With another year in the books I've decided to reach across the blogosphere and bring in a little help to answer 7 questions about the AL Central's 2008 season. Many people (including myself) expected Detroit to run away with the division and I doubt anybody expected a White Sox/Twins showdown. I guess thats why they play the games. To me next season looks wide open and depending on offseason moves it appears that any of the five teams (yes even the Royals) could win the division. But lets talk about 2008.
Here's out our panel and their respective blogs:
Andrew from The 35th Street Review (White Sox)
Ray from Royals on Radio etc.
Keith from Royals Prospects
John from Minnesota Twins MVB
Matt from Take 75 North (Tigers)
1. Who was the Centrals best hitter?
Andrew - Nick Swisher! Just kidding. I know this isn't an impartial answer, but I have to vote for Carlos Quentin. It's true he missed a month over what was basically a stupid, self-inflicted injury, but there's a reason he set new records for getting hit by pitches. Let that be a warning to the rest of the league - if you think you can hurt Carlos Quentin, you're wrong. Only Carlos Quentin can hurt Carlos Quentin.
Ray - You've got to have all the elements to be the top hitter,contact, power,OBP, etc. and with that said Morneau is IMO the best overall top hitter in the ALC.
Quention certainly challenged but his injury stopped him at least till next year.
The durable Morneau who played in 163 games this year, scored 97 runs,had 187 hits, 23 HR and an awesome 129 RBI his OBP is a lower at .374 got the victory over his closest competition Miguel Cabrera simply because of Miguel's high K rate and the fact the Twins overachieved (like always) and the Tigers bombed. But not's let forget the rest of the field and it's a good one: Mauer, Dye, Thome, Sizemore.
Keith - I think you have to go with Carlos Quentin. The 26 year old finished 2nd in HR (36), 4th in OBP (.394) and 11th in RBI (100) in the American League. The only thing that stopped him from having an even better season were two separate injuries that limited him to only 480 at bats during the season.
John - Grady Sizemore. Carlos Quentin was great for 5 months and I have a great bias for Joe Mauer. But if I were starting a team and had to pick one hitter in the ALC I'd go with Sizemore.
Matt - That question makes me think we're talking solely about offense, so I'll go with Carlos Quentin. If we were talking relative to their position, you'd have to throw Grady Sizemore and Joe Mauer into the mix.
2. Who was the Centrals top pitcher?
Andrew - I wanted to make the argument here for John Danks, but then I remembered Cliff Lee led the American League in wins, ERA, and pretty much everything else. I can only imagine how many he would have won if the Tribe had actually put up some runs behind his starts.
Ray - I'll have to go with Cliff (Cy) Lee easily, I mean mind boggling numbers: 22 wins to only 3 losses? A 2.54 ERA ? That's insane for a guy who one year ago had a 5-8 record with 6.29 ERA and came into the year basically, on the "bubble" fighting to remain in the rotation. And then to have his numbers !!!
Keith - Most people at the beginning of the season would have thought that the obvious answer to this question would have been another pitcher, well possibly even two other pitchers, in a Cleveland Indians uniform but Cliff Lee is behind door number three to answer this question. After a 2007 campaign where he pitched in only 97.1 innings with a 6.28 ERA, Lee completely turned it around in 2008. At one point in his career you would have considerded Lee a “nice” workhorse type pitcher, but after putting up a season where he won 22 games and had a WHIP of 1.11 you have to think that he will win the AL Cy Young award in a couple of weeks.
John - Ironically, for being a 3rd place club Cleveland also represents this award. Cliff Lee came out of nowhere to go 22-3. Two of those loses were in the AL and only one in the Central (to the Twins!).
Matt - Cliff Lee
3. After the failure of the 1000 run offense will Detroit choose to rebuild or try to reload?
Andrew - I hope they reload, because that means the Tigers dealt away yet more prospects and tied up even more money in free agents. However, their attempts to dump Gary Sheffield and Kenny Rogers towards the end of the season suggested the kittens might be smarter than I'd like. Expect a fire sale of epic proportions.
Ray - hmm good question, after that failure I think they will rebuild to some extent they've already dished I-Rod to the Yanks and I think Sheffield won't be a Tiger much longer. Renteria is a free agent and he won't return. So I'd say to yeah they'll rebuild but they will also do some reloading and with Mags and Granderson they'll always be dangerous no matter what they due.
Keith - I fight with this question the most, their fall to the basement of the AL Central was completely unexpected. When they traded for Miguel Cabrera (not so much Dontrelle Willis) I pencilled in the Tigers to goto the World Series. They had a strong, youthful staff and a line up that some said would rival the output of the 1927 Yankees. It is obvious that their pitching staff let the team down as they allowed the 3rd most runs (Orioles and Rangers) in the 2008 season. No one would have thought that Verlander, Bonderman and Robertson would have regressed as much as they did, although I think everyone thought Willis was overrated and not worth a long term contract.
I think that the pitching staff will turn it around in 2009, the three guys I mentioned above are better than the numbers they produced this year. They’re going to have to find a catcher in the off-season via trade or free agency but otherwise I like, but don’t love, their team as is and expect to see them fight it out for the AL Central title in ‘09.
John - With the age of their players and size of their contracts rebuilding won't be a quick process. I think they can chalk 2008 up to a disappointment and hope their pitching rights itself to make another run for the division in 2009.
Matt - They will try to reload, pretty much out of necessity. They have too much guaranteed salary for 2009 to try to rebuild. They're stuck with some serious payroll and it would not serve them to rebuild at this point.
4. Would Cleveland have won the division had they not traded CC?
Andrew - It's not impossible, considering a mere seven more wins would have done the trick. In fact, with records of 7-11 against the Sox and 8-10 against the Twins, you have to wonder how many times Mark Shapiro's name has been cursed since roughly the day after they traded Sabathia - which, coincidentally, is exactly when they started winning. Dealing away their best starter and going 41-25 the rest of the way to a third-place finish. Go Tribe. Do that next year, too.
Ray - Maybe but there's no telling if Sabathia would have been able to have the same success he had with the Brewers if he had stayed in Cleveland and faced the same opponents he has year after year. But the Indians are always good at rebuilding and we'll just keep an eye on LaPorta. So yeah umm yeah. (That's called answering a question without really answering it :) )
Keith - Travis Hafner had 41 at bats in September (hitting only .122), Victor Martinez had 68 at bats after August and amazingly the RBI leaders for the 2008 season, Grady Sizemore and Ryan Garko, only had 90 a piece. Offensively, the Indians didn’t have the guns to make a true run to pass up the Twins and White Sox even with C.C They will however, love having Matt LaPorta playing in the OF for them in a year or two, he will certainly provide some offensive fire power.
John - CC did win 11 games in three months with Milwaukee, but only 6 in the first three months with Cleveland. Eleven wins technically would have made the difference in the Central, but I don't think he gets those 11 wins in Cleveland.
Matt - They finished seven games back, so I'm going to have to say no.
5. Twins MVP, Morneau or Mauer?
Andrew - Mauer. They both have the bats, but Mauer once again coaxed a great season of pitching out of a group of nobodies.
Ray - Morneau because I'm a 1B so I'm biased but dang that's the only reason. They are both so good, the Twins should give the Royals one of the two so we could answer that one !!!
Keith - Joe Mauer led the team in batting average and on base percentage while Justin Morneau was tops in home runs and runs batted in. Mauer beat Morneau by one in runs (98 to 97) and stolen bases (1 to 0). Mauer hit .362 with runners in scoring position and struck out 12 times in 138 at bats while Morneau hit .348 and struck out 17 times in 181 at bats. If ever there should be a tie, this would be it.
John - Often debated back and forth by Twins bloggers. Morneau may fare better in the AL MVP voting, but Mauer is the Twins MVP. Besides his 2nd AL batting title his defense as a catcher and more importantly the way he handles the young rotation is invaluable.
Matt - Joe Mauer, just based on the idea that I think what he does as a catcher is much more difficult to find (and replace) than what Morneau does as a first baseman.
6. Can the Sox repeat or were they built for a one year run?
Andrew - The Sox will repeat, absolutely - probably not as division champs, but almost certainly as a homer-happy, slow, one-dimensional offensive threat even after another winter of team leadership talking about adding speed and fundamentally sound players.
Ray - With Jr and Thome as possible free agents and Crede a free agent I think the Sox were built for a little longer then one year but I don't think it will matter as I believe they will drop some $$$ down during the off season and will right in the thick of it next year.
Keith - 32, 33, 34, 38….these are the ages of Paul Konerko, Orlando Cabrera, Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome. The Sox are frankly getting old and other than Alexei Ramirez there is not a lot of exciting young talent that will be in place for next year. In fact, if you look at Baseball America’s projected 2011 lineup they still have every player on this list except for Thome still playing for them. It will be interesting to see if Carlos Quentin can repeat his 2008 campaign.
John - I'd like to think they were built for a one year run, haha, but I'm not sure. With the emergence of Quentin, Ramirez, Danks, and Floyd I think the Southsiders will be right back in the hunt of a very crowded division in 2009.
Matt - If their starters can continue to pitch well they could certainly make another run. They will start to have to chip away at their aging core, though, and look at turning over more of their over 30 lineup.
7. Will Zack Greinke be a Royal next season?
Andrew - No. In fact, I predict both he and David DeJesus are shipped out for a bundle of prospects. . . hopefully to the White Sox, because their prospects are generally not very promising and almost never pan out. And if the Sox can get better at the expense of another Central team, I will be one happy fan.
Ray - Yes. For better or for worse Texas has the prospects to get him but Dayton Moore I believe from all the reports I've heard wants "A Kings Ransom" for Greinke.
I'd be happy picking up one of there three catchers (Salty,Ramirez,Teagarden) and another Grade A to B+ prospect. So if Texas offered Salty and Hurley (or something close I'm not the best trade organizer) I'd make that deal but would Dayton Moore ? And from what I've heard that would be a no.
But one would think if the Royals were to keep ZG they'd sign him long term and they haven't done that either so......... I'd keep an eye on that one.
Keith - I’ll put it to you this way, unless the Royals pull off a trade getting three front line prospects, two of those being major league ready, I think you have to keep him AND sign him to a long term contract. I know many will say that the Royals are rebuilding (perpetually so) but you have to have someone like Grienke, only 25 , around when the bulk of their promising prospects come up in two or three years. I truly think in between that time Grienke will continue getting 200 innings pitched per year and will be in the top 20 in league ERA.
John - I think he should be. The Tampa Bay Rays have showed everyone where developing young pitching will get you and Greinke is a homegrown talent who is finally paying off for the Royals. However, arms are going to be hard to come by through free agency this offseason and if a team comes to Dayton Moore and overwhelms him I think he has to consider the offer. Perhaps he can fill two holes by trading away one piece.
Matt - Yes. I see no reason for them to trade away a guy who's that good and has two years of arbitration left.