Tuesday, February 9, 2016

AL North Season 33 Preview

The White Sox ran the table last year...Jays look to the past for a better present and future...Tigers look to make a playoff advance...Twinkies retooling after 1st playoff miss in 15 seasons.

Chicago White Sox
Season 32:  110-52
GM: pfontaine

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: Every move turned to gold last year as they excelled in just about every way.  Here's how good their pitching was: their pitchers who had ERA's over 3.60 pitched a total of 111 innings.  I guess you could say they're not a big power-hitting team (203 HR's - 7th, and LF Larkin led the team with 30), but so what?  3-time defending MVP (actually shared with Texas 1B Walter Brooks last year) Magglio Rodriguez provides a huge offensive advantage over the average 2B and led a balanced offense with many contributors (8 players with 60+ RBI).  CF Elvis Snow is a unique "defensive weapon".

Addressed In Offseason:  Nothing to address.  They won 110 regular season games plus the World Series and lost only backups in free agency.

Detroit Tigers
Season 32:  90-72
GM: vlpratt62

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  As long as Manuel Cano is going strong, the Tigers will probably find a way to contend, and they need a stronger supporting cast on both sides of the ball.  1B Lucas Ford can still rake, and LF Philip Schultz (29 HR) and DH Carlos Guerrero (27 HR) offer good power.  SS and CF are manned by defensive specialists, so they really need to infuse more pop at all the other spots.  Hector Bennett's contract was starting to become a boat anchor last year.  Beyond Cano, the staff had some good seasons, but it would be tough to bank on a repeat from any.  The Tigers have ample cap room...expect a lot of offseason activity.

Addressed In Offseason:  Had some FA losses, including Miguel Valdez and Luke Richardson from the bullpen.  Waited for free agent bargain basement day to replace them and shore up the outfield and starting rotation.  Thought they'd be active earlier, but there are still a lot of new faces this year...a little hard to predict how it comes together.

Minnesota Twins
Season 32:  88-74
GM:  zbrent716

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  A long playoff streak ended for the quirkiest (most innovative?) of all Major Leagues GM's last year.  zbrent's relief-dominant staff exploded to  754 runs allowed (t7th) - up  a heap from Season 31's 625.  The Twinkies' surprisingly good offense features the stolen base - yes, they stole 479 bases...277 more than the 2nd-best Tigers.  The mid-season acquisition of ultimate all-or-nothing (40HR's, 165K's) power hitter Michael Aoki may signal a tilt back to a more power-based approach to scoring runs.

Addressed In Offseason:  Had some bullpen FA defections but countered those with the Luke Richardson signing, and also brought in 3B Pedro Nieves on a 2-year contract. Finally traded Larry Sewell and even got a minor prospect for him.  Not many changes at all...they'll rely on a return to form of the staff to get back to the playoffs.

Toronto Blue Jays
Season 32:  70-92
GM:  coltonrocks

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  The Jays' decent (791 runs - 8th) offense was totally undone by their dynamite-like (in a bad way) pitching staff and a defense that coughed up a hairball-like 87 unearned runs (AL-last .978 fielding % and a gruesome 39/97 +/-).  The plusses were almost all on offense - notably 1B Vin Almonte (.290/33/108) and LF Joe Hughes (.283/33/101) - while the pitching suffered from both sketchy talent and bad years from the talented (SP Louis Thomas, for example, had the worst season of his 10-year career).  Plenty of challenges await new/old GM coltonrocks, but he'll have room to work - ML Payroll going into the offseason is a tad under $20MM.

Addressed In Offseason:  Pretty much a complete roster remake.  coltonrocks spent big early on Midre Espinosa and kept spending.The staff gets Espinosa, Bob Swift, and Hi Reid.  The lineup gets 3B's Ahmed Floyd and Theo Costello; middle infielders Adalberto James, Javier Rosales, and Destin Simpson; C Hank Urich; and DH's Cutter Nieman and Nicky Williams (although it appears the team will go with Williams in RF).  Who knows what this team will do, other than top last year's 70 wins?

Division Outlook

The White Sox look unassailable.  Unless multiple disasters strike, they should win the division going away again.  The real race here is probably between the Tigers and Twins for second (and for wild cards).  It's a tossup...I'll give the Twins a slight edge by making more offseason moves.  And look for the Jays to improve smartly but still finish 4th in a tough division.

Awards Watch

Chicago's 2B Magglio Rodriguez is a threat to win the MVP every year (as he has the last 3).  Addision Johnson will certainly get the innings and wins to contend for another CY.  Detroit's Manuel Cano has 2 CY's...don't bet against at least 1 or 2 more.  Depending on how the Twins arrange their all-relief staff, Brian Murata could be a CY contender (think 175 IP coming in in the 3rd inning 3 days out of 5, and rolling up 32 wins).  Toronto's Midre Espinosa doesn't have a CY yet, but it's not hard to imagine him getting 1 or 2.

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