Spring Training Preview: AL Central (cont.)
Posted: Monday February 18, 2008 1:25PM; Updated: Monday February 18, 2008 5:04PM
Where: Lakeland, Florida (Grapefruit League)
2007 record: 88-74 (2nd, AL East)
Wow, he's still here? ...and he's not happy about it. Brandon Inge was left without a position by the trade for Cabrera, and is slated to return to the utility role he handled so well in 2004. While he wishes to be traded, and there's an argument for not having an unhappy guy in the room, Inge has enough value to the Tigers as a bench player that they should keep him if at all possible.
Winter grade: A. They made the biggest and best moves of any team this offseason, and should be praised early and often for it. This is what you do when you're trying to win, rather than trying to squeeze out the last dollar.
NRI to watch: Thirty-four-year-old Matt Mantei is attempting a comeback, two years removed from his last professional outing and three years past his last major league pitch. It's a long shot, but the absence of Joel Zumaya creates an opening in a bullpen that remains the team's weak spot.
One move to make: As has been the case since Zumaya got hurt late in 2006, the Tigers could use another power arm in the bullpen. That's fairly easy to find, and can comfortably be address during the season. If there's one other thing they could do, it would be to allow Raburn to take 25 starts away from Curtis Granderson against southpaws.
There are things that can go wrong here. The Tigers have given up a lot of their pitching depth, so injuries to the rotation could set a fairly ugly cycle in motion. They have an old lineup, and a collective significant drop in performance by the group of Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield (whose second half last year was awful), Rodriguez, Jones, and Polanco isn't out of the question. They're the best team in a tough division, so unlike the Angels, they'll need to win 90-93 games to assure themselves of making it to the postseason. Overall, though, you're looking at one of the best teams in baseball, one that should play into October.
Kansas City Royals
Where: Surprise, Arizona, (Cactus League)
2007 record: 69-93 (5th, AL Central)
Wow, he's still here? There's no one about whom you can say this; only David DeJesus and Jimmy Gobble were even here in 2003. I guess it might come as a surprise that Angel Berroa got an invite to camp after being DFA'd over the winter.
Winter grade: C. The Guillen signing is one of those moves that, like the Gil Meche pickup last year, comes without much upside. The attempts to shore up the pitching staff on the cheap will have more impact, collectively.
NRI to watch: You have to be just a little curious about what Hideo Nomo has left in the tank. Did two years off following ERAs of 8.25 and 7.24 help at all? It's probably just an attempt to help Yabuta acclimate, but I know I'd like to see the guy pitch one more time.
Job battle to track: The back of the rotation is a mess, with a bunch of guys who got hammered last year fighting imports such as Brett Tomko and a mess of non-roster invitees like Duckworth, Chin-Hui Tsao, and Brian Lawrence. Almost anyone could emerge in six weeks' worth of games in Arizona.
One move to make: There is no one move. Set a lineup, a rotation and a bullpen, and let everyone play for a year. Don't worry about bad weeks; be patient and see what you have.
The Royals need a couple more good drafts before we can start to look at them as a baseball team and not an afterthought. They are becoming more enjoyable to watch, as Zack Greinke, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler form the core of a contender. The other 22 roster spots are a mixed bag, and GM Dayton Moore will continue to work on them. For now, catch Greinke when you can -- he's going to be very good this year.
Where: Fort Myers, Florida (Grapefruit League)
2007 record: 80-82 (3rd, AL Central)
Wow, he's still here? Joe Nathan is the last big-money veteran on the roster. For now.
Winter grade: C+. The Garza-for-Young trade was an aggressive attempt to shape the Twins' unbalanced talent pool and pick up a high-upside hitter. Their hand was forced on that other big trade, which has to be judged in that context. The additions of ex-Astros Everett and Lamb to man their left side of the infield were good ones.
NRI to watch: Prospect Brian Duensing isn't likely to pick up a rotation job in March. However, a good spring would position him as the first man in should anyone falter or be injured.
Job battle to track: At the moment, the Twins do not have a major league center fielder. Gomez, Pridie, and Denard Span all enter camp with designs on being the guy. If the Twins are to eventually get something out of Gomez, he should start the year, and in fact play most of it, at Rochester. Span is barely a prospect, more a fifth outfielder than a regular. That leaves Pridie, who's had a rocky minor league career, but he put together a good season last year at 23. He's the best answer.
One move to make: Trading Nathan. There's no need to retain him now that they've dealt Santana and allowed the other free agents to leave. Signing him would have been a questionable decision with the full roster in place; now it would be a huge mistake. If they can turn Nathan into just one third-base, second-base, or outfield prospect who can hit, they'll be doing the right thing.
It's a new team in Minnesota, but it's not necessarily a bad one. Lost in the gnashing of teeth over the Santana deal is that they won't miss him all that much on the mound. The Twins are loaded with starting pitching, from holdovers Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey to rehabbing Francisco Liriano to prospects Nick Blackburn, Anthony Swarzak, and Glen Perkins. They'll still be a pretty good run-prevention team, and are unlikely to fall much below last year's 80-82 mark.
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