The offseason is winding down, which means it’s time to evaluate which teams made the right moves and which ones got caught sleeping. Although there are still some big names out there that could help some teams whose rosters are lacking, let’s take a look at which AL Central teams will improve upon their 2013 final positions.
2014 AL Central Rankings & Projections
5. Minnesota Twins
Good gracious, the Twins starting pitching was bad last year! Want a stat? Only 38% of their starts were quality starts in 2013. Blechhh. Naturally, that was the focus of their offseason, and they added Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco while resigning Mike Pelfrey. I wouldn’t call that an improvement, per se—Kevin Correia is going to get the ball on Opening Day for Christmas’ sake. After those four, it’s sort of open-ended: Samuel Deduno, Andrew Albers and Scott Diamond could each be the fifth man. Additions aside, the rotation is average at best, and literally the league’s worst at worst. The bullpen will likely be what it was at the end of last season, with Glen Perkins holding down the ninth.
Joe Mauer is going to officially move to first base full-time, and the Twinkies signed Kurt Suzuki to fill the gap behind the plate. The rest of the lineup is rather unimpressive, with all the same faces in all the same places. The Twins resigned Jason Kubel, and although it was to a minor league deal, I think Kubel will end up in the majors come Opening Day.
The good news for the Twins is that they have one of the best farm systems in baseball. There is plenty of talent in the minors, and come 2016 we could be looking at a quality major league squad. Unfortunately for the Twins, it is not 2016. It’s 2014, and the Twins are not going to be good.
Projected Finish: 68-94
4. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox finished at a dismal 63-99 in 2013, a difficult pill to swallow for those on the south side of ChiTown. It became somewhat of a fire sale in the dog days of summer, as they dealt Jake Peavy and Alex Rios for young talent. They've carried the rebuilding philosophy into the offseason, starting with the signing of Cuban defector Jose Abreu, a 6’-3”, 255-pound masher who seems like a quality player and person (interesting story about Abreu from Dave Haugh of the Chicago Tribune). They also added former D-back Adam Eaton, leading to a somewhat crowded outfield—my guess is that Alejandro De Aza will be relegated to a utility role to begin the season. The DH spot will ultimately belong to Konerko, with Adam Dunn and one of the outfielders probably seeing looks there as well.
The White Sox bullpen suffered a big loss when Addison Reed left town, leaving Nate Jones as the likely closer, but the additions of Ronnie Belisario and Scott Downs should help provide some stability to the late innings. From a starting pitching standpoint, the White Sox look average at best after ace Chris Sale, with Jose Quintana, John Danks, and the newly acquired Felipe Paulino occupying the 2-3-4 slots. The fifth starter will be either Andre Rienzo or Erik Johnson, both promising young arms who could be poised for breakout seasons.
I think the White Sox will certainly be better than they were last year, but they are unfortunately mired in an extremely competitive AL Central. They’re still in rebuilding mode, and I’m not expecting a playoff berth this year, but hey—don’t sleep on the Sox.
Projected Finish: 73-89
3. Kansas City Royals
Is this the year? Is it?!? The Royals have been on the verge of a playoff run for a couple of years now, and honestly, the pieces might all be in place. Sure, they lost Ervin Santana to free agency, but they made the moves that they needed to make this winter. They added Jason Vargas who, at his best, can be a very solid 2-3 starter—I’d predict he starts the season behind Jeremy Guthrie and Big Game James. Danny Duffy is a great young arm who could be poised for a breakout, and Wade Davis is just average enough to be a consistent fifth man. The Royals have some great arms in the minors (Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer) who are expected to see the bigs at some point in 2014 as well.
The infield is full of talent, improved by the additions of Omar Infante and Danny Valencia. Valencia looks like he’ll fit in as the first guy off the bench to start the season, but should either Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas get cold, he could see the starting lineup. The addition of Norichika Aoki solidified the outfield, and assuming that the young guns step it up at the plate, this lineup should produce.
As I said, the AL Central is really competitive. But I'll tell you what: should the Royals get hot come August and September, they could very well see the playoffs.
Projected Finish: 88-74
2. Cleveland Indians
The Indians’ offseason has been fairly quiet. The starting nine will be rather similar to what we saw last year, with the only real change being David Murphy in right instead of Drew Stubbs (who was sent to Colorado in exchange for reliever Josh Outman). The lineup still has plenty of potency, comprised almost entirely of young yet experienced players. They’re not going to be in the top five of any offensive categories in 2014, but they're certainly not going to be near the bottom either.
The Tribe’s rotation, however, is in trouble. They've lost two quality starters in Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, leaving them with very shaky starting pitching. I’m still not sold on Justin Masterson’s capability as an ace, despite the flashes of brilliance we saw last year, and after Masterson, it only gets worse as far as consistency goes. I definitely think that the Indians will add another arm, and I’m pretty sure it’ll be Jimenez, who’s going to mess around long enough to be forced to resign with them for less than what he’s asking.
The bullpen also lost some big pieces, as Chris Perez, Joe Smith and Matt Albers are all no longer in Cleveland. The addition of the aforementioned Outman and John Axford will help replace them, although that is entirely dependent on which version of John Axford shows up in 2014.
Cleveland put it together enough last year to snag a wildcard spot, but without another proven starter, they won’t be able to repeat in 2014. Assuming they do add another good arm (Jimenez), they will be in the wildcard talk come September.
Projected Finish: 88-74
1. Detroit Tigers
Coming off of three straight AL Central titles, the Tigers did a curious amount of dealing in the offseason, the big one of course being the exchange of Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. I would say it’s pretty obvious that the trade was done primarily to free up money to resign either Miguel Cabrera or Max Scherzer at some point in the next couple of seasons, although Ian Kinsler is a pretty good consolation prize.
The Tigers are one of the only teams that are relatively without questions going into Spring Training this year, as all of their positions are definitively manned. The newly signed Rajai Davis will bring some speed in a platoon with Andy Dirks in right, and adding the former Washington utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi is a sneaky-good acquisition. The only real question is going to be protection for the reigning MVP, as he is most likely going to hit behind Kinsler. Austin Jackson ain’t Prince Fielder, I’m afraid. Keep an eye on the Tigers in discussions about Nelson Cruz, as he could be just the protection they’re looking for.
Dealing Fister left the rotation pretty much established—Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal the Animal, Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello, in that order. No need to waste any more breath on them—you pretty much know what you’re going to get.
The bullpen also looks good for Detroit. They signed Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain, and received Ian Krol in the Fister trade, although whether Chamberlain provides stability is debatable. (Sorry, bitter Yankee fan.) Right now I’d predict Joe Nathan will continue closing games, as he was still plenty effective last year in Texas. Should he falter, human flamethrower Bruce Rondon is waiting in the wings.
The Tigers made some moves, but they aren't any less lethal. Nobody in the AL Central is going to catch them, and I pity whoever has to play them in the playoffs.
Projected Finish: 92-70
For my AL East projections, click here.
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