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Sunday, February 05, 2006 

AL Central Offseason Report Cards

The AL Central is the second of the 6 divisions to graded by Noobsports.

Chicago White Sox:
Additions: SP Javier Vazquez, 1b/DH Jim Thome, INF Rob Mackowiak, re-signed 1b Paul Konerko, re-signed C A.J. Pierzynski, re-signed SP Jon Garland
Subtractions: DH Frank Thomas, DH Carl Everett, SP Orlando Hernandez, RP Luis Vizcaino, RP Damaso Marte, INF Geoff Blum, INF Willie Harris, OF Aaron Rowand

At this time last year, the AL Central was considered to be the worst division in baseball. The White Sox weren't even the favorites to win the supposedly weak division, let alone steamroll through the playoffs and win their first World Series since 1917. However, a hot start, stellar starting pitching, an upstart manager, and a theme song sung by Steve Perry brought the trophy to the South Side.

Since winning the championship, the Pale Hose have carried their momentum into the offseason. Konerko, who is certainly the face of the franchise at this point, was rumored to be headed to Baltimore or Anaheim as perhaps the best free agent on the market. While their first baseman was testing his market value, Sox GM Kenny Williams traded probable steroid user Aaron Rowand to the Phillies in exchange for slugger Jim Thome. Thome appeared to be Konerko's replacement and Sox fans wondered if the core of their team was already being gutted. Instead, Konerko returned to Chicago and Thome will replace Frank Thomas at DH.

Williams also netted the versatile Mackowiak and Vazquez in trades this offseason and both players should fit in well on the South Side. With Brian Anderson taking over for probable steroid user Rowand in center, there should not be a huge drop off in production. It was a gamble to trade core members of the championship team like El Duque and probable steroid user Rowand, as was letting go of Sox icon Thomas, so Williams must be given credit for being ballsy this winter. He was not complacent and moved aggressively to fix the team's weaknesses without sentiment or over-spending.

To nitpick, the bullpen is not as deep as it was in 2005, although Bad Bobby Jenks [10 100-mph pitches in 39 innings] was phenomenal in the clutch last year. It also remains to be seen if Contreras and Garland can repeat their success. The team chemistry of 2005 might also be difficult to repeat with new personalities in the clubhouse. However, Williams might not yet be done dealing, as rumors continue to surface about talks with the Phillies involving Bobby Abreu and a young pitcher for Contreras and Jermaine Dye.

Offseason Grade: A-

Cleveland Indians:
Additions: SP Paul Byrd, SP Jason Johnson, 1b Eduardo Perez, OF Jason Michaels, RP Guillermo Mota, 3b Andy Marte, C Kelly Shoppach, re-signed RP Scott Sauerbeck, re-signed RP Bob Wickman
Subtractions: SP Kevin Millwood, SP Scott Elarton, OF Coco Crisp, RP David Riske, RP Bobby Howry, C Josh Bard, INF Jose Hernandez, RP Arthur Lee Rhodes

Upon first glance, it seems that Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro had a terrible offseason. His club allowed Millwood to leave to Texas via free agency, traded Coco Crisp, and could not make an upgrade at closer and lost other pieces of the 'pen. Therefore, it's easy to think that the club that put a serious scare into the White Sox last September regressed this winter.

After further examination, you notice that Millwood's contract with Texas is too long and too expensive, as is Howry's with the Cubs, that Mota might be an improvement, and that Marte represents the long term answer at third base. You realize that Crisp is much more valuable to the Saux than he was to the Indians. You remember that Wickman isn't terrible. You realize that an offensive core of Travis Hafner, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Garko, and Marte will look pretty boss in '07. You come to the conclusion that the Indians are thinking long-term and will not do anything to jeopardize their bright future.

I have to give high marks for restraint in this case. The team has done almost everything right since it began rebuilding soon after the days of Albert Joey Belle, Chuck Nagy, and Paul Sorrento, and this is not an exception. Shapiro was wise to not to tie up his budget with risky contracts this winter. The team's ceiling is unlimited but might have been impaired if he would have matched Millwood's contract or overpaid for a closer. As good as the White Sox are, the Indians are so talented that they should take over the division within a couple years and a contract like Millwood's would have hurt the team's chances of extending its young stars.

Offseason Grade: B

Detroit Tigers:
Additions: SP Kenny Rogers, RP Todd Jones, RP Matt Mantei
Subtractions: OF Rondell White, OF Bobby Higginson, 2b Fernando Vina, SP Jason Johnson, SP Sean Douglass

Entering the offseason, the Tigers seemed primed for dealing. With extra parts in the outfield (Nook Logan), middle infield (Omar Infante), and 1b (Carlos Pena), a trade seemed imminent to me. It seemed this way for 5 reasons: 1. The trade candidates were all relatively young and cheap, 2. payroll was cleared with the departure of Higginson, Vina, White, and Johnson, 3. each candidate had been considered to be among the team's top prospects at one point, 4. they didn't appear to fit into Detroit's future plans anymore, and 5. the Tigers finally had decent prospects available to sweeten any deal, if necessary.

A trade returning an experienced starting pitcher such as Carl Pavano or Matt Clement would have made sense, and a deal for Josh Beckett was discussed with Florida. Acquiring Beckett was particularly appealing, but Florida asked for top prospects Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson and GM Dave Dombrowski declined. Dombrowski's offer for Beckett is not known; Logan, Infante, and Pena each would have had value for the Marlins so one would hope that the Tigers made an aggressive counter-offer. Regardless, no deal was found and the Tigers will enter spring training with depth as a consolation prize.

Dombrowski stated that he had 2 goals for the offseason: shoring up the bullpen and adding a veteran starter. Both of these needs were filled through free agency. While some Tiger fans disagree, the additions of Rogers and Jones should help even though both players are so old that they should probably be playing for the Padres. The Gambler is pitching as well as he ever has (14-8, 3.46 ERA) and Jones had a ridiculous 2005 for the Marlins (40 saves, 2.10 ERA).

New manager Jim Leyland hopes to give the club the tough leadership that Alan Trammell could not and has already inspired Dmitri Young to shed some weight. He also must keep Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez happy and productive, teach Nook how to hit, install discipline, and find the right pieces to fill out the bullpen. If Leyland can manage those tasks, the club can have success in 2006 if young pitchers Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson take a step forward and Verlander's minor league dominance translates to the big leagues.

Optimistically, the Tigers could be looking at their first winning season since Rogers and Jones were actually in the prime of their careers. Pessimistically, this team can finish no better than third place in the Central behind the White Sox and Indians.

Offseason Grade: C

Kansas City Royals:
Additions: 2b Mark Grudzielanek, OF Reggie Sanders, 1b Doug Mientkiewicz, SP Scott Elarton, SP Joe Mays, SP Mark Redman, P Elmer Dessens, 2b Esteban German, C Paul Bako
Subtractions: SP Jose Lima, OF Terrence Long,

The Royals actually won a couple of bidding wars in free agency this offseason. Free agents Grudzielanek, Sanders, Mientkiewicz, and Mays were signed away from higher profile teams as the Royals strayed from their cheaper ways. While the moves might begin to make the team more relevant, the team will still be well below .500 in 2006.

The offense surrounding Mike Sweeney and David "Nobody Fucks With" DeJesus is improved. The aging Sanders and Grudzielanek are still efficient hitters but you wonder if they won't just play out the string while collecting their last paychecks in KC. When the team is 20 games under in August, will manager Buddy Bell be able to coax maximum effort from his millionaire veterans? Unfortunately, catcher John Buck (.242 BA) and third baseman Mark Teahen (.246 BA) are still complete noobs at the plate. The rotation is also somewhat better with Mays and Elarton in the mix, but is still one of the worst in the game.

Offseason Grade: C+

Minnesota Twins:
Additions: OF/DH Rondell White, 2b Luis Castillo, 3b Tony Batista, DH Ruben Sierra
Subtractions: OF Jacque Jones, SP Joe Mays, RP J.C. Romero

It will be nice to have Tony Batista's unique, near perpindicular stance back in the major leagues this year. Minnesota signed Batista away from the Fukuoka of the Japanese leagues, where he was making considerably more money (2 years, $15 million). In 2005, his most recent season in the bigs, Batista hit .241 with 32 homers and 110 RBI for Montreal which are numbers that would thrill the Twins. In 2006, 25 homers are not out of the question, but he is also severely strikeout prone.

I am surprised that the Twins did not make a more serious run at some of the aging star hitters who were available this offseason (no, Sierra does not count). Mike Piazza could have been a mentor for Joe Mauer while DHing. Nomar Garciaparra could have played third base. Frank Thomas was available at DH for less than $1 million in guaranteed money. The team was also offered the chance to re-acquire Corey Koskie at a discount. Instead, the Twins will take their chances with Batista and professional hitter Rondell White. Baseball wise, the move might work out well, but the Twins could have used the boost in ticket sales that a big name brings.

Any team with Johan Santana, Mauer, and Torii Hunter is going to be entertaining but it is doubtful that Minnesota has enough offense to challenge the White Sox and Indians. Having said that, the pitching staff (Santana, Brad Radke, Joe Nathan, and youngster Scott Baker) still makes this a team that no one will look forward to facing. The Twins are a team worth watching, but they no longer are a favorite in the AL Central.

Offseason Grade: C


I thought your take on the Crisp trade to the Red Sox was off-target, but then this morning's Chicage Tribune carried the headline "Crisp Deal Has Indians on the Rise". Way to be ahead of the curve!

Aaron Rowand probably uses steroids...

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