Chicago White Sox
2011 Recap – The 2011 White Sox finished the season 79-83, in third place in the AL Central. While the record doesn’t really show it, 2011 wasn’t a great year in the South Side. GM Ken Williams brought in Adam Dunn to lead the offense, but the big bopper only hit 11 home runs and hit .159. The lone offensive bright spot was veteran first baseman Paul Konerko. The All-Star hit an even .300 with 31 bombs and 105 RBI. The $70 million man Alex Rios had another disappointing season, with only 13 homers. On the mound, the pitching really suffered because of the poor offensive support. Lefty John Danks wasn’t as great as he was in 2010, and only had a record of 8-12 to show for it. Other starters included Jake Peavy, Phillip Humber, and Gavin Floyd, who all hovered around a .500 record and had ERAs 3.75 and above.
Offseason Recap – The two biggest moves of the offseason for the ChiSox were firing manager Ozzie Guillen and replacing him with Robin Ventura, and extending John Danks‘ contract. Danks is considered the ace of the staff, and locking the 26 year old up for five years and $65 million was considered a very good move. Just weeks before extending Danks though, closer Sergio Santos was traded to Toronto in return for prospects. The trade was widely criticized considering that Santos was under team control for a few more years and wasn’t a financial burden. The only other major move made was signing outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.
2012 Outlook - Robin Ventura should add a sense of calmness and relaxation to the White Sox clubhouse, which many believed was missing when fiery Ozzie Guillen was manager. The 2012 season for the team will depend entirely on how slugger Adam Dunn and former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy perform. If Dunn can get back to his old 40+ homer and 110 RBI self to go along with Konerko, Gordon Beckham, A.J. Pierzynski, and Alexei Ramirez, the team shouldn’t have trouble putting runs on the board. And although Peavy isn’t throwing 97 with movement like he was in 2007, he can still be very effective and be a good number two starter behind Danks. If Peavy, Danks, and Floyd can all have bounce back seasons, the top part of the rotation will be solid. It’s important to point out that GM Williams has already said that the club is in a rebuilding mode, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see anyone traded in 2012. It’s also important to note that Peavy, Danks, and Dunn and all huge “if’s”. A lot will have to go right if the White Sox want to compete for a Wild Card spot.
Manager – Robin Ventura
General Manager – Kenny Williams
2011 Recap – The Indians were one of the surprising teams in 2011, finishing 80-82. The Tribe started out extremely well, lead by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and hung around .500 for the whole year. To go along with a breakout year by catcher Carlos Santana, who hit 27 bombs, Cabrera slugged .460 with 25 homers and 92 RBI. Justin Masterson was the leader of the staff, winning 12 games with a 3.21 ERA. To try to make a run for the division, the Indians traded for Ubaldo Jimenez at the trade deadline, but he wasn’t able to live up to his 2010 performance.
Offseason Recap – There weren’t many glaring holes in the roster for the Indians, but the places where improvements could be made were addressed in the offseason. First baseman Casey Kotchman was signed to provide solid defense and a power bat against righties. Outfielder Ryan Spilborghs was brought in to also be a solid defender and provide a consistent bat off the bench. In the rotation, Derek Lowe was traded over from Atlanta, and Kevin Slowey was signed. Lowe is one of the best sinker-ballers of his time and will provide stability in the rotation. Slowey, a native of Upper St. Claire, has pitched in the playoffs a few times and will also provide consistency at the back end of the rotation.
2012 Outlook – This is a team with a lot of potential, both in the lineup and in the rotation. Expect Santana to continue to improve, and Travis Hafner to provide a lot of pop in the lineup. Asdrubal Cabrera probably won’t have the same type of season he had last year, but look for him to make more ridiculous defensive plays and drive in some runs. Second baseman Jason Kipnis made his debut last year, and look for him to continue to improve offensively and defensively. Shin-Soo Choo is a player who people say is the next five tool player, but he has yet to reach his full potential. Now that the pressure of joining the Korean army is off him, he could also have a breakout year. Look for Masterson, Jimenez, Lowe, Slowey, and Josh Tomlin to be a solid rotation, while Chris Perez and Vinnie Pestano close out games in the back of the bullpen. The Indians are set to return to the playoffs as long as they can get everyone to reach their full potential at once.
Manager – Manny Acta
General Manager – Chris Antonetti
2011 Recap - Detroit went 95-67 in 2011, the only winning record in the division. With a pitching staff lead by MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, and batting champion Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers had no trouble at all getting into the post season. To go along with Verlander, pitchers Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello all had winning records. Closer Jose Valverde was a perfect 49/49 in save opportunities, while Victor Martinez and Alex Avila all helped Cabrera pace the offense. Unfortunately for the Tigers, their great season came to an end in the ALCS after losing game six.
Offseason Recap - Only one major acquisition this offseason for the Tigers. First baseman Prince Fielder was signed to a nine year $214 million contract. The signing came just days after it was announced that Victor Martinez would miss the entire year, which left a huge hole in the DH/1B slot in the lineup. To accommodate for Fielder, Miguel Cabrera moved over to third base, giving the Tigers one of the most powerful first/third base tandem in the majors.
2012 Outlook - It’s really hard to look at this team and not say that they’ll win the division with ease. While Verlander probably won’t have the same type of historic season he had last year, he’ll win around 18 games while Scherzer, Fister and Porcello will each win 10+ games. The lineup will include Fielder, Cabrera, Avila, Delmon Young, Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson, and Jhonny Peralta. Even in pitcher friendly Comerica Park, the team will put up some big run totals. Of all the teams in the league, the Tigers might the only one that is almost a guaranteed lock to win their division.
Manager - Jim Leyland
General Manager - Dave Dombrowski
Kansas City Royals
2011 Recap - While the Royals’ 71-91 record in 2011 might not show it, last year wasn’t all that bad. A bunch of young players like Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas all really started to develop and show what they can do. Gordon really came into his own, hitting .303 with 23 homers. Hosmer hit .293, while Jeff Francoeur and Billy Butler also had great seasons to pace the offense. The Royals pitching staff, however, was very mediocre, with just about everynone finishing with an ERA of 4.25+.
Offseason Recap - Not a whole lot of moves made in the offseason, but the biggest one was bringing in left hander Jonathan Sanchez. Former Dodger and 300 pounder Jonathan Broxton was brought in to be the closer, while Yuniesky Betancourt was signed to be a utility/backup infielder.
2012 Outlook - While the offense looks very promising, the pitching staff just isn’t good enough for the Royals to win in 2012. Hosmer, Butler, Francoeur, Gordon, and Moustakas will all continue to develop together and get a lot better. The rotation of Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, and Felipe Paulino just won’t be enough to support the offense. While 2012 may not be the year for Kansas City, there are a few top pitching prospects in the minors ready to make this a winning team within the next few years.
Manager - Ned Yost
General Manager - Dayton Moore
2011 Recap - 2011 was a huge disappointment up in the Twin Cities, with the Twinkies finishing 63-99. Nothing seemed to go right at all for the team, with injuries up and down the lineup and below average performances from the pitching staff. The M&M brothers combined to hit 7 home runs with 60 RBI, while injures held Joe Mauer to only 82 games and Justin Morneau to only 69. The lone bright spot in 2011 for Minnesota was watching verteran Jim Thome reach the 600 home run milestone in mid-August. Prior to 2011, the Twins had won their division six of the last nine years, and were a great model for how teams in small market cities could win.
Offseason Recap - There were lots of additions and subtractions to the Twins roster in the offseason. Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome, and Jason Kubel all signed with other teams, leaving holes in the closer spot, the outfield, and the DH. Jamey Carroll was brought in to be the starting shortstop, while Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit were signed to fill the other holes in the lineup. Sean Burroughs was signed to be a utility infielder, and veteran starter Jason Marquis was signed to sure up the rotation.
2012 Outlook - It really doesn’t look very bright for the Twins this season. Most experts believe that Mauer is no longer the star he was a few seasons ago, and he won’t be winning any more batting titles. Morneau is still a powerful bat in the lineup, but he still has some nagging injuries that might prevent him from playing even 100 games. Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham should provide steady offense and hit their share of doubles in pitcher friendly Target Field, while light hitting Carroll will provide steady defense. Speedsters Ben Revere, Denard Span, and Alexi Casilla should all be fun to watch, but they’ll never get to score if the rest of the lineup doesn’t hit. The starting staff is really full of number three and four guys, with the exception of Francisco Liriano. He’ll be the key to the staff. If he can emerge as the true ace, which he has shown glimpses of when he threw a no-hitter in 2011, then the Twins rotation might be alright. Marquis, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Nick Blackburn will fill out the rest of the rotation. Not having shutdown closer Joe Nathan anymore will definitely hurt the team, but Matt Capps should be able to do a decent job closing out games. Overall, the Twins probably have the most question marks of any team in baseball, and it will take a bunch of players bouncing back for the Twins to return to their dominance over the Central.
Manager - Ron Gardenhire
General Manager - Terry Ryan
4. White Sox