Trimester Checkup: AL Central

Back to the AL for the third episode of the Trimester Checkup.  We're gonna cover the Home of Mediocrity: the AL Central.

1. Detroit Tigers, 32-26

2. Minnesota Twins, 29-31

3. Chicago White Sox, 27-32

4. Cleveland Indians, 26-34

5. Kansas City Royals, 24-33

Biggest Surprise:  Call it a tie between RHPs Zack Greinke and Carl Pavano.  We had faith in Greinke to have a great year, but certainly not to the extent that we've seen from him thusfar. And as for Pavano, we never thought he had as much talent as, say, the Yankees did.  We thought that he was given an unreasonable contract based on a career year, and that he failed to deliver in such a spectacular fashion as he did, well, that was icing on the cake.  And yet, this year, he's holding his own with Cliff Lee on the Indians' staff.  Who knew?

Biggest Disappointment:  The Indians, we guess.  Though we didn't really expect much from them (we picked the Tigers to win the division. Ha.), the general consensus was that they were the favorites to win the division after a remarkably strong second half last year and the potential addition of power broker Matt LaPorta.  Buuuuut as you can see from the record above, too much has gone wrong for one reason or another.  The bullpen's imploded, the staff beyond Lee and Pavano has been horrendous, and Grady Sizemore - an individual candidate for biggest disappointment - has been as bad as we can remember him ever being.  A far cry from a guy who should be putting up MVP caliber numbers for this offense.

Biggest Question:  What impact can Jeremy Bonderman have?  Bonderman was a highly touted youngster when he came up during the Tigers' leanest of lean years, but has since derailed with a lengthy list of serious injuries.  He recently returned from the newest addition to his medical file, having just rehabbed from surgery to remove a clot in his throwing arm.  If healthy, and if finally able to fulfill the promise that he showed early in his career - which, we will admit, is less than most would have you believe; he was really only good as a 23 year old - then the Tigers should have enough pitching to hold on to the division lead.  His presence will lessen the pressure on Rick Porcello to keep up what is a mostly unsustainable performance thusfar, and give the Tigers some insurance should Dontrelle Willis cease being effective...again.

Moves That Should Be Made:

  • The Tigers should....well, they can't really trade anyone, since their cupboard is pretty bare.  They're already cash-strapped and their prospect list is pretty depressing.  So we'd recommend that they go after a second baseman, since Placido Polanco no longer appears to be capable, but they just don't seem to have the pieces.  Fortunately, what they have now should be enough to get them into the playoffs.
  • The Twins need to figure out what to do with Delmon Young.  He can't be optioned to the minors because of his contract, but he also clearly can't play in the majors right now.  His trade value can't be high because of his shoddy all-around performance, but that's the same reason why they can't afford to keep throwing at bats at him.  They need to send him somewhere that, to put it bluntly, doesn't matter.  Even though it means admitting that they essentially gave away Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, Terry Ryan can't let that be a hangup.  We say send him to the Marlins and see if you can't bring back, say, Jose Ceda.  We doubt that could happen, but that's the type of move they need to make with him.  Unless they have no faith in Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer to stay healthy...which is reasonable.  Oh, and find a witch doctor for Francisco Liriano.  Dude needs some kind of magic.
  • The Chicago White Sox should do something - ANYTHING - to add some OBP and/or speed to their lineup.  They just seem like...old dinosaurs to us.  As opposed to the young kind, you know.  Their rotation should come around, as Buerhle, Danks, Floyd and Richard should be enough to carry them to contention, but they only have 4 capable hitters...and Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko aren't getting any younger or more fleet of foot, and Carlos Quentin flat-out doesn't have a foot anymore.  Dude's out until July with a torn tendon "down there."  SOOOO how about RHP Aaron Poreda and 3B Brent Morel for either Mike Cameron, Ryan Spilborghs (stretching the definition of CF, we know) or LHP Clayton Richard for either Michael Bourn or Willy Taveras.  Not that we necessarily believe in either of those guys, they just seem like the type of player Ozzie might want.
  • The Indians...ah, the Indians.  They need the aforementioned witch doctor to fix up Fausto and Grady, and then they'll be in much better shape to contend.  That or do anything possible to address the bullpen.  And that, ladies and gents, is the sound for some KCSD theorizing!  Look - bullpen arms are wildly unpredictable.  Since they throw relatively few innings each year, there's not much statistical significance to be found in their numbers.  Rare is the bullpen man who lasts many years; plentiful is he who dominates for a year or two.  Our favorite example is Ben Weber.  He was a key cog in the Angels winning the 2002 World Series, and then he quickly ended up ineffective and out of baseball.  What we recommend in a situation where a team needs to improve their bullpen is not to trade for an "established guy" bur rather to just...call up guys from the minors.  No one's got books on them, no one's seen them, and bullpen guys are almost always interchangeable.  Trust us.  Just give random guys from AAA a shot and they can put together 10-20 good innings.  And then swap 'em right back out!
  • The Royals have absolutely no hope.  They can't hit their way out of a wet paper bag, and the problem is too widespread for them to even think about building around a great pitching core in Greinke, Meche, and Joakim Soria (God rest his shoulder).  To wit: only Alberto Callaspo has been worth even one (1) (1!) full win above replacement level.  And he's only a 1.2.  So...we don't even know where to start.  This team is far, far away from being able to put together a truly competitive core.  Try to trade anybody and anything you can.

Prognostication: The Tigers looked the best to us heading into the year, and we're sticking with our guns so far.  Getting Carlos Guillen back should only help their already powerful offense going forward, and Jeremy Bonderman should also provide a boost if he can stay healthy.  The Twins are getting great years from their key hitters, and should remain a thorn in the Tigers' side if they can keep it up...but they're going to need a bigger performance from their pitching if they want to overcome the current leaders.  The White Sox are going to need a lot of production from Gordon Beckham in his rookie campaign if they hope to avoid a singularly one-sided offensive attack.  Their pitching looks solid enough in the weak AL Central that if they can put any degree of dynamism out on the field, they could surprise.  And, yes, we do feel ridiculous for saying the key to the White Sox' future success is "dynamism."  BUT ANYWAY.  The Indians simply don't look like they can keep scoring runs at their current pace, even if Travis Hafner is healthy again.  They've only got two legitimate lineup forces, plus a complimentary part or two in Shin Soo-Choo and Mark DeRosa.  Combined with only two good pitchers in the rotation and one of the worst bullpens in baseball, well, you've got a recipe for disaster.  The Royals...are simply a disaster.  Let's just hope Soria's injury isn't too serious and that maybe, just maybe, Alex Gordon can start delivering on some of his promise.  And yeah, we're picking the current standings to be the same at the end.  Borrrrring, we know.  Sorry.

Final Standings

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Minnesota Twins

3. Chicago White Sox

4. Cleveland Indians

5. Kansas City Royals

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