American League Central

February 14, 2010

AL CENTRAL
Twins
Starting point: 87-76, 1st (lost to Yankees in the first round).

Project manager: Bill Smith.

General contractor: Ron Gardenhire.

Bones: Reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer and 2006 MVP Justin Morneau anchor the most athletic lineup in the division, if not in the league.

New materials: SS J.J. Hardy, 2B Orlando Hudson, DH Jim Thome, RHP Clay Condrey.

In the dumpster: CF Carlos Gomez, SS Orlando Cabrera, 3B Joe Crede, C Mike Redmond, LHP Ron Mahay.

Job description: More consistency is needed in a rotation that required 10 arms behind underrated anchors Nick Blackburn and Scott Baker last season. Re-signing Carl Pavano was a start, but the most encouraging sign was a winter-ball revival of Francisco Liriano, who had been one of the AL's best young pitchers before Tommy John surgery.

Unknowns: Can prospect Danny Valencia improve his fielding enough to become a long-term answer at third base, where the Twins have used 17 players the last five seasons? How will starters Kevin Slowey (wrist) and Glen Perkins (shoulder) bounce back?

Final inspection: Move into Target Field has allowed Smith to spend an extra $30 million, producing an improved product. A contract extension for Mauer would set a great tone, and that could happen soon.

Tigers
Starting point: 86-77, 2nd.

Project manager: Dave Dombrowski.

General contractor: Jim Leyland.

Bones: Ace Justin Verlander is coming off an eye-popping season in which he held up to an unusually heavy workload. He and 21-year-old Rick Porcello are a 1-2 combination that could carry a team to the World Series.

New materials: Closer Jose Valverde, LHP Max Scherzer , CF Austin Jackson, LHP Daniel Schlereth, LHP Phil Coke.

In the dumpster: CF Curtis Granderson, RHP Edwin Jackson, closer Fernando Rodney, 2B Placido Polanco , RHP Brandon Lyon, LHP Jarrod Washburn.

Job description: Restoring the team's confidence and self image is essential after an 11-16 slide to the finish the season, capped by Miguel Cabrera's final-weekend bender.

Unknowns: What can Leyland expect from his group of veterans with bad contracts, including Magglio Ordonez, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Carlos Guillen, who are due a combined $60.5 million this season?

Final inspection: Contending with rookies in center (Jackson) and at second base (Scott Sizemore, recovering from off-season ankle surgery) is a tall order, even with a $125 million payroll around them.

White Sox
Starting point: 79-83, 3rd.

Project manager: Ken Williams.

General contractor: Ozzie Guillen.

Bones: Rotation could be one of the best in the majors with Jake Peavy joining Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd.

New materials: LF/leadoff Juan Pierre, 3B Mark Teahen, RHP J.J. Putz, OF-DH Andruw Jones, INF Omar Vizquel.

In the dumpster: RF Jermaine Dye, LF/leadoff Scott Podsednik, relievers Octavio Dotel, D.J. Carrasco, 2B Chris Getz.

Job description: After being shut out 13 times and sliding to 12th in the AL in scoring last season, Guillen looks to find creative ways to produce runs and fill an uncertain DH spot (Jones, Mark Kotsay, Tyler Flowers?). Improvement is needed from Alex Rios, who hit .199 in 41 games after being acquired, and Carlos Quentin, whose homer production dropped from 36 to 21. Also needed is fielding upgrade.

Unknowns: How will Gordon Beckham handle second base? Can Teahen become a significant run producer after averaging 59RBIs the last five years?

Final inspection: The division's best pitching staff buys time for Williams and Guillen to focus on the lineup.

Indians
Starting point: 65-97, 4th (tie).

Project manager: Mark Shapiro.

General contractor: Manny Acta.

Bones: The 2009 trades of Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee cleared the canvas for a budget-driven rebuilding job.

New materials: OF Austin Kearns, C Mike Redmond, INF Mark Grudzielanek, RHP Jason Grilli.

In the dumpster: C Kelly Shoppach.

Job description: Acta replaces Eric Wedge without the pressure that was always on Wedge - to compete. He'll consider catcherCarlos Santana and speedy left fielder Michael Brantley for immediate openings while waiting for other prospects (especially pitchers Nick Hagadone, Jason Knapp and Hector Rondon) to complete their development. He could take all spring to identify his five-man rotation.

Unknowns: Is Jake Westbrook (Tommy John surgery, 2008) ready to return to his role of No. 1 starter? How long until closer Kerry Wood and, if healthy, Westbrook are traded to contenders? Can Travis Hafner stay healthy?

Final inspection: Once big spenders, the Indians have slid down to the level of the Athletics, at the bottom of the AL. It's all about player development and empty seats at Progressive Field.

Royals
Starting point: 65-97, 4th (tie).

Project manager: Dayton Moore.

General contractor: Trey Hillman.

Bones: Reigning Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke is signed through 2012. First baseman Billy Butler is a run-producer to build a lineup around.

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