One topic that was requested by a reader in the comments section last week was a breakdown of the moves other teams around the division have made this offseason. Given the complete lack of activity we've seen from the Twins this winter, that seems like a pretty reasonable idea. If our home squad isn't going to give us anything to dissect, we'll just have to analyze their divisional foes.
The Twins are seemingly employing a strategy that involves keeping their young roster largely intact, hoping for some internal improvements, and banking on getting better as a whole while the other teams in the division stay put or take steps back. It's not a horrible strategy; the Twins were within a game of the playoffs last year and there is plenty of reason to expect improvements from a number of their youthful and still relatively inexperienced players. Still, this strategy is predicated on the notion that other teams around the AL Central won't make enough improvements to pass the Twins by, and that's something that haunted them in the 2005 and 2007 seasons.
So today I'll start a series of articles exploring the Twins' four AL Central opponents, breaking down their offseason moves up to this point and judging whether they've improved enough to render the Twins' plan of standing pat a faulty one. We begin today with our arch-rivals from the South Side.
Chicago White Sox: Oh My God, Who Killed Kenny?
It's been an uncharacteristically quiet offseason for Kenny Williams' Sox. They sent Nick Swisher to the Yankees in return for a borderline starter in Wilson Betemit along with a couple prospects. They sent Javier Vazquez to the Braves in a move that wasn't bad but doesn't really help them this year (the key to the trade was catching prospect Tyler Flowers, who isn't likely to be big-league ready for a couple years at least). They signed Bartolo Colon. They will, in all likelihood, lose Orlando Cabrera to another club, although the shortstop remains a free agent at present.
This is an aging offense, with key players like Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye all moving into their mid-to-late 30s. Nevertheless, those guys can still hit and solid younger players like Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez return as well. I suspect Chicago's offense will be alright. The bigger concern is their starting pitching. The loss of Vazquez leaves them thin in the back of the rotation, and banking on Colon to fill one of those slots is a risky proposition given that the 35-year-old hasn't topped 100 innings in a season since 2005 and has accumulated a 5.38 ERA over the past three seasons when he's been able to pitch. The Sox rotation figures to shake out with Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Colon taking the top four spots while a handful of unproven young starters battle for the final job.
That's potentially a decent rotation, but with all that uncertainly surrounding the bottom portion, the top portion needs to be rock solid. In order for that to happen, Chicago will need Danks and Floyd to repeat their strong performances from 2008. I'm willing to buy that Danks is the real deal, but I'm highly skeptical of Floyd. He went 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA last season, but the impressive surface numbers were sort of the result of a perfect storm of circumstances. Chicago's offense averaged 5.9 runs per game behind Floyd and he allowed a whole lot of unearned runs (his Runs Against Average was 4.67 -- nearly a run higher than his ERA). He also saw only 11.4 percent of fly balls hit against him turn into home runs, a major step down from his figures of 17.3 and 20.9 the two years prior; this improvement probably had more to do with luck than any tangible adjustment made by the pitcher. The bottom line is that Floyd's 4.61 xFIP, his lack of previous success and the unsustainable trends I listed above all lead me to believe there's a good chance he'll come hurdling back down to Earth in 2009. And if that happens, the White Sox don't have the type of solid depth to fall back on that the Twins do.
Last year, Chicago's rotation was about as good as the Twins' was. I find this very unlikely to happen again in 2009, and since they're not giving me any real reason to believe they'll be a better team offensively, I'd say that -- as things currently stand -- the White Sox aren't a big threat. So far, the Twins' plan looks sound.
Tomorrow, I'll take a look at the Royals.