As spring training takes off, we, the wonderful people of Razzball, thought it would be a good idea to look into some intra-team rivalries. What positions are a lock? What positions are being fought over? What positions will they hire me to fill-in for (second base Blue Jays, I’m looking at you)? Find out as the second part of this series will focus on AL Central… (You can check out the NL East Spring Training Preview here.)
Last year the Indians went on a tear, winning the last 10 games of the season to earn themselves one of the wild card spots. Unfortunately Tampa Bay shut them out in the wild card game. The Indians are looking to repeat their trip to the playoffs.
The Indians rotation may not contain household names, but there is still a lot to be liked here. The Tribe made sure to re-sign Justin Masterson, if only for one year. After his season last year, I don’t blame them. He will be their number one starter. He should probably be owned across the board, but I think he’s overrated. In the last four years, he has had two seasons of low-to-mid 3’s ERA, and two seasons of high-4’s ERA… not exactly the kind of consistency I like to see. Next on the list is one of my personal favorite sleepers, Corey Kluber. This kid sneakily put up a sub-4 ERA with a 3.36 FIP over 24 starts. If he can come close to repeating these numbers, he will be a great late-round pick. Sky has written some more sensual words on him. The Indians might be down one Ubaldo Jimenez, but they are up one Danny Salazar to make up for it. Salazar is stealing all of Kluber’s spotlight when it comes to sleeper pitchers. I’m okay with that, more Kluber for me. Salazar burst onto the MLB scene with 10 starts and an 11.25 K/9, and he is only going to be 24 in 2014. Everyone says this guy is TNT, and I agree… take him everywhere (just don’t reach earlier than 125th overall). The fourth, and last assured rotation spot, goes to Zach McAllister. He is worth owning in slightly deeper leagues. He should be hovering a 4.00 ERA with 120 Ks. Not terrible, not amazing. The last rotation spot is being fought for by 3 players: Carlos Carrasco, Shaun Marcum, and Aaron Harang. None of these 3 options look overly enticing, kind of like a soggy slice of pizza. You can keep an eye to see who gets the spot (Carrasco is the frontrunner), but I wouldn’t get your hopes up on anything meaningful fantasy-wise outside of some streams.
The Indians’ bullpen is fairly disappointing this year, but not completely destitute. They picked up John Axford, who is the frontrunner for the closer role. I remember reading an article late last year about Axford fixing his delivery. Maybe he can return to form, but no promises. He is still the closer though, so that makes him ownable, if only for saves. If he falters, then next in line is Cody Allen. He was pretty dominant last year, striking out 88 over 70.1 innings. He should be able to lower rates and for some holds. He will be splitting setup duties with Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski (thank you copy-paste). They’re similar to Allen, but don’t have the same saves upside as him. You can reach deep for them if you need to fill RP slots. I’d take Shaw over Rumpelstiltskin any day.
The Indians have a mix of good, okay, and bad players in the field. Hopefully I can help sort out who is who. I’ll start behind the plate, one of their stronger positions. While Carlos Santana won’t be behind the plate this year, Yan Gomes will. He is a great sleeper pick, putting up a 45/11/38/.294 slash in just over half a season in 2013. While the average probably isn’t real, the power likely is. If you don’t have a catcher late into the draft, this guy is a good choice. Santana is willing to play third base, which is excellent for the Tribe as it keeps a bat out of Lonnie Chisenhall’s hands. In the outfield we have Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn, and David Murphy. Brantley and Bourn are good late round outfielders. Murphy is good last round option. Be on the lookout for Ryan Raburn to take some time though. He has a good amount of power, and hits for an okay average. If he isn’t playing in the outfield, he might be a DH, so you can get some value there. Mr. Swishalicious, Nick Swisher, will be manning first. He is going around 200th overall, but he will provide more value than that. He has put up 20 homers every season since 2005, his first full season. In that span, he has never played fewer than 131 games. I wouldn’t be surprised if he put up 150 R+RBI. His has no risk at his position, and he has 1B/OF eligibility, ‘nuff said. Asdrubal Cabrera is going to be handling shortstop duties again. I can’t believe he is only 28, it seems like he has been around forever. While his job isn’t in much jeopardy, journeyman Mike Aviles might get some playing time. I saved this guy for last, just because I know everyone wants to hear about him the most, Jason Kipnis. Can he repeat his value as a 5-tool player? Probably. His position eligibility is sweeter than sugar too, especially with the lack of depth at second. I don’t know if I pay his price tag, because he just feels too risky to me. Grey says stay away, and that sounds okay.
The Royals were a nice surprise last year, winning 86 games. I like the Royals, and I hope they can repeat their success. I know there is a Lorde joke somewhere around here, but it must be hiding under my dirty laundry.
Okay, so maybe their starting pitching isn’t their strong suit. James Shields is their clear cut number one starter, and he is good. People were worried about how he would handle leaving Tropicana, and he handled it like a champ. He has topped 200 IP for the last seven years. I like him, you should too. The depth really becomes iffy after Shields though, with Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Bruce Chen, and Yordano Ventura. I don’t trust any of them to break a 4.00 ERA, although Ventura has some upside since he is relatively unknown. I would stay away from all of them, but if I had no other choice, I would take Ventura first and Vargas second.
What the Royals don’t have in starting pitching, they make up for in relief. Greg Holland is possibly a top-5 closer, his job is secure. After him, the Royals have a ton of depth in the pen. Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins, and Aaron Crow are in line for holds this year. The best part is they’re all great. Unfortunately that means they’ll be splitting those holds. They’ll be good for lowering rate stats at least.
I think the Royals’ bats are underrated. They mesh together very well. I’m going to go through their lineup in the project order as I see it. First up is Norichika Aoki. The ex-Brewer was a great signing for the Royals. His average is in the high .280s and he can steal upwards of 20 bases, even at 32. He doesn’t walk a lot, but he does walk enough to push his OBP over .350. He is a good leadoff hitter and should have a good return for everything that isn’t RBIs. Second up is Omar Infante. While he isn’t the best hitter, he also hits for average, something you want in a second hitter. He was also signed this year, so his job is safe. In the 3-slot is Eric Hosmer, one of the Royals’ best players. After a down year in 2012, he made a break, hitting over .300 in 2013. I like to think of him as a poor man’s Paul Goldschmidt: he will contribute in all five categories. He won’t give you huge power numbers, but he is a great value. Hitting cleanup is Billy Butler. Country Breakfast had a down year 2013 as far as counting stats go, but he still hit .289 and got on base at a .374 click. Expect a good bounce back season here. Alex Gordon will be hitting in the 5-hole. The Royals haven’t had a decent leadoff hitter in recent years, so they had to stick Gordon there. Now that Aoki and Infante are around, Gordon gets to hit in a better position. Gordon has potential 5 tool ability, although his average is a little low for that (but it certainly won’t kill you). His job is safe, and he is a top 100 player. Sixth up is Salvador Perez. There has been a ton of buzz around Perez, and it’s mostly earned. He hits for average, has decent power, and will play 120+ games. He had 79 RBI in just over 500 PA last year, and he is only 24. He is easily a top 10 catcher. Hitting seventh is Mike Moustakas. Moosetacos had a down 2013 after a promising 2012. This was partially due to a BABIP drop, so hopefully he can return to form somewhat. If he struggles again this year, expect Danny Valencia to pick up the slack. Valencia would be worth owning in deeper leagues if he gets steady playing time. Batting eighth is Lorenzo Cain. Cain was disappointing like Moustakas. If Cain gets injured, or doesn’t step up his game, Jarrod Dyson will step in to take over. While he won’t be the most useful player, he will be good for a buttload of steals. Batting last in Alcides Escobar. He shouldn’t be owned unless you really need steals, or your league is very deep.
The Tigers have been so dominant over the past couple years, and this year doesn’t seem any different. They won both the AL MVP and AL Cy Young award last year, but they just couldn’t hold on in the playoffs. Detroit could use a World Series win, maybe this is their year.
Even after making a questionable trade with Doug Fister, the Tigers have a dominant rotation. I don’t think I need to go into great depth on Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer. You know what you’re getting out of them. The interesting starters are really Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello. Both are a lock for the 4 and 5 spots in the rotation. Smyly didn’t start last year, but he did in 2012, when he started 18 games and gathered a 3.79 ERA…not too bad for a 23-year-old. He is an interesting sleeper who is worth a late round flier. At worst you drop him because he doesn’t pan out. Porcello has been starting for the Tigers for five years. His ERA has been above 4.00 in 4 of those years. The good news is that his ERA has been on the decline for 4 years. His FIP is much lower than his ERA though. Has Porcello been getting unlucky, or is a low 4 ERA starter who we are dealing with?
As good as the Tigers’ starting rotation is, that’s how equally bad the bullpen is. They just couldn’t hold things together with their pen, trying multiple players at closer. This year they signed Joe Nathan, which they desperately needed. He will be worth his weight in gold, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone else in the bullpen.
The Tigers’ made a huge trade during the offseason: unloading the bloated contract and body of Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. This fills in their hole at second now that Infante is gone. It also opens up first base for Miguel Cabrera, but you shouldn’t own him… By Miggy moving to first, it also opens up third for prospect Nick Castellanos. While Castellanos only has 18 at bats in the bigs, he has decent potential. Since Castellanos is only a prospect, and prospects by definition are wild cards, if he doesn’t perform well, you can expect to see some playing time from utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi or fan-favorite Don Kelly. I wouldn’t expect much out of any of them, and Castellanos is the only one worth owning, and you shouldn’t take him until after 270th overall. Los Tigres have Alex Avila behind the plate. While he isn’t a great catcher fantasy wise, he won’t be losing his position anytime soon. Probably worth owning in 2 catcher leagues. The Tigers’ ex-catcher, Victor Martinez, will be handling DH duty. He might have first base or catcher eligibility depending on the league settings, but probably not. This kills a lot of his value. At least he has an assured spot in the lineup. I’ll finish off the infield with Jose Iglesias. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, most of his value is in his glove. His glove is why he has job safety though. He won’t be putting up great numbers for teams, so it’s probably not worth owning him unless your league counts defensive metrics. The outfield is 66% locked, with Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter. I don’t know how Hunter keeps producing, but he does. I still don’t want to take him though, I just can’t trust him at 38. Jackson hasn’t lived up to expectations, but he hasn’t been terrible either. He won’t help you in RBIs, but he will make a killing in runs. He also has decent power, speed, and average. Right now left field belongs to Andy Dirks. Dirks, however, isn’t a great performer. If he can’t provide decent numbers, expect Rajai Davis or Kelly to fill in. None are worth owning, although Davis can give you cheap steals.
The era of the Twins seems to be over. After dominating the 2000’s, the Twins have been hovering with 100 losses each of the past 3 years. They made some moves over the off-season, let’s see if they can start to turn it around.
The Twins rotation has been plagued with mediocrity for the past few years. Only 1 pitcher has put up an ERA under 4.00 and over 150 innings in the past 3 years. This year, the Twins added 2 new starting pitchers to bolster their rotation, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. Both will have spots in the rotation. As a Yankee fan, I can tell you it is absolutely infuriating watching Hughes pitch, so when I heard the Yankees didn’t re-sign him I jumped out of my chair and did a little jig. He gives up so many home runs, well over 1 per 9 innings. Lucky for him though, Target Field is bigger than Michael Moore’s pant size, so all of his home runs could turn into fly-outs. Nolasco will probably also get a boost from the stadium. I wouldn’t own either, but keep an eye on them to see if they excel. Kevin Correia is the number one starter right now, which makes sense since he is the only pitcher they have that can consistently go deep into games. The last 2 spots are a 3 way duel. Our gladiators in this brawl, if you can call anyone on the Twins a gladiator, are Mike Pelfrey, Scott Diamond, and Samuel Deduno. I wouldn’t call any of these pitchers enticing by any stretch of the imagination. They’re all so bad, it doesn’t matter who gets the job, because none of them are worth anything for a fantasy league. Maybe I would look at them in 20 team leagues, or AL-Only leagues.
The Twins bullpen is decent. Glen Perkins is one of the best closers around, and a self-proclaimed sabermertic junkie. After Perkins, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, and Jared Burton are worth a look. They should be getting a good amount of holds, and they might have a good ERA to go with it. It helps that their starters have trouble going late into games; it gives them more chances to gather those counting stats we all love. You just have to pray to the fantasy baseball gods (is there a baseball equivalent to The Shiva?) that their extra workload doesn’t blow their arms out.
The Twins’ bats have some promise in them. I should probably emphasize the “some”. It’s the end of a saga for Twins’ fans: Joe Mauer isn’t catching anymore. He will still maintain catcher eligibility this year, which is a nice consolation prize. Instead they have Kurt Suzuki behind the plate. I don’t think he will hold this position all year, especially if Josmil Pinto is mashing it during spring training. You should own Suzuki in 2 catcher leagues, and Pinto should be owned as a sleeper candidate. If you get stuck with a catcher you really don’t like, Pinto is a great stash until he starts playing full time. I think he can get 100 games in this year. Brian Dozier is manning second. He has no competition from his spot, and he actually put up decent numbers last year. The average is lacking, but he hit 18 dingers and stole 14. Definitely worth a late round pick. Pedro Florimon is only starting at short because his glove is a baseball magnet. He will be useless offensively, sorry. Trevor Plouffe is the same as Florimon, but without the fielding. If the backup can’t take his spot, do you really want him? The outfield is a slightly brighter spot, with Alex Presley, Josh Willingham, and Oswaldo Arcia. Hopefully Willingham can return to 2012 form, although that’s unlikely. Presley won’t be doing you any favors either. This leaves Arcia. I like Arcia as a sleeper. At 22, in just under 100 games, Arcia posted a 34/14/43/.251 split. While this doesn’t scream wow, it does give him some growing room. There is definitely power potential there, along with some decent counting stats and a batting average that won’t tear you apart. I’ll be taking some late round and $1 fliers on him.
Last year the White Sox lost 99 games. The Sox haven’t lost 90 games since 2007, over 95 games since 1976, and over 98 games since 1970. They had their 7th worst winning percentage since 1901. They made some good moves in the off-season, so hopefully they can start to turn things around.
The Sox rotation is a mix of good and bad, without much middle ground. Chris Sale is a top 10 pitcher in the MLB, and he is only 24 (well…he’ll be 25 the day before Opening Day). He is lankier than an orangutan and throws a nasty slider. He is really sexy for fantasy owners, especially at his age. The number 2 is the only other pitcher worth looking at, Jose Quintana. He has been putting up mid 3 ERAs for the past 2 years. He will be cheap in a lot of leagues, and is worth a roster spot. The last 3 roster spots have 4 contenders, and a highly unlikely 5th: John Danks, Erik Johnson, Andre Rienzo, Felipe Paulino, and Dylan Axelrod. The Sox didn’t re-sign Axelrod, but they invited him to Spring Training. He is the 5th that doesn’t stand much of a chance, and even if he did he would be un-ownable. Now that we’re back to 4, I think Danks has a spot. He has been starting for the Sox more than 5 years now, and they have no reason to drop him. I think Paulino gets a spot since Johnson and Rienzo have been historically terrible. It really doesn’t matter who gets that last spot, because they’ll be fantasy-irrelevant.
Now that Addison Reed has gone to greener pastures, and Jesse Crain has gone to browner ones, Nate Jones will have a chance to step his game up as a closer. He had a 4.15 ERA last year, but a 2.64 FIP. Does anyone else see a rebound? Matt Lindstrom and Scott Downs are the only other relievers worth owning. They’ve been consistent in the past, and that is likely to continue. They’ll probably be the main setup men, so they’ll be getting you those lovely holds (assuming you need them).
For some reason, the Sox think it is a good idea to move Alejandro De Aza from the most PA on the team in 2013 to 4th outfielder. The 3 players beating him out right now are Adam Eaton¸ Avisail Garcia, and Dayan Viciedo. I have no idea why they think Viciedo is a better fit than De Aza, De Aza is the better player, both offensively and defensively. I expect De Aza to win his spot back, so he can be sniped off of waivers. Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley will be splitting time as catcher, and neither is worth owning. Jose Abreu is the most interesting player on the White Sox, as he is the biggest unknown. He should be nice and cheap because of the big question mark over his head. I don’t have much to say about Gordon Beckham, Conor Gillaspie or Alexei Ramirez, they’re pretty bad for starters, and their backups are just as bad. Ramirez is the most ownable as he gets more playing time, and is a nice source of cheap steals. Paul Konerko was re-signed too, but he is just a backup now at first. He might get some DH time, but Adam Dunn will probably be dominating that slot. I know I’ve brought up Dunn in both of my past articles. I only use him to represent a certain type of player: cheap power. He is the perfect example because that has been his role over the past few years. He should reach 500 home runs by the end of 2015 or 2016 if he gets the playing time.
Jeremy is a contributor for Razzball Baseball. He had a last name, but he lost it in ‘Nam. You can follow the soldier of misfortune on twitter @Jeremy_Razzball, just don’t trigger his flashbacks.