Grading the divisional contenders part II: The AL Central (Twins, Tigers, White Sox)

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By Jake McCormick

This is the second piece in a series grading the offseason moves of each American and National League predicted divisional contenders. Each grade was determined based on the team’s holes, how they were filled given that team’s financial constraints, and whether or not the player acquired was a better option than their replacement.

Minnesota Twins

Best: Orlando Hudson
This was the latest signing for the Twins, but it takes a final piece to create a finished puzzle. Hudson is an ideal fit in the two spot behind Denard Span, and gives the Twins a lineup of Span/Hudson/Mauer/Morneau/Cuddyer/Kubel/Young/Hardy/Harris, the first six of which give Minnesota its deepest and most powerful lineup in years. Hudson also has an electric personality and work ethic that molds perfectly into the Twins’ philosophy. Definitely their best pickup this offseason.

Worst: JJ Hardy
This was like trying to find a bad apple in a fresh bundle, as Hardy will provide strong, consistent defense on a team loaded with good hitters. But acquiring him for Carlos Gomez, the supposed focal point of the Johan Santana trade, served as a final reminder of the failure of that trade for the Twins. Although they don’t need him to be a major offensive contributor, Hardy faces major question marks transitioning his declining hitting stats to the much stronger American League.

Sleeper: Carl Pavano
Pavano will once again be playing under low pressure in a small market. Now that he’s proven he can stay healthy throughout an entire season and contribute to a contender, Pavano should have enough confidence to turn in a similar, if not better, season than he had last year. Plus, the Twins’ pitching is pretty thin and filled with inexperience or guys trying to bounce back from injuries, so any serviceable veteran arm, especially one with postseason experience, will help.

Overall grade: B
The Hudson signing bumped the grade up a half step. At the end of the day, the 2009 Central division champions will enter the 2010 season with a better lineup and less questions. It’s just a matter of how the Twins perform under the weight of high expectations.

Detroit Tigers

Best: Jose Valverde
Only Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Cordero have more saves in the past three years than Valverde, and he’s a definite upgrade over Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon. I can’t stand Valverde’s cockiness, but he delivers when it counts, and Detroit had no clear, consistent replacement for Rodney or Lyon. Valverde provides proven veteran stability in a young and inexperienced bullpen. Rest easy in the ninth, Detroit; he’s the best closer you’ve had in a long time.

Worst: Austin Jackson
This isn’t necessarily a terrible pickup by any means, but Jackson has a lot of pressure on him to replace fan favorite and five tool athlete Curtis Granderson. Like Granderson, Jackson strikes out a lot and can run, but it remains to be seen if he can harness all of his skills in the lead off spot. At worst, he’ll become a Chris Young-type player, but that’s pretty unlikely. He just won’t put up Granderson numbers in his first season.

Sleeper: Max Scherzer
Basically, Detroit scammed a cheaper, (potentially) better version of Edwin Jackson to compliment ace Justin Verlander and 21-year-old Rick Porcello. Some scouts have said Scherzer could become a Kevin Brown-like pitcher, given his limited repertoire. Scherzer gives the Tigers a 1-2-3 rotation to keep the team competitive in the AL Central, while leaving the back end of the rotation to sort itself out between Jeremy Bonderman, Armando Galarraga, Eddie Bonine, Nate Robertson, and Dontrelle Willis. Talk about a scrap heep (kidding…they’re just really inconsistent).

Overall grade: B-
The Tigers downgraded the guaranteed production from Granderson and Edwin Jackson for the down the road potential of Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer. Detroit took care of their bullpen questions, but with a lot of pressure to produce from two young players, the Tigers may need another year and a few more players to finish the season at the top of the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

Best: Mark Teahen
Trading for Teahen moves Gordon Beckham over to second base and presumably solves the “White Sox infield can’t really field” issue. Along with his quality glove, Teahen is a decent seven or eight hitter that will give Chicago a little of everything from the left side of the plate, but not a lot of one thing. Teahen is also flexible enough to play the outfield if needed, and has already become somewhat of a fan favorite because of his easygoing attitude. It’ll be interesting to see if his production improves, though, because he won’t be expected to shoulder the offense.

Worst: Juan Pierre
Pierre is overrated or underrated, depending on who you talk to. Overrated, because a lot of his success has been based on semi-random stats (BABIP, etc.), he never walks, and his stolen bases have declined each year while his caught stealing numbers remain consistent. Underrated, because he hits close to .300 hitter each year, rarely strikes out, and his speed is still threatening regardless of whether or not he attempts a steal. I think he’s in line for an overrated performance this year, after an underrated showing in 2009.

Sleeper: JJ Putz
Bobby Jenks may be on his way out by midseason, and if Putz can stay healthy, the writing is on the wall. His signing is rarely discussed, which is good for a guy that is trying to return from two tough injuries. If he returns even close to his 2007 form, Putz will be a stablizing force in the seventh and eighth innings and could easily make a play for Comeback Player of the Year. As long as the arm is still there, and all reports support that assertion, a closer can’t be written off as a wash up.

Overall grade: B
The White Sox did fill their lead off spot, like Juan Pierre or not, their porous infield defense, and added a potential midseason, low cost replacement for closer Bobby Jenks. Kenny Williams never makes a boring move, and his 2010 offseason keeps Chicago contending in the Central.

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