saying again that the Tigers are crushing this division by 10 games, a claim that becomes easier to understand when we look at the…

Chicago White Sox

Notable offseason additions:  Jeff Keppinger, I guess?  The White Sox chose to mostly promote from within this offseason, an interesting decision for the worst farm system in baseball.

Notable losses:  AJ Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis, Philip Humber, Francisco Liriano

Outlook:  In contrast to the Tigers, the White Sox had an amazing amount of good fortune in 2012.  Adam Dunn, Jake Peavy, and Alex Rios were all strong Comeback Player of the Year candidates.  Paul Konerko continued his late-career resurgence and refusal to age.  Pierzynski had a completely unexpected career year at age 35.  And Chris Sale exploded into a Cy Young candidate, despite management being so inept they named him the team’s closer for about a day and a half in May.  Despite all of this, Chicago still only managed to win 85 games, and missed the playoffs.  This is still a good and likely a winning team for 2013, but there is simply no way they can have as many things break their way as last year, and even if they could, the Tigers are still better.

Kansas City Royals

Notable offseason additions:  James Shields, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis

Notable losses:  Jonathan Broxton

Outlook:  Dayton Moore is an amazing scout.  Under his watch, the Royals developed a stellar farm system, one that was being called one of the greatest of all time by many people during the 2010-2011 offseason.  I would be thrilled to have him as my team’s director of scouting.  I bet he’s probably also a nice guy in his personal life.  But Dayton Moore is an awful GM.  For all the great drafts and amazing prospects the Royals have seen, it has never even come close to translating to big league success.  This offseason, Moore’s Process made its boldest move, trading megaprospect Wil Myers and several other prospects for James Shields and Wade Davis, effectively declaring the Royals all-in for 2013.  How exactly one looks at the 72-win 2012 Royals, then looks at the Tigers, and decides that now is the time to go all-in, though, is still beyond me.

KC’s offense actually looks pretty promising, and could be one of the better lineups in the AL if all goes well.  Alex Gordon has emerged from years of struggles to become one of the AL’s best players, and Billy Butler is one of the better pure offensive forces in baseball.  Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still brimming with potential, Alcides Escobar is quietly becoming a very solid SS, and Salvador Perez is one of the more promising young catchers in the game.

The rotation, however is not fixed, despite Moore’s insistence that it is, and in fact has the potential to be a disaster again.  Shields is great, sure, but beyond him, Santana allowed a whopping 39 HR last year, the most in baseball.  Jeremy Guthrie had a strong second half for KC last year, but take a look at his first half.  Or the rest of his career.  Wade Davis was great out of the bullpen last year for Tampa, but is now being shoved back into the rotation, where he struggled in 2010 and 2011.  And the fifth spot, pick your poison:  Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza, and Luke Hochevar are all available, and all terrible.

So congrats, Dayton.  This is very likely the best Royals team in a decade, and probably the first .500 team in a decade as well.  But by selling out the future to go .500, the ETA to snap the playoff drought in KC that is approaching 30 years has likely been set back once again.  Now please come scout for the Cardinals after the Shields trade gets you fired.

Cleveland Indians

Notable offseason additions:  Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds, Trevor Bauer, Brett Myers, Scott Kazmir

Notable losses:  Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Casey Kotchman, Derek Lowe

Outlook:  You don’t usually see teams both trade away stars and sign top free agents in the same offseason, but the Indians did just that, signing both Swisher and Bourn while trading their top bat in Choo at the same time.  The new-look offense should still be very good, though, as the new additions join a young and talented core led by Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana.  Cleveland shouldn’t have much trouble scoring runs this year.

Preventing them, however, is another story.  The Indians had the worst pitching in the AL last year, and did little to improve it.  Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have a bit of potential, but are nothing exciting.  Ubaldo Jimenez seems to be irreparably broken, and he’ll have company in that department this year with Scott Kazmir.  The two of them can swap “What the hell happened to us?” stories all year.  Trevor Bauer might be the impact pitcher they’re looking for, if he can set aside his rap career, but he needs some further seasoning in the minors first.  Fans of high-scoring games are going to love the Indians this year, but they’re not a playoff team until they address the pitching.

Minnesota Twins

Notable offseason additions:  Vance Worley

Notable losses:  Denard Span, Ben Revere

Outlook:  The Twins were the worst team in the AL last year, and while the addition of the Astros should relieve them of that distinction, they’re not much better this year.  The offense will continue to hinge on the health and production of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.  Josh Willingham’s power took a huge step forward last year, as he hit 35 HR, and he can take some of the pressure of Mauer and Morneau.  Prospect Aaron Hicks doesn’t get much hype, but he’s full of potential and could be a dark horse RoY candidate.  However, these guys are offset by a dumpster full of replacement-level players.  Darin Mastroianni?  Pedro Florimon Jr.?  Brian Dozier?  Heard of these guys?  If so, you watch too much baseball and we should be friends, but that’s beside the point.  These are not good players, but this is what the Twins have to offer.  In addition, Minnesota is likely going to be a seller at the trade deadline, and I’d be surprised if Morneau is still on the team at the end of the year.  Whether that’s due to a trade or because he forgets where the stadium is after his multiple concussions remains to be seen.

As for the pitching, I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but it’s garbage.  Vance Worley was a great #5 starter for Philly, but when Vance Worley is your ace, there are serious problems.  The rest of the projected rotation—Liam Hendricks, Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey, and Cole DeVries—all suffer from crippling allergies to strikeouts, more than any group I can think of in recent memory.  This is likely the worst rotation in baseball, and considering I just covered the Indians, that’s really saying something.

Predicted Final Standings

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