MLB 2010 – American League Central


Part five of our 2010 preview features the most confusing division in baseball.

It is possible the best pitcher in the division… maybe one of the best in baseball… plays on the worst team.

It is possible some of the best players in the division will be traded.

It is possible that the division winner will be swept in the first round regardless of who they play.

It is the AL Central.

Minnesota Twins
What I expect in 2010: 89-73, playoffs

What they did in 2009: 87-76, playoffs

Key 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.

My expectations: I like this as a well-balanced, though being realistic, an unspectacular club.

Justin 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.

The trouble is… drum roll, though you won’t be surprised… pitching.

Let’s 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.

I 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.

But 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.

Where 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.

Sure… 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.

The 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.

Another 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.

The 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 like it).

(Warning… 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.)

Detroit Tigers
What I expect in 2010: 83-79

What they did in 2009: 86-77

Key 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.

My 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.)

I 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.)

Where 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.

Detroit actually has such potential monsters. In fact, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are two of the more talented players in baseball.

Last year that talent only got them to 86 wins though. A one-game fight to settle the division resulted. It wasn’t enough.

And that’s where some interesting things could go… so help me… could go right.

See… 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 60 games.

But there they are… as of right now… Verlander and Cabrera.

And 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.

(Side 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. )

(Oh 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.)

Chicago White Sox
What I expect in 2010: 80-82

What they did in 2009: 79-83

Key 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.

My 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.

I 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…)

Here’s the funny thing about the White Sox. Mark Buehrle.

Now… I understand that wins and losses don’t give a perfect representation of a pitcher’s performance. Got it. I even agree with it.

In 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.)

He 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.

I 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?

I 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.

Where 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 Jake Peavy.

The 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.

It’s an interesting possibility and worth considering.

It’s a thought that should make you wonder if things could go right in Chicago.

But the truth is… they’re not that good.

While 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?)

And 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?

(Whoa… Chicago not scoring runs. Did I just say that out loud? Yeah… I kinda did.)

See 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.

I also understand I’m not giving fair acknowledgement to players like Beckham and Quentin.

Let’s 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.

I’m 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.

They could prove me wrong easily enough. I don’t think they will.

Cleveland Indians
What I expect in 2010: 72-90

What they did in 2009: 65-97

Key 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 stands out.

My 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.”)

In short… don’t look for much from Cleveland in 2010.

Still… 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.

It’s 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.

Where 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.)

After 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.

With 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.

Kansas City Royals
What I expect in 2010: 66-96

What they did in 2009: 65-97

Key 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?

My expectations: And yet all of these strange acquisitions could pay off in strange ways.

An outfield of DeJesus, Ankiel and Podsednik means Jose Guillen is the designated hitter or on the bench. That’s a plus.

Greinke, 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.)

However… 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.

Where 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 by. Because…

If Zack Greinke pitches well and if Gil Meche can be decent… that’s pretty good.

The 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.

More to the point… I give you Alex Gordon.

See… 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 being unreliable.

Can 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 talent.

It’s 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.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at