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CHICAGO WHITE SOX (1998: 861 runs, .269 Equivalent Average)

Starters (with projected Equivalent Average)
C Mark Johnson .262 or Josh Paul .222
1B Paul Konerko .287
2B Ray Durham .272
3B Greg Norton .251 or Carlos Lee .255
SS Mike Caruso .244
LF Jeff Abbott .269
CF Brian Simmons .245 or McKay Christensen .252 or Tyrone Pendergrass .235
RF Magglio Ordonez .260
DH Frank Thomas .328

Bench/Alternates: 1B Mario Valdez .280, OF Darrin Jackson .220, OF John
Cangelosi
.252, C Robert Machado .211

Few teams are as wide-open at three positions as the Sox are right now at
catcher, third, and center. They’re not going to be anywhere close to where
they were last year offensively, but the pain of this year’s decline should
lead to future payoffs, as potential stars like Konerko and Lee mature, and
if Christensen or Johnson get on base enough to be driven in (assuming the
Sox are wise enough to use them). Even so, with Ray Durham and Frank
Thomas, the Sox have two good on-base players, and I expect Thomas to
bounce back even better than we’ve projected. Three players who need to do
it now or never? Abbott, Ordonez, and Norton. Norton’s clearly a temporary
solution, but between Abbott and Ordonez, one of them could easily collapse
below usefulness this year, and the Sox have enough options that they’ll be
replaced. The worst-case scenario is if the Sox play Paul at catcher, or
waste their time on Darrin Jackson or John Cangelosi in center, and the
best-case scenario lets them put Konerko in an outfield corner so that they
can work Mario Valdez into the lineup.

Projected Offensive Rank in AL Central: second


CLEVELAND INDIANS (1998: 850 runs, .264 EqA)

C Sandy Alomar Jr. .235
1B Jim Thome .332
2B Roberto Alomar .290
3B Travis Fryman .272
SS Omar Vizquel .256
LF David Justice .300
CF Kenny Lofton .280
RF Manny Ramirez .316
DH Richie Sexson .282 or Wil Cordero .255

Bench/Alternates: 3B Russ Branyan .306, OFs Jacob Cruz .263, Alex Ramirez
.273, Mark Whiten .265, 2B/SS Enrique Wilson .261

What a lot of alternatives for that last outfield or DH slot, right? So why
sign Wil Cordero? Why even consider Cordero at all, when he’s almost
certainly the worst offensive option they have? This is a team that at
worst will be playing seven good offensive players (in terms of getting
on-base, hitting for power, or both) to start off with, but they could make
life simpler for their pitching staff if they made it 8 and sent Cordero
away. Picking that nit aside, the Indians are still handily the best
offensive team in the division, although this could very easily be the last
hurrah in terms of simultaneously getting good work out of their veterans
and the great Thome-Manny Ramirez tandem.

Projected Offensive Rank in AL Central: first


DETROIT TIGERS (1998: 722 runs, .250 EqA)

C Brad Ausmus .247
1B Tony Clark .290
2B Damion Easley .270
3B Dean Palmer .268
SS Deivi Cruz .210
LF Bobby Higginson .296
CF Brian Hunter .238 or Gabe Kapler .276
RF Juan Encarnacion .270
DH Gregg Jefferies .256

Bench/Alternates: 2B Frank Catalanotto .275, DH Rob Fick .274

Okay, fricaseeing the Tribe about Wil Cordero aside, the decision to
perpetuate Gregg Jefferies’ professional existence is even more inexcusable
for a team which has Kapler, Catalanotto, and Fick all ready or close to
it. On the other hand, the Tigers can brag that they have the best-hitting
catcher in the division, which will be true if Mark Johnson as long as Mark
Johnson, Mike Sweeney, or Matt LeCroy aren’t playing for their teams. As
far as the Tigers’ offense, although they’ll almost certainly improve, they
aren’t going to improve as much as they’re thinking. As a lineup, this team
doesn’t get on-base, so regardless of whether they play Kapler or bring in
Dean Palmer to hit homeruns, a good offense needs more than solo shots.

Projected Offensive Rank in AL Central: third


KANSAS CITY ROYALS (1998: 714 runs, .244 EqA)

C Chad Kreuter .223
1B Jeff King .262
2B Carlos Febles .260
3B Joe Randa .250
SS Rey Sanchez .223
LF Jeff Conine .253 or Jermaine Dye .247
CF Carlos Beltran .249
RF Johnny Damon .257
DH Jeremy Giambi .307

Bench/Alternates: Mike Sweeney .251, Sal Fasano .197, Larry Sutton .242

A work in progress would be the charitable description, as the Royals have
five players to watch, supported by a bunch of guys accruing service time.
We’ve touted the three rookies (Febles, Giambi, and Beltran), but I can’t
quite shake off the feeling that Johnny Damon is going to turn out better
than projected. Mark Sweeney would be the answer to most teams’ catching
problems, but the Royals must have given in to peer pressure or greatly
covet somebody in the Angels’ system to decide to sign Chad Kreuter and
play him. Since half of the team is part of the future, the other half has
to play well enough to help turn themselves into trade bait for the Royals
to acquire their replacements. They’re almost certainly stuck with Randa
and Sanchez, but if they could turn Jeff King into a real third baseman or
shortstop or power hitter, they’d have accomplished something.

Projected Offensive Rank in AL Central: fifth, but better than Tampa.


MINNESOTA TWINS (1998: 734 runs, .247 EqA)

C Terry Steinbach .234
1B Doug Mientkiewicz .280 / Ron Coomer .245
2B Todd Walker .283
3B Corey Koskie .244 / Ron Coomer .245
SS Denny Hocking .198 or Cristian Guzman .227
LF Marty Cordova .254
CF Jacque Jones .261 or Torii Hunter .236
RF Matt Lawton .276
DH David Ortiz .280

Bench/Alternatives: C Matt LeCroy .263, OFs Chris Latham .231, Brian
Buchanan
.234, Mel Nieves .260

The team currently being propped up as exhibit A for why "small market
teams can’t compete" is finally getting serious about rebuilding. Until
players like Matt LeCroy or Mike Cuddyer are ready, they’ll get to evaluate
who’s going to be good enough to be part of the next good Twins team. Todd
Walker is already in place, and Matt Lawton is a great low-profile
offensive player, getting on-base and contributing some power. Ortiz and
Koskie could break through this year, and Mientkiewicz should do a
convincing impersonation of Mark Grace. All in all, there are things to
like here, as long as you’re comfortable with the idea that this team isn’t
being built to win in 1999. At least it isn’t around just to keep Otis
Nixon and Paul Molitor busy, so they’re already improving.

Projected Offensive Rank in AL Central: fourth