March 8, 2005
Chicago White Sox
In their typical fashion, the Twins was not particularly active in the free agent spending this winter, instead depending on their productive farm system for additional talent. Rather than spend big bucks on high profile sluggers at the corners like Beltre, Sexson and Delgado, the Twins should get above average production from full seasons with Justin Morneau at first and Michael Cuddyer at third. While Morneau is certainly an upgrade offensively over Doug Mientkiewicz, the team's groundball pitchers like Carlos Silva will miss Minky's glove at first where he not only gobbled up everything toward the second base gap, but proved invaluable in scooping throws out of the dirt and keeping errant throws out of the stands. Cuddyer should be able to replicate the offense the team got from Corey Koskie, but with the added benefit of an extra 20 or so games played as he is not nearly as injury prone. Barring any setbacks, Joe Mauer will probably split time between catcher and DH so that he can stay in the line-up for 130-140 games. To relieve him behind the plate, the Twins brought in Mike Redmond. In addition having a career average near .500 when facing Tom Glavine, Redmond's forte is handling pitchers so their shouldn't be much if any drop-off because Henry Blanco was allowed to leave. The departure of Cristian Guzman opened the only real position battle, at shortstop, where Jason Bartlett and Nick Punto will vie for the top spot with journeyman Juan Castro. Castro is more of an insurance policy for Bartlett, who has the most offensive upside of the three, with Punto being a Plan B. If second baseman Luis Rivas doesn’t improve his play, Michael Cuddyer could be shifted to take his place, opening the door for another position battle between Terry Tiffee and ex-Tiger Eric Munson. Munson has never been short on power but his selection at the plate has been abominable. While the Twins don’t have a track record of teaching patience to hitters, they may be able to impart the benefits of selectivity. Two other low cost additions who will likely spend most of the year in AAA as extra injury insurance are Armando Rios and CJ Nitkowski. Neither should have an impact this season. One other addition isn't technically an addition at all: Joe Mays will be returning from arm surgery that sidelined him all of last year. Early results this spring have been very positive, so a return to his 2001 form is possible.
Had Cleveland's bullpen been handled more competently through the first four months last season, they might have challenged the Twins for the division title. To reduce the number of wrong choices available to manager Eric Wedge, Arthur Rhodes was brought in at great expense (Matt Lawton was traded to Pittsburgh for the priveledge) and the team signed Scott Sauerbeck. It remains to be seen if Bob Wickman's tight rope act will play successfully for one more year, but at least the team now was viable options with Bobby Howry and a season's worth of experience for Rafael Betancourt and David Riske. The team's offense might improve with the addition of Aaron Boone, who ostensibly replaces Lawton in the line-up, but the insistence of keeping Casey Blake in the line-up with a move to the outfield probably will cost as many runs on defense. Juan Gonzales was also signed with his lure of tremendous offensive potential. In the end, however, his addition will probably bring little to the team except for some clubhouse drama and something for the trainers to work on those times during the season when everyone else is healthy. Speaking of drama, Jose Hernandez keep the fans on the edge of their seats with his strikeout-or-home run philosophy at the plate and both he and Alex Cora will provide some insurance for a team that will be using two greehorns - Brandon Phillips and Johnny Peralta - in the middle infield. Cora had a surprisingly good year all around in LA last season, but his doubles total was incongruous with his home run numbers so it's likely last year was a fluke. Jake Gautreau and Jeff Leifer were brought on as well, but their contributions will likely be in AAA. The big signing in Cleveland was Kevin Millwood, who has a reputation for being a big time starter, but his career numbers tell a slightly different story. He's had only two dominant seasons (1999 and 2002), the rest of which have been largely solid but unspectacular. Moving to the AL to a pretty good hitters park is not exactly a recipe for Cy Young candidacy. Maybe the Cleveland front office is hoping he's on a three year cycle. His pitch efficiency has been in decline for three straight seasons and his k/bb ratio for two. Another troubling sign is that batters' batting and slugging have increased significantly the last two years. The one positive in his corner is that his groundball rate has been mostly improving for the last four years.
The big name that Detroit brought in this winter
was Magglio Ordonez. When healthy, he's one of the 10 most
productive players in the AL. However, the bone marrow edema he
suffered in his knee last year is career threatening.
True, if the condition has been controlled or completely healed, the
Tigers got a huge bargain. But it's not as though they were
really hurting for outfield production. Craig Monroe came on like
a freight train down the stretch last year, and Rondell White, Bobby
Higginson and Dmitri Young are serviceable. More to the point, it
wasn't offensive production where the Tigers were 13th in the league
last year. It was in pitching despite playing in one of the most
pitcher-friendly parks in the majors. Overpaying for a couple of
Derek Lowe/Pedro Astacio/Orlando Hernandez/Esteban Loaiza/Eric
Milton/Odalis Perez/Jon Leiber types would have been far
more productive for this team than risking big money on a closer who
may be washed up
and an outfielder who may be limited to DH for the rest of his