Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Around the AL Central: Recapping Winter Moves

Here’s a look at some of the things going on around the AL Central. It’s been pretty quite, so here’s just a quick recap.

Cleveland adds a much-needed pitcher

The Indians completed a 1-year deal with Kevin Millwood. If the 30-year-old pitcher stays healthy all year, he will make a cool $7 million with maybe another million in incentives. If he hurts his elbow or shoulder, he’ll only get $3 million.

There’s upside here for the Indians, but probably not a lot… especially for the money. Here’s a look at what Millwood has done the last few years:

















How much of the drop-off is due to injuries is the question for the Indians. Millwood’s strikeout rates are still good, so a rebound isn’t out of the question, health permitting. But I think a return to 2002 form is out of the question.

Lets say Millwood pitches like he did in 2003. How much does that help the Indians? Here’s what the Tribe rotation did last year:

Starting Pitcher



Jake Westbrook



C.C. Sabathia



Cliff Lee



Scott Elarton



Jason Davis



Millwood won’t have to do much to be in improvement on the crap the Indians ran out there last year. Don’t forget, too, that Cleveland also gave starts go guys like Chad Durbin (6.25 ERA in 8 starts) and Jeff D’Amico (7.63 in 7 starts). They’ve basically gotten the same production the White Sox have gotten from the fifth-starter spot, but from the last two rotation slots. (The last 3 slots if you consider Cliff Lee’s second-half implosion after a very good first half).

Twins will try revamped infield

The Twins let Corey Koskie sign with the Blue Jays for $17 million over three years, while bringing in Juan Castro for $2.05 million over two years. Cristian Guzman also went to the Washington Nationals (4-years, $16 million).

Guzman was bad. Real bad. A horrible .693 OPS bad in 2004. And that mark beat his career average by eight points. And while Guzman is entering his Age 27 season, he’ll be hard-pressed to replicate his one magical season (2001, when he had an .814 OPS) even once more without better plate discipline (only 30 walks in almost 600 ABs last season).

The Twins have a good in-house replacement waiting in the wings in prospect Jason Bartlett. While Bartlett is too old to have a tremendous upside (he’s 25 right now), his worst probably can’t be much worse than Guzman has been giving the Twins most of his career.

Koskie (.836 career OPS and .837 last season) will likely be replaced at third base by Mike Cuddyer (.779 OPS in 2004). That’s not too big of a drop-off for the Twins considering Cuddyer could hit a little better with more playing time. Cuddyer is also going into his Age-26 season, so still has room for a bit of improvement.

What hurts the Twins worse is that Cuddyer won’t be able to take over the second base job. Right now it looks like Minnesota will run out guys like Luis Rivas (.715 OPS in ’04), Nick Punto (.658) and Augie Ojeda (.598 lifetime OPS).

In other words, while Sox fans continue to bitch about Willie Harris, Twins fans continue to pray for a guy like Willie Harris.

Tigers sit on their paws

The Tigers haven’t done anything since signing Trevor Hoffman to a 2-year, $12 million contract. They overpaid, but apparently felt they had to do something because of incumbent closer Ugeth Urbina’s situation (his mother was kidnapped in Venezuela, and has yet to be recovered).

It’s more of a trade off than an addition, and the Tigers have yet to address their biggest sore spot: the rotation.

We won’t break out a table for this one. Last year no Detroit starter had an ERA lower than Mike Maroth’s 4.31 mark. Maroth (yes, the last 20-game-loser) was also the only Tiger starter to toss more than 200 innings.

Keep in mind that the Tigers play in one of the best pitchers’ parks in baseball.

Detroit seems committed to nominal ace Jason Johnson, and youngsters Jason Bonderman and Maroth (though Maroth will be 27, so isn’t that young anymore). That leaves to spots that could be upgraded.

The Tigers will have to sift through the bargain bin if they want to upgrade those last two spots. That might not be a bad idea, given the crazy money that went to a bunch of non-elite starters this winter. And Detroit could find good value by picking up a guy with some jacktastic tendencies (Esteban Loaiza, Hideo Nomo) and plugging them into spacious Comerica Park. Even if it doesn’t work out, a half-season of a 3.79 ERA from a guy like that could be worth a prospect at the trading deadline.

That’s really the mode the Tigers should be in… thinking a few years down the road instead of next season.

Royals make moves, but still suck

Deciding they didn’t need TWO crappy, soft-tossing lefties in Darrell May and Brian Anderson, the Royals sent one to the Padres for Terrence Long and Dennis Tankersley.

Long isn’t very good, but if platooned properly, would be a vast improvement on the non-production the Royals got from the cast of clowns they ran out to the corner outfield spots last year.

Lima will be a modest improvement, but KC fans expecting him to replicate his great six weeks from 2003 – and yes, there are Royals fans that expect that – will be bitterly disappointed. Tankersley could turn into something useful like a solid middle reliever, but that’s just playing around at the fringes. Those things won’t help this team avoid another 90-loss season.

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