American League Central – 2013 Team Needs and Outlook

baseball newsEditor’s Note: This is the second column in a Baseball News Source division-by-division series that will address what teams might do this off-season. We started with the American League East. Here is a look at the American League Central.

Anibal Sanchez was acquired to make starts like these for the Detroit Tigers.

The 28-year-old right-hander, who was acquired along with second baseman Omar Infante from the Miami Marlins at July’s trade deadline for a package that included top pitching prospect Jacob Turner, will take the mound on Sunday at Yankee Stadium in Game Two of the American League Championship Series. If the Tigers win, they will claim a 2-0 lead heading into Game Three in Detroit on Tuesday, when uber ace Justin Verlander is slated to get the ball.

Sanchez, who was 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts for the Tigers after posting a 5-7 record and a 3.94 ERA in 19 starts with the Marlins, can become a free agent this November.

With Turner in Miami, the Tigers must decide whether to retain Sanchez or perhaps let him walk and insert Drew Smyly into a starting rotation that features Verlander, Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.

Smyly, a 23-year-old left-hander, logged two scoreless innings and earned the win on Saturday in Detroit’s 6-4 victory over the Yankees in 12 innings in Game One of the ALCS. Smyly, who is a rookie, was 4-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 23 games and 18 starts for the Tigers this season.

The Tigers, which captured the American League Central title for the second season in a row, also must decide whether to exercise shortstop Jhonny Peralta‘s $6 option for 2013 and choose a $500,000 buyout. Closer Jose Valverde, who served up four runs in the ninth inning on Saturday transforming a 4-0 Detroit lead into a game that required 12 innings to prevail, can also become a free agent as can outfielder Delmon Young, who homered on Saturday and belted an RBI double in the 12th.

Detroit’s lineup features AL Triple Crown winner and potential AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and slugger Prince Fielder as the most potent 3-4 punch in the game. Next season, Victor Martinez is expected to return after missing the 2012 campaign, giving the Tigers another productive middle of the order bat. They could benefit from an upgrade at second base and in right field, and there will be a void in left field if Young is not retained.

Here is the off-season outlook for the rest of the American League Central:

Chicago White Sox

After fading in late September and losing the AL Central title chase to Detroit, the White Sox have multiple decisions this off-season. General manager Kenny Williams has already said the team will not pick up Kevin Youkilis‘ $13 million option and instead exercise his $1 million buyout.

A more critical decision will involve Jake Peavy, who showed that he is healthy again and capable of leading a rotation with his 3.37 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, .234 opponent’s batting average and 191 hits allowed in 219 innings over 32 starts. His record was 11-12, but that did not reflect his importance on the mound. Peavy’s has a $22 million option for 2013 and a $4 million buyout.

Right-hander reliever Brett Myers ($10 million option and $3 million buyout) and right-handed starting pitcher Gavin Floyd ($9.5 million option) are among the other choices the White Sox must make as well as determining whether or not to bring back potential free agents like catcher A.J. Pierzynski and right-handed starting pitcher Francisco Liriano.

Cleveland Indians

After fading in the second half, the Indians dismissed manager Manny Acta and replaced him with former Phillies and Red Sox skipper Terry Francona, whose father, Tito Francona, once played for the franchise.

The team is likely to pass on injury-prone DH Travis Hafner‘s’ $13 million option in favor of his $2.75 million buyout and let outfielder Grady Sizemore depart via free agency. Shin-Soo Choo remains under team control , but since he is represented by Scott Boras, who tries to steer his clients to test the free agent market when they become eligible, the Indians could trade the 30-year-old right fielder for a package of prospects.

Closer Chris Perez is under team control as well, but he could be dealt this off-season because of his criticism of Indians fans and his derogatory comments about team ownership.

Cleveland has a $5.75 million option on right-handed starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez that they will seemingly exercise, especially since they sacrificed top pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz and Alex White to acquire him from Colorado in 2011.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have a plethora of promising young position players like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler and catcher Salvador Perez and shortstop Alcides Escobar. They also have outfielder Wil Myers, who was named 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, poised to join the starting lineup in 2013. What Kansas City desperately needs in starting pitching.

When Bruce Chen is considered the staff ace, it is obvious that rotation depth is necessary. Chen is best suited as a back of the rotation arm. The Royals could bring back veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, who thrived in Kansas City after struggling in Colorado. Even if Guthrie is brought back, the Royals need reliable arms, which means they could trade someone like Butler or left fielder Alex Gordon this off-season for a starter.

Danny Duffy, a promising 23-year-old left-hander who underwent Tommy John surgery in May, will be back next year. Jake Odorizzi, a 22-year-old right-hander acquired from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke trade, is rated No. 30 on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list and could join the Royals rotation in 2013.  Closer Joakim Soria, who missed the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, has an $8 million club option. There is talk he could become a starter if he is retained.

Since veteran outfielder Jeff Francouer is under contract for 2013, and Myers is ready for the majors, Kansas City could afford to trade Gordon for a young starting pitcher.

Minnesota Twins

One of the most consistently good small market teams in Major League baseball for several years, the Minnesota Twins have taken a step back over the last two seasons. Injuries to key players like Liriano (before he was traded to the Indians), catcher Joe Mauer and first baseman Justin Morneau have contributed to the downfall. So has a lack of effective starting pitcher, and the defections of Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel last off-season.

The Twins finished 66-96 in 2012, even with Mauer and Morneau regularly in the lineup. The main problem was a rotation that was led by Scott Diamond, who like Chen in Kansas City is more ideal as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter.

Josh Willingham  was one of baseball’ best free agent signings hitting .260 with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs

Rumors have circulated that the Twins could trade hometown hero Mauer, who is under contract for $23 million a year through 2018. Morneau is due $14 million next season before his current deal expires. He is a trade candidate, too.

The Twins must decide whether or not to bring back free agent starting pitcher Carl Pavano and whether they will exercise right-hander Scott Baker‘s $9.25 million team option for 2013. Baker had Tommy John surgery last April.

 


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