Another NCAA Tournament is almost over with my bracket in shreds, so just as naturally as girls starting to wear tank tops and short shorts my thoughts turn to baseball and those beloved sucks the Twins. After last year's nightmare, can they compete this year in the Central? The best way to know is to know your opponents, so here's what each of the AL Central squads did this offseason to change things up.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Adds: OF Kosuke Fukudome, 1b Dan Johnson, RP Eric Stults
Deletes: SP Mark Buehrle, RP Jason Frasor, OF Juan Pierre, OF Carlos Quentin, IF Omar Vizquel, RP Sergio Santos
The most confusing team in the division and, barring significant injuries to the others, probably the worst, the White Sox are pretty clearly in rebuilding mode this year. Except when they aren't, like when they traded Santos, a young (28), near dominant closer (1.11 WHIP, 13 K/9ip, 30 saves), coming off a career year who is signed to a reasonable contract with club options through 2017. They did get a decent prospect in return but there's no guarantee he ends up even close to what Santos already gives you. A puzzling move, but a clear sign that the Sox are full on rebuilding. At some point this season the fire sale will likely begin with Paul Konerko, Gavin Floyd, and Jesse Crain all likely to go. They'd love to jettison Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy as well, but it's going to be a bitch trying to find somebody to take any of those contracts.
There are some good pieces to build upon here with 3b Brett Morel poised for a possible breakout season along with converted reliever Chris Sale who has absolutely filthy stuff and will try his hand in the rotation this year. There are also a couple youngsters who will get first crack at starting in the outfield in Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro de Aza, but they better hope they're able to get a nice haul when they start trading players off because their farm system is in a complete shambles and they've got way too much money committed to way too many shitty players. This could be the first in a long losing streak for the Sox, and I hope so because these assholes deserve it.
CLEVELAND INDIANSAdds: RP Jeremy Accardo, 1b Casey Kotchman, 3b Andy LaRoche, OF Fred Lewis, SP Derek Lowe, RP Chris Ray, OF Felix Pie, OF Ryan Spillborghs, RP Dan Wheeler, RP Robinson Tejeda, SP Kevin Slowey
Deletes: OF Travis Buck, OF Kosuke Fukudome, RP Chad Durbin, IF Adam Everett, RP Justin Germano, OF Austin Kearns, DH Jim Thome
I'm a big fan of what the Indians have done this year - of course I'd be an even bigger fan if Fausto Carmona wasn't in legal trouble and Grady Sizemore wasn't hurt for the 19th year in a row - but they've done some really nice things. You'll notice they lost a lot of players from last year's roster, but you'll also notice they all suck outside of Thome, and if you take a look at what they're bringing in that's a really interesting group with a lot of upside. Accardo, Ray, and Wheeler were all elite relievers at one point, and Spillborghs and Pie can help fill in for Sizemore, but the biggest prizes were Kotchman (who will start immediately) and Lowe (who becomes their #3 starter).
The most exciting part about the Indians is they have a chance to have the best young infield in all of baseball. SS Asdrubel Cabrera is already elite and 2b Jason Kipnis and 3b Lonnie Chisenhall both sound like wieners but both have a chance to reach that tier as well, and C Carlos Santana is already one of the best baseball hitters in the game. The guy really mucking things up is Matt LaPorta, who was the centerpiece of the package the Indians got from Milwaukee when they traded C.C. Sabathia, but instead of being a stud he's been a big time dud, failing to hit over .255 in any season with very little power. Basically he's Joe Mauer without the batting average. Or Nick Punto without the speed or fielding. Real valuable player, is what I'm trying to say.
Adds: 1b Prince Fielder, RP Octavio Dotel, C Gerald Laird
Deletes: 3b Wilson Betemit, 2b Carlos Guillen, OF Magglio Ordonez, SP Brad Penny, RP Ryan Perry, 2b Will Rhymes, RP Joel Zumaya
They didn't add much, but they added a ton at the same time. You know about Fielder, and say what you want about the defense taking a hit with Miguel Cabrera back at the hot corner, but that is one hell of a 1-2 punch in the lineup. That signing will get most of the press, but don't forget about Dotel. He's been an elite level set-up guy for nearly a decade now and last season might have been his career best. He's going to be the 7th inning guy next year, which means at the end of games (at least ones Verlander doesn't pitch) you'll be looking at Dotel (0.98 WHIP), Joaquin Benoit (1.05), and Jose Valverde (49-49 saves last year). Shortened game indeed.
If you're looking for negatives, go ahead and latch on to the fact that one popular theory is that pitching and defense win championships, and that's where the Tigers have big questions. Behind Verlander the rotation is a bunch of question marks (and there's no way Fister is that good again) and as long as Jacob Turner doesn't become a stud (and he might) there will be questions all season. Plus of the 9 projected starters (assuming Fielder, Cabrera, and Delmoney all share time at DH) only Austin Jackson would be considered anything other than a terrible fielder (although Ryan Raburn is a good outfielder, he's slated to play 2b this year lololol). So go ahead and latch on to that hope. Although you're only kidding yourself because the Tigers will probably have this wrapped up by September 1.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Adds: SS Yuniesky Betancourt, RP Jonathan Broxton, 3b Kevin Kouzmanoff, RP Jose Mijares, SP Jonathan Sanchez
Deletes: OF Melky Cabrera, SP Jeff Francis, C Jason Kendall, RP Robinson Tejada
Well here we go. This is where the Royals start to make their move. All of the talk about their incredible minor league system and all the young talent they have starts to prove itself this year. They've transferred most of it to the majors, and Billy Butler, Alex Gordon (finally), Alcides Escobar, and Eric Hosmer have proven themselves ready to go, while Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Johnny Giavotella, and Salvador Perez are now in the majors and will get their shot to stick. To compliment them KC is making the right moves, trading expendable parts (Melky Cabrera) to upgrade the starting pitching (Sanchez) and signing smart veterans to back-up the youngsters and add depth (Betancourt, Kouzmanoff) and upgrade an already promising bullpen (Mijares, Broxton).
That being said, they still aren't there yet but that's ok. The starting pitching is still pretty poor at this point but help is still on the way (two top 5 prospects in the system could hit the bigs this year), and there are still a few more position players who aren't there yet but should be soon. So although the Royals won't contend for the AL Central crown this year, they should take a nice step forward and be right around .500 if everything is going according to plan. If not, all the idiots like Snacks can go ahead and put a notch in their belt, because the whole "it's still the Royals" and "potential doesn't win games" and "we've been hearing about the Royals' talent for years" arguments are actually valid. And I'd really hate for this to be true because I loathe stupidity.
Adds: RP Jason Bulger, 3b Sean Burroughs, RP Jared Burton, IF Jayme Carroll, C Ryan Doumit, SP Jason Marquis, C J.R. Towles, OF Josh Willingham
Deletes: OF Michael Cuddyer, OF Jason Kubel, RP Jose Mijares, RP Joe Nathan, OF Jason Repko, IF Matt Tolbert
The Twins lose more than anybody else in the division off last year's team with several main contributors from the good teams of the last few years taking off (including my favorite player ever Jason Kubel and my fake favorite player ever in Jason Repko) and that clearly shows they've recognized a need to rebuild and start over after last year's 99 loss debacle. Problem. You can't rebuild when you owe eleventy billion dollars to two guys who hardly ever play.
Really, we can analyze the signings to death, but everything is dependent on the health of Mauer and Morneau. I mean, I like the Willingham signing, love the Doumit signing, and hate both the Capps and Marquis deals, but even if those all end up being home runs the team's going nowhere without Morneau and Mauer. Say what you want about Parmelee (and I liked what I saw) in order to contend for the division they need Morneau. Although even that might not even matter when you can't upgrade a pretty horrendous group of starting pitchers. Marquis and Blackburn are going to get whacked around all year, Baker can't stay healthy, and I'm starting to think it's a bit of a fool's errand waiting for Liriano to put it all together - again. Pavano is the only worthwhile one. What the Twins need more than anything is to blow it up and start over, but they've hamstrung themselves and are now stuck in limbo. Hurry, Miguel Sano. Hurry.