BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 13: Jhonny Peralta #27 and Alex Avila #13 of the Detroit Tigers celebrate after scoring in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 13, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. Detroit won the game 6-5. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Another day, another post. I'm trying to get through these divisional all star teams, partly because I do enjoy putting them together, but also because I desperately want to get to finishing up my positional previews for the offseason. Apparently I've got some competition for best positional previews now, too, with FanGraphs doing their own set. That's okay, though; their previews focus have a stronger focus on free agency than the entire market, and mine just has that pizzazz, you know? (Yes, you do know.)
Let's do this AL Central All Star team, though. Personally, I kind of hated how the 2011 season went in this division, because the White Sox were such a nerve-wracking joke, but it's not like I was rooting for the best team and they didn't win. I just kind of want to line up Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, Juan Pierre and Brent Morel up and kick each of 'em in the shin.
Catcher: Alex Avila, Detroit (5.5 fWAR)
He's gotten a good deal of attention during the playoffs, and he's totally deserved all of it. The 24-year-old was never a major prospect after being taken in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, but the Tigers stuck with him for a good portion of last season even while he struggled. They've obviously been handsomely rewarded for their patience. And I gotta shout-out to Carlos Santana, who could easily take this spot from Avila next season.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit (7.3 fWAR)
Between Avila and now Cabrera, you can kind of see why the Tigers pulled away with the division, right? This guy is really on a level of his own right now; few players of his age have set themselves up for the Hall of Fame like Cabrera has. He's a below-average fielder with 20 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale, but he's arguably the best hitter in the world.
Second Base: Alexi Casilla, Minnesota (1.4 fWAR)
I'm serious. There's nobody else. You'd prefer Gordon Beckham or Carlos Guillen? What about Orlando Cabrera? Jason Kipnis would belong here, but he only played in 36 games. Honestly, the next-best alternative is Ramon Santiago. If you're a fan of an AL Central team, you should probably be reading up on the 2B market for this winter.
Third Base: Jack Hannahan, Cleveland (2.4 fWAR)
Honestly, I'd criticize the quality of play at this position, but we just covered the second basemen. Hannahan was actually pretty solid in 2011, posting unexpectedly good offensive numbers (i.e. league average) and his usual high-quality defense. There's a good deal of hope here, though; Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Moustakas are two of the best young 3B in the game, and Brent Morel actually played much better in the latter parts of the season.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Detroit (5.2 fWAR)
Another position of strength, both for the Tigers and the division as a whole. Peralta was the best-hitting shortstop in the entire AL this season and provided quality defense, making him the league's best at the position. Alexei Ramirez can't hit like Peralta, but he's a better defender and a much better base-runner. Asdrubal Cabrera deserves a shout-out, too, although UZR once again crushed his defensive work this year.
Left Field: Alex Gordon, Kansas City (6.9 fWAR)
Holy cow. I remember when everyone thought that Alex Gordon would be a star. I remember when everyone thought that Alex Gordon must be one of the most disappointing prospects in recent memory. Now I don't know what the hell to think. He's obviously a great player, fulfilling the substantial potential he flashed years ago, but he was the fourth-best position player in the AL this season. I just wonder if his breakout will be his peak, even if he regresses into a well above-average regular.
Center Field: Melky Cabrera, Kansas City (4.2 fWAR)
Another holy cow. People ripped me apart last winter for thinking that Cabrera might bounce back in 2011, and well, I easily could've been wrong. But I was right, and so I'm going to bring it up. I never thought he would be this good, though, posting above-average hitting and running numbers while playing an acceptable center field.
Right Field: Michael Cuddyer, Minnesota (3.1 fWAR)
We almost had an all-KC outfield here, but Cuddyer squeezes by Jeff Francoeur as the division's top right fielder. Cuddyer spent time at a number of positions in 2011, but he saw the most time in right, and was one of the rare Minnesota players that didn't disappoint this season.
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez, Detroit (2.9 fWAR)
Beats out Billy Butler as the division's best DH after another good season. Honestly, you have to admit that Butler's 2011 was somewhat disappointing; he's a good hitter, but he's not much better than average for the DH position. Oh, and Adam Dunn. Sigh.
No. 1: Justin Verlander, Detroit (7.0 fWAR)
No. 2: Justin Masterson, Cleveland (4.9 fWAR)
No. 3: Gavin Floyd, Chicago (3.6 fWAR)
No. 4: Mark Buehrle, Chicago (3.4 fWAR)
No. 5: Doug Fister, Detroit (2.4 fWAR as a Tiger, 5.6 fWAR overall)
We don't need to talk about Verlander. He's one of the best pitchers in the game, bar none. There. Moving on, though, you'll notice that this is a pretty underwhelming division pitching-wise. Masterson broke up big-time this season while Floyd and Buehrle once again turned in solid performances. The bigger name that stands out here is Fister, primarily because he only made 10 starts as a Tiger this season. But given the underwhelming alternatives, I'd rather have Fister tossing up 2.4 fWAR in 10 starts than 3.5 fWAR in 28 starts from Phil Humber.
Reliever: Greg Holland, Kansas City (2.0 fWAR)
Reliever: Glen Perkins, Minnesota (1.7 fWAR)
Reliever: Sergio Santos, Chicago (1.6 fWAR)
Not a great year for the division's elite relievers, although Jose Valverde tossed up some nice save numbers. We were treated to some very impressive, very unexpected breakouts, though, from the likes of Holland and Perkins. Before the season, it wasn't clear which role either would fill in 2011. By the end of the season, they were among the most trusted options in their respective bullpens.