2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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When A Positive Becomes A Negative

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With the Mariners having lost an obscene 15 games in a row and beginning a series with the Yankees tonight, their rebuilding project has hit another sticking point.

They were at .500 when this streak started and GM Jack Zduriencik was looking to buy rather than sell.

That’s long gone.

What happens with Zduriencik remains to be seen. He was clearly on thin ice last season not because of the 100-losses, but because of the haphazard and, at best, dysfunctional way in which the team was run.

The excuses for what was there when Zduriencik arrived are all well and good: “The farm system was barren”; “The team was terrible”; “There were bloated contracts and a lack of analytics”; etc.

Fair.

Accurate.

But this team is an embarrassment. Most of the current club’s future were in place before Zduriencik was hired. Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero were in the organization.

We don’t know how the drafts under Zduriencik have gone. Dustin Ackley is going to be a star. But we won’t know how well or poorly they did in their selections and other amateur acquisitions for quite awhile.

And the big league team he’s put together is atrocious.

Is Justin Smoak the player he was earlier in the season or is he the slumping youngster he is now? He’s hit at every level, so he’s going to eventually hit in the big leagues. But what else has Zduriencik done to distinguish himself as anything more than misplaced hype based on an agenda?

Zduriencik has brought in Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Milton Bradley and Ian Snell—none of whom worked out and many have been utter disasters. He’s done a lot of things that have made no sense like trading for Russell Branyan at mid-season 2010 after letting him leave as a free agent the previous winter and surrendering a youngster who looks like he can play, Ezequiel Carrera, to do it.

Yes, he got Brandon League who was an All Star in 2011, but he traded Brandon Morrow to do it.

He did Morrow a favor by trading him after the unfulfilled promise with the Mariners and that he was never going to get past having been drafted before Tim Lincecum, but it’s a recurring nightmare that for every decision that’s worked, five haven’t.

Everything—the shady trading practices; inexplicable and backwards statements; indecision as to what they are and where they’re headed; sacrificial blame games that were perpetrated on former manager Don Wakamatsu—all adds up to the albatross of heightened expectations.

The combination of his reputation as a scout with an understanding and adherence to advanced stats, the gambler’s mentality in making drastic moves like trading J.J. Putz to the Mets and getting Cliff Lee from the Phillies and that the team radically overachieved in his first season without Zduriencik having done anything significant to improve the team led to the belief that things were getting better faster than they were; faster than they should’ve.

If the Mariners had it to do over again, I’m sure they would quietly admit that they’d have been better off having a 71-91 year in 2009 rather than 85-77. No one would’ve been surprised and the desperation to win immediately would’ve been lessened.

They would’ve had the opportunity to grow organically without the crafted narrative surrounding a non-existent, stat-based revolution the type we’re seeing come crashing to the ground with Moneyball and the Athletics train wreck along with the requisite excuses for the failures that are becoming more and more ludicrous.

A few days ago, I wrote that considering everything that happened with the Mariners in 2010, 2011’s positives couldn’t be ignored despite this horrific run.

That’s still true.

But I’m looking at things from a perch of indifference. I couldn’t care less what Zduriencik’s beliefs in building a club are and I’m not desperate to have my theories proven as “right”. I’m seeing things as they were and as they are. He wasn’t a “genius” nor an “Amazin’ Exec” when he took over and he’s not that now. Nor is he a fool.

But the fans are undoubtedly exhausted by all that’s gone south for the Mariners since that 85-win season. The reputation was media-created, but no one wants to hear that as they’re setting franchise records for losing streaks.

Patience may be wearing thin in Seattle with the regime. And given the work they’ve done—work that is documented and found to be wanting on and off the field—it’s easy to understand why.

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