five of our 2010 preview features the most confusing division
is possible the best pitcher in the division… maybe one of the
best in baseball… plays on the worst team.
is possible some of the best players in the division will be traded.
is possible that the division winner will be swept in the first
round regardless of who they play.
is the AL Central.
What I expect in 2010: 89-73, playoffs
they did in 2009: 87-76, playoffs
personnel changes: I like what we have being assembled
around Minnesota’s talented base… J.J. Hardy could be a steal,
even if he doesn’t reach the potential people saw as recently
as 2008. Jim Thome is a nice presence on the roster… as a bench
option, and as a possible every day DH. Orlando Hudson is a good
addition. Nothing too flashy here, but the roster is definitely
better than when the 2009 season ended.
expectations: I like this as a well-balanced, though
being realistic, an unspectacular club.
Morneau and Joe Mauer lead a team that is fine defensively and
good offensively. (please note the lack of the word great in either
area.) Add to this the possibilities of Jim Thome (not likely
a starter, but I could see him getting 350-400 at bats easily
enough and 20 or even 25 homers depending on how much he does
play), Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy, and we find a club that
has improved over 2009 and could actually deliver a few feel-good
stories along the way.
trouble is… drum roll, though you won’t be surprised… pitching.
rattle off the American League clubs we think might make the playoffs.
Seattle (Lee and Hernandez)… Detroit (Verlander)… or, since we’ve
introduced Detroit, better yet for this would be ones from the
division that shouldn’t make the playoffs… Chicago (Buehrle and
Peavy)… Kansas City (Greinke)… are you starting to see something
troubling? I changed tracks before making notes on Tampa, Boston,
New York or California, and I easily found six starting pitchers
better than what Minnesota might be sending to the mound.
felt that way before a recent story came out that Joe Nathan could
be hurt… and not hurt in a start the season on the disabled list,
extended spring training, back before you know it way. A story
that, effectively… remember, still playing out… means the Twins
now have troubles in the bullpen as well.
the regular season is… truly… a marathon and not a sprint. Things
that seem so evident and obvious in May and June are often not
even remembered as September begins. And the Twins may be set
up as the most even-running club in baseball. The division isn’t
spectacular… and they’ll be fine over the first 162 games… with
or without Nathan.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): The Twins
might be the most locked in club in baseball right now. I just
seriously don’t see any way they don’t win about 88 games.
usually you mutter the word “injury” and take the easy way out.
But with the exception of Mauer, there really isn’t a member of
this club that would derail a run at 88 to 90 wins by being out
for a few weeks. Even without Nathan, unless Detroit or Chicago
goes ridiculously wild and hits 94 or 95 wins, I think Minnesota
will be fine and on target for the playoffs as we near the final
two weeks of the season.
problem is, when this club goes against Seattle… New York… Boston…
they simply have no starting pitching to match up against the
best from those rotations. That’s fine in June and July… not so
fun in the playoffs.
thing worthy of consideration is that Joe Nathan didn’t look like
Joe Nathan last year once October arrived, and had surgery during
the off-season. Morneau has been suffering as well. It’s always
easy to say “if someone gets hurt”… as I’ve been pointing out.
But when a guy has a history (Jose Reyes), already is hurt (Carlos
Beltran), or is recovering (let’s not pick on the Mets again,
so how about Mike Lowell and his thumb), I do believe you need
to at least arch an eyebrow and ask the question about whether
or not that player is going to be there and producing.
Twins should win this division. I suppose I need to say the Twins
could lose it. But I just think this club is so set on cruise
control that the division will not be won or lost by Minnesota.
It will be won because one or two teams played better (don’t see
it happening) or all of the others played worse (yup, that’s more
warning… warning… the Twins are playing at a new field in 2010!
Home field advantage might not exist until some point in August,
when they’ve played 40 or 50 games there.)
What I expect in 2010: 83-79
they did in 2009: 86-77
personnel changes: They traded away Curtis Granderson
and Edwin Jackson, and, frankly, are taking chances on everyone
that they got in return. Austin Jackson? Phil Coke? Daniel Schlereth?
Yikes. (Ok… fine… most of what they got could mean something…
there is some talent here… but I doubt it even means squat in
2010.) They did bring in Johnny Damon… which gets really interesting.
Does he play in the outfield? Will they have him taking on the
designated hitter role often? …a few times? Hello to Adam Everett
and Jose Valverde. Max Scherzer… to me… looks like the real prize
of the off-season (at least when it comes to possibly contributing
this year). His two seasons of 9-15 ball for Arizona won’t get
him noticed… but he’s doing that with an ERA under 4 and a strikeout
to walk ratio of about 3:1. He’ll hit the age of 26 in late July.
Consider yourself warned if Detroit goes nuts in April and May
and people are talking about Max-what’s-his-name of the Tigers.
expectations: I think the starting rotation is going
to let them down. I just don’t see where it chews up enough innings
to not burn out the bullpen. And that means losing a few games
they should win… which in turn is the difference between 90 wins
and a division title and the mid-80s I expect for a second place
finish in the Central. (I put them lower than that… at 83… because
for every winner there must be a loser, and my records for all
of these clubs in all of these previews should add up properly.
But if you told me the Tigers in second place with 85… 86… 87
wins, I could see it. Just don’t tell me 90 or more and a division
title. As I write this, I don’t see that happening.)
don’t believe they’ll be powerful offensively… but then again,
with Damon around they have a chance at sending a combination
of Damon, Ordonez, and Cabrera to the plate in most games. Ordonez
isn’t now what he was then… so to speak… but I do believe he bears
some attention. This is a trio that teams have been beaten by
repeatedly in the past. It may not be likely… but successful years
from all three wouldn’t be impossible. If the Tigers are going
to surprise me, everyone will need to contribute. (Guillen is
a key name to watch… since he has been unreliable and off the
field alot the past two seasons. In fact, Damon may have sent
him to the bench in 2010… since any game in the outfield or at
DH for Damon will likely limit where Guillen could find his name
on the lineup. He’ll have to be healthy and productive to get
playing time, with little patience or second chances. And if he
is healthy and productive… that’s a good thing for the club.)
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): I suppose
some of the unfair ways to look at a team… perfectly natural ways,
but still unfair… involve identifying Cy Young and MVP candidates.
If a team has a monster player or two, the instinctive reaction
is to initially believe a few adequate parts could create a winning
combination. A few above average parts could get you sniffing
the wild card. And hey… we’re in the AL Central, where below 90
wins could still be a division winner.
actually has such potential monsters. In fact, Justin Verlander
and Miguel Cabrera are two of the more talented players in baseball.
year that talent only got them to 86 wins though. A one-game fight
to settle the division resulted. It wasn’t enough.
that’s where some interesting things could go… so help me… could
I expect the Tigers to slip and fall. I wonder how long Damon
can produce when everything I see tells me he should be breaking
down. I expect Brandon Inge to become a problem and not a spare
part for any available lineup need… or to be an injured player
battling to stay on the field… or to be tolerated while out. I
wonder if their supposed pitching surplus is real… or smoke and
mirrors. I believe Cabrera could be traded before this club plays
there they are… as of right now… Verlander and Cabrera.
when you add a player like Damon to a roster capable of winning
85-plus, he might actually make a difference for a year. Toss
in another solid season from Rick Porcello (and not a slide back,
which is very possible considering he’s only 21 and looked tired
at times last season… of course, late in the year the entire Tigers
team looked tired), and perhaps one or two more surprises… suddenly
this becomes a dangerous team.
note on the Cabrera thing. The Tigers are in an interesting position
with him. And, since it’s so easy, we’ll use Boston and San Diego
as our partners in this example. If San Diego is falling out of
the race and it is decided that they are going to try and maximize
their haul for Gonzalez, then the star first baseman hits the
market in June and July. I don’t think there is a front office
in baseball that, straight up, wouldn’t take Gonzalez over Cabrera.
So if Detroit falters, and they decide to trade Cabrera, it might
be in their best interest to get him on the market and sold before
the name Gonzalez is ever understood to be on the move in 2010.
That would be early June… and that is why I believe he could be
gone before the club plays 60 games. )
yeah… one more thing… if things do go bad in Detroit, hold on.
Remember the Magglio situation last year? Well, I believe he has
an option for next year based on plate appearances. There could
be a really interesting free fall where players are getting traded,
benched, and all sorts of wonderful stuff.)
What I expect in 2010: 80-82
they did in 2009: 79-83
personnel changes: Is anyone really getting excited about
Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel? How about J.J. Putz?
Certainly seems like this club is treading water… they know they
need to make changes, know they’re getting older, but think they’re
good enough to play patchwork instead of overhauling things.
expectations: If Chicago is going to do anything in 2010,
it will be because players like Andruw Jones and Freddy Garcia
turned in unexpectedly great seasons.
am very much alone in saying that. I keep seeing and hearing how
people are ready to give the ChiSox the division. I don’t understand
it. (Well… I do understand it… but I think their whacked for the
evidence they are using. More on that in a second. First… why
I’m expecting about 80 to 83 wins max…)
the funny thing about the White Sox. Mark Buehrle.
I understand that wins and losses don’t give a perfect representation
of a pitcher’s performance. Got it. I even agree with it.
July of last year, Buehrle hit a home run during an interleague
contest, and later in the month tossed a perfect game. Nice. (I
think the city was even planning a one-car parade for him.)
also went 13-10 overall. But he had a 3.86 ERA. But he was 2-7
after the perfect game. And so it goes, back and forth, this and
that, seemingly good and bad.
already know Buehrle is going to win 15 or 16 this season with
a sub-4 ERA and 200-plus innings pitched. It’s a fact. How do
I know that? Because he always pitches 200-plus innings in a season,
pretty much every year with a sub-4 ERA, and for the most part
clearing a .500 record with 13 to 16 wins. (Every so often career
averages are actually consistent.) Now… if he went 13-10 last
year… and I’m telling you he’s going to go about 15-9 this year…
how the hell is Chicago adding 15 wins to their 2009 total?
expect Chicago to have a few great and exciting moments. Maybe
there will be a classic weekend series against Minnesota or Detroit…
or Ozzie will go crazy if the team drops three games to Cleveland.
But overall, like Buehrle’s home run and perfect game, those moments
will be part of a 162-marathon of mediocrity. Average at best.
82 or 83 wins if they’re fortunate.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Of course,
as you’ve probably figured out… after all, the geniuses expecting
a division title for the White Sox figured it out… I’m not mentioning
White Sox think they have a surprise for us. They think Peavy
and Buehrle are going to be equal to Beckett – Lester – Lackey
or Hernandez – Lee or any of the other dynamic duos in baseball.
an interesting possibility and worth considering.
a thought that should make you wonder if things could go right
the truth is… they’re not that good.
they have the potential to be a very good pair… an outstanding
pair… a two starters from the same club in the top ten of Cy Young
voting for the year pair… history tells us not to expect 30 combined
wins from them. (Peavy won 19 in his Cy Young year and hasn’t
cleared 15 in any other season. What’s that? You don’t trust wins
and losses? And you’re pointing to how I just said in evaluating
Buehrle that wins and losses may not be fair? Ok… how about three
years of 200-plus innings pitched and then two seasons of injuries
for Peavy? In other words… why is everyone seemingly preparing
for Peavy to go 21-7 with 240+ innings pitched?)
besides that… even if we go back and forth about how good the
Chicago pitching might be, let’s face reality… how are they winning
games without scoring runs?
Chicago not scoring runs. Did I just say that out loud? Yeah…
I kinda did.)
I understand that Konerko delivered a solid season last year and
should be fine in 2010. He’s not the kind of player that seems
to get swept away by distractions and shiny things. But it is
a contract year for him, and there are doubts that Chicago really
cares about having him in 2011.
also understand I’m not giving fair acknowledgement to players
like Beckham and Quentin.
focus on Rios and Pierre for my question though. Because the two
of them… dumped by Los Angeles and Toronto when those clubs needed
roster space and salary relief… aren’t exactly safe bets.
going to take Pierre as our example. The White Sox are expecting
big things from the lead off hitter. They want you to believe
he can flat out fly and the world is in awe of his talents. And
hey… they probably should say such things if they want to present
him as a good addition. He had an on-base percentage of .365 last
season, and he has 249 stolen bases over the past five seasons.
Impressive enough. Look deeper though. In the four seasons prior
to 2009, his on-base percentage hovered around .330. And, his
stolen bases have been steadily declining… 40 in 2008 and effectively
a career low of 30 in 2009. Think about that… best batting average
in five years… best on-base percentage in five years… 26 more
games in 2009 than 2008… and he stole 10 less bases than he did
in 2008. And if you think I’m focusing a bit too much on some
of these numbers, we’ll add one more… the past two seasons have
also been his two lowest for runs.
could prove me wrong easily enough. I don’t think they will.
What I expect in 2010: 72-90
they did in 2009: 65-97
personnel changes: They brought in several players on
minor league contracts, like Jamey Wright, Mark Grudzielanek and
Austin Kearns. Russell Branyan signed a one-year deal. After that,
sending catcher Kelly Shoppach to Tampa is really about all that
expectations: This is a club stripping everything off
the walls and starting over. If you made any kind of offer on
Travis Hafner or Kerry Wood that began with paying their full
salary, someone from the Indians would drive that player to your
camp to make sure they arrived safely. (Open of telephone conversation:
“Hi… we’d like to offer you a dozen clean bases, a 34-year old
pitcher that has never progressed beyond AA and is coming off
surgery, and our mascot. Yeah, the one in trouble for throwing
the hot dog at that guy. In return we want Kerry Wood, and we’ll
pay all of his salary.” Reply: “We’re chartering a flight for
him right now.”)
short… don’t look for much from Cleveland in 2010.
they didn’t overpay for anyone they brought in, and they have
added some young players to a farm system that seems ready to
provide a few to the big club.
going to be a long 2010 in Cleveland, but in a division where
no team appears to be loaded and unbeatable in the near future,
I think I like what the Indians are developing.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Well, the
first thing to say is that there really isn’t much of anything
else that can go wrong for Cleveland. Two Cy Young winners and
Victor Martinez… gone. Who the heck else could they trade that
would depress these fans? Grady Sizemore? (I suppose, but man
what an offer they would have to get in order to trade him.)
that it’s the future. The organization has been piling up young
players in trades, and I believe they do a decent job getting
players through the minor leagues. The question is which of those
players could become contributors on the 25-man roster. And unlike…
say… Baltimore, we really don’t have any evidence that they have
received enough quality in return.
Kansas City and Chicago on the schedule… and a few other breaks…
the club might be able to do enough to get to 70 wins. I should
probably have them closer to 2009’s record (and the Royals), but
I’m optimistic that the low expectations might lead them to just
letting the roster play with little day-to-day interference.
What I expect in 2010: 66-96
they did in 2009: 65-97
personnel changes: Added Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel…
which is kind of hysterical, since it means this club is adding
players and creating logjams. It’s one thing to say grab the best
players you can and don’t worry about logjams, especially when
you’re not that good. You know… the theory that there’s no such
thing as a pitching surplus. But I’ll scratch my head any time
a team that needs to improve but seems to have no plan brings
in too much average talent… especially average talent no other
teams are fighting over. Don’t believe me? Ok… the other major
addition was Brian Anderson. Now do you see? Fine… one more… Jason
Kendall. Am I being fair?
expectations: And yet all of these strange acquisitions
could pay off in strange ways.
outfield of DeJesus, Ankiel and Podsednik means Jose Guillen is
the designated hitter or on the bench. That’s a plus.
Meche, Bannister and Soria give them four reasonably solid to
outstanding pitchers. (That’s possibly four more than Cleveland
has. The Royals don’t have to be a basement team folks.)
come on… let’s be serious here. Kyle Farnsworth and Yuneisky Betancourt
are leaving spring training on the 25-man roster. They will never
again be as close to first place in the division this entire season
as they are by day three.
it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): There’s
alot to be said for if… if… if… when it comes to predicting. Luke
Hochevar is an interesting example. If he pitches better in 2010,
meaning consistency as much as anything else, suddenly the Royals
have the foundation of pitching that opposing teams get concerned
Zack Greinke pitches well and if Gil Meche can be decent… that’s
problem is, we’re looking for miracles here. The starting outfield
is going to consist of at least two players that wouldn’t be playing
every day for about half of the major league clubs… in fact, some
outfield spots on the 25-man roster might be given to a player
or two that would have trouble staying in the major leagues on
about two-thirds of the teams in baseball.
to the point… I give you Alex Gordon.
the advancement of the Royals really doesn’t have anything to
do with the players they bring in from free agency or trades.
Greinke looked awesome last season… no doubt about it. But his
history kept suggesting success, while it also had moments of
the Royals develop any talent? Because it’s not enough to sign
Gil Meche (can’t say it was great, but I look back at that one
as him being better than what was expected the day he signed)
and Jose Guillen (yuck). You either have to win a vast majority
of your trades (the Royals don’t), sign significant free agents
(yeah… agreed… the Royals don’t), or develop and produce young
time for Gordon to step up. It’s not over for him if he doesn’t
in 2010… because he’s still young. But he’s on his way to being
a disappointment… and perhaps to another organization.