Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: AL Central

I'm going to continue with the second installment of this six part series of previewing the 2012 MLB season. First off, thank you to all of you that read the first one. I got an overall great reception from everyone on it, minus a few Boston fans. The truth hurts sometimes, as they say. So, everyone buckle in. Here is the preview of the American League Central.

The Detroit Tigers have made it known that they are serious about winning a World Series. It became evident on January 24th when they signed free agent first baseman, Prince Fielder. In a very quiet and uneventful campaign for Prince, Detroit came out of no where and locked Fielder up for nine years, two-hundred and fourteen million dollar contract. This move came on the heels of the Tigers finding out they would be without designated hitter/catcher Victor Martinez for all of 2012 with a torn ACL. Also, with the signing of Prince, Miguel Cabrera will move from first base to third base. Fielder will play for the same Tigers team his father, Cecil, played for in the early 90's.

The signing of Prince Fielder isn't the only improvement made by Detroit. They also cleared up their arbitration cases very quickly. In a span of two days, they worked out new deals with Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Delmon Young, Don Kelly, and Rick Porcello. They also resigned shortstop Ramon Santiago. To further improve their bullpen, the Tigers signed relief pitcher Octavio Dotel. Dotel was coming off a strong season with the Blue Jays and the world champion Cardinals. Dotel was deciding between to two teams, the Tigers and the Brewers, and the Tigers turned out to be the winners on Dotel.

The injury to Victor Martinez won't shake up the Tiger's lineup too bad, minus the move Cabrera had to make. The pitching staff will be the same as it was last season. They did end up losing pitcher Brad Penny to Japan. They also did not bring back Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, and Wilson Betemit. Other then that, and a few minor league contracts they threw out to help fill some holes, that was the Tiger's offseason in a nutshell. Here's there projected lineup on opening day:

1.) Austin Jackson, CF
2.) Brennan Boesch, RF
3.) Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4.) Prince Fielder, 1B
5.) Delmon Young, LF
6.) Alex Aliva, C
7.) Jhonny Peralta, SS
8.) Ramon Santiago, 2B
9.) Ryan Raburn/Brandon Inge, DH

Final Thoughts: What's scary to pitchers is that in 2013 that lineup will have Victor Martinez back in it. It's also scary that Detroit has a great starting 5 in Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, and Turner and a bullpen that has Dotel, Benoit, Coke, Valverde and company. Much like the New York Yankees, this season should be a cake walk to another AL Central division championship for Detroit. Good luck to the rest.

The Kansas City Royals are going to be a fun team to watch in 2012. No, they aren't going to surprise anyone with a Arizona Diamondback of 2011 year or anything of that nature. But, they will turn a lot of heads this year for sure. They have the potential to be a Wild Card, but I'm going to hold that for a team in the AL West. The Royals will be a team that will keep your team from getting into the playoffs this year. They will win some games that will matter in the end. With the Royals to close the 2012 season with four series against divisional rivals, half of them against Cleveland, I bet that the Indians will be that unfortunate team.

The Royals had a rather quiet offseason, so this will be really brief. They started out with a bang by landing starting pitcher Jonathon Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo from the San Fransisco Giants in exchange for outfielder Melky Cabrera. They signed free agent relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton to a one year contract. They signed free agent starting pitcher Bruce Chen to a two year deal. They also brought back utility infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, a year after they traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers along with Zack Greinke. They signed Kevin Kouzmanoff to a minor league deal for more infield depth. Here's what opening day will look like:

1.) Alex Gordon, LF
2.) Lorenzo Cain, CF
3.) Billy Butler, DH
4.) Eric Hosmer, 1B
5.) Jeff Francoeur, RF
6.) Mike Moustakas, 3B
7.) Salvador Perez, C
8.) Johnny Giavotella, 2B
9.) Alcides Escobar, SS

Final Thoughts: With the youth in every aspect that this team possesses, they will be a show case of some fun baseball to watch this season. In the future, this team has the potential to be competitors as long as Hosmer, Moustakas, and Butler leading the way. They will need to focus on starting pitching next season if they want to start contending immediately. Keep up the progress, KC.

The Cleveland Indians would rank on many people's lists as one of the most disappointing teams of 2011, considering the potential they had. They were a well oiled offensive machine. They made a huge mid season trade to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies to help their rotation onto getting into the post season. However, they were plagued by so many injuries that they never ended up making the big dance.

That being said, they did go into this offseason with a purpose and they fixed a lot of issues from the previous season. They ended up letting Jim Thome, Kosuke Fukudome, and Grady Sizemore walk to free agency. Weeks later, however, they brought Sizemore back on a restructured one year contract. They brought in starting pitcher Derek Lowe in with a trade with the Atlanta Braves. They signed infielder Andy LaRoche, relief pitcher Dan Wheeler, starting pitcher Jon Garland, and infielder Julio Lugo to a minor league deals. Their biggest offseason move came when they signed free agent first baseman Casey Kotchman to a one year deal. Their line up looks just as strong as it did last year, if not better. Here's a look:

1.) Grady Sizemore, CF
2.) Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
3.) Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4.) Carlos Santana, C
5.) Travis Hafner, DH
6.) Casey Kotchman, 1B
7.) Michael Brantley, LF
8.) Jason Kipnis/Jason Donald, 2B
9.) Lonnie Chisenhall/Jack Hannahan, 3B

Final Thoughts: The key for any kind of success for the Indians this season will be based on how healthy they can stay. On paper, they have one of the best offenses in the league. But when one third is on the disabled list, it won't get them anywhere. The starting pitching will also have to show up big this season, as teams like Detroit, L.A., New York, Texas, etc all have power lineups that could put them to shame. The ball is in their court (field, actually).

Speaking of injury, the Minnesota Twins were effected by them all year long just like the Indians. Two of the big starters were out for the majority of the season. In order to have any kind of success in 2012, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer need to play a full, healthy season. The front office did their part this offseason to fix what was broken on the Twins, now the stars need to lead the way. Let's look at the new additions.

To start the offseason, the Twins added free agent infielder and veteran Jamey Carroll to a two year contract. Shortly after, they added free agent catcher Ryan Doumit. This move came at no surprise as Joe Mauer will play a lot more DH and first base this season, just to test the waters on his health and ability if anything. In addition to those two, the Twins also landed outfielder Josh Willingham and starting pitcher Jason Marquis. After declaring for free agency in late October, relief pitcher Matt Capps was brought back in November after Joe Nathan went to the Texas Rangers.

Speaking of losses, the Twins lost two key bats in their lineup due to free agency. Outfielder Jason Kubel signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks and outfielder Michael Cuddyer signed with the Colorado Rockies as a free agent. Although the addition of Willingham will help patch the hole in the lineup, I think their is still going to be a noticeable change in the Twins this year as far as runs scored stats are concerned. Here's what opening day will look like:

1.) Ben Revere, LF
2.) Alexi Casilla, 2B
3.) Joe Mauer, C
4.) Josh Willingham, RF
5.) Justin Morneau, 1B
6.) Ryan Doumit, DH
7.) Danny Valencia, 3B
8.) Jamey Carroll, SS
9.) Denard Span, CF

Final Thoughts: Starting pitching is going to make or break this team. There's a lot of weight on the shoulders of Carl Povano and Fransisco Liriano. Others will need to step up for this team to have any kind of chance to do any damage in this division this year. The middle of that order, Triple J, is going to have to produce and get runs on the board for this less then stellar offense.

The Chicago White Sox. What is there to say? Adam Dunn is coming off the worst hitter's year in the history of Major League Baseball. I mean, they might rename the Mendoza Line to the Adam Dunn line. Alexi Ramirez is a really great short stop. Alex Rios is an outstanding outfielder. Paul Konerko is the best bat on this team. A.J. Pierzynski is getting older. They traded away Carlos Quentin. They added Kosuke Fukudome. The starting pitching and bullpen on this team are an absolute joke. This team is one-hundred percent in a rebuilding stage. And, let me tell you, they have a lot of work to do. This should shed some light on what I mean by "work."

In regards to Chicago's farm system.... "And they're not particularly close to No. 29, either. When you don't spend money in the draft, you're not going to fare well in anyone's organizational rankings. The new collective bargaining agreement, which clamps down on teams' ability to acquire premium talent in the draft through higher bonuses, was the result of a long-standing effort by White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who wanted to force other teams to play by his rules." - ESPN's Keith Law (Link to that article: Keith Law's "Ranking the Farm Systems") Opening day lineup might look like this:

1.) Alejandro De Aza, LF
2.) Alexi Ramirez, SS
3.) Kosuke Fukudome, RF
4.) Paul Konerko, 1B
5.) A.J. Pierzynski, C
6.) Alex Rios, CF
7.) Adam Dunn/Brent Lillibridge, DH
8.) Brent Morel, 3B
9.) Gordon Beckham, 2B

Final Thoughts: Good luck, Chicago. (See 2011 Houston Astros)

Predicted Final Standings

1.) Detroit Tigers (99-63) (Division Champions)
2.) Cleveland Indians (86-76)
3.) Kansas City Royals (78-84)
4.) Minnesota Twins (75-87)
5.) Chicago White Sox (61-101)

Next week, I will run down the Texas Rangers, L.A. Angels and the rest of the AL West in the same structure as this blog. I hope everyone enjoys reading this. Please leave your thoughts on here or on the Twitter feed (@WISportsBlog) if you agree, disagree, or want to make a point. I look forward to reading your comments.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

-Andrew Vrchota (@WSB_Andrew)

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