Division-by-division: AL Central …
Leading up to Spring Training, I’ll take a look at each of the six divisions in hopes of providing an overview for what to expect this coming season. Next up, the AL Central.
Last year’s record: 92-70, 2nd place (lost to Rays in AL Wild Card game)
Key additions: OF David Murphy, RP John Axford, RP Josh Outman, 1B David Cooper, INF Elliot Johnson, OF Nyjer Morgan, RF Jeff Francoeur, C Matt Treanor, SP Shaun Marcum
Key subtractions: SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Scott Kazmir, OF Drew Stubbs, CL Chris Perez, OF Jason Kubel, RP Matt Albers, RP Rich Hill, RP Joe Smith, C Kelly Shoppach
Biggest strength: Offense. The Indians ranked sixth in the Majors in runs scored last year, despite down years from Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera, and have replaced the strikeout-prone Drew Stubbs with righty masher David Murphy.
Biggest question: Pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. Kazmir signed with the A’s and it doesn’t look like Jimenez is coming back, so it’ll be up to young guys like Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Carlos Carrasco to fill the void as starters. The bullpen no longer has Perez, Hill and Smith, so the likes of Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Vinnie Pestano have to step up.
Most important player: Salazar. The 24-year-old right-hander has the makings of a front-of-the-rotation starter and needs to emerge as one for the Indians to take the next step.
In 25 words or less: The Indians let a lot of veteran pitchers go, and now their playoff fate will rest on an assortment of young, albeit-talented arms.
Last year’s record: 86-76, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Jason Vargas, OF Norichika Aoki, 2B Omar Infante, INF Danny Valencia, SP Brad Penny, RP Jon Rauch, OF Carlos Peguero,
Key subtractions: SP Ervin Santana, 1B Carlos Pena, INF Miguel Tejada, INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, RP Will Smith
Biggest strength: Relief pitching. Greg Holland was one of baseball’s best closers last year, with Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow helping to make up arguably the game’s best bullpen.
Biggest question: Youth in the starting lineup. If the Royals are going to make the playoffs for the first time since winning it all in 1985, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will have to finally come into their own.
Most important player: Danny Duffy. The 25-year-old lefty missed almost 14 months due to Tommy John surgery, then posted a 1.85 ERA in five starts down the stretch. He still has upside, and could provide a huge boost to the rotation if he takes a step forward.
In 25 words or less: Aoki, Infante and Vargas could very well be the moves that push the Royals over the top and end a brutal, 28-year playoff drought.
Last year’s record: 93-69, 1st place (lost to Red Sox in ALCS)
Key additions: MGR Brad Ausmus, CL Joe Nathan, 2B Ian Kinsler, OF Rajai Davis, INF Steve Lombardozzi, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Ian Krol
Key subtractions: MGR Jim Leyland, SP Doug Fister, 1B Prince Fielder, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Omar Infante, INF Ramon Santiago, C Brayan Pena, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Jeremy Bonderman, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Jose Veras
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. Even without Fister, the Tigers’ staff looks like the best in baseball, with the reigning Cy Young Award winner (Max Scherzer), a former MVP (Justin Verlander) and the guy with the lowest ERA in 2013 (Anibal Sanchez). And don’t forget about ground ball machine Rick Porcello pitching with a better defense behind him.
Biggest question: Ausmus, because it’s always tough for a rookie manager to take on a veteran team with World Series expectations, especially while filling the shoes of a legend (though Mike Matheny seemed to do OK). Everything else about this club is solid.
Most important player: Victor Martinez. With Fielder in Texas, it’ll probably be his job to protect Miguel Cabrera as the new cleanup hitter and get pitchers to throw the two-time MVP a strike every once in a while.
In 25 words or less: The defense is a lot better with Cabrera at first and the ninth is finally locked up with Nathan. If healthy, they’ll contend once again.
Last year’s record: 66-96, 4th place
Key additions: SP Ricky Nolasco, SP Phil Hughes, OF Jason Kubel, C Kurt Suzuki, SS Jason Bartlett, RP Matt Guerrier
Key subtractions: C/OF Ryan Doumit, SP Liam Hendriks
Biggest strength: Their farm system. Keith Law ranked them second, behind only the Astros, while center fielder Byron Buxton (first) and third baseman Miguel Sano (third) rank among MLB.com’s top three prospects.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Twins had by far the worst rotation in the Majors last year, with a 30th-ranked 5.26 ERA, then spent a combined $84 million to bring in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes and resign Mike Pelfrey. They’ll be better, but they’ll still be bad.
Most important player: Joe Mauer, of course. He’s signed through 2018 and is making the transition from catcher to first base in hopes of staying as healthy as possible during that time. How will he handle it defensively, and will he produce the power numbers required for that position? These are crucial questions for the Twins’ future.
In 25 words or less: They’ll take their lumps again this season, but the rotation will be better (how can it be worse?) and some very talented prospects arrive soon.
Last year’s record: 63-99, 5th place
Key additions: CF Adam Eaton, 1B Jose Abreu, 3B Matt Davidson, SP Felipe Paulino, RP Ronald Belisario, RP Scott Downs
Key subtractions: SP Gavin Floyd, CL Addison Reed, OF Brandon Jacobs, SP/RP Hector Santiago, SP Dylan Axelrod
Biggest strength: The front of the rotation. Chris Sale is up there among the best pitchers in the game, and 25-year-old Jose Quintana (3.51 ERA in 33 starts last year) has emerged as a solid No. 2.
Biggest question: The lineup. It could be solid; it could also be very bad. Eaton, Abreu, Davidson, Dayan Viciedo, Avisail Garcia, Alejandro De Aza, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, Tyler Flowers and Alexei Ramirez all bring varying degrees of questions.
Most important player: Abreu. He was given the largest ever contract for an international free agent ($68 million over six years) and has supplanted Paul Konerko as the everyday first baseman. Now we’ll see how the Cuban slugger’s power translates to the States.
In 25 words or less: The White Sox can’t contend this year, but GM Rick Hahn is doing a nice job rebuilding in hopes of getting them there soon.
Predicted order of finish …
- White Sox