|2005 MLB Preview: AL Central|
Predictions for the 2005 season and a review of each team in the division.
|2005 MLB Preview: NL West|
The Giants have too much firepower for the West in 2005.
|Tis the season for prognostication|
What do all these mock drafts, baseball previews, and bracketology articles have in common?
|2005 MLB Preview: NL East|
Predictions for the 2005 season and a review of each team in the division.
By Adam Conn, Founder
MLB Preview: American League Central
This used to be Cleveland's division. Then five seconds became five seconds. The White Sox won the division in 2000, with Cleveland finishing second. Cleveland won in 2001. Minnesota was dead last with 69 wins in 2000, moved into second in 2001, then won the division in 2002. Will Detroit and Kansas City emerge from their decades long morass this season? A few years ago, the Twins were mocked as AAA Ball in a Hefty Bag park. Most of the players on the roster came up together through the minors. Then they traded away their supposed best player, Matt Lawton. What folks didn't realize was the incredible depth in the outfield, the liveliness of the young arms, and the quality defense that comes from knowing your teammates.
If you get a chance to watch the Twins, watch a tough groundball to Corey Koskie. He'll not only get to it, but he can throw it towards first base with the confidence that Doug Mientkiewicz will get to it. With someone planted at 1B more for his bat than his glove, Koskie gets charged with 30 errors or he stops bothering to make the throw. Without that extra-sensory connection, the Twins don't win 94 games.
The Twins haven't changed too much of their game plan. Keep the same guys together, build for the future. The Indians continue to slash payroll. The White Sox had a sexy three-way this winter... trade that is. Detroit was surprisingly busy bringing players in, and Kansas City was busy letting players go.
Predicted Final Standings
* indicates player was signed on a minor league contract in the off-season.
Juan Gonzalez hated Comerica Park. The fences were too deep (too deep? reminds me of the "too high" line in Major League) and the team wasn't built around speed. The fences are finally being brought in, but will that help the Tigers more or opposing teams? With the new fence configuration favoring righty batters, Detroit's young pitching staff might get a wee bit discouraged by the end of April. Hopefully, Dombrowski won't have his youngest arms toiling away in middle relief when they could be getting good innings down in Toledo.
Tiger fans, needless to say, have been discouraged for much longer. Randy Smith brought in a series of stiffs at incredible prices. This past season did spark some hope. Dave Dombrowski acquired Carlos Pena and traded for Gary Knotts and Nate Robertson in the off-season. It's clear that Dombrowski knows this isn't a contending team this year. He's already working on the 2004 team, as well he should. He got rid of the poor fielding Fick and avoided arbitration with players who might prove both expensive and didn't factor in the long term plan. However, he got rid of pitchers Jeff Weaver, Mark Redman, Brian Moehler, and Juan Acevedo, in the process. He also got rid of the batting leaders for the team in Fick and Simon, both of whom went to the National League.
Post-season moves: C+
Team grade: D-
Prediction: Fifth in division (54-108)
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If I told you there was an AL team with two guys with 100+ RBIs, and a third player who hit .340 with 24 homers to boot, and had a 17 game winner, you might think I was talking about a playoff team (NY Yankees) or at least a team that finished near .500 (Toronto). You'd be wrong. The Yankees had three 100 RBI guys, and Bernie Williams hit .333. Wells and Mussina won 19 and 18 games respectively. Toronto had Delgado and Wells hit the 100 RBI mark, but Shannon Stewart posted a team high .303; Halladay won 19 as well. The Kansas City Royals featured Raul Ibañez and Carlos Beltran, plus Mike Sweeney, who would have easily eclipsed the 100 RBI mark in addition to his .340 batting average had he not been injured. Paul Byrd won 17, starting the season with 8 wins in his first 10 decisions. However, that was the entirity of the good news.
Last year, the Royals let the payroll balloon up to a monsterous opening day $47 million ($52 million according to management), bloated with ticks such as Roberto Hernandez ($6 million for 26 saves), Chuck Knoblauch ($2 million in salary, and countless more for fan insurance), Jeff Suppan ($4 million), Neifi Perez ($4 million), and Blake Stein ($1.35 million). All of these guys are gone. After Sweeney's $8 million, last year's best players both made under $1 million Ibañez at $800k, and 17 game winner Paul Byrd at $750k. Byrd went off to Atlanta after refusing arbitratrion; Ibañez accepted arbitration. David Glass vetoed a trade that would have dumped Joe Randa's $4.5 million salary for prospects noone happened to mention to Glass that Randa's contract expires at the end of this year. Byrd signed a two-year $10 million deal.
With the payroll pared down to basically Beltran, Sweeney, and Randa, the Royals added a few cheaply-had veterans. While these players do improve the team, the loss of the three best pitchers on the team make the starting roto look like batting practice pitchers. I do think the starting rotation will have five very nice arms in it; however, these would be players given more development time in the minors. But this team is full of question marks. Can Runelvys Hernandez, Jeremy Affeldt and Miguel Asencio surprise the league and turn into a great 1-2-3? Will Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran stay healthy? Will Joe Randa join the 100 RBI club? Can Raul Ibañez do it again? Will Mark Quinn not wrestle with his brother? If these things happen, Kansas City could be the surprise team of this division, and could finish third easily.
But this is a team that breaks down easily, has no crunch time experience, little management support and zero management desire to compete this year.
This team has a goal to reach .500 if it does this year or next, Sweeney has to stick around through 2006. I think 2004 is a much better bet for this team to approach that, but with the terrible Tigers and rebuilding Indians in this division, and Baltimore and Tampa Bay in the league, anything is possible. Thirteen games in April against the Tigers and Indians could mean a fast start. If the White Sox stumble out of the gate, it may be at the hands of the Royals as well. Keep this team in mind for next year, but too many young, inexperienced arms and a soft middle infield makes me woozy.
Post-season moves: C-/D+
Team grade: D+
Prediction: Fourth in division (64-98)
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After winning the division in 2001, the Indians collapsed early and often in 2002. Throwing up the white flag in June, they traded away #1 pitcher Bartolo Colon and top pitching prospect Tim Drew for Lee Stevens, pitcher Cliff Lee, outfielder Grady Sizemore and shortstop Brandon Phillips. They also traded #3 pitcher Chuck Finley as well. This pretty much doomed any chance they had at re-signing Jim Thome, who fled to Philadelphia, taking beleaguered manager Charlie Manual with him. Lee Stevens fled as well, choosing Tampa over Cleveland.
While Phillips, Sizemore, and Lee will help the Indians soon, it won't be in 2003. The Indians outfield is already overcrowded adding Shane Spencer and Wendell Magee in the off-season didn't help and Phillips is behind Omar Vizquel, who is winding down a heck of a career. Lee pitched very well in September two five inning starts where he gave up only a run in each game and got absolutely no support.
With Bartolo Colon gone, CC Sabathia moves into the big man role, both as the #1 starter and as the heaviest guy on the staff. At 270 lbs, he puts a lot of weight behind his fastball, but also has a nice curve and a good changeup. In his first two years in the show, he's started 33 games and posted identical ERA numbers. Jason Bere, picked up as a free agent from the Cubs, moves into the #2 role by default any other team he'd be in middle relief or the #5 pitcher. Bob Wickman, acquired from Milwaukee in 2000, blew out his elbow and threw the closer job wide open for 2003.
Like the Royals and Tigers, this team is already working on the 2004 squad. Wickman will be back, Sabathia will be in his 4th year, Lee will be ready as will Phillips, Hafner, and Blake. The 2004 team will not resemble the 2001 division winners very much, but could make a run for it if Eric Wedge can develop confidence as a manager and the team makes smart acquisitions.
This team could easily finish dead last if Sabathia can't get the breaks or gets hurt. Kansas City and Detroit don't have pitchers that are ready to lead a charge into third yet, but Cleveland has a tenuous grasp on it.
Post-season moves: D-
Team grade: D
Prediction: Third in division (66-96)
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The White Sox were definitely busy this off-season, complete two huge trades. Oakland and Chicago swapped relievers along with two minor league players each. With Foulke a free agent at the end of this year and Koch arbitration-eligible, Chicago took the lesser but more immediate headache. With the Yankees and Expos, they completed a monster trade, acquiring 20 game winner Bartolo Colon and infielder Jorge Nunez, but losing Rocky Biddle, Jeff Liefer, Antonio Osuna, and Delvis Lantigua.
Pitching is the theme with the White Sox this year. Losing Biddle and Osuna might be the downfall of the White Sox come August and September. Osuna appeared in 59 games, saving 11, holding 9, winning 8. Biddle appeared in 44 games, and moved into the starting rotation in September. Osuna did lose the closer's role to Damaso Marte, but with Bob Howry's August trade to the Red Sox, the quality of the middle relief on this team takes a huge downturn. While the starting rotation has a powerful 1 & 2, and great potential in the bottom three, the middle innings get dicey. Marte will move back to middle relief with Kelly Wunsch. These two will be joined by aging Rick White and Tom Gordon, and possibly Gil Heredia and/or Esteban Loaiza. Wunsch and Marte should do fine, but the rest of the group could get flaky pretty quickly. But think about this rotation had the White Sox not traded Sean Lowe, Josh Fogg, and Kip Wells for Todd Ritchie.
With only a softness in middle relief, Jerry Manuel wouldn't be too concerned. However, it's his players in the field who could keep him up at night. The catching situation is a mess. Sandy Alomar Jr. has been brought in as more of a coach than a player because Miguel Olivio and Josh Paul are quite green. Jamie Burke may wind up the catcher in 2004 if neither pan out this year. This is Josh Paul's make or break year; the White Sox can't wait on him any longer and probably won't. Likewise, 3B is a complete mess as well, with Joe Crede under the gun to expand on his nice .285-12-35 in just 200 at-bats last year. He could break out this year, or he could collapse under the pressure of being the guy at 3B. D'Angelo Jimenez was a can't miss Yankee prospect who broke his neck in a car accident, and then was exiled to San Diego and now Chicago. He responded well in the Windy City; 2B is now his to lose to Walt Harris and Tony Graffinino into competition, with Tim Hummel waiting in the wings. Jose Valentin will be the SS this year, and Paul Konerko will cover 1B. Jorge Nunez will most likely displace Valentin next year, and may play an important role as the season winds down.
The outfield is keyed by Magglio Ordonez, perhaps the most underhyped outfielder in the AL. He ranked in the top 5 in batting average, RBI, and slugging percentage and was sixth in HR, R, and OPS. Had the White Sox made the playoffs, he would have been the MVP candidate. Joining him in the outfield will be Carlos Lee and Aaron Rowand. Lee has been on the verge of a breakout for three seasons now, but never seems to make it over the hump.
Defensively, this isn't a great team; we'll see the White Sox blow a few close games on late inning errors this season. Jose Valentin will be the goat for these losses; and with Frank Thomas entrenched at DH, Valentin must keep his glove on.
The White Sox have to start quickly this year. Six games against Kansas City and Detroit each, seven with Cleveland and 3 in Baltimore to open the season could provide the White Sox with a 16-0 start. They'll need it, because they immediately face Minnesota, Oakland and Seattle in the next 18 out of 21 games. Chicago also has the burden of closing the season with 7 games against the Twins and 6 against the Yankees in the final month. Jerry Manuel has to keep his team sharp and not lose against softer opponents. With middle relief and fielding being questionable, this team could lose a lot of one-run games. Last year, they went 15-21 in one run games, 3-2 in extra innings; the Twins were 29-16 and 10-4. This could prove to be the difference maker again.
Post-season moves: A-
Team grade: A-
Prediction: Second in division (87-75)
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The Minnesota Twins were the feel-good story right from the beginning of last season. Conspired to be contracted, the Twins emerged from 2001 with the promotion of Ron Gardenhire to manager and Rick Anderson hired as pitching coach. Since other teams swallowed up much of the free agent talent in November and December, the Twins were left to pick up Mike Jackson as their sole off-season acquisition. Luis Rivas, Joe Mays and David Ortiz went on the disabled list in April. Corey Koskie went on the DL with Brad Radke going on the DL twice in May. A club of individuals, such as the Mets, would have crumbled at this point.
But the Twins came up through the system together. They defined the word "team" for 2002. By the end of May, they were 31-24, three games ahead of the White Sox and five in front of the Indians. In the next 5 weeks before the All-Star game, the Sox and Indians had conceded the division and started to trade away potential free agents.
The Twins largely stood still this winter as well, re-signing stars like Torii Hunter and Jacque Jones to extended deals. They dumped Bob Wells and Mike Jackson, who contributed greatly to the collapse against the Angels in games 4 & 5. Matt Kinney, who spent time on the DL with shoulder problems, and catcher Javier Valentin were traded to the Brewers for two pitchers who will help in a couple years. Dead weight David Ortiz was released and light-hitting infielder Jay Canizaro was replaced with light-hitting infielder Chris Gomez.
The Twins are built from the entry draft and minors. As a result of great scouting, careful selection, and patience, the Twins could be a perennial contender with a low payroll. The team plays outstanding defense; Torii Hunter makes going over the fence to retrieve potential home runs almost routine. His glove and leadership clearly contributed to the Twins winning 29 one run games out of 44. The infield also has its miracle men, Corey Koskie and Doug Mientkiewicz. Koskie just plain gets to balls, and has the confidence in Mientkiewicz to know that anything thrown near 1B will be an out.
The leadership in the dugout rests with Mientkiewicz. His intensity during tight games is contagious and the team responds.
Since the Twins have stocked the minors with home grown folks and didn't make any "rental trades" for the post-season, the minors are stacked with players who could help out if the injury bug bites. The entire outfield is replaceable at least one time, if not twice, with guys who can hit and field to the level of the starters (How much do the Mets envy the Twins here, at 1/3 the payroll and 5x the outfield talent?) Unlike most teams, the Twins are ready if their All-Star catcher goes down, or if the word "torn labrum" becomes too commonplace. The biggest scare comes in the middle infield, where Luis Rivas (93 games) and Christian Guzman reside (79K: 17BB). Guzman did commit 9 fewer errors this past season, but he averaged 20+ errors per season his first three years in the bigs. David Lamb needs to learn that same lesson and learn it soon. He's 28 years old and stuck in AAA.
While the White Sox have added tremendously in the off-season, it's still hard to catch #1.
Post-season moves: B
Team grade: A
Prediction: First in division (91-71)
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File last modified May 15, 2011
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