Friday, May 13, 2016

Season 34 AL North Preview

Chicago White Sox
Season 33:  100-62, lost to Boston in 2nd Round
GM: pfontaine

The Offseason:   Free agency left some holes, but the core of the 2-time defending North champs returned intact.   The Sox played actively in free agency, most notably adding some power with RF Shawn Quinn and DH Manny Martin.

Outlook:  The Magglio Rodriguez - Stan Duran - Elvis Snow - Tony Flores - Addison Johnson - Hector Ayala - Kevin Chong core that rang up 110 wins and a World Series win 2 years ago is still in its prime and capable of winning 110 again.  They've got a little more power in the lineup than they did last year...if that core group returns to Season 32 form it's curtains for the AL.

Detroit Tigers
Season 33:  82-80
GM: vlpratt62

The Offseason:  The Tigers lost some good performers in FA (Hector Bennett, Cap Scott, Kris Greer) but they were all getting on in years and likely to decline.  Detroit management responded with its most aggressive FA attack in years, re-signing ace Manuel Cano to an incredibly team-friendly 5-year, $8.5MM/year contract, spending big on #2 starter Pedro Nunez (5 years, $83MM), and locking down the hot corner with Bart Sanders for 4 years ($6.875 per).

Outlook:  Sanders could bring a little spark to last year's underwhelming (669 runs) offense, and 1B Philip Schultz and 2B Derrick Miles could have better years (they HAVE had better years).  But there are still a lot of holes in the lineup.  Their excellent pitching (3.74 ERA, 3rd last year), especially with the addition of Nunez, is good enough to take them a long way.  Imagine this team in the playoffs, with Cano starting 2 games in every 5 game series and 3 in every 7-game series...can Nunez get you 1 win per series?  Sure.  The big question is whether they can grab one of those wild cards.

Minnesota Twins
Season 33:  89-73
GM:  zbrent716

The Offseason:  The Twins lost the vast bulk of their reliever-dominant pitching staff to FA - Brian Murata (166 IP) to the Astros, Luke Richardson (75 IP) to the Padres, Niko Mahomes (147 IP) to the Jays, Lariel Blanco (132 IP) to the Angels, and J.J. Bibby (81 IP) to the Mets.  They also said goodby to the longtime face of the franchise, 1B Asdrubal Azocar.  They countered with some nice low-dollar signings (Julio Pettit, Donaldo Sanchez, Dom Humphries and Javier Castillo), trading for 1-inning specialist Carlos Lee, and promoting the best of their farm system (C Edwar Torrez, SS Jiggs Maduro and a pair of pitchers who will be limited to mopup duty).

Outlook:  It looks like the same plan for the staff:  start Ernie Williams and Yamil Mercado every other game, limit them to 40 pitches, and follow with an endless stream of relievers to get favorable L/R match-ups and keep everyone fatigue-free.  This difference this year is they don't have Murata, Bibby and Blanco in that endless stream and over 162 games, talent will out.  The offense was pretty good last year (838 runs) but will miss Azocar.  My gut tells me it will be a step-back year...maybe even a rebuilding year for the Twinkies, but not before GM zbrent throws out some never-before-seen strategy wrinkles.

Toronto Blue Jays
Season 33:  68-94
GM:  coltonrocks

The Offseason:   The Jays lost too many free agents to bother counting, the biggest being SP Louis Thomas (11-7, 3.46 in 195 IP) and 1B Vin Almonte (.270/25/87), so they had their work cut out for them.  In what appears to be a step toward a "competitive rebuilding plan," the Jays responded mostly with low-budget deals for older-but-useful vets:  RP Steve Davenport, 1B Hector Bennett, SP Niko Mahomes, DH Larry Sewell, OF Christobal Almanzar, SP Albert Calderon and SP Vicente Urbina.

Outlook:  Toronto still has some big talent on the roster - namely last year's FA crown jewel Midre Espinosa (16-9, 3.39 in 238 IP) and CF Bruce Smith (Gold Glove in Seasons 30 and 32).  I might be wrong, but I'd bet both will have new addresses by the trade deadline.  Prediction - Espinosa ends up in the hyper-competitive NL East.

Division Outlook

Hard to see anyone supplanting the White Sox atop the division, although I'm sure the Twins will give it an unconventional try and the Tigers could sneak up on some wildcard contenders.

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