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.
The smell of freshly mowed grass is beginning to accumulate in Glendale, Arizona. White Sox pitchers and catchers will report in two days and begin the grind to another AL Central title. However, the fate of the White Sox will be decided in Spring Training as the White Sox invite their 40-man roster along with non-roster invitees to see who will best fit the mold for Robin Ventura and his coaching staff. Spring camp is also a good way to evaluate the Sox at each position and how they did in the offseason trying to upgrade that position. This will only address the hitters as I will do the pitchers at a later date.
At catcher, barring a move before camp breaks, Sox fans will see Tyler Flowers handling the pitching staff. Flowers does not currently command the confidence of many White Sox fans but Rick Hahn has defended the catcher and says he has faith in his abilities. Flowers, in past seasons has shown flashes of Adam Dunn-like country power. Sox fans have seen him absolutely obliterate foul balls and if he can translate that power to hitting balls on the fair side of the foul poll then the Sox might be on to something. Backing up Flowers will be minor league journeyman Hector Gimenez. Gimenez has had 20 at-bats in his major league career, so I won’t even bother trying to project or predict what kind of major league player he will be. With the unknown of Gimenez however I would expect Flowers to get a lot of playing time similar to the way A.J. Pierzynski hogged the playing time at catcher when he was in his prime years. The Sox really didn’t make much of an effort to upgrade at catcher despite options being available and options that continue to be available.
The Sox infield continues to stay static with team Captain and face of the franchise Paul Konerko manning first base, youngster Gordan Beckham taking second, and the Cuban Missile, Alexei Ramirez, at shortstop. This infield has been the same since Beckham became a regular in 2010. So this is no surprise. However, third base is in flux. Rick Hahn intends to give Brent Morel every chance to win back the third base job after he lost it last season due to poor production at the plate, though Hahn will claim it was due to his back injury. Three different men occupied third base last year: Morel, Orlando Hudson, and Kevin Youkilis. In order to try to stabilize the position should Morel bust again, Hahn added utility-man Jeff Keppinger who can spell any infield position to backup both Morel and Beckham. Though I do not see Beckham having a breakout year, ever, I can see Morel significantly improving this year. Or at least one can hope. Fans should be glad that Hahn did address the third base issue in some way by adding Keppinger, so that is a plus as well. Let’s also not forget the Big Donkey, Adam Dunn, who should continue to build on his success from last year. I expect his numbers to stay relatively the same considering he is the epitome of an all-or-nothing hitter.
The White Sox outfield is full of familiar faces in 2013 as well, with all three starters returning to the lineup in 2013. Dayan Viciedo will man left, speedster Alejandro De Aza will be in centerfield, and Alex Rios will patrol right. Though this outfield isn’t exactly suited for its defensive abilities it will be a force to be reckoned with on offense. If Alex Rios can repeat last year’s success and Viciedo can learn some plate discipline, the White Sox lineup will continue to be one of the AL Central’s best. However, there is still a battle to be won in the Sox outfield. Who will be the fourth outfielder? Currently the battle looks to be between the veteran, DeWayne Wise, and the youngster, Jordan Danks. Wise seems to be the favorite as he has continued to fight for a major league job throughout his career, but the Sox should really look at giving Danks an opportunity this season because he has more of a future with the team than Wise when you consider age instead of production. The Sox really didn’t need to address this position in the offseason as it is fine where it is as of now.
As spring training comes nearer and nearer, we as baseball fans get more excited to see the position battles, the drama, and heroics of our favorite teams. The way the White Sox lineup looks now, I am not to worried about the team producing runs, I am more worried about the consistency of the run production as the players we have now are know to be streaky, however a new season brings new trends, and maybe that is a trend that won’t continue into this year. For now though, let’s all just look forward to that beautiful fresh-cut grass.
Catcher is the toughest position to play on the baseball field. The catcher controls the pitchers during the game, prevents runners from taking extra bases, blocks the plate from both balls trying to find their way to the backstop and runners attempting to score, and through all this he must still be a productive member of the lineup and hit. Finding a catcher who is just a right mix of all the above is very tough to do. There are maybe a hand full of catchers who I think fit this description closely: Buster Posey, Carlos Ruiz, Joe Mauer, and Yadier Molina, and they are all highly valued by their respective teams and will probably never see the free agent market due to their high value. But because finding that right man to play catcher is so difficult it is often challenging to transition from an established starting catcher to an inexperienced and unproven one. Unfortunately, this is the situation the South Siders find themselves in this offseason, they can bring the incumbent backstop AJ Pierzynski back but on a huge contract for 36 year-old-to-be or they can pass the gavel to Tyler Flowers who is ten years younger and has stated that he is ready for the starting job. Despite Flowers’ confidence in being able to take over the job, the White Sox have continued to explore other options such as shopping Flowers to the Mets and giving youngsters Josh Phegley and Hector Giminez looks behind the plate as well. Here I will breakdown the Hahn’s options for a starting backstop and tell you why or why he should not pursue the option. I have the likelihood of the move happening on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being the most likely option.
Free Agents: Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Russell Martin, Mike Napoli, Miguel Olivo, Ronny Paulino, Humberto Quintero, Brian Schneider, Kelly Shoppach, Yorvit Torrealba, and Matt Treanor
Well this is quite an unimpressive list of major league catching talent. Guys who would sing on for less than AJ Pierzynski’s asking price are old and have never had much consistent success at the plate, so Paulino, Quintero, Treanor, Blanco, Schneider, Barajas, and Torrealba all are out. The rest: Olivo, Martin, Napoli, and Shoppach would all most likely be out of Hahn’s price range, as the Sox still need to address the third base spot and hopefully some bullpen weaknesses; so it seems as though free agency will not be the way to go for Rick Hahn.
Trades: JP Arencebia & Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The Blue Jays have let it be known that they have a top prospect just itching to get out of Triple-A and they will deal all of their catching in order to get him in the clubhouse, thus making JP Arencebia available. In addition, the Red Sox have brought in veteran backstop David Ross and have prospect Ryan Lavarnway sandwiching slugger Jarrod Saltalamacchia out of the picture in Boston. While neither Salty or Arencebia are a picture of consistency, they do something the White Sox like when looking at potential players, they hit home runs. Saltalamacchia had 25 home runs last year while driving in 59 runs, and Arencebia crushed 18 home runs while driving in 59; while neither of their RBI totals are impressive, they could definitely improve with better lineup placement and better players around them. Considering both Salty and Arencebia would be coming from the 5th and 4th place team in their division respectively, it is a given that they will have a better supporting cast. As the GM in this situation I would rather pursue Saltalamacchia than Arencebia because Saltalamacchia has a higher on-base pecentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage than Arencibia. The best thing is that both Arencebia and Saltalamacchia can probably both be had a for a mid-level prospect or two low-level prospects.
For most Sox fans this is the preferred route to take. We know AJ will provide a solid defensive presence, he is an average to above average hitting catcher, and he knows how to handle a pitching staff. On top of that all AJ is one of two remaining members of the core of our 2005 World Series team and is a popular figure with the fanbase. Unfortunately, the fans have to realize that AJ is going to be 36 years old this season, and he is not getting any younger. The only direction for a 35 year old catcher who just had a career to go is down, I can promise you that unless AJ signs for two years at $4 million or less a season, he will not live up to any contract the Sox will give him. History is not on his side. I don’t see any conceivable way — except for the hometown discount — that AJ stays on the South Side after this year. It’s a shame, but AJ has left on the franchise and when he returns someday all old and wrinkly he’ll still be embraced by the Chicago faithful for cementing a legacy, with the likes of Carlton Fisk and Ray Schalk, as one of the best backstops in franchise history.
Josh Phegley as of right now is a top ten prospect in the White Sox system. Although that isn’t saying much, it still means that he has a shot. With whispers of Hahn shopping Flowers around the league, specifically to the Mets, and the unlikelihood of AJ returning the Sox, Phegley has an outside shot to be the de facto winner of the starting catcher job. Now if you don’t know much about Phegley he has consistently possessed a .300 on-base percentage throughout his minor league career, he doesn’t strike out a lot, and he seems like a straight singles hitter by only having 20 doubles in 394 at-bats. This is not the best option as we have seen many a times a prospect fail because the Sox rushed him to the big leagues, examples being Danny Richar, Brian Anderson, and most recently Brent Morel.
Tyler Flowers has been the White Sox catcher of the future since we acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Javier Vasquez and reliever Boone Logan. However, Flowers has been unimpressive in the limited action he saw this past season. He hit for a .213 average with a .296 on-base percentage, while hammering seven home runs and driving in 13 RBI’s. But we can’t judge him in the limited action he has seen. As a backup catcher, it’s easy to pull him when he is struggling and not let him work through his struggles, this year, if given the starting job we will hopefully see Tyler do well, but when he struggles, it will be key to see how he fights through it. Resiliency is key. I wish we had the money to re-sign AJ, but his time is over and it is time for Tyler Flowers to take the reins and become the starter he thinks he is. This is the most likely option for Hahn as it is relatively no risk (as in making a trade, or gambling on signing an aging veteran) and we have an idea of what kind of player we are getting when we insert him into the lineup.
Ultimately, I believe Hahn should go with the cheap in house option because it will not cost us any prospects, it will be cheaper than re-signing AJ or going out and signing a free agent, and it will give Phegley a chance to develop in case Flowers doesn’t pan out. Thus, I predict that Tyler Flowers will win the starting catcher’s job for the Palehose, and that AJ Pierzynski will most likely sign elsewhere, most likely Tampa Bay or Texas. Here’s to AJ Pierzynski for all of his time on the South Side, and here’s to hoping that he has further success in the rest of his playing career except, against the Sox of course.