Home MLB 2011 MLB Preview: American League Central

2011 MLB Preview: American League Central

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqThe Minnesota Twins were the class team in the Central last year, but the White Sox and Tigers have every intention of putting them under more pressure in 2011.

2010 final standings

1. Minnesota Twins (94-68)
2. Chicago White Sox (88-74)
3. Detroit Tigers (81-81)
4. Cleveland Indians (69-93)
5. Kansas City Royals (67-95)

The 2010/11 offseason

It was a good offseason for the neutrals, as the main challengers made some key additions in an attempt to chase down the reigning champs.

The Tigers made their moves early.  They signed free agent catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Victor Martinez, bringing the former Cleveland Indian back to the AL Central after a year and a half with Boston, and gave Joaquin Benoit, a reliever revelation for the Rays in 2010, a three-year contract.

It looked like Detroit would be the Twins’ only real challenger as the White Sox contemplated entering a rebuilding phase.  However, Chicago’s owner Jerry Reinsdorf had a change of heart and opened the purse strings instead.  That allowed General Manger Kenny Williams to not only re-sign first baseman Paul Konerko and catcher A.J. Pierzynski, but also to bag the big bopper Adam Dunn on a four-year contract after he left the Washington Nationals as a free agent.  Former Twins reliever Jesse Crain and lefty Will Ohman were added to the bullpen, while Matt Thornton was given a contract extension and the closer’s role after Bobby Jenks wore out his welcome and was granted free agency, during which he signed with the Red Sox. 

Meanwhile the Twins had more notable players going out of the club than coming in.  The aforementioned Crain, Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, Orlando Hudson, Nick Punto and J.J. Hardy all left the team, all but Hardy departing as free agents.  The Twins did keep hold of their two most important free agents, starting pitcher Carl Pavano and Designated Hitter Jim Thome, and they signed infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka from Japanese team Chiba Lotte Marines.

The Indians and Royals are in the process of bringing through some young players and added a few experienced Major Leaguers to their rosters to help them along, most notably in Jeff Francouer, Melky Cabrera (both Royals) and Austin Kearns (Indians).  Kansas City traded away their best player, starting pitcher Zack Greinke, to the Milwaukee Brewers over the offseason. 

Returning stars

The Twins might not have many new faces, but that’s because they didn’t need to make many changes over the offseason.   They won the Central in impressive style in 2010 despite injuries affecting three of their best players. Closer Joe Nathan missed all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, first baseman Justin Morneau was having an MVP-calibre year before he suffered a concussion and missed the second half, while catcher Joe Mauer played for much of year being badly hampered by a knee injury.  If those three key players are fit for the majority of the season, the Twins will be hard to beat.

As for their challengers, the White Sox have Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Edwin Jackson in their rotation, with Jake Peavy working his way back from an injury.  The Tigers are led by a front-three of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, with Brad Penny and former-reliever Phil Coke expected to round out the starting staff.  On offence, the two key hitters for the teams are Kornerko and Dunn for the White Sox and Martinez and first baseman Miguel Cabrera for the Tigers.  The latter had another tremendous year in 2010, but is coming off a difficult offseason involving an alleged drunk-driving incident in February.

The Indians have some talented players, most notably in starting pitcher Fausto Carmona and right-fielder Shin-Soo Choo, the latter being  one of the most underrated players in the game.  They will be hoping that centre-fielder Grady Sizemore and young catcher Carlos Santana make positive returns from 2010 injuries, while top third-base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall is a good bet to make the Majors sometime this season. 

Now that Zack Greinke is no longer with the team, most of the attention with Kansas City is directed towards the promising young prospects in their Minor League system and (finally) some better days ahead after only winning more games than they’ve lost in a year once since the 1994 season.  As for the Major League team, their main asset is closer Joakim Soria.  Designated hitter Billy Butler doesn’t have the power normally associated with the position, but is good hitter entering his fourth full Major League season. 


This is the only division without any new managers in charge for 2011.  Ned Yost is the newest having taken over in Kansas City after 35 games in 2010.  Mann Acta begins his second year in charge in Cleveland, while the Twins’ Ron Gardenhire (9 seasons so far), White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen (7), and Tigers’ Jim Leyland (5, 19 seasons managing in the Big Leagues in all) are firmly established.


Should be: Twins, White Sox

Could be: Tigers

Won’t be: Indians, Royals

The Twins were very strong last year and remain the team to beat.  The White Sox’s additions over the offseason combine with a good pitching staff to make for a dangerous opponent.  The Tigers could get into the mix if Scherzer and Porcello take another step forward and if they get good contributions to back Verlander, Martinez and Cabrera.

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