Terry Ryan: “Maybe We’ll Get Lucky”

Ever since the Twins handed the reins of the organization back to Terry Ryan, fans have been asking what he was going to do about the pitching staff. We wanted him to tell us how he intended to fortify a rotation that was undeniably one of the worst in Major League Baseball in 2011.

We asked what the plan was for rebuilding a bullpen that arguably made the rotation look good, by comparison, and that was losing the guy who’d been anchoring said bullpen for most of the past decade, in Joe Nathan. Some of us (OK, maybe it was mostly me) hoped that he’d upgrade the rotation to the point where the team would get more than five innings out of starts by pitchers not named Pavano, which would almost certainly make the bullpen look better. But whatever the plan was, we mostly just wanted to know that there WAS a plan.

Can Rick Anderson get lucky and give Glen Perkins some help in the bullpen? (Photo: Reuters/Steve Nesius)

Now… finally… thanks to Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson, as reported in this article posted Sunday by the Pioneer-Press’ Tom Powers, we have our answer. “It’s like Terry Ryan said to me the other day, ‘Maybe we’ll get lucky,’” Anderson said.

I don’t know about you, but I feel better already. Here we were concerned that maybe Ryan and the Twins didn’t really have a plan for improving their pitching in 2012.

My biggest concern was that the Twins were going to repeat Bill Smith’s ill-fated attempt to restock their bullpen a year ago, after losing Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, and others. Smith, you may recall, brought in about a dozen guys to compete for the honor of filling in the empty bullpen spots behind Nathan, Matt Capps and Jose Mijares. The field consisted of both new faces (Jim Hoey, Dusty Hughes, Scott Diamond) and old faces (Pat Neshek, Anthony Slama, Kyle Waldrop, Glen Perkins, Alex Burnett). In the end, only Perkins made significant positive contributions on the mound.

It didn’t seem like a totally unreasonable plan, at the time. After all, most effective middle relievers are “discovered” when they stand out given similar opportunities. But it certainly didn’t work for Smith and the Twins, so many of us hoped for a somewhat different approach in 2012.

Thankfully, Terry Ryan does indeed have a different plan. He’s bringing in THIRTY-THREE pitchers.

Yes, I know, some of those guys are going to be in the rotation and a couple others are pretty much locks for bullpen roles, so they aren’t all competing for bullpen spots. But the rotation is pretty much set and only Capps, Perkins and Duensing can be considered virtual sure-things to be members of the Opening Day bullpen corps.

That leaves 25 pitchers competing for the remaining 4-5 bullpen spots. How in the world will Anderson and manager Ron Gardenhire possibly sort through all of those guys to determine which should claim a Big League roster spot?

Again, thanks to Mr. Powers and Coach Anderson, we have a few clues:

“We’ve got 33 pitchers coming in,” Anderson said Sunday from Florida. “I’ve already talked to just about every one of them. We have 13 days to get ready to play. We have the time to get ready.”

There’s clue number one. If you’re a pitcher with an invitation to the Twins’ Big League camp, but Anderson hasn’t spoken to you yet, it’s probably premature to lease an apartment in the Twin Cities.

But there’s more:

“We’ve got ‘B’ games and split squads,” Anderson said. “With 33 pitchers, we need to find innings to see what they’ve got. I was thinking about this just this morning: In the past, maybe we’ve had a couple of spots open, and we didn’t have a whole lot of options. This year, we’ve got nine or 10 guys with a legitimate shot. Maybe more.”

Hmmmm… nine or 10 guys… maybe more… with a legitimate shot. But which nine or 10 guys?

“T.K. [former Twins manager Tom Kelly] always says, ‘Don’t let spring training fool you,’ ” Anderson added with a laugh. “But this year it’s going to be go, go, go. If you don’t have a good spring, we’ll send you down to Triple-A and say, ‘Maybe we’ll see you again.’ This year, guys are pitching for jobs and not just to get in shape.”

Well, I still don’t know exactly who the nine or 10 guys are with a legitimate shot at making the ballclub, but it sounds to me like we’ll all discover pretty quickly who ISN’T in that group. That would be anyone who’s first inning or two of work in Ft. Myers sucks.

So that’s the plan, fans. Invite a crapload of maybes, wannabes, usedtabes, and almostweres to Spring Training, put them on the mound and see if any of them can get anyone out… and, “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

And here we were worried they didn’t have a plan.

- JC

One More Decision Bud Selig Won’t Make

Admit it… as soon as you read yesterday’s post about Bud Selig and the decisions he is incapable of making, you knew this was coming, didn’t you?

Yes, I’m going to rant… again… about broadcast blackouts and how MLB doesn’t seem to give a rat’s ass about fans throughout Iowa and parts of Nevada (and a few other states) where fans are literally prevented from watching just about any team they care at all about play baseball on cable television or the internet.

I won’t rehash the issue in its entirety. You can click here to read all about it or just type “blackouts” in the search window at the top of our site to bring up any number of my previous rants on the topic. Here, I’ll just provide a little updated rant.

At a Hot Stove banquet the week of Twinsfest, I had the pleasure of listening in on a Q&A session with a panel that included Twins President Dave St. Peter. With encouragement from a fellow Twins fan and blogger who shall remain nameless (other than to say he has a view from Section 219 of Target Field for several Twins games a year) and emboldened by the beer or five I had during dinner and the following couple of hours, I asked Mr. St. Peter whether the Twins would ever address the crazy “blackout” issue that prevents me and my fellow Iowans from seeing Twins games either on cable television or via the internet.

St. Peter admitted that Iowa was in the middle of a “Bermuda Triangle” (his words) and that he and the Twins would like to see the situation changed, but the matter is dictated by MLB’s broadcast rights policy and any changes would have to come from league headquarters. He also suggested I write to Iowa’s Congressional delegation.

Frankly, I was surprised someone in baseball would actually encourage a fan to complain to my Senators and Congressman about MLB (because certainly he must be aware that such a complaint would naturally include a suggestion that baseball’s anti-trust exemption be considered for review), but I let the matter drop at the time.

I didn’t bother to let him know that I had already written a polite letter (really… I CAN be polite when I want to be… and when I think it might be more productive than being brutally honest) to Commissioner Selig a couple of years ago about the blackout policy and got exactly the kind of response I expected. That is to say, no response whatsoever.

I also didn’t point out ot Mr. St. Peter that this issue has been raised by far more influential people than I, such as former MLB president Bob DuPuy, who lobbied for an end to the blackouts… in 2008… with no effect whatsoever.

Of course, I don’t really expect Bud Selig to step in and make a decision regarding the broadcast blackouts. After all, we’re talking about a guy who is seemingly paralyzed by inaction regarding any decision at all that might not be 100% okie-dokie with all of the owners and all of the Networks, so it’s not logical to think he’d make a decision on this matter either.

Then again, considering the decision he did make on the whole All-Star Game/World Series home field thing, maybe we’re all just better off waiting for the next Commissioner anyway. After all, Selig will retire when the latest “last” extension is up in two years, right?

Yeah… right.

- JC

~You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant~

Bud Selig: The Peter Principle Inaction

You might think the headline was a typo… that it was meant to say, “Bud Selig: The Peter Principle In Action.” Nope. I meant it exactly as I typed it.

You’re all familiar with “the Peter Principle,” right? It’s the organizational principle that states, “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” Here’s the Wiki synopsis:

The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. Peter’s Corollary states that “in time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out their duties” and adds that “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.” “Managing upward” is the concept of a subordinate finding ways to subtly “manage” superiors in order to limit the damage that they end up doing. (emphasis is mine)

There’s a very strong example of the “managing upward” corollary sitting atop Major League Baseball.

I wasn’t at all surprised last month when MLB announced that Bud Selig’s contract had been extended two years. Disappointed? Yes… but far from surprised. In fact, I’ll only be surprised if the MLB team owners eventually do kick Selig out of his office while he’s still breathing. 

Why should they? The owners with the most clout (read: owners of teams with the greatest revenue streams) have been successfully “managing upward” for years. If they hired a new Commissioner of Baseball, there’s a pretty good chance that he or she would come in and expect to be able to make decisions in the best interests of baseball. The big market owners sure don’t want that.

Sure, paying a guy $23 million a year to make no decisions might sound like a lot of money, but each team’s share of his salary is less than the price of a below-Replacement Level Player. That’s chump change (an appropriate turn of a phrase in this case) to the bazillionaires who own MLB teams.

But wait, didn’t Bud Selig lead baseball through an unprecedented era of labor peace and didn’t he implement the toughest drug testing program in professional sports? Yes… of course he did. If you actually believe he “decided” any of that, rather than those decisions all being made as part of collective bargaining sessions. I’m sure there was not a lot of unilateral decision making by the Commissioner in those sessions, folks.

Bud Selig

Then again, Selig’s fingerprints did seem to be all over the Mitchell Report. You remember the Mitchell Report, right? It was Bud’s response to being called in on the carpet by Congress for providing impotent leadership on PEDs. Imagine that… perhaps the most impotent body of “decision makers” in the country criticized Selig for his lack of leadership. That ought to tell you something. The Mitchell Report itself was the kind of work product you would expect from a group with no subpoena power and which leaked almost as many names that ultimately did NOT show up in the report as those who did. (I’m betting Jeff Bagwell still would like to know who he should see about that little matter, since so many HOFvoters seem to think he was “named” in the Mitchell Report.)

Still, maybe we’re being a bit unfair. After all, drug testing and labor negotiations are huge and complicated matters. No one person could have stepped up and unilaterally made the kinds of decisions necessary to work through those issues. Commissioners’ decisions are more geared toward the less complicated, “keep the trains running on time” issues that pop up occasionally, like… well… like how to determine home team in the World Series, I guess. After all, he stepped up and made a great call on that matter, right?

In that vein, here are a few more decisions that you would think the Commissioner should be able to take a swing at:

Playoffs:

The big news in the off-season was that the Astros will be moving to the American League in 2013, as part of a realignment geared toward bringing consistency to the number of teams in each league/division and in scheduling. As part of the reorganization, we’ll have two wild card teams in each league that will play one game against one another to determine which of the wild cards will move in to the Divisional Series. Personally, while it’s been widely criticized, I’m on board with that. But we’ve been waiting for months to find out whether the new playoff format will be implemented this year or not.

Selig apparently wants it implemented now. But there are scheduling challenges and clearly the Networks and the people who would have to address those challenges would have easier lives if MLB waited until 2013 to implement the new format. So, the only way the format will be changed this season is if Bud Selig stands up and says, “just frigging get it done!” Yeah… THAT’S not gonna happen.

So we’ll just continue to sit around and wait without a resolution until it just becomes too late to make any changes and Bud will shrug and say, “I tried.”

The Oakland/San Jose Athletics:

The A’s play in a really bad excuse for a ballpark in a community not inclined to do much to change the situation. Several years ago, their owner decided he wanted to move his team down the road to San Jose, where a new stadium could be built and a “genius” GM like Billy Beane could finally compete on a level playing field with the rest of the league.

The problem is, San Jose is considered part of the “home market” of the San Francisco Giants and the Giants aren’t crazy about letting the A’s move in to “their” market. The Giants gloss over a few things, of course, such as the fact that the reason San Jose is part of their home market is that they asked the Athletics to relinquish THEIR rights to San Jose years ago when the Giants were contemplating moving there, themselves. Then they got a new downtown stadium in San Francisco and their plans (or was it a threat?) to move ended. So now that the Athletics want to move there, instead, the Giants won’t give back the rights to the area.

Sounds like a call that a Commissioner should make, right? After all, we’re talking about deciding a matter in the best interests of baseball.

But Selig couldn’t bring himself to make a decision like this without knowing all the facts, so he established a group to study the matter… THREE YEARS AGO.

Today, there’s still no word from Selig on the issue and, by God, A’s owner Lew Wolff is pissed off and tired of waiting. Word from the Commissioner’s office in December was that a decision was coming by February (no word on whether or not Selig has allowed his staff to flip the calendar pages past January 31 at MLB headquarters).

Still, how important is this to Wolff, compared to the prospect of having a Commissioner who might actually WANT to make decisions? All you need to know is that Wolff voted with his peers to extend Selig’s contract two more years. Maybe you’ll have that decision sometime in 2015, Lew.

Compensation for Theo Epstein:

Last fall, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was hired by the Cubs to run their team, despite having time remaining on his contract with Boston. The clubs apparently agreed that they would work out compensation later and that, in the unlikely event that they couldn’t work out a deal, the Commissioner would decide.

That was in October. This is February and, surprise, they can’t reach agreement on fair compensation. Boston wants every player in the Cubs organization who’s got a chance of ever being good (yes, both of them) and the Cubs think two old catchers masks should be sufficient.

Of course, what Selig SHOULD have done at the time was is say, “BS! Come to an agreement now or forget about it.” But he didn’t. So now he’s faced with making a decision that will certainly upset one team owner or the other.

So, in true Bud Selig fashion, he’s dragging the process out as long as possible in the apparent hope that people will forget about it. And he may be right… the other 28 owners would like him to forget about it. The last thing they want is for a precedent to be set giving the Commissioner the authority to settle such things.

There is one more little decision that I’d like to see the Commissioner step up and make, but this post has run on long enough for today, so I’ll save the last point for tomorrow. Those of you who’ve been reading my stuff here for a while can probably already guess the issue I’d like Mr. Selig to address, but I’ll leave you with a little hint:

~You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant~

- JC

 

Twins Prospects: What a Difference a Week Makes

UPDATE (2/13/2012): We have yet another prospect list to include in the discussion… Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has released his “Top 101″ list and while he apparently thinks more of Miguel Sano (#12) than either Mayo or Law do, he has only one other Twin, Rosario (#87) on his list. Twins that dropped off his list since last year include Hicks (#51 in 2011), Gibson (#55 in 2011) and Revere (#62 in 2011… perhaps Revere no longer meets his criteria for “prospect” status). – JC

It almost goes without saying, but if you need more evidence that judging an organization’s minor leaguers is an inexact science, at best, all you need to do is compare prospect rankings of even the most reputable sources.

A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com released his “Top 100″ prospects list and it wasn’t good news for the Minnesota Twins. Only two players in their organization, consensus top Twins prospect Miguel Sano (#23) and Aaron Hicks (#72) made the list. Since there are 30 MLB teams, logic would tell you that to be considered as having an “average” number of highly ranked prospects an organization should have at least three players among any “Top 100″ list.

Predictably, there were a few articles popping up within both mainstream media and social media that discussed the sad state of the Twins minor league talent levels.

Fast forward to yesterday morning and we had a new “Top 100″ list from ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider subcription required). Surprise! The Twins post FOUR players on Law’s list, with Eddie Rosario (#50) and Oswaldo Arcia (#85) joining Sano (#28) and Hicks (#80). Placing four in Law’s “Top 100″ might indicate the Twins organization is a bit above average. Funny how an organization can improve so much over the course of a couple of winter weeks without playing a single game, isn’t it?

So which is it? Is the Twins organization straggling behind the competition when it comes to developing high end prospects or are they a bit above the norm? I suppose we could await Baseball America’s “Top 100″ list to break the tie, but that’s really not necessary. The answer is “yes.”

Aaron Hicks

What’s that you say… that wasn’t a “yes or no” question? I know that. After all I posed the question. But the answer really is that the Twins organization is both a bit below and a bit above the competition.

Why below? Because three of the four players Law thinks highly of are at least two years (and more likely at least three years) away from being Big Leaguers, and the fourth (Hicks) fell like a rock in Law’s rankings from 10th in 2011 to 80th in 2012. Not exactly cause to be optimistic that he’ll be leading the Twins to the playoffs any time real soon.

In addition, in an era when top-end starting pitching has become obscenely expensive on the open market, making “growing your own” an absolute necessity, the Twins have zero pitchers in any “Top 100″ list released to date this year. Sure, they had a bit of bad luck with Kyle Gibson’s injury a year ago, but you don’t get extra points for bad luck.

On the other hand, the Twins obviously intended for this imbalance to occur. While you never can be 100% sure how any 16-21 year old will mature, mentally or physically, there’s usually a reason top draft picks and international signees get big bucks… they are the most likely to become top prospects and, ideally, star players. And the Twins have been focusing on position players above pitchers in the high rounds of the draft and in their international scouting.

So now four of those players appear to be among the top prospects in baseball, which should indicate that the organization’s plans are working out roughly the way they hoped. How comfortable fans should feel about that conclusion is, I suppose, another topic for reasonable debate.

The Twins had some bad luck and some bad drafts a few years back (as the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III has done a good job of reviewing on his blog). So unless you count Gibson, there simply isn’t a “big impact” player in the organization that’s going to be stepping in to a leadership role with the Twins this year or even in 2013… maybe not even by 2014 unless Hicks gets things turned around.

The bottom line is that there is reason for some optimism that help is on the way, but it’s tempered by the fact that such help is likely on the distant horizon, rather than anything imminent. There’s a solid group of young players with the potential to be productive Major League ballplayers making their way up in the organizational ranks and that includes a lot of players over and above the guys you see on any “top prospect” list.

For now, and likely for the next couple of seasons, the Twins will need to continue filling out their Major League roster with mid-level free agents and other teams’ cast-offs. But if Twins fans can be patient, there is the potential for the next wave of stars to be very good.

I know… Twins fans being patient? Not likely.

- JC

P.S. If you want to know more about the Twins prospects mentioned above and about 150 others in the organization, it’s not too late to order your Minnesota Twins 2012 Prospect Handbook. Head on over to SethSpeaks.net for the link and order your copy. I’ve got four copies myself, so what are YOU waiting for?

MLB FanCave Voting

So the top 50 contestants have been listed for the MLB Fan Cave competition!

You may not have even heard about the competition but I gotta admit, if I wasn’t so naturally lazy, I might have tried for it.  But yeah, that’s not me regardless of how fun it looks.

BUT there is a Twins fan in the list! Lindsay Guentzel.

You may or may not know her if you’re in the blogging community but she’s a local baseball nut who knows her blogging, reporting, radio and general Twins world. I think it would be FANTASTIC if we could organize our folk to get her voted in! It’s easy enough to do but as always, we’re battling larger networks for some of the other fans…  But we can do this!

1st: Go to MLB FanCave Voting and pick Lindsay’s video and vote! Do it as many times as it will let you! LOL

2nd: if you’re on twitter, go to @LindsayGuentzel & give her a follow.

 

 

AL Central Preview: Kansas City Royals

Here’s the final installment in this series of previews of the Twins’ AL Central Division rivals. Today, we talk about the Landed Gentry down yonder in Kansas City.

How many years now have we been hearing about how great the Kansas City Royals’ prospects are? Seems like forever.  Last season, we finally got to see some of that talent on the field at the Big League level. And what did we see? I guess you have to give the Royals credit for crawling out of the AL Central Division cellar, but that may have been due more to just how bad the Twins were than any improvement by the Royals.

Still, the Royals are getting better and you have to hope baseball fans in Kansas City recognize it and start showing up at the remodeled Kauffman Stadium in greater numbers. As it stands, at least there should be one guaranteed sell-out in KC this season, with the 2012 All-Star Game being hosted there. Kauffman has always been one of my favorite MLB stadiums so I’m glad they’re getting this opportunity to showcase the great job they did of fixing the place up.

And who knows, maybe this is the season a few of their young stars emerge to the point where the Royals get more than just token representation on the AL squad.

Last Year:

Record: 71-91

Standings: 4th place AL Central by 24 games behind Tigers

Playoffs: None. Their last playoff appearance was in 1985 (Ouch)

Players of Note Lost: OF Melky Cabrera

Players of Note Added: P Jonathan Sanchez, P Jonathan Broxton, SS Yuniesky Betancourt, P Jose Mijares

M*A*S*H unit: Unless you count the potential for Jose Mijares to eat one or two of his team mates, the Royals appear to be entering Spring Training in remarkably good shape health-wise. (Actually, if there’s one place where one probably should not poke fun at food-related injuries, it is almost certainly Kansas City… not after the close call their mascot Sluggerrr had with the justice system following a nasty hotdog incident last year.)

Outlook: If I were a Royals fan, I’d have really liked to see the club go out and get Roy Oswalt or Edwin Jackson. That would have been a great way for ownership to tell the fan base, “we’re not just BSing about this any more, we think we can be good!”

I guess they figured bringing in Jonathan Sanchez should be enough to convince fans that they’re serious. The other new Jonathan (Broxton) should prove helpful out of the bullpen, as well. On the other hand, they also added Jose Mijares. While I’m tempted to say Mijares will offset any improvement Broxton might bring, the truth is that Mijares probably could prove to be a major contributor as a LOOGY out of their pen.

At some point, all of these hitters that the “experts” have been raving about as they worked their way up through the Royals organization are going to start scoring more runs, right? Maybe, in a season that’s shaping up to be a pretty mediocre year for most of the other AL Central teams, this will be the year that Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, and Alcides Escobar score runs in bunches. If so, and if they get some pitching, maybe those runs will translate in to wins.

That’s a lot of “maybe,” but I think it may just happen.

I’m obviously hoping the Twins’ fortunes turn this year and they mount a serious challenge to the Tigers. But if they don’t, I think the Royals may be the AL Central team most likely to do so. I’ll predict KC wins at least half their games this season and with a little luck, a few games more than that. Anything above .500 could be good enough for runner-up status in this Division.

- JC

AL Central Preview: Chicago White Sox

UPDATE (2/14/2012): We can’t say the White Sox haven’t added anybody any more. They signed Kosuke Fukudome. It’s tempting to make fun of the deal, but it’s really a no-risk deal for the Sox since they got him for little more than the league minimum in 2012 and have an option for 2013 that would cost them just another $500K to buy out. – JC

Sometimes I wonder if the Twins actually have a true “rivalry” with any other MLB team. I think we’re all tired of getting our brains beat in by the Yankees every series, whether in the regular season or post-season, but everyone hates the Yankees and, after all, a true rivalry requires some level of mutual dislike, doesn’t it? I’m not altogether sure that Yankee fans even realize the Twins play in the same league as their team.

The closest thing to a rivalry the Twins have probably has to be with the White Sox (or BitchSox, as Batgirl taught us to refer to them). I admit that they’re the AL Central Division team I’ve come to know and despise the most.

I look at the SouthSiders as pretty much the “anti-Twins” organization. Even the way their front office operates has pretty much been the polar opposite of the Twins’ method of operating. Their approach seems to be to headline-making trades, without regard for fiscal issues, in a nearly annual attempt to “win it all” and if (more like “when”) that doesn’t work, blow things up and do it all over again.

GM Kenny Williams has been making noises about blowing the team up this off-season, but has he really done that? Let’s take a look.

Last Year:

Record: 79-83

Standings: 3rd place AL Central by 16 games behind Tigers

Playoffs: None. Their last playoff appearance was in 2008 (a memory Twins fans would just as soon forget)

Players of Note Lost: P Mark Buehrle, OF Carlos Quentin, P Sergio Santos, P Jason Frasor

Players of Note Added: Nobody whatsoever

M*A*S*H unit: P Jake Peavy has yet to prove healthy enough to make any significant contribution to the White Sox. Other than that, however, the Sox really can’t blame their misfortunes on injuries. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham all stayed quite healthy in 2011… they just sucked at baseball.

Outlook: Between the four players noted above and Edwin Jackson, who the Sox shipped away during the middle of 2011, Williams has cleared about $40 million of payroll. If they open the season with what’s currently on their roster, they’ll be shelling out close to $10 million less in salary than the Twins will. Well over half of the Sox current contractual commitments for 2012 is wrapped up in four players. Ordinarily, that may not be such a big deal, but when three out of those four big ticket ballplayers have produced the way Peavy, Dunn and Rios have, that’s a problem.

While Twins fans fret over whether Justin Morneau will return to health sufficiently to see a reasonable return on the team’s remaining financial commitment ($15 million in 2012 and again in 2013), the Sox faithful are left wondering whether Adam Dunn will produce at a level to earn his $15 million salary this season… or next season… or the season after that.

And if you think it’s tough wondering whether Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano and Nick Blackburn will bounce back from their struggles a year ago, I’d rather take my chances with that trio than hoping that Jake Peavy will finally earn the money the Sox are paying him… an amount, by the way, that will be half a million dollars more than what the Twins will pay Baker, Liriano and Blackburn, combined.

The Sox still have Paul Konerko anchoring the middle of their batting order, but unless Rios and Dunn find their grooves, it’s difficult to imagine where their offense will come from. They also still have Gavin Floyd and John Danks in their rotation and it sounds like they’ll be adding Chris Sale. That means, however, that Sale won’t be available out of the bullpen and without Santos (last year’s closer), former Twin Jesse Crain could finally get his shot at being a closer. Lefty Matt Thornton may be another option.

Of course, the guy Twins fans may miss the most isn’t even a player. Manager Ozzie Guillen has taken his talents to South Beach (along with arguably his best pitcher, Mark Buehrle), so we’ll all miss Ozzie’s colorful post-game press conferences. Robin Ventura, who has zero managing experience, will take over the Sox clubhouse.

In the end, the White Sox have perhaps even more question marks than the Twins do and I don’t think they’re going to like how those questions are answered. I’m picking the Sox to pull up the rear of the AL Central in 2012. They may not lose 99 games the way the Twins did while finishing last in 2011… but then again, they might.

- JC

AL Central Preview: Cleveland Indians

UPDATE: (2/13/2012) The Indians have signed Jon Garland to a minor league contract. If Cleveland feels Garland has recovered enough from shoulder surgery to return to his innings-eating level shown over the past decade, he could certainly give their rotation a boost. It also would make you have to wonder whether it means Kevin Slowey could find himself on his fourth team in as many months. They certainly can’t be thinking they could push Slowey to the bullpen, right? – JC

Let’s knock off one more preview post before the weekend, shall we? Maybe by next week, I’ll have generated the energy and interest level to look in to the remaining Division rivals. Yesterday, we looked at the prohibitive favorites to repeat as AL Central champions, the Detroit Tigers. For today, we’ll take a little peak at the Cleveland Indians.

If you had said before the 2011 season that the Indians would finish 15 games out of first place in the AL Central Division, not many people would have argued the point. But if you’d have predicted that would be good enough for second place in the Division, you’d have drawn more than a few chuckles.

Yes, the AL Central, outside of the Tigers, really was that bad.

Last Year:

Record: 80-82

Standings: 2nd place AL Central by 15 games behind Tigers

Playoffs: Not even close. Their last playoff appearance was in 2007

Players of Note Lost: OF Austin Kearns, DH Jim Thome, OF Kosuke Fukudome

Players of Note Added: P Derek Lowe, P Kevin Slowey, 1B Casey Kotchman, P Dan Wheeler, P Jon Garland (see UPDATE at top)

M*A*S*H unit: OF Grady Sizemore, OF Shin-Soo Chu and DH Travis Haefner all missed over two months’ worth of games in 2011. And those are just the “headliners” that pretty much lived on the Disabled List in 2011. If the Indians are going to even sniff .500 again in 2012, much less improve on their record, they’re going to need to do a better job of keeping their best players healthy. (Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it Twins fans?)

Outlook: The Indians are likely to field a team with a payroll just a bit over half of what the Twins will be shelling out in 2012. Not coincidentally, they drew just over half the number of fans that the Twins did last season. Odd how that works out, isn’t it?

Justin Masterson was perhaps the sole bright spot for the Tribe in 2011. His W-L record was a pedestrian 12-10, but his 3.21 ERA opened some eyes. They’re really counting on Ubaldo Jimenez to live up to the expectations they had for him when they sent several prospects to the Rockies to get him at mid-season last year. It just seems that nobody really knows whether Jimenez is the top of the rotation guy he has looked like when he’s been on top of his game or the struggling pitcher he’s looked like most recently. (Again, this may sound pretty familiar to Twins fans.)

Of course, Twins fans will be paying some attention to another recent addition to the Tribe’s pitching staff. Former Twin Kevin Slowey has found his way to Cleveland, by way of Colorado.

Cleveland fans are hoping that Haefner, Choo, Sizemore, Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana can generate some offense, but obviously the front office felt the need to shore up the line up a little bit when they signed Casey Kotchman.

It’s hard for me to envision the Indians seriously contending for anything in 2012. In fact, their second place finish last year said more about just how bad the Twins and White Sox were, rather than anything terribly positive about the Tribe. I do give them credit for doing a much better job of fighting through their injury issues than the Twins did, however.

If they can stay healthy, Cleveland could contend with the other also-rans of the Division for runner-up status, but I don’t really expect that to happen. I think the Tribe will fight with the White Sox to stay out of the AL Central cellar this season.

I will say this much… as I look over the prospects for the rest of the AL Central teams that don’t play in Michigan, I’m starting to feel much better about the Twins’ chances.

Next up: Chicago White Sox

-  JC

AL Central Preview: Detroit Tigers

We’ve all been writing and talking and debating and complaining about virtually every aspect of the Twins off-season for months, so as the Spring Training gates prepare to swing open, there is very little more to be written concerning our guys’ prospects for 2012. I still suspect Terry Ryan may add another pitching arm from among what has to be a very nervous group of remaining free agents, but otherwise, the roster pretty much is what it is.

That being the case, what else is there to say, really? The fortunes of the 2012 will simply be determined by the health and productivity of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Denard Span, Scott Baker, et al., right?

Well, sort of… but then again, not entirely.

While it is pretty much a given that the Twins need their stars to have healthy, productive seasons to have any chance at being competitive, that’s only one set of variables. Their AL Central Division rivals have just about as many question marks as the Twins do. How the seasons shake out for Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago and Kansas City will play just as much of a role in determining the Twins’ fate as anything the Twins do on the field, themselves.

So, while we’ve been focusing all of our attention on what Terry Ryan has done (and hasn’t done) to reshape the Twins in to something with the potential to be more competitive in 2012, let’s turn our eyes toward what the competition has been doing, starting with the Detroit Tigers.

Why start with Detroit? Well, it appears that if there’s one thing virtually everyone with an opinion agrees on, it’s that the Tigers are the prohibitive favorite to repeat as winners of the AL Central title this season. It’s pretty easy to see why that’s the case. On paper, they are simply much better than anyone else in the Division.

Last Year:

Record: 95-67

Standings: 1st place AL Central by 15 games over Indians

Playoffs: Beat Yankees 3-2 in ALDS, Lost to Rangers 4-2 in ALCS

Players of Note Lost: P Joel Zumaya (FA), INF Wilson Betemit (FA),

Players of Note Added: 1B Prince Fielder, P Octavio Dotel, C Gerald Laird

M*A*S*H unit: 1B/DH/C Victor Martinez (ACL – potentially season ending), P Al Alburquerque (elbow fracture – out through AS break)

Outlook: If you believe what you read, there’s really no point in playing out the season. We should just give the Division Championship to the Tigers and let them rest up for six months to prepare for the playoffs.

There is no doubt that the addition of Prince Fielder is huge. Say what you will about his body-type and how unlikely it may be that he’ll be worth $24 million a year by the time his nine-year contract winds up, but for 2012, his presence in the middle of the Tiger batting order is a difference maker. At the same time, Victor Martinez won’t be in that batting order and that absence shouldn’t be minimized, either.

If Jim Leyland goes forward with stated plans to move Miguel Cabrera back over to 3B, he’ll be giving Division rivals a gift. The Tigers already weren’t a particularly good defensive team and with Cabrera and Fielder at the infield corners, they’d be worse.

The confounding thing is that there really isn’t a good reason to force that change this season. When Martinez returns, sure… then he’ll have three 1B/DH types and he’ll need to get creative. But this season, why not just let Fielder and Cabrera split time between 1B and DH? It’s so obvious that you have to figure Leyland will figure it out before Opening Day. So as much as I would love to watch teams lay down bunt after bunt on the Tigers, I’m not really expecting to see Cabrera at 3B once the games start counting.

The one benefit for the rest of the Division that comes from the Tigers signing Fielder is that it appears they won’t be using that money to strengthen their rotation.

Justin Verlander is a stud, no doubt about it. But I just find it hard to imagine that even he can put up another year comparable to the last couple. Three seasons in a row of that kind of productivity is almost unheard of. A lot of people like the young arms the Tigers use to fill out the rest of the rotation and Doug Fister was a huge addition last season, but I’ve been less impressed with Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. Maybe this rotation will turn out to be as great as any in the league, but I’ll believe it when I see it… especially if Leyland does stick to the plan of playing Cabrera at 3B.

In the bullpen, others are more impressed with Octavio Dotel than I am, so I can’t say I feel they’ve improved their bullpen significantly. He may adequately replace Alburquerque, I guess.

The bottom line is that this team is built to win right now. They’re rolling the dice while they’ve got stars like Cabrera, Verlander and Avila in their primes, along with a future Hall of Fame manager at the controls. If their pitching can be good enough to overcome the defense playing behind them, the addition of Fielder should assure that they score enough runs to win the AL Central going away… again… and once again be a serious threat in the playoffs. That would mean that the Twins and the others in the Division are all playing for second place.

We’ll be continuing to take similar glances at the rest of the AL Central Division, but don’t expect a new team preview every day. You’ll get them as I do them, which is to say, when I’m damn good and ready to do the next one!

Next up: Cleveland Indians

-          JC