Monday, January 14, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: AL Central

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Chicago White Sox (D)
This offseason GM Kenny Williams paid a high price for OF Nick Swisher. He also traded a good pitcher in Jon Garland for SS Orlando Cabrera. Williams acquired OF Carlos Quentin to boot. Major changes were expected. In 2007 the White Sox were barely better than the Royals. Manager Jose Guillen, only a few years removed from a championship, will be on the hot seat. Recent losing and a constant temper has made him vulnerable to a pink slip. Helping his cause will be 1B Paul Konerko and DH Jim Thome. They aren't getting any younger but they can still mash. LHP Mark Buerhle is a reliable workhorse, but John Danks and Jose Contreras are inconsistent. Bobby Jenks had a record-setting campaign as a closer last year. Unfortunately White Sox won't be competitive now or in the future. The farm system, like Kenny Williams, is desperate.

Cleveland Indians (A-)
Probably the most competent organization in MLB, led by its outstanding braintrust. Former executive Neal Huntington has left to run the Pirates, but GM Mark Shapiro and Assistant GM Chris Antonetti remain. They might be the best in the league at handling and evaluating talent, having built a perennial contender in a small market with a payroll around $65 million. Any team would love to build around homegrown superstars like OF Grady Sizemore, C Victor Martinez, LHP C.C. Sabathia and RHP Fausto Carmona. There's one weak link on this team -- and it's a big one. Last season closer Joe Borowski had a bad habit of imploding in the ninth inning. The Indians would be wise to find a reliable stopper for their bullpen. The minor league system is good but nothing spectacular since many promising prospects have already graduated to the big leagues.

Detroit Tigers (A-)
GM Dave Dombrowski made the biggest splash this offseason by acquiring 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis from Florida.
But they came at a high price as the mega-trade gutted the Tigers farm system. In 2008 manager Jim Leyland looks to lead the Tigers to their second World Series in three years. Check out Motown's projected lineup: Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Marcus Thames and Brandon Inge. There's not a more imposing offense in the majors. Detroit's pitching corps, on the other hand, needs help. Led by Justin Verlander the starters are solid but not overwhelming. They need another impact arm to match up against Anaheim, Boston and Cleveland. Willis might be that arm but he needs to prove he can pitch consistent in the superior AL. The thin bullpen will miss Joel Zumaya, who's out most of the 2008 season due to a shoulder injury. Todd Jones is almost 40 but still reliable in the ninth.

Kansas City Royals (D+)
Royals GM Dayton Moore is making progress. Kansas City once again finished in the division cellar, but the franchise is steadily heading toward respectability with a blend of productive veterans and toolsy prospects.
3B Alex Gordon, RF Mark Teahan and DH Billy Butler struggled mightily in 2007. With a year of experience under its belt the promising core expects to make huge strides this season. Moore overpaid for OF Jose Guillen, who'll sit out the start of the season to serve a suspension for steroid use. However, Guillen will be a key threat in a mostly punchless lineup. RHP Gil Meche anchors a subpar collection of arms. Joakim Soria proved last season he's capable of closing games, but the Royals don't have relief arms to consistently close the gap from the sixth inning to the ninth. KC has two elite players in the minors, SS Mike Moustakas and RHP Luke Hochevar.

Minnesota Twins (C+)
Johan Santana. Will he stay? If so the Twins get another year of the best pitcher in baseball. Will he go? Then Minnesota can focus on building a contender in time for the unveiling of its new ballpark.
In 2006 LHP Francisco Liriano appeared to be the next Johan. Then he suffered arm trouble and required reconstructive elbow surgery. His return will be critical for the Twins. Outside of Santana and Liriano Minnesota lacks a reliable starter. In fact it's conceivable the Twins will start the season with closer Joe Nathan as their best pitcher. Joe Mauer defines the term franchise center and 1B Justin Morneau is only two years removed from winning the MVP. CF Torii Hunter left for greener pastures in Anaheim. A revamped outfield will include Delmon Young and Craig Monroe. The Twins will to need stock up on prospects. CF Ben Revere and RHP Anthony Swarzak headline a diminishing system.

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