AL Central: The Twins look to stay a step ahead in a wide-open division
Minnesota addressed a major issue by trading Carlos Gomez for J.J. Hardy
The Tigers are in as good a position as any of their rivals to win a playoff berth
The trouble with the White Sox is what their GM is doing to their offense
Breaking down each team in the AL Central heading into the offseason. Teams are listed in order of 2009 finish. Check out the other division previews here:
PENDING FREE AGENTS: SS Orlando Cabrera, 3B Joe Crede, SP Carl Pavano, RP Ron Mahay, C Mike Redmond.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.
TRADE ACQUISITION: SS J.J. Hardy (from Brewers for CF Carlos Gomez).
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: SP Jeff Manship, 3B Danny Valencia.
BUILDING FOR: Playing game 163 in the ALDS.
BIGGEST HOLES: Third base, second base.
TARGETS: 2B Orlando Hudson, 2B Placido Polanco, 3B Chone Figgins, 3B Adrian Beltre, 3B Troy Glaus.
BREAKDOWN: The Twins have already addressed one of their major issues by trading Gomez for Hardy. Gomez is an elite defender in center, but has neither power nor patience at the plate, resulting in a career .638 OPS, and had been squeezed out of the starting lineup by the emergence of Denard Span. For that unwanted player, the Twins filled their shortstop hole with Hardy, who even in his lost 2009 season surpassed Gomez's career OPS and hit .283/.343/.478 the year before while playing excellent defense. Hardy is streaky even at his best, but he's a significant upgrade over Brendan Harris and Nick Punto, who split the job before Cabrera arrived midseason. Unfortunately, Cabrera's arrival simply pushed Punto to the other side of second base, which is why the Twins' top priority now becomes finding a legitimate keystoner. Fortunately, the market offers two excellent candidates in Hudson and Polanco. Of course, signing one of those two would only push Punto over to third, which is why the Twins need to fill that position as well. Even if they're tempted to wait for Valencia's arrival, an incentive-laden deal for Glaus could fill the gap and seems like a better bet than the similar deal the Twins seem likely to offer Crede. Beltre would provide excellent defense and benefit from low expectations at the plate, while Figgins would team with Span to boost Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau's RBI totals while providing Punto-like flexibility with a far superior player, but Figgins is likely to be overvalued by the market, and Beltre is such a perfect fit for the Phillies that it's hard to imagine him not landing there.
PENDING FREE AGENTS: 2B Placido Polanco, SP Jarrod Washburn, CL Fernando Rodney, 4C Aubrey Huff, RP Brandon Lyon, OF Marcus Thames, SS Adam Everett, C Matt Treanor.
PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.
PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: 2B Scott Sizemore, 1B/3B Jeff Larish, C Dusty Ryan, SP Alfredo Figaro, RP Zach Simons, 1B Ryan Strieby.
BUILDING FOR: A return to the postseason.
BIGGEST HOLES: Middle infield, closer, left field, back of the rotation, bullpen.
TARGETS: SS Marco Scutaro, SS Orlando Cabrera, SS Miguel Tejada, CL Jose Valverde, CL Billy Wagner, CL Mike Gonzalez, CL Rafael Soriano, LF Johnny Damon, RF Jermaine Dye.
BREAKDOWN: The last few years have been hard on Detroit. A preseason favorite to win it all in 2008, the Tigers finished dead last in their division, quite a feat when you remember that the Royals play in the Central. Unburdened by expectations this year, they led the division for most of the year only to lose it to the Twins in a one-game playoff. In the meantime, Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordoņez have been aging rapidly, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya have been largely inactive, and now the team finds itself needing to fill both middle-infield spots, as well as the top two spots in the bullpen, before they can even begin to make improvements elsewhere. To make matters worse, Ordoņez's $18 million option for 2010 vested by 61 plate appearances, which could put a serious crimp in the team's spending this winter. In any other division, the Tigers would have to seriously consider taking a year or two to retool their roster, but the AL Central has been wide open the last two years, both times decided by a one-game playoff and won by a team that failed to reach 90 victories. With no clear favorite heading into 2010, the Tigers are in as good a position as any of their rivals to stake a claim to a playoff berth with a well-managed offseason. The only question is if they can afford to reload, or if they'll have to settle for merely restocking.
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