Baseball 2002 AL CENTRAL

March 31, 2002|By Profiles by Roch Kubatko

Cleveland Indians

Manager: Charlie Manuel

2001 record: 91-71 (first)

What's new in 2002: The Indians traded Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets for outfielders Matt Lawton and Alex Escobar, who was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. They signed former Oriole Brady Anderson and second baseman Ricky Gutierrez, who must make the conversion from shortstop. They considered outfielder Ruben Rivera, but decided that losing Alomar's glove was enough.

On the spot: Bartolo Colon has to anchor the staff and give the Indians the ace they've been lacking for years. Now that his real age - 28, not 26 - is known, he's gone from promising youngster to crafty veteran. New general manager Mark Shapiro didn't receive many slaps on the back after trading Alomar. It's tough enough when you're taking over for John Hart. Now he's got to keep the payroll around $75 million while keeping the Indians in championship contention.

Where they'll be in October: In more hot water over the Alomar trade, which could affect their chances of holding off the other division contenders.

Chicago White Sox

Manager: Jerry Manuel

2001 record: 83-79 (third)

What's new in 2002: Todd Ritchie has joined the rotation after coming over in a trade with Pittsburgh. He was 11-15 with a 4.47 ERA in 33 starts with the Pirates in 2001. Veteran Kenny Lofton is playing center field, and quite well, and former Orioles minor-leaguer Willie Harris impressed club officials, although he's expected to start the season in Triple-A Charlotte. A healthy Frank Thomas could put a big hurt on the rest of the division.

On the spot: Thomas is returning from a torn right triceps that cost him most of the 2001 season. The White Sox dropped two places in the standings without him. It's not a big stretch to blame his absence. Second baseman Ray Durham, in the final year of his contract, could be replaced by Harris after the season. It's difficult to hit or field while looking over your shoulder.

Where they'll be in October: Making plans for the first round of the playoffs.

Minnesota Twins

Manager: Ron Gardenhire

2001 record: 85-77 (second)

What's new in 2002: Gardenhire has replaced Tom Kelly. He's grateful that there's still a team to manage after all the contraction talks. Mike Jackson has joined the bullpen, Warren Morris the infield. Infielder Kurt Abbott was signed, but the Twins let him go in spring training. Otherwise, it was pretty slow for the Twins this winter because they figured it wasn't worth making changes to a team that might not be around. The joke's on them. They're still here.

On the spot: Twins fans who must show they still care enough to keep the team from being stamped out by commissioner Bud Selig. There's strength in numbers. Two million-plus would be awfully strong. Rookie Michael Cuddyer had 30 homers at Double-A New Britain last season and was given the chance to win the right field job, but lost out - for now - to Brian Buchanan. Cuddyer will start the season at Triple-A Edmonton.

Where they'll be in October: A state of shock from contending again despite the uncertainty over their collective futures.

Detroit Tigers

Manager: Phil Garner

2001 record: 66-96 (fourth)

What's new in 2002: Dmitri Young and Craig Paquette were added during the winter, but center fielder Roger Cedeno signed with the New York Mets. That's a lot of speed missing from the top of the order. The name plates above the lockers at Comerica Park no longer include first baseman Tony Clark, shortstop Deivi Cruz and outfielder Juan Encarnacion, either.

On the spot: How about Garner, whose job could be on the line if the Tigers don't show significant improvement. It doesn't appear that enough bricks were used in the rebuilding project to prevent another losing season. And a lot of attention is falling upon outfielder Bobby Higginson. He's unhappy with the club's lack of direction and could waive his no-trade clause and leave. Doesn't sound like a bad plan.

Where they'll be in October: Bracing for wholesale changes throughout the organization.

Kansas City Royals

Manager: Tony Muser

2001 record: 65-97 (fifth)

What's new in 2002: The outfield corners have a different look since Chuck Knoblauch signed as a free agent and Michael Tucker returned in a trade with the Chicago Cubs. Knoblauch will bat leadoff and flash his World Series rings -- the closest that the Royals will get to one. His average fell to .250 last season. Knoblauch and Tucker replace Dee Brown in left and Mark Quinn in right.

On the spot: The only race here is whether Muser gets canned before Garner. He needs to start winning games, and fast. That won't happen if the Royals have as many breakdowns in fundamentals as last season. Their play wasn't exactly crisp. Knoblauch faces the pressure of proving that the .250 average was a fluke and he can still be a productive leadoff hitter and offensive catalyst.

Where they'll be in October: Nowhere near first place. There isn't a pair of binoculars strong enough to bring it into focus.

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