The American League Central on paper seems to go back to a vintage time when the Cleveland Indians ran the show. The Tribe has fielded a far more balanced team than the ones in the 90’s that were dominated by Lofton, Belle, Manny, and Thome, but they are just as deadly thanks to a top-notch rotation. Which means the rest of the division is well, fighting over who will come in second.
Or will it?
The Twins made some moves of going more in with key pickups and may surprise as a Wild Card contender and perhaps an outside shot at upending Cleveland for the division. It’s not overly probable, but it is possible.
As for the rest of the division, it is in practical rebuild modes. The White Sox seem to have all the pieces in play in the farm system to really make some noise maybe in the 2nd half of this season but really 2019 may be the year for Chicago. The Royals and Tigers are really fighting it out to see which one can avoid last place as both are in early rebuilds. So it is definitely not going to be an interesting division from top to bottom, nor the most competitive one for sure (perhaps the worst in baseball right now?), but there could be some surprises especially if Minnesota and Chicago can make some noise.
Previews are in order of where I project them to be.
1ST PLACE: CLEVELAND INDIANS:
2017: 102-60, 1st place (lost to New York Yankees in ALDS)
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: 1B-Yonder Alonso (FA-Seattle), OF-Rajai Davis (FA-Boston), P-Matt Belisle (FA-Minnesota), 1B-Mike Napoli (FA-Texas); SUBTRACTS: 1B-Carlos Santana (FA-Philadelphia), OF-Jay Bruce (FA-New York Mets), OF-Austin Jackson (FA-San Francisco), P-Craig Breslow (FA-Toronto), P-Boone Logan (FA-Milwaukee), P-Bryan Shaw (FA-Colorado), P-Joe Smith (FA-Houston)
Outlook: The Indians possess a stellar lineup and one of the top rotations in all of baseball. Corey Kluber is a true ace and when healthy, the likes of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are also great front-end guys. The lineup with Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion is very potent, while the Tribe added Yonder Alonso to replace Carlos Santana. IF there is a question, it will have to be the outfield again with the group of the oft-injured Michael Brantley, Rajai Lonnie Chisenhall, Bradley Zimmer, and Rajai Davis. The good news is, the Indians are in a division where they can get to the deadline near the top or at the top and make a key trade to get another hitter like they did with Jay Bruce last year. That is if the Indians are struggling for a power bat in the outfield. But everything else is clicking, especially in the bullpen. But again, while the roster is definitely good enough to win the AL Central, will there be enough offense in the outfield to get past the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros?
MY PROJECTION: 100-62. Indians will be just fine and should get a lot of W’s within the division, but they still need to get an outfield bat at some point.
2ND PLACE: MINNESOTA TWINS
2017: 85-77, 2nd place (lost to New York Yankees in Wild Card Game)
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: 1B/DH-Logan Morrison (FA-Tampa Bay), OF-Ryan LaMarre (FA-Oakland), P-Lance Lynn (FA-St. Louis), P-Jake Odorizzi (Trade-Tampa Bay), P-Fernando Rodney (FA-Arizona) P-Addison Reed (FA-Boston), FA-Zach Duke (FA-St. Louis), P-Tyler Kinley (Rule 5-Miami); SUBTRACTS: P-Bartolo Colon (FA-Texas), P-Hector Santiago (FA-Chicago White Sox), P-Matt Belisle (FA-Cleveland), P-Dillon Gee (FA-overseas), P-Glen Perkins (Retired)
Outlook: After a rebound year from the disastrous 2016 season, the Twins sneaked into the Wild Card game. With a good farm system and a youth push in Minnesota, the time to win is now for the Twins. And they made key moves that you probably have to consider as bargains around with getting home run leader Logan Morrison from Tampa Bay and then Cardinals front-end starter Lance Lynn while trading for the Rays front-end guy in Jake Odorizzi. The Twins starting lineup is pretty potent from top to bottom with the likes of Morrison, Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, etc. The rotation needed the key upgrades and they got them. Lynn and Odorizzi will help a rotation that will see Ervin Santana miss the first month of the season, but if Jose Berrios continues his upward trend as does Kyle Gibson, Minnesota will be barking on the Indians door. The only question will be despite the moves in the bullpen is can the Twins win with Fernando Rodney as their closer? He keeps getting jobs and the saves are up anywhere he goes, but he is very ugly in doing so. But the adds of Addison Reed (in case Rodney fails would be the closer) and Zach Duke really helps out the Twins for the season.
MY PROJECTION: 92-70. Minnesota could be a team nobody in the AL wants to see, especially in October.
3RD PLACE: CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2017: 67-95, 4th place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: C-Wellington Castillo (FA-Baltimore), P-Miguel Gonzalez (FA-Texas), P-Joakim Soria (Trade-Kansas City), P-Luis Avilan (P-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Hector Santiago (FA-Minnesota); SUBTRACTS: C-Geovany Soto (FA), P-Mike Pelfrey (Retired)
Outlook: Right now in Chicago it is more of the waiting game for the prospects the White Sox gained over the trades they made for the likes of Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, and Adam Eaton. The White Sox will be primed more for the next season than this as the prospects get that experience. But if they have to they can add more prospects as rumors abound that Avisail Garcia may be a trading chip as may be the White Sox acquisition of Wellington Castillo by the deadline if they are out of it. But they will be a fun team, especially after the deadline and the roster expansion to see some of these top prospects get their feet wet in Chicago. But right now, it is really about patience if you’re a fan of the Pale Hose.
MY PROJECTION: 73-89. ChiSox will be a team to spoil somebody’s season in the last months with their young group.
4TH PLACE: DETROIT TIGERS
2017: 64-98, 5th place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Leonys Martin (FA-Chicago Cubs), OF-Niko Goodrum (FA-Minnesota), OF-Victor Reyes (Rule 5-Arizona), P-Francisco Liriano (FA-Houston), P-Mike Fiers (FA-Houston), P-Johnny Barbato (Waivers-Pittsburgh), SUBTRACTS: 2B-Ian Kinsler (Trade-Los Angeles Angels), P-Anibal Sanchez (FA-Atlanta), P-Bruce Rondon (non-tendered)
Outlook: Oiy. Despite the moves last year of freeing up payroll of the heavy contracts of Justin Verlander and Justin Upton (and then this off-season with Ian Kinsler) and also improving the farm system, the Tigers still remain a gigantic mess. I still believe GM Al Avila squandered the JD Martinez trade which he practically netted 3 light-hitting third basemen who only one has a legit shot at having any impact on an MLB roster and many other Tiger fans believe he squandered the moves of Verlander (Houston) and Justin Wilson (Cubs). But there is talk of moving the ace of the Tigers, Michael Fulmer, to get MORE high ranked prospects and such. But I guess it really doesn’t matter where I put Detroit and Kansas City as it can be interchanged at this point. I guess my bias thinks that the likes of Miguel Cabrera won’t be as bad as 2017 where he hit only .245 and Ron Gardenhire will be better than Brad Ausmus as manager. So there is some talent still on Detroit that can keep them from completely sinking (Castellanos, who also can be a huge trade chip), but still. The rebuild is still in its early stages, and I don’t think Avila is the man to right the ship in Detroit.
MY PROJECTION: 67-95. Detroit could logically move Castellanos (though it may be a bad year to do so given if the Jays and Orioles are out of it, Donaldson and Machado may be also on the block) and perhaps James McCann with perhaps Shane Greene.
5th PLACE: KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2017: 80-82, 3rd place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Jon Jay (FA-Chicago Cubs), 1B-Lucas Duda (FA-Tampa Bay), C-Ryan Goins (FA-Toronto), P-Wily Peralta (FA-Milwaukee), P-Justin Grimm (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Blaine Boyer (FA-Boston), P-Burch Smith (Trade-New York Mets), P-Brad Keller (Trade Cincinnati), P-Jesse Hahn (Trade-Oakland); SUBTRACTS: 1B-Eric Hosmer (FA-San Diego), OF-Lorenzo Cain (FA-Milwaukee), P-Trevor Cahill (FA-Oakland), P-Jason Vargas (FA-New York Mets), P-Mike Minor (FA-Texas), P-Peter Moylan (P-Atlanta)
Outlook: It could have been worse for the Royals this off-season had Mike Moustakas and Alicedes Escobar had also left Kansas City, but the damage was plenty done, seeing World Series heroes of Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain move on. And then Kansas City’s best pitcher in 2017, Jason Vargas, is gone. So you have a quality starter in Danny Duffy, but after him, there are questions abound, especially on that back end. Worse, the bullpen of the Royals who looked to be as one of the best in their October runs, may be one of the worst in the Majors now outside Kelvim Herrera. So, much like the Tigers, Kansas City will have to start replenish their farm as the moves they made in their October runs in 2014 and 2015 took a hit. The question will be can they get a lot in return for a guy like Duffy, if the Royals were to offer him, as well as Herrera. So there are plenty of questions if the Royals can do it through trades, especially if 3B is going to be a high-supply and low demand for teams come July.
MY PROJECTION: 66-96. The Royals will have a run similar to Detroit in struggling for the next few years. The farm system has to be improved.
One more week and one more division to cover!
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat