Al Central

March 30, 2003|By Roch Kubatko

Chicago White Sox

Manager: Jerry Manuel 2002 record: 81-81 (second) What's new: The top of the rotation, with Bartolo Colon joining the White Sox in a trade. He combines with 19-game winner Mark Buehrle to form a dynamic one-two punch. Another trade brought closer Billy Koch from the Oakland Athletics, and catcher Sandy Alomar returned to the organization.

On the spot: Once again, it's Frank Thomas, who took a significant pay cut to stay in Chicago. He has been working with hitting guru Walt Hriniak while trying to invigorate a stagnant career. Teams weren't interested this winter after the team made him available by exercising a diminished skills clause. Now, that's humbling.

Where they'll be in October: On the Minnesota Twins' heels, fighting for the division title or ready to accept the wild card.

Cleveland Indians

Manager: Eric Wedge

2002 record: 74-88 (third)

What's new: First base became vacant when Jim Thome signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. There go 52 home runs and the club's identity. Travis Hafner could inherit the position after being acquired from the Texas Rangers along with pitcher Aaron Myette. Former Indians pitchers Jason Bere and Brian Anderson have returned, and ex-Yankees outfielder Shane Spencer signed as a free agent.

On the spot: The rotation could be horrible behind No. 1 starter C.C. Sabathia, who needs to control his weight and improve his focus. The Indians are heaping responsibilities on a pitcher who might not be mature enough to handle them.

Where they'll be in October: In the video room watching highlights from the 1995 and 1997 World Series. That's as close as the Indians will get for a while.

Detroit Tigers

Manager: Alan Trammell

2002 record: 55-106 (fifth)

What's new: The Tigers are holding a reunion of their 1984 World Series team. Trammell, bench coach Kirk Gibson and bullpen coach Lance Parrish remember the good times. Maybe that will make watching this year's team a little easier. If not, there are always blindfolds.

On the spot: Gene Kingsale, known as "Eugene" when he played for the Orioles, was acquired from the San Diego Padres to play outfield and bat leadoff. Padres general manager Kevin Towers spoke well of Kingsale last season, then unloaded him. Here's another chance for the fleet Aruban to prove he can play regularly in the majors. If he can't stay in this lineup, it might be time for a career change.

Where they'll be in October: In hiding from the embarrassment of having the worst record in the majors.

Kansas City Royals

Manager: Tony Pena

2002 record: 62-100 (fourth)

What's new: When an Albie Lopez signing is expected to generate excitement, it's going to be a long season. Same goes for infielder Desi Relaford, though he's a serviceable player. Royals fans always could organize a pool to guess where the team's most marketable player, Carlos Beltran, will end up.

On the spot: Runelvys Hernandez, who won four of his 12 starts last season, shapes up as a staff ace on this team. If he's not too exhausted from respelling his name for visitors, he'll try to bring some respectability to the pitching staff. Good luck.

Where they'll be in October: The nearest steakhouse. That's the best thing about playing in Kansas City. It sure isn't the chance to win.

Minnesota Twins

Manager: Ron Gardenhire

2002 record: 94-67 (first)

What's new: There hasn't been much change. They signed free-agent pitcher Kenny Rogers after losing Eric Milton to injury. Infielder Chris Gomez was added to the bench, and former Oriole Mike Fetters joins the bullpen. Perhaps the biggest change from last April is how other teams view the Twins, who survived contraction and made a surprising run to the AL Championship Series.

On the spot: Brad Radke was limited to 21 starts last season because of injury and won only nine games. He must stay healthy and reassert himself as the staff ace, especially with Milton unavailable. The rotation is showing plenty of cracks.

Where they'll be in October: Assuming their starters hold together, the Twins should return to the playoffs and again fill the Metrodome with ear-piercing noise.

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