1. Detroit Tigers
Notable Additions: OF Torii Hunter
Notables Losses: RP Jose Valverde, OF Delmon Young
This is very much the same team that came back and bit the White Sox in the butt at the end of last season. They lost one below-average outfielder and picked up a still above average one who should continue to succeed late in his career. The Tigers also let go of their erratic closer and will most likely have a closer by committee with candidates Bruce Rondon and Phil Coke among others vying for the job. Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera along with his partner in crime Prince Fielder will once again be counted on to lead the team’s run production, but they will also have Victor Martinez return to the lineup in 2013 and he will make this team that much more dangerous. Not to mention that if Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks build off their success in 2012 as well… Jesus the Tigers are scary. And Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Anibal Sanchez, too. I’ll just stop. They are going to win the division, they are too good.
Notable Additions: OF Michael Bourn, OF Drew Stubbs, OF Nick Swisher, SP Brett Myers, MGR Terry Francona, SS Mike Aviles, C/1B Yan Gomes, SP Trevor Bauer, 1B Mark Reynolds, SP Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1B/DH Jason Giambi
Notable Losses: OF Shin Soo-Choo, RP Tony Sipp, SS Jason Donald, RP Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona), 1B/DH Travis Hafner, OF Grady Sizemore, 3B Jack Hanahan, UTIL Brent Lillibridge
The Indians are a highly improved team in 2013. They have men who can hit at every position, power, speed, and on-base percentage. In fact, I think their lineup rivals Detroit’s in terms of scariness; and it’s not because their players can take you deep at will, but instead because they can win in so many different ways. Mark Reynolds, Jason Kipnis, and Nick Swisher can take you deep. Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley, and Drew Stubbs can run wild on the base paths, and Asdrubal Cabrera can continue to dazzle with his glove. The main sticking point to this team is their starting rotation. Justin Masterson is their ace, which really says something about A.) how bad this staff is, and B) how badly Ubaldo Jimenez had regressed from his days with the Rockies. If Masterson can pitch like the ace he is supposed to be, allegedly and Jimenez can return to his glory days with Colorado the Indians should be in good shape. Brett Myers will eat innings, Trevor Bauer should be up in the majors by mid-season, and Scott Kazmir has really impressed in Spring Training. Not to mention the Tribe really doesn’t need that great of a starting staff because their bullpen is one of the best in the American League with Vinny Pestano being one of the best guys for holds in the league and Chris Perez being the best closer in the division.
3. Chicago White Sox
Notable Additions: RP Matt Lindstrom, UTIL Jeff Keppinger, 3B Conor Gillaspie
Notable Losses: 3B Kevin Youkilis, C AJ Pierzynski, UTIL Orlando Hudson, SP Francisco Liriano, RP Brett Myers, SP Philip Humber
The White Sox lost a lot of key players from the 2012 almost champion team. AJ Pierzynski clubbed a career high twenty-two home runs in 2012 and that will be sorely missed in the 2013 version of the White Sox. Tyler Flowers has been the named the anointed one to replace all-time favorite Pierzynski. He probably won’t come close to AJ’s numbers in his first year, but he can be expected to produce at least fifteen home runs and drive in at least seventy runs on a year to year basis. Kevin Youkilis also left the team for the “Evil Empire” New York Yankees, and the Sox will most likely fill that hole with a platoon of Brent Morel and Jeff Keppinger. Hopefully Morel can turn into the hitter he was projected to become in the minors so that the Sox can have a consistency at the position, which has been unstable since the great Joe Crede left. Overall, the Sox lineup is starting to age as slugger Paul Konerko begins to head down the road to retirement. Adam Dunn is still a good power hitter and should be able to contribute to the offense and Alex Rios is still a wild card as far as consistent production goes. The 2013 lineup wont be the most offensively potent, however if there is one thing the Sox have always been able to do, its pitch. Ace, Chris Sale, was extended to five year deal, and will hopefully continue his prior dominance. Jake Peavy extended his contract with the team for two more seasons and should continue his mad-dog attitude on the mound. John Danks is returning from injury and is expected to be a big contributor as well. Not to mention Gavin Floyd will be back on the mound, barring he doesn’t get flipped at the deadline; and in addition Jose Quintana is looking to rebound from a poor second half performance and pitch the Sox to playoff contention in 2013. The baby bullpen will begin their sophomore season this year as well. Veterans like Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Matt Lindstrom will be expected to lead the group of talented relievers including Nate Jones, Addison Reed, and Dylan Axelrod. The young bullpen did well in 2012, and will hopefully continue to be consistent in 2013. The Sox don’t look that good on paper, but they didn’t look good last year either; and the best thing is that the front office has shown willingness to make moves if the Sox are in contention, as evidenced by the Youkilis and Myers moves. They will give the Tigers & Indians problems and may compete for a wild card spot.
4. Kansas City Royals
Notable Additions: SP James Shields, SP Ervin Santana, SP Wade Davis, INF Elliot Johnson
Notable Losses: RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Vin Mazzaro, OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, C Brayan Pena, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Blake Wood
If you haven’t had the chance to as of lately please say good-bye to the days of the Royals being absolute pushovers in the AL Central. Though I have them finishing in fourth place, the Royals will be highly competitive in 2013. Their lineup will feature young fixtures Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Bill Butler, and Salvador Perez. Those four players are part of the Royals core of players who will begin to reek havoc upon the Central for years to come. The Royals did well down the stretch last year, despite not having the best pitching out there. Well GM Dayton Moore did something about that this winter, trading for starters James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays, and signing Ervin Santana in free agency. Not to mention they have mainstays Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie returning to the rotation as well. The Royals will also have a very good bullpen which will feature Greg Holland, Aaron Crow, Luke Hochevar, and Kelvin Herrera. The Royals look good this year, but I can see them putting everything together yet. They will battle with the White Sox for third place but ultimately lose out.
5. Minnesota Twins
Notable Additions: SP Rich Harden, SP Mike Pelfrey, SP Kevin Correia, SP Vance Worley
Notable Losses: OF Denard Span, OF Ben Revere, SP Scott Baker, INF Alexi Casilla, RP Matt Capps
The Twins will be your resident celler dweller this year. They traded away their best two outfielders this offseason, and have no offensive weapons aside from Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham (barring Justin Morneau has a great rebound season). The pitching staff is improved from last years as Scott Diamond will get some veteran help from the likes of Correia, Worley, and Pelfrey. There really isn’t much to say about this team as they seem to be drained of talent at the major league level. However Aaron Hicks is currently an exciting player to watch as he may win their center field job out of Spring Training without playing a game above AA. Also keep your eye on Miguel Sano, an exciting young shortstop with power, and Bryan Buxton who is a powerful outfielder. This team will finish last, but Terry Ryan is working to change that.
Wednesday afternoon Rich Hahn and the White Sox made their version of a splash at the Winter Meetings by signing journeyman Jeff Keppinger to a three year, $12 million deal. The move fills the previous hole the South Siders had at third base, but after having a great player like Kevin Youkilis manning the hot corner, Keppinger leaves a lot to be desired. This entry will focus on analyzing the player Hahn signed, looking at the alternative options Hahn had in free-agency and in house, then breaking down how good the signing was, and making a prediction.
Last year Jeff Keppinger had a breakout season with the Tampa Bay Rays compiling a .288 batting average, .367 on-base percentage, and 40 RBIs in 418 plate appearances. Keppinger also can play multiple positions, in 2012 alone Keppinger appeared in 50 games at third base, 27 at first and second base, and also DH’d in 20 other games. This versatility combined with his breakout performance made Keppinger a prime candidate to fill the any team’s third base vacancy; and trust me when I say that there are a ton of vacancies of the position. In addition to positional flexibility Keppinger came into his own offensively last year posting a 2.4 WAR, (Wins Above Replacement) which is almost a full run better than his previous high with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007. However, there are always downfalls to any deal, and Keppinger is no different. One problem is that Keppinger, like AJ Pierzynski, just had his best season and his is starting to get up there in years. Now does that mean he can’t reproduce the season he had last year? No, but we also can’t expect him to maintain the production he just had last year into his third year and last year of his deal at age thirty-six. Now let’s take a look at other options the White Sox had.
Youk was the incumbent to the position heading into the off-season. Rick Hahn stated publicly that he wanted to bring back both Youk and AJ is possible, but most analysts knew that both play a position of need, and would be priced out of the White Sox price range. However, Youk did have an amazing run during his time on the South Side, in his tenure he hit 15 home runs and drove in 46 runs, and not to mention had the highest WAR of any Sox third baseman since the great Joe Crede. Youk was embraced on the South Side and fans, including myself wanted and continue to want him back, but his option the upcoming season was an astronomical $13 million. Thinking he could pay less for the aging third baseman Hahn declined the option and let Youk hit the open market, which is where the Sox have run into problems. The Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees also both need third baseman due to Lonnie Chisenhall not being able to completely shoulder the starting job, and because Alex Rodriguez is yet again having hip surgery in New York. With this unexpected competition from the Indians who have money to spend because they DON’T spend and the Yankees, who always seem to have bottomless wallets, the White Sox found themselves between a rock and a hard place. The last reports I heard from ESPN was that the Yankees offered Youkilis a 1 year deal for approximately $12 million, which is only $1 million less than the Sox would have paid him had they picked up his option, which is what detered Youk’s return to the South Side.
The former all-star third baseman hit free-agency yet again this off-season. In 313 plate appearances Chavez hit 16 home runs and drove in 37 runs, very good for a guy who isn’t an everyday starter, though I would like to point out that the short porch in right field at Yankee stadium definitely inflated his home run total. In addition Chavez is 35 years old and he will only start to decline faster, so it’s probably a good thing that Arizona snatched him up before the White Sox could because, after Chavez signed it came out that his decision came down to the White Sox or D-Backs, but since Arizona was closer to his home he signed there. All in all it was probably in the best interest of the Sox that he was taken off the market.
Another option similar to that of the Keppinger signing was Jack Hannahan. A career .234 hitter, Hannahan was not the most attractive option for the team, but he would have come cheap. Reports are still floating around the Hot Stove that the White Sox are still interested in Hannahan despite the Keppinger signing, but I can’t see the Sox signing him because the need at the third base position around the league. Not much to say there.
29 year old Mark Reynolds fits the mold of players the White Sox usually try to acquire. Low average but hits for power, and moving to home-run friendly US Cellular Field would only increase those power numbers. Unfortunately, Reynolds missed some time last year due to injury that concurrently lead to a drop off of his power numbers. In 2011 Reynolds hit for a .221 average, 37 home runs, and drove in 86 runs, only a year later, in 20 less games Reynolds again hit .221, but saw his home run and RBI total drop to 23 and 69 respectively. Despite Reynolds fitting the mold of an ideal White Sox offensive third baseman, he does not fit the mold of a defensive third baseman the White Sox need. In 2011, Reynolds played 114 games at third, in 2012 he played 15 games at third, switching to first and playing there for 108 games. So with that Reynolds is out.
Okay, stop rolling your eyes at me right now. I realize that Kenny Williams had a man crush on the guy when he was last a free agent, but Figgins is a legitimate candidate here. In 66 games last year Figgins compiled a .181 average, 2 home runs, and 11 RBIs. Not impressive numbers, I know. But let’s also remember three things here: 1) Figgins hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time since his bust 2009 season, and not being able to play does wear on you 2)When Figgins did play; what protection did he have? The Mariners “potent” lineup doesn’t really have a plethora of hitters who strike fear into the heart of Major League Baseball which didn’t allow Figgins to get many good pitches to hit, because pitchers weren’t afraid to face the next guy 3) Figgins was playing in Safeco Field one of the most notorious pitcher’s parks in the league, a move to more hitter friendly US Cellular Field might do him good. Now here is the catch, I am not lobbying here for him to start, but what could it hurt to sign him to a 1 year, incentive laden, low-risk contract and see how he can perform as a super-utility guy? I think it would be worth the risk, and I would support Hahn signing him to a low-risk deal.
Morel was flat out terrible in 2012. He was the heir apparent to the third base job, and he screwed it up. Of course he does have a couple of things working for him: he is only 25, he can still improve with coaching, and he has a great glove. With the Keppinger signing I expect the Sox to let Morel continue to regain confidence in Triple-A and hopefully in 2013 the Sox can give Morel another shot at the job, but it is a long shot.
Ultimately, with what Hahn had to work with he made a very good signing. He signed one of the better options the market had to offer, and he got his man at fair price. Despite getting the player he wanted I still have to say that I disagree with the amount of years Keppinger got. In a perfect world I would have tried to work out a 2 year deal worth $8 million with a performance based option that would vest if he reached certain goals and statistics.
Finally, my prediction for this upcoming year for Jeff Keppinger is for him to start for the Sox at third base. He will hit for somewhere around a .270 batting average, 14 home runs, while driving in 71 runs.
Well hope you guys enjoyed another installment of the Next Sox GM, until next time. Thanks for reading!