AL Central Preview

This week Wooding, Steve, and Hayes bring you everything you need to know about the AL Central. In case you missed it, here’s last week’s preview of the AL East.

Cleveland Indians

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Edwin Encarnacion to a 3-year, $60 million deal.

Signed Boone Logan to a 1-year deal.

Season Outlook:

It’s difficult to come much closer to a World Series title than the 2016 Indians did. Unlike many championship-caliber teams in recent years, team president Chris Antonetti wasn’t hampered by expensive re-signings or significant roster attrition in getting his team ready for 2017. The Indians head into the season with the same core pieces that brought them within reach of World Series glory and one major addition. Antonetti pulled off the signing of the offseason by inking DH Edwin Encarnacion to a 3-year, $60 million deal. As the only player to hit thirty or more home runs each of the last five seasons, the former Blue Jay will serve as more than an adequate replacement for the departing Mike Napoli. By remaining patient through a sluggish offseason, Antonetti was abe to secure the best free agent available at a very reasonable rate. Perhaps the best aspect of the signing was that it prevented Encarnacion from signing with the Boston Red Sox, the Indians’ current AL rival, on the cheap.

The Tribe will once again be led by staff ace Corey Kluber. The return of a healthy Carlos Carrasco and solid contributions from Danny Salazar give the Indians one of the deepest rotations in the AL Central. If Trevor Bauer comes close to reaching his potential, Cleveland’s staff quickly becomes one of the best in baseball. Josh Tomlin will once again be counted on to eat some innings at the back end of the rotation.

The Indians’ lights-out bullpen remains largely the same, swapping left-hander Boone Logan for the departing Jeff Manship. Cody Allen and Andrew Miller handle set-up and closing duties, while Bryan Shaw looks to shake off his Game 7 loss to continue providing reliability in the seventh inning. If Shaw regains the form he had in the second half of 2016, the Tribe will be even more dangerous after the sixth inning.

The time for Cleveland to win is now with franchise centerpieces Francisco LindorJason Kipnis, and Kluber all under club control through 2019. The offense will improve with the addition of Encarnacion and the return of former All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley from last year’s season-ending shoulder injury. If Brantley, Tyler Naquin, or Lonnie Chisenhall get off to slow starts, don’t be surprised if MLB.com Top 100 prospect Bradley Zimmer gets a look in the Indians’ outfield. With a healthy rotation, the same dominant bullpen, and a more dynamic offense, the Tribe looks to repeat as AL Central champs.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Carlos Santana, 1B
  2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
  3. Francisco Lindor, SS
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
  5. Jose Ramirez, 3B
  6. Michael Brantley, LF
  7. Tyler Naquin, CF
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall, RF
  9. Yan Gomes, C

Starting Rotation

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Carlos Carrasco
  3. Danny Salazar
  4. Trevor Bauer
  5. Josh Tomlin

John Hayes

Detroit Tigers

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Alex Avila and Omar Infante to 1 year deals

Lost Erick Aybar and Jarrod Saltalamachia to free agency

Traded Cameron Maybin to Angels for minor leaguer

Season Outlook:

As the Tigers veteran core continues to get older, some players are getting finer with age and others are nearing their expiration dates.  In my opinion, Justin Verlander was the rightful Cy Young winner even if Kate Upton made him more punch line on Twitter.  Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler all had great seasons, and Nick Castellanos was a pleasant surprise.  AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer has also proven to be a pretty fair return from the Cespedes deal as well.

Honestly, this team was already strong enough to compete in 2017, so I am not particularly surprised by the quiet offseason the Tigers had.  My larger concern is that J.D. Martinez now does not have as much incentive to remain in Detroit with the aging core that will eventually expire. Also, I was fairly perplexed by the trade that sent Cameron Maybin to the Angels for an irrelevant 23-year-old right-handed pitcher.  Sure, he’s had a very injury prone career and $9 million is a decent amount of money to pay for 90 games or less.  But, he did have a career year in the small sample size he played.

So, my question becomes: Why would the Tigers cut what they believed to be deadweight in Maybin and then proceed to neither spend the savings on another MLB piece or cash in on Verlander’s revamped value to start a full rebuild? I really thought this offseason would include at least one high profile addition in a last ditch effort to compete before the team’s core reaches its end, but I guess they’re still waiting on their large investment in Justin Upton to show reasonable returns.  I just really don’t see that strategy working out well for the Tigers, especially with the Indians team they will have to compete against throughout the year combined with a powerhouse AL East division.

While the front of the rotation with Verlander, Jordan Zimmerman, and Fulmer and the heart of the lineup is very strong, I really think the clock is ticking on this Tigers team.  I find it very hard to see them really being contenders in the American League, let alone their own division.  Yes, they were in it until the last week of 2016, but I can’t imagine morale or inspiration being too high in the clubhouse in 2017 unless if one of the veteran leaders announces a planned retirement in the near future.  The Tigers always compete and have played .500 ball or better in 10 of 11 seasons since 2006, but I think this could be a repeat of an underwhelming 2015 campaign.  I’ll never count the Tigers out, but they could be relying on their series with the White Sox and Twins to get to .500 this year.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. JD Martinez, OF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B
  5. Justin Upton, OF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Tyler Collins, OF
  8. James McCann, C
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

Pitching Staff

  1. Justin Verlander
  2. Jordan Zimmerman
  3. Michael Fulmer
  4. Anibal Sanchez
  5. Daniel Norris

Steve Campbell

Kansas City Royals

Key Offseason Moves:

Traded Wade Davis to Cubs for Jorge Soler

Signed Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Brandon Moss to 2 year contracts

Traded Jarrod Dyson to Mariners for Nathan Karns

Lost Edinson Volquez and Dillon Gee to free agency

Season Outlook:

Despite many large signings, a big time trade and many losses to free agency, the largest storyline for the Royals this offseason was a loss that went beyond baseball.  Kansas City’s electric ace Yordano Ventura passed away in late January after being involved a fatal car crash in his native country of the Dominican Republic.  While this staggering loss has certainly taken away a cornerstone of the franchise’s present and future, the clubhouse (hopefully the starting rotation, especially) will undoubtedly have plenty to play for in 2017.

After winning the World Series in 2015, the Royals had a fairly pedestrian 2016 posting an 81-81 record.  This was largely due to a lackluster offense and starting rotation.  Resigning Chris Young has looked like a fatal mistake thus far, but luckily the Royals will have an opportunity to buy him out in 2018 if need be.  On the offensive side, their only true asset was Kendrys Morales, and Morales will no longer be driving in runs for the Royals in 2017 and beyond.  In my mind, the key to the Royals success as an offense is this simple: Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez need to step up big time.  It’s only a matter of time until Lorenzo Cain is back on his game, but what we saw from Gordon and Perez in 2016 was very concerning.

To compensate for the weak starting pitching in 2016 and the losses of Volquez and Gee, the Royals have signed Hammel and Wood and also acquired Nathan Karns from the Mariners.  Simply put, I do not see any of these acquisitions changing the trajectory of the Royals.  Hammel has always been a first-half only pitcher, and I don’t think that Karns or Wood will have much success in their returns to a starting role.  Ultimately, the Royals did the best they could in an incredibly thin starting pitching market highlighted by the likes of Rich Hill and Jeremy Hellickson.  In the bullpen, the impact of the loss of Davis remains to be seen as he returns from a long recovery.  But, I am optimistic about Kelvin Herrera’s abilities as a closer and fully expect the Royals bullpen to continue to be a force in 2017.

Ultimately, the Royals did the best that they could this offseason by making moves that will help them to compete.  But sometimes the best you can do simply is not enough, and that certainly is the case with the Royals.  While the addition of Jorge Soler has some upside, the loss of Morales could be devastating.  Also, for a team that was horrible at getting on base in 2016, I’m really not sure the addition of Brandon Moss does much for an already power-dependent lineup.  The Royals will almost certainly be a streaky team in 2017, relying on stints of greatness from both the recently questionable middle of the order and newly acquired depth starters to step up.  This really just does not look like a formula for success to say the least, and I am not expecting to see the Royals return to the playoffs in 2017.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Alcides Escobar, SS
  2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  3. Lorenzo Cain, OF
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Jorge Soler, DH
  6. Alex Gordon, OF
  7. Salvador Perez, C
  8. Brandon Moss, OF
  9. Raul Mondesi, 2B

Pitching Staff

  1. Danny Duffy
  2. Ian Kennedy
  3. Jason Hammel
  4. Nathan Karns
  5. Travis Wood or Chris Young

Steve Campbell

Chicago White Sox

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Derek Holland to a 1 year deal

Traded Chris Sale for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz

Traded Adam Eaton for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning

Season Outlook:

The Winter’s most active team, the White Sox completely re-tooled their organization this December, sending franchise cornerstones Chris Sale and Adam Eaton out East for a treasure chest of prospects. (Click here for Chris Sale News if you somehow didn’t hear). As Rick Hahn has stated many times, if he had his druthers 4 more moves would have been made, so don’t expect to see Jose Quintana in Chicago come August (Click here for Jose Quintana Trade Partners, here for 3 way deals with Quintana and here for Another Quintana Idea). Also likely trade bait is closer David Robertson, who makes too much sense for the Nationals to not be in D.C by the end of summer. And if things go well, the Sox will also probably find a taker for veteran 3B Todd Frazier, despite his stated desire to stay in Chicago and be a leader for the new core, LF Melky Cabrera and recent signee Derek Holland. Holland was brought in specifically to save the Sox from rushing any of their young arms, so unless a Quintana trade happens before April don’t expect to see any of Lucas Giolito (#11 on MLB.com), Reynaldo Lopez (#46) or Carson Fulmer (#71) in Chicago at the start of the year. While trading their stars surely wasn’t easy, the combination of those three arms along with Michael Kopech (#16 on MLB.com) 2016 first rounders Zach Burdi and Dane Dunning means Don Cooper will have plenty to work with these next few years, and thats without even mentioning 2016 2nd rounder and late summer sensation Alec Hansen or 2014 2nd rounder Spencer Adams.

The real thing to watch for this season isn’t the minors however, its the growth of the Sox two current young stars on the MLB roster, Carlos Rodon and Tim Anderson. Prospects are fun to dream on, but the White Sox need to see steps forward from Rodon (control) and Anderson (OBP, specifically, taking walks) if this rebuild is going to take off. The next great White Sox team has Rodon at the top of the rotation and Anderson at the top of the lineup card, so their 2017’s are far more important than any of their new shinny prospects. Speaking of which, don’t expect to see Yoan Moncada (MLB.com’s #2 overall prospect) in Chicago anytime this spring, as the Sox have Brett Lawrie and Tyler Saldino to cover 2B and would like to see Moncada cut down on his sky high K rate in AAA. The only other really notable 2017 White Sox who might be apart of the next great team is 1B Jose Abreu, who needs to show he is 2nd half of 2016 Jose Abreu and not declining non-athletic first half of 2016 Jose Abreu. To be fair though, a big first half from Abreu might be his walking papers, and Hahn has not been shy to say anyone outside of Anderson and Rodon would be better off renting. Oh, and the Sox are going to run out some combination of Charlie Tilson-Peter Bourjos-Avisal Garcia and Rymer Liriano this year in CF and RF, so shield your eyes. Only Tilson has any real chance of being on the 2018 White Sox. All in all, this years White Sox are probably going to swap out Quintana, Robertson and Frazier for Giolito, Lopez and Moncada this summer and should be one of the MLB’s worst teams. Should be a great year for Hawk rants.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Charlie Tilson, CF
  2. Tim Anderson, SS
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B
  4. Melky Cabrera, LF
  5. Todd Frazier, 3B
  6. Brett Lawrie, 2B
  7. Geovany Soto/Omar Narvaez, C
  8. Avisail Garcia, DH
  9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Starting Rotation

  1. Jose Quintana
  2. Carlos Rodon
  3. Miguel Gonzalez
  4. Derek Holland
  5. James Shields

Charlie Wooding

Minnesota Twins

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Jason Castro to a 3 year deal

Season Outlook:

Bleak. Thanks for reading. Seriously though, the 2017 Twins don’t look primed to be anywhere near a contender. They had a very quiet offseason, with the only major headlines being sending Byung Ho Park to AAA and scooping up framing wet dream Jason Castro on a reasonable 3 year deal. This is coming off a 59-103 season in which they didn’t suffer all that many devastating injuries. On a positive note, the Twins do have some intriguing young players who could really elevate this 2017 team. First and foremost former #1 prospect Byron Buxton will finally have a full season in CF, and the Twins need him to become a top of the lineup contributor if this rebuild is going to bear fruits. Last year he showed he dynamic talent in CF but didn’t silence any doubts about his bat. 2017 needs to be a step froward. Next up is their other former big name prospect Miguel Sano , who showed some serious promise in 2016, jacking 25 HR’s in only 495 AB’s. He needs to settle in at 3B and become at least serviceable, but a 35+ HR year is absolutely in reach for Sano. If he becomes a powerful middle of the lineup threat, the Twins could actually dream of a brighter future. The other two intriguing building blocks are OF Max Kepler and SS Jorge Polanco. If the Twins can get somewhere around 2 win season from both of those guys they can start to feel a lot better. On the veteran front the Twins still owe Joe Mauer a small fortune, so he should be a lock for 140 or so games at 1B this year. More interestingly, the Twins declined a Jose De Leon for Brian Dozier swap (A mistake in my opinion, but well get to the Twins rotation later) and should be shopping him at the deadline. a 25 HR first half would be huge for the Twins farm system, which isn’t much to write home about as of now. Simply put, the Twins lineup is intriguing but as currently constructed figures to be a lower half AL lineup.

In the rotation the Twins have the most “meh” rotation around. None of their 5 starters are particularly insulting (looking at you James Shields) but 4/5 of them are merely back or mid-rotation guys at this point, with the ace Ervin Santana being an acceptable #3 on a contending team. The only intriguing arm is Jose Berrios, who, like Buxton and Sano, needs to start showing some of the promise that once made him a top prospect. The Twins farm system doesn’t seemingly have any impact rotation arms (Tyler Jay might be a starter, but probably isn’t a 1 or a 2) so Berrios asserting himself as a top of the rotation staple for years to come would be a breath of fresh air for the Twins.

To recap: The Twins need to see some signs of life from Buxton, Berrios and Sano. The season’s success will not be measured by Wins and Losses, but by the growth of those 3 guys. The next great Twins team was supposed to be anchored by those 3, so they need to start capitalizing on their considerable potential.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Brian Dozier, 2B
  2. Jorge Polanco, SS
  3. Joe Mauer, 1B
  4. Miguel Sano, 3B
  5. Max Kepler, RF
  6. Kennys Vargas, DH
  7. Jason Castro, C
  8. Byron Buxton, CF
  9. Eddie Rosario, LF

Starting Rotation

  1. Ervin Santana
  2. Hector Santiago
  3. Kyle Gibson
  4. Phil Hughes
  5. Jose Berrios

Charlie Wooding

Predictions

Steve

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Detroit Tigers
  3. Kansas City Royals
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

Hayes

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Detroit Tigers
  3. Minnesota Twins
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Kansas City Royals

Wooding

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Detroit Tigers
  3. Minnesota Twins
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Kansas City Royals

Bold Predictions

Steve: The Twins and the White Sox will both lose 100+ games in the laughing stock that is the AL Central.

Hayes: The Tigers splurge at the trade deadline but miss the playoffs. Detroit is looking at its last run with a core built on Justin Verlander. Big moves at the deadline won’t be enough for the Tigers to overcome a hot Indians team and a competitive Wild Card race.

Wooding: The Kansas City Royals will be the American League’s worst team in 2017. The Royals are telling themselves they are going for it, and that’s admirable, but losing Davis, Morales, Dyson and Ventura from an already meh team is going to be too much. Hosmer, Escobar and Cain will be gone by August and the Royals will play out April with a team of non-prospects across the diamond, scuffling to a 65 win season.