AL Central Preview

For my AL East preview, click here; NL East can be found here.

This division, along with the NL West, is going to be pretty difficult to handicap. I’m not sure any of these teams are head and shoulders ahead of the rest.

Minnesota Twins

Key additions: 2B Orlando Hudson; SS J.J. Hardy; DH Jim Thome

Key losses: CF Carlos Gomez; RP Joe Nathan (injury)

I love the Twins’ operation; they routinely field competitive teams while spending significantly less than the perennial AL contenders in Boston, New York, and L.A. But there are plenty of uncertainties surrounding this club heading into the new season. For one, nobody knows how the move to Target Field will affect the Twins. After years of BaggieDome-ball, how will the Twins adjust to a new open air home? Also, will slugging first baseman (and former MVP) Justin Morneau be fully recovered from the back injury that ended his campaign early a year ago? Can reigning MVP Joe Mauer replicate his historic ’09 season at the plate? And how will the bullpen respond to the loss of closer Joe Nathan, who has a torn ulnar collateral ligament? The additions of Hardy and Hudson bolster the middle infield and the young starting pitchers have another year of maturity under their belts but it remains to be seen if the Twins will have the horses to repeat as division champs.

Detroit Tigers

Key additions: SP Max Scherzer; LF Johnny Damon; RP Jose Valverde; CF Austin Jackson

Key losses: CF Curtis Granderson; SP Edwin Jackson; 2B Placido Polanco; RP Fernando Rodney

The Tigers made a quick splash this offseason, dealing Curtis Granderson in a three-team deal that netted them Scherzer and Jackson. But the overhaul didn’t stop there. Veterans Polanco and Rodney were allowed to leave via free agency and management is hoping to replace their production with rookie 2B Scott Sizemore and free agent import Valverde, who has saved 167 games in his career, including 47 in 2007. The rotation is solid, with Justin Verlander assuming the mantle of staff ace. Offensively, Miguel Cabrera will shoulder the load in the heart of the order. The jury is still out on Sizemore (who is recovering from a broken ankle) and Jackson (the key piece to the Granderson deal); these youngsters will be counted on to produce at a high level if the Tigers are going to contend.

Chicago White Sox

Key additions: LF Juan Pierre; 3B Mark Teahen; OF / DH Andruw Jones

Key losses: 2B Chris Getz; 3B Josh Fields; OF Scott Podsednik

Don’t sleep on this team. Chicago may have the best pitching staff in this division. Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd and John Danks make a formidable foursome that should keep the Pale Hose afloat in the division. The bullpen is full of live arms like Matt Thornton, Tony Pena, and Scott Linebrink. The lineup is sprinkled with veteran bats: Pierre, Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, A.J. Pierzynski, and Teahen. Kenny Williams may have assembled the most complete club in the division now. If youngsters Alexi Ramirez and Gordon Beckham continue to develop on the left side of the infield, look out.

Cleveland Indians

Key additions: 1B Russell Branyan

Key losses: C Kelly Shopach; 2B Jamey Carroll

Prior to signing Branyan in late February, the most exciting hot stove news this winter in Cleveland was the signing of backup backstop Mike Redmond. If that doesn’t tell you that Cleveland is rebuilding, I don’t know what will. (By the way, how bad does that Kerry Wood signing look now?) This team’s success will depend on how quickly the kids develop. Matt LaPorta can rake, but the kid is recovering from hip surgery. LF Michael Brantley is a burner on the basepaths, but it looks as if he’ll be the one losing at bats in the wake of the Branyan signing. The rotation will be filled with unproven youngsters Justin Masterson, David Huff, and Carlos Carasco. I doubt this will be a very exciting summer in Cleveland, unless LeBron wins the Finals and decides to re-up with the Cavs.

Kansas City Royals

Key additions: OF Rick Ankiel; C Jason Kendall; 3B Josh Fields

Key losses: 1B Mike Jacobs; OF Coco Crisp; 3B Mark Teahen

This team has a chance to be much stronger defensively than last year’s squad. Jason Kendall will provide a defensive upgrade over Miguel Olivo. And if 2B Chris Getz can unseat Alberto Callaspo, the Royals could be even stronger up the middle. But the trade off comes at the plate, where Kendall and Getz are anything but dynamic. The emergence of Billy Butler gives cause for optimism, but the team would be wise to not count on the perpetually injured 3B Alex Gordon for much of anything. Two weeks into spring training and “the next George Brett” is already hurt again. I’m willing to bet that Brett — at age 56 — is less brittle today than Gordon. Zack Greinke and Gil Meche head a decent rotation and Joakim Soria is one of the best closers in the league. But where will the runs come from?

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