A look at the American League Central division.
2010 Record: 94-68; first place, American League Central (lost to Yankees in Division Series)
Manager: Ron Gardenhire, 10th season
Key Additions: 2B Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Key Departures: RP Jesse Crain, RP Brian Fuentes, RP Matt Guerier, SS J.J. Hardy, 2B Orlando Hudson, IF Nick Punto, RP Jon Rauch
Season preview: After the excitement of opening a new ballpark and filling it with expensive acquisitions, then winning the AL Central once again in 2010, the Twins went out and had a quiet offseason. The team is making speed and defense its priority in 2011 and hope Nishioki, who batted .346 in Japan last year, can adapt his skills to the American game and team with Alexi Casilla for an effective SS/2B combo. Closer Joe Nathan returns from Tommy John surgery, so his progress in spring training will be watched closely. The Twins re-signed Carl Pavano for the rotation, which figures to be solid. An area of concern is 1B Justin Morneau, who hasn’t played since July thanks to the lingering effects of a concussion. His bat is critical to this lineup that also includes Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Jim Thome, and if he isn’t sound, the Twins will have trouble repeating in a suddenly competitive AL Central.
Ron Darling’s (TBS) take: “They’re getting two of their big weapons (Morneau and Nathan) back, which I think is going to mean that they’ll win the Central again.”
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2010 Record: 88-74; second place, American League Central
Manager: Ozzie Guillen, eighth season
Key Additions: RP Jesse Crain, 1B Adam Dunn, RP Will Ohman
Key Departures: RP Bobby Jenks, OF Andruw Jones, OF Manny Ramirez, RP Scott Linebrink, RP J.J. Putz, RP Randy Williams
Season preview: You have to give owner Jerry Reinsdorf credit. After disappointing results on the field and at the box office, he wouldn’t have been blamed if he put his team in rebuilding mode, let key free agents walk, and gone with a youth movement. Instead, he and GM Kenny Williams re-signed A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko, extended Guillen through 2012, added more payroll with Dunn (four years, $56 million), and served notice they’re ready to challenge the Twins. Early reports are that SP Jake Peavy’s shoulder woes are history, and if so, he’ll head a solid rotation alongside Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Gavin Floyd and John Danks. Juan Pierre sits atop a potent lineup of bombers Dunn, Konerko, Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios. Inexperience at third base and closer are areas of concern, but the overall bullpen picture is positive with the additions of Crain and Ohman. The Chisox may not be the team to beat in the AL Central, but they are a definite contender.
Ron Darling’s (TBS) take: “The White Sox have a great rotation. They’re strong in the bullpen.”
2010 Record: 81-81; third place, American League Central
Manager: Jim Leyland, sixth season
Key Additions: C/DH Victor Martinez, SP Brad Penny, RP Joaquin Benoit
Key Departures: RP Eddie Bonine, SS Adam Everett, OF Jeff Frazier, SP Armando Galarraga, C Gerald Laird, RP Jay Sborz
Season preview: After coming close in 2009 and being short-circuited by injuries in ’10, the Tigers believe they have their best team since they went to the World Series in 2006. Martinez will give them the power bat to hit behind Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez. LF Ryan Rayburn could be a factor at the top of the order. Carlos Guillen is looking like he’ll be ready for Opening Day after knee surgery last year, but whether the oft-injured second baseman can endure a full season at the pivot is a major question. So, too, is the back end of the rotation, with the likely candidates being journeyman Phil Coke and youngster Andy Oliver. The bullpen has the potential to be very deep, with Benoit in the fold and closer Joel Zumaya presumably healthy again. If everyone remains healthy, this team figures to contend with the Twins and the White Sox in the AL Central.
Ron Darling’s (TBS) take: “I think they have one of the best managers in baseball. Their bullpen may not be so strong.”
2010 Record: 69-93; fourth place, American League Central
Manager: Manny Acta, second season
Key Additions: OF Travis Buck, SS Adam Everett, 3B Jack Hannahan, OF Austin Kearns, RP Doug Mathis, C Paul Phillips
Key Departures: C Chris Gimenez, IF Andy Marte, IF Drew Sutton
Season preview: A return to health and a solid second half of 2010 give the Indians hope that they can rebound from last year’s 93-loss season. CF Grady Sizemore should be recovered from microfracture knee surgery, although whether he’ll be ready Opening Day is uncertain. C Carlos Santana is recovered from his knee woes, so he and Sizemore should make the Tribe’s lineup substantially better. The young rotation, particularly Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco, showed flashes of brilliance in the second half, so it will be interesting to see if they can sustain effectiveness over a full season. Same with the bullpen, which posted a 2.95 ERA in the second half, the second-best in baseball behind the champion Giants. Still, this team with limited financial resources, is paper-thin when it comes to depth and if the injury bug bites again, things could get ugly. No one expects the Indians to see the postseason this year, but if they’re healthy, .500 isn’t unrealistic.
Ron Darling’s (TBS) take: “I think it’s going to be another rough year. They have some really good young players. … But I just think that they’re a year or two away from really being where they thought they were going to be three seasons ago.”
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2010 Record: 67-95; last place, American League Central
Manager: Ned Yost, second season
Key Additions: OF Melky Cabrera, SP Jeff Francis, OF Jeff Francoeur, P Vin Mazzaro
Key Departures: SP Zack Greinke, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, CF David DeJesus, 3B Josh Fields, RP Anthony Lerew, OF Jai Miller
Season preview: The restocking of the farm system that began with the hiring of GM Dayton Moore in 2006 should begin to bear fruit in 2011, as much of the young talent reaches the big club. Among them are SPs Danny Duffy, Everett Teaford and Aaron Crow, and 3B Mike Moustakas, all of whom will get good, long looks in spring training. Of course, the absence of staff ace Zack Greinke will be felt in the rotation, but the package of four prospects they received – which included blue chippers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress – will ease the pain in the not-too-distant future. Team defense – which was last in the AL the past two years – is being addressed by better advance scouting and the presence of new 2B/SS combo Chris Getz and Alcides Escobar. With a middle of the order that is expected to include 1B Billy Butler, LF Alex Gordon and Francoeur, the improvement won’t be dramatic in Kansas City this year, but there will be a look of competence about this team that it hasn’t had in years. Welcome back to the bigs, Royals.
Ron Darling’s (TBS) take: “I think the interesting thing for them is how much the veterans give them … which will help some of the younger players. … I think they’re going to be much better this year.”