The AL Central has become the Sun Belt Conference to the American League's NCAA. Sure, occasionally it produces a team good enough for at-large consideration, but usually its spot in the postseason is more about it having an automatic bid and someone having to claim it. Rarely does one of its teams rise up to be considered with the big boys in the other conferences, and for the most part, its teams operate with less money and in smaller cities than their better-situated peers.
As we enter 2010, no AL Central team stands out as having a complete roster. The White Sox rotation and the Twins' lineup are the best units, but neither is matched by the other guys in those uniforms. The Royals can't hit, the Indians can't pitch, and the Tigers might have the second-best of everything.
Chicago White Sox
Aces: The acquisition of Jake Peavy at the nadir of his value was a coup for Kenny Williams, an upside play that sets up his White Sox as the favorites in the Central. With Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, he has a top four that can compete with any team in the league, even the monsters to the east. The pitchers are better in real life than they will appear in fantasy; pitching in a good home-run park in front of a questionable defense chips away at their WHIPs and ERAs, and an offense lacking OBP could short the group wins. The group's collective ability to limit the running game is the kind of thing that shows up in real life but doesn't do much for your fantasy squad. Rate the group higher in Scoresheet than in category games, and don't be surprised if two of these guys make the AL All-Star team. Bonus: no manager runs a rotation better than Ozzie Guillen.
As an aside, I had maybe the worst in-season-managing year of my life in a 12-team AL-only perpetual league a year ago. One of the lowlights, of many, was giving up on Gavin Floyd at the exact moment where he bottomed out. I cut him after the Blue Jays knocked him around on May 17, so I got a 7.32 ERA and 1.88 WHIP in 39 innings. Five days later, Floyd threw eight shutout innings against the Pirates and over the rest of the year had a 2.97 ERA and a WHIP a tick over 1.0 with nine wins. Well played.
Yeah, no one cares. Did I tell you about the time this guy cracked my queens with 72o?
Treys: The Sox are just doing too much wish-casting with their offense. Mark Kotsay is 34, has never in his life been a productive hitter for a DH and is closer to being out of the league and has a .323 OBP and .390 SLG in the last five years. Mark Teahen is at .269/.331/.419 in his career, and hasn't been good since 2006. Alexis Rios' defense makes him playable, just not in the middle of a lineup. Juan Pierre is 32, moving to the tougher league and was never really that good in the old one. Carlos Quentin has been healthy once in three years and he's one of the better bets in the batting order. It's possible, in fact, that the White Sox will have one hitter above the league average in significant playing time, and that's Gordon Beckham.
Do Not Want: Paul Konerko is 34, an age where good-but-not-great players often go over the cliff in a hurry. Konerko is increasingly a product of his park: .245 with 17 homers outside of US Cellular the last two years, .277 with 33 homers at home. I wouldn't touch him in any format short of a six-team AL Central-only league.
Bandwagon: This may finally be the year in which the White Sox' best reliever gets the most saves. Matt Thornton has been a monster the last two years, posting a 2.71 ERA, 10.6 K/9 and a baserunner an inning, while picking up just five saves. Bobby Jenks is always a health risk because of the weight he carries, and specifically this spring because of a calf problem carried forward from 2009. J.J. Putz won't be in the mix for three months or so. This isn't exactly earth-shattering information, but because Thornton hasn't saved games, you might be able to get him cheaply depending on your league. I went to $7 for him in an 18-team mixed league with an inflation problem, and I expect him to return a lot more than that.
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