AL Central Hot Stove preview (cont.)
2011 Results: 71-91, fourth place in AL Central
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 730/762
Pythagorean Record: 78-84
Pending Free Agents: SP Bruce Chen (Type B), C Jason Kendall, SP Jeff Francis
Prospects on the Verge: OF Wil Myers, OF Lorenzo Cain, RP Jeremy Jeffress, SP Mike Montgomery, SS Christian Colon, SP Jake Odorizzi, RP Kelvin Herrera, 1B Clint Robinson
Building For: A serious World Series run by 2014
Strengths: Tremendous collection of young talent
Biggest Holes: Starting rotation; team defense; inexperience
Targets: Starting pitchers via trade
Sure, the Royals may want to tinker with their roster and perhaps swing a trade or two, but the prevailing principle guiding this year's offseason ought to be inertia, of which the baseball corollary is that young players in development tend to continue developing. That means management shouldn't meddle too much with veteran free agents who will stunt the growth of the many other promising youngsters by taking away at bats or innings.
Kansas City was the talk of spring training last year, as many of its historic wealth of top prospects received major league invites. At the time the farm system was almost a curiosity, still three years or so away from paying serious major league dividends. But now with the first wave of prospects -- Aaron Crow, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Johnny Giavotella and Salvador Perez -- having logged significant time with the parent club, the tone should be less about the awe of the distant goal and more about the reality of making it happen.
But the area that indisputably still needs help is the rotation. The Royals could lose Chen and/or Francis in free agency and lost one of top pitching prospects, John Lamb, for most of the year due to Tommy John surgery. While Crow will likely audition for a potential move from the bullpen to the rotation, the club could still use a high-end starter or two. With a paucity of free-agent options, the price on pitchers such as C.J. Wilson and Edwin Jackson will be steep. The Royals' best bet will be to trade a few of its bevy of prospects for a starter.
2011 Results: 63-99, fifth place in AL Central
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 619/804
Pythagorean Record: 62-100
Pending Free Agents: OF/1B Michael Cuddyer (Type A), OF Jason Kubel (Type B), RP Matt Capps (Type A), RP Joe Nathan
Prospects on the Verge: 1B Chris Parmalee, SP Liam Hendriks, OF Joe Benson
Building For: Return to competitiveness -- Twins had only one season with a losing record from 2001 to 2010
Strengths: Two superstar hitters; track record of institutional development; robust payroll
Biggest Holes: Injury-prone stars; team defense; lack of power; pitchers without swing-and-miss potential; middle-of-diamond uncertainty
Targets: Cuddyer, Kubel, OF Josh Willingham, OF Cody Ross, Nathan, 2B Aaron Hill, 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Rafael Furcal, SS Clint Barmes, SS Alex Gonzalez, bullpen depth
The fortunes of the Twins changed dramatically in 2011, as they regressed from perennial better-than-you-think Central contenders to how-could-they-be-this-bad divisional doormats. Some of that decline was due to problems beyond the team's control (injuries, such as those suffered by Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel and Denard Span, which contributed to a league-leading 27 trips to the disabled list) and some was due to players who simply had a bad year, may never develop as planned or will never show consistency in their careers. The trick is in determining which category each player -- Alexi Casilla, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Danny Valencia, Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing -- falls into.
Management has said that payroll will likely remain in the vicinity of last year's $112 million, which gives the club some $25 million to spend this offseason -- enough to fill some holes but probably not enough to add, say, Jose Reyes to play shortstop without sacrificing in a few other spots.
The four primary needs are corner-outfield pop, a middle infielder, a strong presence at designated hitter -- or, relatedly, an everyday catcher or first baseman to allow Mauer or Morneau to serve as DH -- and some bullpen help, as only Glen Perkins remains as a viable late-inning option. (Minnesota has already claimed Jeff Gray and Matt Maloney off waivers but could stand to add another bullpen arm or two, which could mean bringing Capps or Nathan back at reduced salaries.)
The corner outfield and DH decisions could simply be to retain Cuddyer and Kubel -- if everyone's healthy, that lineup looks pretty good one through seven, though it wouldn't do anything to improve what was the worst fielding team in the majors, according to BP's park-adjusted defensive efficiency.
The middle infield -- primarily manned last year by Casilla, Nishioka, Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes and Matt Tolbert -- was an offensive disaster last year, collectively hitting for a .610 OPS at second base, which was the worst in the majors, and a .612 OPS at shortstop, which ranked 26th. It wouldn't seem to be the team's style to make a big splash for Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, but there are several less expensive veterans (Rafael Furcal, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jack Wilson) who could provide some short-term stability.
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