A.L. Central Division preview
1. Chicago White Sox
The main marketing slogan for the White Sox is “All In” and they certainly earned it in the offseason. They re-signed first baseman Paul Konerko and catcher A.J. Pierzynski to multiyear deals and bolstered their bullpen by adding free-agent relievers Jesse Crain and Will Ohman.
But the biggest move was a $56 million, four-year contract for Adam Dunn, who gives Chicago some sorely needed power from the left side. The big Texan has 354 homers and 880 RBIs in 10 major league seasons, but has never been a regular designated hitter, something he will try with the White Sox.
2. Minnesota Twins
The two-time defending Central champions had a quiet winter, re-signing right-hander Carl Pavano and Jim Thome, who needs just 11 homers to reach 600 for his career. Then again, Minnesota’s biggest offseason need was time – a sorely needed break for stars Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan to recover from injuries.
Mauer had minor left knee surgery in December, delaying his progress in spring training. Morneau, who won the A.L. MVP award in 2006, was limited to 81 games last season due to a concussion. Nathan, who had 47 saves in 2009, is coming back after reconstructive right elbow surgery. Their health could be key to Minnesota’s chances in 2011.
3. Detroit Tigers
Victor Martinez gives Detroit another big bat for its potent lineup, but first baseman Miguel Cabrera was arrested in February on suspicion of driving under the influence and resisting an officer without violence, both misdemeanors. Cabrera, who has submitted a written plea of not guilty, insists he is focused on baseball and the Tigers are going to need him to contend.
The Tigers will be without oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya at the start of the season, leaving newcomer Joaquin Benoit and All-Star closer Jose Valverde to handle the action late in games. Detroit also is looking for a bounce back year from right-hander Brad Penny, limited to nine starts for St. Louis last year because of a back problem.
4. Cleveland Indians
Grady Sizemore is on his way back after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee. The three-time All-Star center fielder could give Cleveland another offensive threat to go with Shin-Soo Choo, who quietly hit .300 with 22 homers and 90 RBIs last season.
That’s it for the bright side in Cleveland, which has a suspect rotation beyond Fausto Carmona and is likely headed for its third consecutive losing season.
5. Kansas City Royals
Kansas City’s rich farm system is even more loaded after a December trade sent ace Zack Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to Milwaukee for shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. The problem is most of the Royals’ top prospects are at least a year or two away from having a significant impact on the big-league club.
Until the youngsters develop, the bottom of the Central is a tossup between the Royals and Indians.