AL Central

Twins Hope To Stem The Tide in 2014

The Twins will need a healthy Joe Mauer to improve on last year’s 66 wins.

by Alli Baker

Key Offseason Acquisitions: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kurt Suzuki, Sean Gilmartin, Jason Kubel, Matt Garza, Matt Guerrier, Mike Pelfrey

Key Offseason Losses: Ryan Doumit

Minnesota Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire is one of the best in the business, but a lack of talent and a rash of injuries over the past three seasons resulted in an average of 65 wins per year.  After finishing the 2013 season in fourth place in the AL Central Division, the Twins knew they had work to do this offseason.

Most importantly, the Twins needed to focus on building up their starting rotation. In 2013, the Twins had a league-worst ERA of 5.26 as well as the lowest number of strikeouts per nine innings pitched.1

Obviously Twins management realized this was a problem that needed to be fixed. The team filled in some holes by picking up free agents Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and also resigned Mike Pelfrey. With more pitchers available, the Minnesota Twins have more options to work with for the upcoming season. However, the Twins have more problems to solve this offseason than just putting together a starting staff.

With Joe Mauer’s permanent move to first base and the departure of free agent Ryan Doumit, the Twins also had to find a replacement catcher, which they did when they signed free agent Kurt Suzuki. As for Mauer, the Twins hope that the defensive shift will keep the oft-injured Minnesota native healthy. He’s still in recovery mode from a 2013 concussion that ended his season prematurely on August 19 and may not be ready for the start of the regular season.

With a need to bolster their offense, the team brought back former Twin Jason Kubel. Kubel, although only signed to a minor league deal thus far, could provide much needed offensive spark and could fill the Twins’ need for a DH or left fielder. Kubel was a regular contributor to the Twins’ offense during the 2008-2010 seasons (averaging 23 HR and 91 RBI) and hit 30 home runs for the Diamondbacks in 2012.

Exec VP/GM Terry Ryan also needs youngsters like Oscar Arcia and Brian Dozier to continue to blossom as well as continued production from third baseman Trevor Plouffe.

All of the aforementioned moves were made with the goal of making an immediate impact for the 2014 season, as well as serving as a stopgap measure until the Twins top prospects are ready.  The team’s farm system is ranked within the top five minor league organizations in Major League Baseball and includes talented prospects like Alex Meyer, Eddie Rosario, and Miguel Sano.

Meyer, a 6’9″ hard-throwing pitcher, was acquired in a trade with the Nationals for Denard Span prior to the 2013 season. Meyers had a strong first season in his first year in the organization (84 Ks in 70 IP at Double-A), and is known for his hard breaking ball and a fastballs that tops out at 98-99 mph.3  However, with the Twins’ recent pickups, Meyer probably isn’t likely to see time in the major leagues this year, but is definitely a player to watch out for in 2015.

Rosario, who is incredibly quick and defensively talented, could fill the Twins need for another outfielder in the near future. Rosario also has offensive potential, which the Twins need desperately. The 22-year-old, however, was recently suspended for 50 games for his second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment program, which will surely slow down his development and may impact his chances to play in the Majors.

Sano, just 20 years old, is already proving that he can be an offensive force. The third baseman hit 28 home runs for Beloit (‘A’) and continued his home run prowess in 2013 with 35 home runs between advanced ‘A’ Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain.2 The Twins see a future with Sano and he could potentially see playing time in the big leagues during the upcoming season.

Update 3/1 – Bad news for Miguel Sano; the #6 prospect in Baseball America’s Top 100, will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss all of the 2014 season and most of 2015.

Overall, the Twins have patched together a team that has some potential for this season, but the Twins’ real future lies with its minor league prospects.

1 – si.com
2 – startribune.com (2/13/2014)
3 – startribune.com (2/11/2014)

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23

Tigers Look To Come Out Roaring

scherzerverlander

The Tigers will go as far as Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander will take them.                                                 

By Brandon Karsten

Key acquisitions: RHP Joe Nathan, RHP Joba Chamberlain, 2B Ian Kinsler.

Key losses: 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Doug Fister, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP Jose Veras

Shane Victorino of the Boston Red Sox was staring down at Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Jose Veras. It was in the seventh inning of Game Six of the American League Championship Series with the score 2-1 in favor of the Tigers. On a 1-2 count, Victorino ripped into Veras’ hanging curveball for a grand slam and the lead. In the top of the ninth, with Boston up 5-2, BoSox closer Koji Uehara struck out Jose Iglesias as Boston won the pennant four games to two. It was back to the drawing board for Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski to try to bring that long awaited World Series Championship back to the Motor City.

The winter of 2013-14 was a busy one for the Tigers. One of the first things the Tigers had to do was look for a new manager. After the ALCS loss, Jim Leyland announced his retirement as the Tigers’ skipper and took a job as a special assistant to Dombrowski. The Tigers named former big league catcher Brad Ausmus as the new skipper. Ausmus played from 1993 to 2010 with Houston, San Diego, Detroit and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has had managerial experience with Team Israel in the 2013 World Baseball Classic qualifying pool in Jupiter, Fla. Israel came up short of moving on to the March tournament after losing in the pool final to Spain 9-7.

Once the calendar flipped to November, the Tigers started a series of moves to help shore up their inconsistent bullpen. The Tigers let Joaquin Benoit and Jose Veras leave via free agency. Veras signed with the Chicago Cubs and Benoit went west to San Diego. The Tigers lost another arm when the Houston Astros claimed lefty Darin Downs off waivers.

On Dec. 4, Detroit finished their two years search to replace ineffective closer Jose Valverde when they signed veteran Joe Nathan. Playing for the Texas Rangers last season, Nathan nailed down 43 saves. It was the fourth time in his 13-year career he surpassed the 40 save mark in a season. Then after the winter meetings, the Tigers announced the signing of former New York Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain for one year and $2.5 million.

The Tigers also made some changes to their starting rotation. Detroit traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals in exchange for infielder Steve Lombardozzi, pitchers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray. The Fister trade did open a door for lefty Drew Smyly to go from the bullpen to the starting rotation for the upcoming season.1 The Tigers could also lose AL CY Young Award winner Max Scherzer after the coming season. He and the Tigers agreed to a one-year, $15.5 million contract to avoid arbitration, but Scherzer may test the free agent market after 2014.

A key to the season will be the performance, of course, of their number one starter, Justin Verlander. The former AL CY Young and MVP winner is coming off a rough season in which he posted his highest ERA since 2009 and finished 2013. He also didn’t lead the league in any major pitching category.

Detroit also shook up the lineup during the offseason. The Tigers swapped first baseman Prince Fielder for Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler and let second baseman Omar Infante sign with Kansas City.

Shortstop Jose Iglesias came over to the Tigers last year in a mid-season trade from Boston and made an immediate impact at the plate and on defense while Jhonny Peralta was serving a 50-game suspension for his part in the Biogenesis scandal. The Tigers put Peralta in the outfield in the postseason to allow Iglesias, the stronger defender, to remain at shortstop. Shortly after the World Series, Peralta signed a long term deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. Iglesias will stay with Detroit after putting his signature on a one-year, $1.65 million deal Jan. 8. 2

Also acquired via free agency was outfielder Rajai Davis, who throughout his career has been a base stealing threat. Davis played three years in Toronto, and though he averaged a below .700 OPS, he stole 32 bags as a season.

There are a number of prospects in the Tigers’ organization that are looking forward to getting called up sometime during the 2014 campaign. After coming up to the big club as a September call-up, Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos, who came up as an outfielder, may get a chance to play third base as Miguel Cabrera will back across the diamond to first base to replace Fielder. Castellanos was named the 15th best prospect for 2014 by MLB.com.1

Last year, Right-handed relief pitcher Bruce Rondon found himself splitting time between Detroit and AAA Toledo, but Dombrowski has high expectations for the young Venezuelan hurler for 2014.1

All early indications point to the Tigers remaining as contenders in the American League Central. However, the four other teams in the division are looking to make it a very competitive divisional race. Minnesota added free agent starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban defector Jose Abreu.

2014 should be an interesting and exciting year as the Tigers look to defend their AL Central division title.

1 –  detroit.tigers.mlb.com

2 –  mlive.com

Brandon Karsten is a contributor to Designated Four Assignment. He can be found on Facebook or contacted by email at bkarsten2009@hotmail.com