Grand Central

March 8, 2005

Minnesota Twins

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.

Chicago White Sox
Kenny Williams went on his usual spree of remaking the roster, this time trading his team’s second best player (Carlos Lee) and not re-signing his best player (Magglio Ordonez).  In their stead, he acquired Scott Podsednik and Jermaine Dye, as well as some help for the bullpen in the form of Luis Vizcaino.  Podsednik is loved by fantasy owners for his stolen base totals, but his impact on the field isn't nearly so great.  Dye had a nice come back year in 2004, but he's still a pretty significant drop-off in offense to vintage Ordonez.  However, he'll still be the team's most productive outfielder. Dustin Hermanson and Kevin Walker were signed to help a pen that was largely in disarray last year.  There's a remote chance that Hermanson will close, but Takatsu did such a fine job last year it's hard to imagine him losing the job before the end of this season. Orlando Hernandez was re-signed for the rotation and should be a source of quality innings as long as he can stay healthy.  AJ Pierzinski will take over behind the plate.  He will be an upgrade offensively over departed Sandy Alomar, but is not the defensive stalwart Alomar is and was at the center of some controversy over his handling of pitchers last year.  Two acquisitions that might have gotten more press than they deserved were Tadahito Iguchi from the Japan Leagues and Bobby Jenks from the Angels.  Jenks has always possessed a fabulous arm capable of delivering 100 mph fastballs, but his development hs been stymied control issues, both on and off the field.  I’m probably missing something from the Iguchi story, because his power and speed numbers have gained so much attention.  But as long as we’re looking at numbers, his strikeout to walk ratios are far closer to Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Shingo than they are to Hideki Matsui or Ichiro Suzuki.  With that on the table, it’s more likely that Iguchi won’t have far more impact than if the Sox had simply stayed with Willie Harris at second.

Cleveland Indians
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. 

Detroit Tigers
After making significant strides to improve the team last year, this year's moves by Dave Dombrowski left me scratching my head.  The team already had one closer displaying declining skills and velocity who was getting by entirely on chutzpah.  This winter he brought in another, Troy Percival.  True, it wasn't known if Ugueth Urbina's mother's kidnapping would be resolved in time for him to begin the season, but with Armando Benitez, Dustin Hermanson, Matt Mantei and Scott Willamson available this offseason, the Tigers had far more competent and/or less expensive choices available than getting more of what they already had, which wasn't necessarily a good thing.  They did acquire Kyle Farnsworth, who I still believe could develop into a top notch closer, but his performance to date has not been exactly affirming.  Actually, it's more in line with what talented but frustrating Franklyn German has done than that of an elite closer.  But pitching coach Bob Cluck has been able to turn sow's ears like Nate Robertson into silk purses so maybe he has the magic to make it work for Farnsworth.  Another very intriguing addition is that of Colby Lewis, who was one of the most talented Rangers' pitching prospects - I realize that is faint praise given their track record over the past decade - but this guy has the goods if he can ever stay healthy enough to learn how to pitch.  All things being equal, the team hopes not to have to call upon Ramon Martinez too much this season.  It's not that he's a bad player.  On the contrary, he's a fine utility infielder with a solid glove at three positions and has some catching experience to boot.  But if Martinez ends up with a good deal of playing time, it means that either Brandon Inge returned to being Brandon Inge, or that more than one of Fernando Vina, Carlos Guillen and Omar Infante has landed on the DL.  Vance Wilson had some good years in the Mets system and isn't a bad player, but he's stuck behind Ivan Rodriguiez and Chris Shelton behind the plate so if he gets a significant number of at bats this season, it will likely be somewhere else. 

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 career. 

Kansas City Royals
The Royals didn't have to do much to remain a last place team and unfortunately for their fans, they obliged.  Their most potent additions this offseason were Eli Marrero and Terrence Long.  Marrero's 2004 season was nearly 200 points better in OPS than his career average so it's probably safe to call it a career year.  Three teams have tried to find takers for Long's impressive fourth outfielder skill set and after traveling from league to league for the last four years, he may have finally found a team that truly appreciates such ability.  In keeping with the theme of starting other team's reserves, the Royals also brought in third baseman Chris Truby, who, over the last four years has lost starting jobs to Damian Rolls and Morgan Ensberg and couldn't distinguish himself in Montreal over a field that contained Jamey Carroll and Jose Macias.  It will now be his duty to lose his starting job to Mark Teahan so that GM Allard Baird won't look incredibly bad for the Carlos Beltran trade.  On the pitching side, Baird dealt the one veteran lefty who had a chance to improve (Darrell May, in the Terrence Long trade) but kept the one that doesn't (Brian Anderson).  He also brought back Jose Lima, apparently completely ignoring Lima's previous performance in KC, as well as the park effects that Dodger stadium had on Lima's numbers last year.  However, no offseason can be a complete, dismal failure; even the worst GM will make at least one potentially good move even if he doesn't intend to, and this one was no exception.  Dennis Tankersley came from San Diego as part of the Long/May deal and has always had a very good slider.  He's posted some excellent season in the minors on the strength of that slider and if somehow he can learn to trust his fastball and change, he could end up being a decent pick-up, perhaps eventually as a starter, but likely out of the bullpen for the time being.