2009 American League Central Preview

Last Updated: March 6th, 2009 by Rodney James (Bankroll Sports Contributor)

In what some might consider the most competitive division, from top to bottom, the American League Central does not appear to have the strength and star power that other divisions have. Look for a narrow gap between the top and the bottom of this league, with the order going in any order. While the AL Central did not appear to lose any of their star power from 2008, they also did not seem to gain any via the off-season.

As the Chicago White Sox convene in Glendale Arizona, they come in as the divisional winner from one season ago. The White Sox ended the season 89-74, but fell in the ALDS. Chicago unloaded Nick Swisher and Javy Vazquez during the off-season for seven players including six that appear to be minor leaguers. Wilson Betemit appears to be the key name sent to the Windy City in that deal. Others involved with Brent Lillibridge and Jeff Marquez. Marquez looks to possibly be thrown in the 5th starter role for Ozzie Guillen’s Sox. Chicago also added Jayson Nix who played second base for Colorado last season. He looks to be the front runner for the position, just ahead of prospects Chris Getz (from Chicago) and Brent Lillibridge. Whoever gets the nod will play alongside Alexei Ramirez in the middle infield. Ramirez finished second in the AL MVP voting last season behind Tampa’s Evan Longoria. Josh Fields looks to fill Joe Crede’s position at third base. Crede was let go via free agency. Gone from last season’s outfield are Ken Griffey Jr. and Nick Swisher. Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye look to be mainstays in the outfield, with Paul Konerko and Jim Thome sliding in at first base and DH respectively. The last question for Chicago is who will fill centerfield. Jerry Owens, DeWayne Wise and Brian Anderson will all three fight for the position this spring. Owens only played 12 games in 2008 with a groin injury, while Anderson and Wise have had problems getting on base. The White Sox pitching will be anchored by Mark Buehrle. The lefthander will lead a rotation with Gavin Floyd, John Danks and a mixture of Bartolo Colon, Lance Broadway, Clayton Richard, Jeff Marquez and Aaron Poreda fighting for the fourth and fifth positions. Poreda appears to be an excellent choice, as he is just 22 years old. The 6’6, 240lbs. sinkerball pitcher pitched in 12 games in high A ball last season, and then 15 in Class AA. If Ozzie elects to not throw him into the rotation, he will certainly figure into the bullpen, alongside guys such as Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton and Scott Linebrink.

In Goodyear, Arizona the Cleveland Indians feel they have as good of shot at winning the division as anyone. After their 81-81 mark in 2008, Cleveland only made minimal splash in the free agency pool, but appear to have improved. The signing of Kerry Wood should be an upgrade from Joe Borowski, who closed games in 2008. Wood saved 34 games in 2008 only making one trip to the disabled list. If Wood stays healthy, this could prove to be an excellent signing. Cleveland also added another former Chicago Cub in Mark DeRosa. DeRosa appears to be a good fit for third base in Cleveland after his time spent in Chicago was merely as a utility player. Joe Smith was also added to the bullpen to add some much needed depth. The improved play of Shin-Soo Choo made letting Franklin Gutierrez expendable. Starting pitching will surely be a question mark for Cleveland. The first question will be, can Cliff Lee continue his sharp pitching of 2008? Lee finished 22-3 with a 2.54 era in 2008 after having just a horrible 2007 season. Behind Lee in the rotation will be Carl Pavano, who never could shake his struggles as a Yankee. Fausto Carmona will be Cleveland’s third starting pitcher, and if those three are on, there will be no better 1-3 rotation in the AL Central than Cleveland. But, consistency has been an issue for all three. The bats should not be an issue for the Indians. Travis Hafner should continue to hold the designated hitter position, despite only playing in 57 games last season. Hafner received MVP votes in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Kelly Shoppach has allowed the Indians to move Victor Martinez to other positions, such as first base or designated hitter. If none of the above options work, Ryan Garko has showed he can hit the ball as well. Look for youngster Matt LaPorta to possibly get a shot directly out of spring training. His best position is left field, and he could develop into of the games most powerful hitters. LaPorta was the main cog in the trade that sent C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee. If he doesn’t make the opening day roster, his stay in AAA Columbus will probably not be long.

In Lakeland, Florida where the Detroit Tigers are conducting their 2009 spring training, the Tigers are looking for answers. Answers as to what went array during the 2008 season, as Detroit finished 74-88, last place in the AL Central. Detroit allowed 857 runs in 2008 and are counting on guys such as Jeremy Bonderman, Justin Verlander, Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya will all return to 2006 form. All four of those guys had a great deal of struggles during 2008. Detroit grabbed Gerald Laid from Texas, along with Edwin Jackson, Adam Everett and Brandon Lyon. When Detroit won the pennant three years ago, Bonderman and Verlander went 31-17 and pitched over 400 innings. In 2008 they combined for a dismal 14-21 record with a near 5.00 era. Also, in the Tigers dream season of 06, Rodney and Zumaya combined for a 2.67 era, while in 08, they did not win a game, going 0-8 with a 4.38 era. Both suffered injuries throughout most of the season. Offensively Gary Sheffield, added with Miguel Cabrera, Placido Polanco and Brandon Inge should be a solid combination. Adam Everett should help Detroit defensively in the middle of the infield. Behind the plate, the Tigers will not see a mainstay in Pudge Rodriguez, as this season the job looks to go to either Gerald Laird or rookie Matt Treanor. If Laird gets the nod as the starting catcher, look for Treanor to be one of the best back-up catchers in the league.

For the Kansas City Royals, they hope their turn around in 2009 matches the city in which they are training in. Surprise Arizona holds the Royals spring training complex, and that’s exactly what the Royals want to do – surprise the rest of the league. The Royals added a bad in Mike Jacobs to the lineup, along with Coco Crisp. Jacobs hit 32 homeruns last year and drove in 93, while Crisp is a guy that will get on base at the top of the lineup. Kansas City locked up Zack Greinke, their ace for four years, while picking up Kyle Farnsworth and Willie Bloomquist. Kansas City will continue to rely on youngsters such as Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Luke Hochevar to carry a heavy load. After finishing 75-87 last season, Kansas City finally moved out of the AL Central cellar, passing Detroit. Another step in that direction would please the front office in Kansas City, but with the division being wide open, the Royals will battle hard all 162 games. Offensively, Jacobs and Guillen should pack a punch in the middle of the lineup, but the question will be can Butler and Gordon get themselves on base enough. Gordon hit just .260 last season. Look for prospect Mike Moustakas to get some looks at shortstop for the Royals. The number two pick in the 2007 draft led the Class A Midwest League with 22 homeruns in 2008. With Gordon at third base, and Moustakas manning shortstop, Kansas City could be in for a solid feature. Another move Kansas City made in the off-season was adding another year for the services of Mark Teahen. The Royals will look to start Teahen at second base, but with his versatility, he could get moved around. He will compete with Alberto Callapso and Bloomquist for the job. When it comes to starting pitching, Zach Greinke is at the top of the list for the Royals Gil Meche has turned into a serviceable start, and Joakim Soria had a nice season in 2008. If those three can have solid seasons, and Kansas City finds their niche in the bullpen, they could themselves in a playoff chase come August and September.

The Minnesota Twins payroll has dropped to about $60 million, which is down $14 million from the 2007 season. Fortunately for Minnesota they did not lose anyone from the team that lost the division in 2008 in a play-in game against Chicago. Minnesota recently signed Joe Crede to play third base, so that should help out the Minnesota offense. The buzz in Fort Myers Florida is how good the youngsters are that will take the field for the Twins. The starting rotation is just an average of 25 years old and only average around 40 starts in their career. Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn have not turned into household names, but they have shown potential of being very solid. Baker is the oldest of the crew at 27 years old. He has made 76 starts in his young career. If a hiccup occurs out of any of the starting pitchers Kevin Mulvey could fill in quite nicely. Mulvey is a 23 year old right hander who pitched in the Mets’ minor league organization in 2007 finishing the season with a 3.62 ERA in 154 innings. With Joe Nathan at the back end of the bullpen, the Twins look to find patch work to complete the rest of the group. Offensively Minnesota will once again rely on Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Mauer is arguably the best catcher in baseball, and Justin Morneau has MVP type ability. Along with Mauer and Morneau are guys such as Carlos Gomez and Delmon Young that have great ability, but have yet to show themselves in the major leagues. Both players have great athleticism, but that doesn’t correlate to getting on base. Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris should battle hard behind Crede at third base position. Buscher starting 60 games at third base last season, while Harris took turns at basically every infield position.

Who will win the American League Central in 2009?

  • Minnesota Twins (44%, 26 Votes)
  • Chicago White Sox (29%, 17 Votes)
  • Cleveland Indians (15%, 9 Votes)
  • Kansas City Royals (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Detroit Tigers (3%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 59

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Posted in MLB Baseball - Last Updated on Friday, March 6th, 2009 @ 8:50 am (EST)
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