AL CENTRAL TEAM PREVIEWS
Teams listed in order of finish last year.
2012: 88-74, first place (lost to Giants in World Series).
Manager: Jim Leyland (eighth season).
He's here: OF Torii Hunter, C Brayan Pena.
He's outta here: OF Brennan Boesch, C Gerald Laird, OF Ryan Raburn, LHP Daniel Schlereth, RHP Jose Valverde, DH Delmon Young.
Projected lineup: CF Austin Jackson (.300, 16 HRs, 66 RBIs, 10 triples), RF Torii Hunter (.313, 16, 92), 3B Miguel Cabrera (.330, 44, 139 for baseball's first Triple Crown since 1967), 1B Prince Fielder (.313, 30, 108), DH Victor Martinez (missed 2012 season), LF Andy Dirks (.322, 8, 35), SS Jhonny Peralta (.239, 13, 63), C Alex Avila (.243, 9, 48), 2B Omar Infante (.274, 12, 53 with Marlins and Tigers).
Rotation: RH Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA, MLB-leading 239 Ks), RH Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74, 231 Ks), RH Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45), RH Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 with Marlins and Tigers), RH Rick Porcello (10-12, 4.59).
Key relievers: RH Joaquin Benoit (5-3, 3.68, 2 saves), RH Al Albuquerque (0-0, 0.68 in 8 games after elbow surgery), LH Phil Coke (2-3, 4.00), RH Octavio Dotel (5-3, 3.57), RH Brayan Villarreal (3-5, 2.63), LH Drew Smyly (4-3, 3.99 in 23 games, 18 starts).
Hot spots: The Tigers entered spring training unsure who their fifth starter and closer would be. Porcello eventually beat out Smyly for a spot in the rotation, but the uncertainty in the bullpen lingers. The Tigers appear set to move forward without a specific closer, since hard-throwing Bruce Rondon did not win the job during spring training. Leyland will have to mix and match in the late innings, depending on the situation.
Outlook: After two consecutive AL Central titles and an American League pennant in 2012, the window of opportunity for the Tigers is very much open. Cabrera, Verlander and Fielder are in their primes, and if Martinez can return strong after a knee injury cost him 2012, Detroit's lineup will be even more formidable. Defense and team speed were issues last year, but the Tigers still won the division, and their rotation found a groove during the playoffs. Anything less than another postseason appearance will be a huge disappointment in Detroit, and if the Tigers do make the playoffs again, they have star power to match any team in the game. The Tigers showed their commitment is for the long-term, signing Verlander on Friday to a $180 million, seven-year contract, topping Felix Hernandez for the richest deal for a pitcher in baseball history.
Chicago White Sox
2012: 85-77, second place.
Manager: Robin Ventura (second season).
He's here: 3B Jeff Keppinger, RHP Matt Lindstrom.
He's outta here: C A.J. Pierzynski, 3B Kevin Youkilis, RHP Brett Myers, SS Jose Lopez.
Projected lineup: CF Alejandro De Aza (.281, 9 HRs, 50 RBIs), 3B Jeff Keppinger (.325, 9 HRs, 40 RBIs with Rays), RF Alex Rios (.304, 25 HRs, 91 RBIs), DH Adam Dunn (.204, 41 HRs, 96 RBIs), 1B Paul Konerko (.298, 26 HRs, 75 RBIs), LF Dayan Viciedo (.255, 25 HRs, 78 RBIs), SS Alexei Ramirez (.265, 9 HRs, 73 RBIs), C Tyler Flowers (.213, 7 homers, 13 RBIs), 2B Gordon Beckham (.234, 16 homers, 60 RBIs).
Rotation: LH Chris Sale (17-8, 3.05 ERA, 192 innings, 192 strikeouts), RH Jake Peavy (11-12, 3.37 ERA, 219 innings), LH John Danks (3-4, 5.70 ERA, 9 starts), RH Gavin Floyd (12-11, 4.29 ERA), LH Jose Quintana (6-6, 3.76 ERA).
Key relievers: RH Addison Reed (3-2, 4.75 ERA, 29 of 33 saves), LH Matt Thornton (4-10, 3.46 ERA), RH Jesse Crain (2-3, 2.44 ERA), LH Hector Santiago (4-1, 3.33 ERA), RH Nate Jones (8-0, 2.39 ERA), Lindstrom (1-0, 2.68 ERA with Diamondbacks and Orioles).
Hot spots: Keppinger figures to solidify the No. 2 spot in the order after the White Sox posted a major league-worst .221 average there. There is a big question mark at catcher with Pierzynski gone. The White Sox know Flowers is solid behind the plate, but it remains to be seen if he can contribute when he's at the plate.
Outlook: The White Sox spent 117 days in first place last season, only to finish three games behind Detroit after a late fade. Now, they believe they are poised to challenge for the division title. Never mind that they made no splashy acquisitions, that the biggest moves were re-signing Peavy, locking in Sale with a new contract (five years, $32.5 million) and shuffling the front office. They promoted Rick Hahn to general manager and Ken Williams to executive vice president. The roster? Well, it's largely intact, except for the switch at catcher. One reason the White Sox let Pierzynski sign a one-year contract with Texas was because they believe Flowers is ready to take over behind the plate. Another reason is they wanted to re-sign Peavy after he bounced back from three injury-riddled seasons. With Sale and Peavy leading a deep rotation and what looks like a solid bullpen behind them, the White Sox believe they have one of the American League's best staffs. That Danks is beginning the year on the disabled list is a bit of a concern. He made only nine starts last season and had surgery in August to repair a capsule tear and remove debris in his rotator cuff and biceps. The White Sox could have an imposing lineup after finishing fourth in the AL in runs and third in homers, with Konerko, Dunn and Rios. They need Viciedo and Beckham to mature at the plate and are short on left-handed bats.
Kansas City Royals
2012: 72-90, third place.
Manager: Ned Yost (third season).
He's here: RHP Ervin Santana, RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, SS Miguel Tejada, C George Kottaras.
He's outta here: INF Yuniesky Betancourt, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, RHP Jonathan Broxton, RH Jaokim Soria.
Projected lineup: OF Alex Gordon (.294, 14 HRs, 72 RBIs), SS Alcides Escobar (.293, 5, 52, 35 SBs), 1B Eric Hosmer (.232, 14, 60), DH Billy Butler (.313, 29, 107), C Salvador Perez (.301, 11, 39), 3B Mike Moustakas (.242, 20, 73), OF Jeff Francoeur (.235, 16, 49), OF Lorenzo Cain (.266, 7, 31), 2B Chris Getz (.275, 0, 17).
Rotation: RH James Shields (15-10, 3.52 ERA with Rays), RH Jeremy Guthrie (5-3, 3.16), RH Ervin Santana (9-13, 5.16 with Angels), RHP Wade Davis (3-0, 2.43 ERA with Rays), LH Bruce Chen (11-14, 5.07 ERA).
Key relievers: RH Greg Holland (7-4, 2.96, 16 of 20 saves), RH Kelvin Herrera (4-3, 2.35), RH Luke Hochevar (8-16, 5.73), RH Aaron Crow (3-1, 3.48), LH Tim Collins (5-4, 3.36), LH Everett Teaford (1-4, 4.99).
Hot spots: The Royals solidified their rotation by trading OF Wil Myers, the top-rated position player in the minors, and a package of prospects to Tampa Bay for Shields and Davis. Those two pitchers will be counted upon to anchor a new-look rotation that includes Santana. But what they do might not matter if Hosmer, Moustakas and Francoeur are unable to rebound from erratic performances at the plate.
Outlook: General manager Dayton Moore might have said it best: "It's time we start winning baseball games." The Royals haven't had a winning season since 2003, and haven't been to the playoffs since 1985. But they wouldn't have traded Myers for pitching help if they didn't believe the pieces were in place for a breakthrough season. If their rotation can live up to expectations and their bevy of young position players can produce the way Royals brass anticipate -- both of them no sure thing -- it's possible Kansas City could be playing meaningful baseball late into the season for the first time in a generation.
2012: 68-94, fourth place.
Manager: Terry Francona (first season).
He's here: OF Michael Bourn, 1B Nick Swisher, OF Drew Stubbs, DH Mark Reynolds, DH Jason Giambi, RHP Brett Myers, INF/OF Ryan Raburn, INF Mike Aviles, LHP Scott Kazmir.
He's outta here: Manager Manny Acta, OF Shin-Soo Choo, RHP Roberto Hernandez, LHP Tony Sipp, INF/OF Shelley Duncan, INF Jack Hannahan, INF Casey Kotchman, INF Jason Donald, INF Brent Lillibridge, OF Johnny Damon.
Projected lineup: CF Michael Bourn (.274, 9 HRs, 57 RBIs, 42 steals with Braves), SS Asdrubal Cabrera (.270, 16, 68, 35 doubles), 2B Jason Kipnis (.257, 14, 76, 31 SBs), 1B Nick Swisher (.272, 24, 93 with Yankees), C Carlos Santana (.252, 18, 76) LF Michael Brantley (.288, 6, 60), DH Mark Reynolds (.221, 23, 68, 159 strikeouts in 457 at-bats with Orioles) or Jason Giambi (.225, 1, 8 with Rockies, 429 career HRs), 3B Lonnie Chisenhall (.268, 5, 16, 43 games before breaking arm), RF Drew Stubbs (.213, 14, 40, 166 Ks with Reds).
Rotation: RH Justin Masterson (11-15, 4.93 ERA) RH Ubaldo Jimenez (9-17, 5.40, led AL in losses, wild pitches), RH Brett Myers (3-8, 3.32 in 70 games with Astros and White Sox), RH Zach McAllister (6-8, 4.24), LH Scott Kazmir (3-6, 5.34 in independent league, last pitched in majors in 2011).
Key relievers: RH Chris Perez (0-4, 3.59, 39 of 43 saves), RH Vinnie Pestano (3-3, 2.57 ERA, franchise record 37 holds), RH Joe Smith (7-4, 2.96, team-high 72 games).
Hot spots: Jimenez has been a major disappointment since arriving in a 2011 deadline trade from Colorado. The Indians spent the spring working with him on his mechanics, but the bigger issue could be a lack of confidence that he can again be an ace. The club has been patient, but won't hesitate to make a move with Jimenez if he struggles early in the season. Fortunately, the Indians have young arms in Carlos Carrasco Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber to bring up.
Outlook: Francona took a year off to recuperate after Boston's late-season crash in 2011, a stunning collapse that led to ugly finger-pointing when it ended. His arrival in Cleveland triggered an aggressive offseason by Indians ownership, which spent nearly $120 million on free agents. The Indians should score runs, and their defense should be solid. But it will be up to their pitching staff to help them close the gap on Detroit.
2012: 66-96, fifth place.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (12th season).
He's here: RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Vance Worley, RHP Kevin Correia, CF Aaron Hicks.
He's outta here: OF Denard Span, OF Ben Revere, RHP Scott Baker, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Carl Pavano, INF Alexi Casilla, RHP Matt Capps.
Projected lineup: CF Aaron Hicks (.286, 13 HRs, 61 RBIs, 32 SBs in 129 Gs with Double-A New Britain), 2B Brian Dozier (.234, 6, 33, 11 2Bs) or Jamey Carroll (.268, 1, 40, 18 2Bs), C Joe Mauer (.319, 10, 85, .416 OBP), 1B Justin Morneau (.267, 19, 77, 134 Gs), LF Josh Willingham (.260, 35, 110, .524 SLG), 3B Trevor Plouffe (.235, 24, 55), RF Chris Parmelee (.229, 5, 20, 64 Gs), SS Pedro Florimon (.219, 1, 10, 43 Gs).
Rotation: RH Vance Worley (6-9, 4.20 ERA, 107 Ks in 133.0 IP with Phillies), LH Scott Diamond (12-9, 3.54, 31 BBs in 173.0 IP), RH Mike Pelfrey (0-0, 2.29 in 3 starts before having elbow surgery), RH Kevin Correia (12-11, 4.21, 20 HRs with Pirates), RH Liam Hendriks (1-8, 5.59).
Key relievers: LH Glen Perkins (3-1, 2.56 ERA, 16 of 20 saves), RH Jared Burton (3-2, 2.18, 5 saves, .186 opponent BA), LH Brian Duensing (4-12, 5.12, 55 appearances, 11 starts).
Hot spots: Starting rotation and CF. The Twins had the worst rotation in the American League last season, rendering a very productive offense moot. GM Terry Ryan traded Span and Revere for top-flight pitching prospects, but neither will be ready this year. Pelfrey is coming off Tommy John surgery, Diamond will miss the first few weeks while finishing his rehab from a minor arm surgery, World Baseball Classic star Samuel Deduno will start in the minors after struggling in spring with a groin injury and Worley, Pelfrey and Correia have all been hit hard this spring. In center field, Hicks has had an outstanding spring as he looks to replace Span and Revere. But he has never taken an at-bat at Triple-A, so the jump will be one to watch.
Outlook: Mauer and Morneau will enter the season healthier than they have been in years, with both looking to build off promising bounce-back years in 2012. But even if they return to their MVP-type production levels, the Twins will be hard-pressed to get back into contention after two years in the basement thanks to an ace-less rotation full of retreads and arms on the mend.
-- ASSOCIATED PRESS