AL Central Hot Stove forecast (cont.)
2010 Results: 81-81, third place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 751/743
Pythagorean Record: 82-80
Free Agents: OF Johnny Damon, OF Magglio Ordo˝ez, 3B/SS Jhonny Peralta (option declined), C Gerald Laird, SP Jeremy Bonderman, RP Bobby Seay
Prospects on the Verge: SP Andrew Oliver, SP Jacob Turner, SP/RP Alfredo Figaro, CF Casper Wells, 1B/OF Ryan Strieby
Building For: A return to contention
Strengths: Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander
Biggest Holes: Catcher, middle infield, outfield corners
Targets: C Victor Martinez, LF Carl Crawford, RF Jayson Werth, 2B Orlando Hudson, 2B David Eckstein, SP Jorge De La Rosa, SP Vicente Padilla, RP Jon Rauch, RP Jose Contreras
With Magglio Ordo˝ez, Jeremy Bonderman and Johnny Damon becoming free agents and their obligations to Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson ending, the Tigers have nearly $60 million coming off the books for 2011 from those five players alone. Justin Verlander's contract will eat up $6 million of that, but that's a mere 10 percent, and they have no major arbitration cases to be concerned about this offseason. That means the Tigers are going to be players this winter. They are unlikely to re-inflate their payroll to the roughly $134 million they spent in 2010, but with just $61 million committed as of this writing, they have plenty of room before they start reaching those lofty heights.
The World Series wasn't even over when the rumors about the Tigers' interest in Victor Martinez and Carl Crawford started to fly, and those two are excellent targets for a team that had a black hole at catcher in 2010 (Tiger catchers hit .223/.294/.330 on the season), needs to replace two outfielders, and plays in a spacious ballpark that favors triples hitters. Comerica Park also favors righties, however, so Werth wouldn't be a poor choice, either. Werth should also rise on the Tigers' list if they are realistic about what to expect from rising sophomore Brennan Boesch, who hit just .163/.237/.222 with two home runs in 245 plate appearances after the 2010 All-Star break.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, there aren't many exciting options for the middle infield positions, which are currently manned in Detroit by 2010 rookie bust Scott Sizemore and veteran utility man Ramon Santiago. Signing Hudson, however, would give them some certainty up the middle and directly hurt the defending division champion Twins. Failing that, David Eckstein would be a decent choice as a player who could be pushed into a reserve role if Sizemore starts to live up to his promise in 2011.
It's not as though the Tigers lack places to spend their money, however. Outside of Miguel Cabrera, there's not a player in their lineup who couldn't be improved upon, and there are no hitters of note in their farm system behind Sizmore, who is not necessarily a future All-Star himself. They could also use another starting pitcher, or two while they wait for the arrival of 2009 ninth-overall pick Jacob Turner, as well as some reinforcements in the bullpen. On those fronts, Jon Rauch and Vicente Padilla hold the same appeal in Comerica that they do in Target Field, which again puts the Tigers and Twins in competition for talent. The Tigers need to win those battles, however, because they're building on a far weaker foundation than the Twins.
2010 Results: 69-93, fourth place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 646/752
Pythagorean Record: 70-92
Free Agents: None
Prospects on the Verge: SP Carlos Carrasco, RP Vinnie Pestano, LF Nick Weglarz, RP Jess Todd, RP Zach Putnam, SP Alex White, 2B Jason Kipnis
Building For: Some distant future
Strengths: Young, team-controlled talent headed by Shin Soo Choo and Carlos Santana
Biggest Holes: N/A
The Indians are deep within a rebuild and have made it clear they won't be players this winter. Rather, the big job for new general manager Chris Antonetti will be gaining cost-certainty by working out multi-year deals with some of the team's first-time arbitration-eligible players, specifically under-the-radar star right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and closer Chris Perez. In the meantime, they'll work to continue to establish their prospects in the majors and wait for Travis Hafner's contract to expire after the 2012 season.
2010 Results: 67-95, fifth place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 676/845
Pythagorean Record: 64-98
Free Agents: SP Bruce Chen
Prospects on the Verge: RP Greg Holland, RP Tim Collins, 3B Mike Moustakas, C Lucas May, CF Jarrod Dyson, RF Jai Miller, OF David Lough, RF Jordan Parraz, RP Brian N. Anderson
Building For: Finishing above the Indians, at the very least
Strengths: Joakim Soria, Billy Butler, Zack Greinke, and David DeJesus's trade value
Biggest Holes: Everything but closer
Targets: None of note
The Royals are what the Indians hope to avoid becoming, a team in a perpetual state of rebuilding, with a roster littered with busted prospects that seems to follow every step forward with two back. Breakthrough seasons by Zack Greinke and Billy Butler lent hope in 2009, but the team's top minor league prospects were awful. In 2010, the minor league picture perked up with big seasons from former first-round picks Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, but Greinke and Butler struggled to build on their breakouts. Gil Meche and David DeJesus are entering the final year of their contracts, which offers payroll flexibility for 2012, but also reminds us that the Royals failed to improve during their time in Kansas City. There are still prospects to dream on and high draft picks on the way, but the chances of them coalescing in to a winning team seem to recede with every season. The final stage of the rebuilding process is convincing ownership to wager on one or two big free agent fish who can fill the remaining holes and push the team into contention, but the Royals aren't anywhere close to that, so they'll continue to fill their lineup with cast-off filler like Yuniesky Betancourt and Wilson Betemit, players who might fool fans with a hot month or two but ultimately do more harm than good. That won't interfere with the plans of any of the other 29 teams.
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