American League Central / American League West

April 02, 2004|By ROCH KUBATKO

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox

Manager: Ozzie Guillen

2003 finish: 86-76 (second)

On deck: It's a good thing the newly hired Guillen was such a popular player in Chicago because he'll be working with a lot less talent than Jerry Manuel, who was fired after his club blew a two-game lead in September. The only fun is wagering on how long it takes for Frank Thomas to sulk. Who had April 5?

Man on a mission: Magglio Ordonez could be traded because he's eligible for free agency after the season and has priced himself out of the White Sox's budget. The four-time All-Star is looking for a big payday.

How it shakes out: A sluggish winter could cause the White Sox to slip into third place. They needed to re-sign Bartolo Colon but couldn't. They'll need Esteban Loaiza to prove 2003 wasn't a fluke, but he never won more than 11 games before going 21-9. The corner outfielders, Ordonez and Carlos Lee, will give opposing pitchers nightmares, but Guillen probably won't be sleeping too soundly, either.

Cleveland Indians

Manager: Eric Wedge

2003 finish: 68-94 (fourth)

On deck: So, this is what rebuilding looks like? The Indians no longer sell out Jacobs Field, and they no longer rule the division. Whether they rise above fourth place depends largely on the continued development of players such as Travis Hafner, Jody Gerut, Alex Escobar and catcher Victor Martinez.

Man on a mission: C.C. Sabathia is the ace of this staff, and the Indians are in serious trouble if he falters. With his weight hovering around 300 pounds, Sabathia can be vulnerable in the later innings. Proving he can pitch deep into games and win with his current build will keep management from pointing him to the salad bar.

How it shakes out: The Indians used 25 rookies last season, and the results were predictable. Now Wedge has Mike Hargrove in the front office as a senior adviser, and it won't take long for fans to start clamoring for a change if the team bottoms out. The bench is heated in Cleveland, with or without electricity.

Detroit Tigers

Manager: Alan Trammell

2003 finish: 43-119 (fifth)

On deck: Trammell deserves a medal for keeping his spirits up, along with the heads of every player during a miserable season that almost reached historic proportions. Improvements were made, but nobody will confuse 2004 with 1984.

Man on a mission: Catcher Ivan Rodriguez got his four-year deal after a lengthy wait and some flirtations by the Orioles. Now he must live up to it. He'll grow to hate Comerica Park, but any gains by the young pitching staff will be credited to him.

How it shakes out: This team can't possibly lose 119 games again. The Tigers are much improved up the middle with Rodriguez, shortstop Carlos Guillen and second baseman Fernando Vina. They also added Rondell White to the outfield and former Oriole Jason Johnson to the rotation.

Kansas City Royals

Manager: Tony Pena

2003 finish: 83-79 (third)

On deck: The Royals posted their first winning record since 1994 and believe they can win the division, especially after adding slugger Juan Gonzalez. Their starting pitching might say otherwise because three right-handers are coming off surgeries and left-hander Jeremy Affeldt keeps getting blisters on his middle finger. But expectations haven't been this high since George Brett first picked up a pine-tar rag.

Man on a mission: Center fielder Carlos Beltran is a five-tool talent who seems destined to leave the small-market Royals, either during or after this season. He wants to showcase his skills and remind his current team what it will be losing.

How it shakes out: If the rotation holds up, the Royals could be headed to the playoffs. A healthy Mike Sweeney would make a huge difference. He appeared in only 108 games last year because of a neck injury.

Minnesota Twins

Manager: Ron Gardenhire

2003 finish: 90-72 (first)

On deck: In any other division, the Twins would be hard-pressed to repeat their success in 2003. But this is the lowly Central, where the best Double-A teams would make a wild-card run. The lineup will look familiar, but what happened to the bullpen?

Man on a mission: Center fielder Torii Hunter drove in 102 runs last year, but he batted just .250, including .198 with runners in scoring position and fewer than two outs. He must stop trying to hit for power and let the rest of his game flow.

How it shakes out: It's reasonable to pencil in the Twins for a third straight division title, but without closer Eddie Guardado and setup man LaTroy Hawkins, the bullpen no longer is a strength. Joe Nathan might not be ready to close, and rookie catcher Joe Mauer could experience a few growing pains without any Triple-A experience.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

Anaheim Angels

Manager: Mike Scioscia

2003 finish: 77-85 (third)

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