Posted: Wednesday January 18, 2006 1:43PM; Updated: Thursday January 19, 2006 3:13PM
Former Phillies All-Star Jim Thome replaces Carl Everett as the White Sox' designated hitter.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
CHICAGO WHITE SOX Moving in/moving out: The world champs had a couple of touchy moves to make, and they pulled them off flawlessly. They enticed first baseman Paul Konerko back with a five-year, $60 million deal (he turned down $65 million from the Orioles). They traded for slugger Jim Thome, who should make a terrific designated hitter. They strengthened an already ridiculously strong rotation with a trade for Javier Vazquez. They traded for a good utility man, Rob Mackowiak. Did they make a misstep at all?
Lowdown: This team is stronger, which should be absolutely scary. The biggest question mark is in center field, where Brian Anderson takes over for Aaron Rowand (traded to Philly in the deal for Thome). Other than that, every area is at least as strong as it was when the Sox whipped through the postseason with just one loss.
GRADE: Not standing pat, admirably -- A.
CLEVELAND INDIANS Moving in/moving out: Free-agent right-hander Paul Byrd, a crafty sort, was signed to take the place of last year's ace, ERA champ Kevin Millwood (who was eventually handed the keys to the Rangers' kingdom). The Indians replaced Scott Elarton (signed by the Royals) with free-agent Jason Johnson of the Tigers. Cleveland didn't get the closer it was after (B.J. Ryan, Trevor Hoffman), but is fine bringing back aging Bob Wickman (45 saves in '05). Still, the loss of bullpen standout Bobby Howry (signed with the Cubs after 79 games and a 2.47 ERA) is going to hurt.
Lowdown: Arguably the best team in baseball during the second half of the season, their final week slide was an absolute killer. But the Indians still have all that young offensive talent (Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore) and a rotation second only to that one in Chicago. The Tribe will challenge for the title again. But that questionable 'pen is going to have to do its share.
GRADE: Plugging holes, but pen still leaks -- C.
DETROIT TIGERS Moving in/moving out: The Tigers hope free-agent lefty Kenny Rogers, with all his baggage (and his two year, $16 million contract), helps prop up the rotation. They're counting on Matt Mantei (from Boston) and resurrected closer Todd Jones (Florida) to do the same for the bullpen. Rogers may be a step up from Jason Johnson, but the rotation is still lacking. Detroit made a run at a lot of free agents this winter, but talking top talent into moving to Motown is still not an easy task, even if new manager Jim Leyland is doing the pleading.
Lowdown: There's talent here, but the rotation isn't much stronger than it was last season (4.85 ERA, 10th in the AL). And in this division, the Tigers have to get a lot better in every phase of the game to even start thinking about competing with the Indians and White Sox.
GRADE: Treading water, about a foot under -- C.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS Moving in/moving out: With $22 million to spend, the Royals went after big names galore. What they got was an entirely different story. Lots of new starting pitching, veterans all (Joe Mays, Elarton, Mark Redman) will help, though finding an ace in that group is impossible. Reggie Sanders, Mark Grudzielanek and Doug Mientkiewicz are wonderful clubhouse guys and solid in the field, but are any of them difference-makers?
Lowdown: Losers of 106 games in '05, the Royals are looking up. But it's one heck of a view from down there. They're better, no doubt, and with all the graybeards, it'd be difficult to think that this team would tank for any length of time. But in this division, a rotation filled with Nos. 3s and 4s isn't going to cut it. And the bullpen is iffy, too.
GRADE: They got better, but not nearly enough -- B.
MINNESOTA TWINS Moving in/moving out: It has not been a kind winter for the Twins, who find themselves falling behind badly in the division. Talks for Alfonso Soriano and many others went nowhere. So Minnesota had to settle for getting second baseman Luis Castillo, one of the Marlins' castoffs, to help its leaky infield. The Twins signed Rondell White to serve as a designated hitter/right fielder (taking Jacque Jones' spot). Tony Batista, after a season in Japan, will assume duties at third base.
Lowdown: With Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva at the top of the rotation, the Twins won't get blown out of the division. But they need to be stronger in the infield. When the White Sox and Indians sport much deeper rotations, it will be tough. Real tough.