2014 MLB Preview: AL Central

al_central_resized.fw

The American League Central is a division that has been ruled by one team for years and that team has been the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers have been one of the most dominant teams in the MLB and have regularly been considered favourites to win the World Series. Thanks in large part to a great pitching staff the Tigers have ruled over the central for years. It is not all about the Tigers though as their time at the top has also been a lot about the lack of competition around them in their own division. There have been challenges from some of the other teams but in the end it usually sees one team taking a run and falling short. It has regularly been the worst division race as the Tigers move ahead quickly and don’t look back. As good as the Tigers have been it is up to the other teams to expose their weaknesses and to challenge them and unseat them. The rest of the division will look to do that this year as the other four teams in the division will be looking to make changes and finally take their own time at the top of the Central division. Last year signs of the end of Detroit’s time at the top of the division were shown as a rebuild from the Cleveland Indians would give them the closest run they have had in years. The division would end with a 1 game difference between the Tigers and the Indians for the division title. As the 2014 season is set to begin in full the Cleveland Indians are hoping that their rebuild can last and that Detroit’s time at the top is finished. Detroit will have something to say about that as that great pitching staff remains intact and remains one of the best in the MLB. The division may come down to another fight between the Indians and the Tigers but the other teams in the division will be looking to change that. The slowly rebuilding Royals are hoping that a few new additions can get them back into the hunt while the Chicago White Sox are hoping for a quick turnaround after a busy offseason. The Minnesota Twins are still reeling and looking to find an identity but if they have the season of their lives they may very well put their name into the division title race. The Tigers are still a strong team and are still one of the best in the league but their time at the top of the division may come to an end sooner rather than later. The only thing left to do is play the games as everyone is gunning for the Tigers while the Tigers fend off the rest in the hopes that they get another shot at the title that has eluded them. While they hunt for that championship every other team hopes they can have their own chance to win while forcing the Tigers outside of the playoffs and below their usual spot.

 

Chicago White Sox

chi_wsox.fw

The Chicago White Sox would be one of those teams that has challenged the Detroit Tigers before as they would do so in 2012. They would end three games behind the Tigers for the Division title and were looking at 2013 as a chance to build on that success. That would not happen though as the White Sox would fall to the bottom of the division. Nothing went right for a team that seemed to have some promise of getting back to the top of the division. They finished 1 game short of the 100 loss mark and that record would make their GM more than a little concerned. Rick Hahn was in his first season as the GM of the White Sox and he was not happy with the team that was on the field. As the White Sox fell well short of where they were expected to be Hahn began to overhaul the team trading a number of big name players for prospects as he began to make changes to help improve the team. The rebuild would continue in 2014 as Hahn would continue to overhaul the locker room and try to immediately improve his team. It was not a great start to his time in the GM office but he is now hoping that he has put together a team that can compete with the Detroit Tigers. The team looks nothing like the starting roster in 2013 and could see changes up until opening day as the rebuild continues but this rebuild is much more than a tear-down and rebuild slowly type of attitude. Instead it is getting rid of players for potential as Hahn has received a number of former top prospects from older players in trade. Adam Eaton may be the one who has the biggest impact as the young outfielder seems to be ready to become the everyday centre fielder. The biggest name for the White Sox this year will be Jose Abreu who defected from Cuba to sign with Chicago. Abreu is what the White Sox hope is the next power hitter from Cuba in the same vein as Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes. These young guns added to a roster that includes Alexei Ramirez and Adam Dunn could do damage if they can meet their potential. The rotation was relatively untouched as Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks remain in the rotation providing a good pitching staff. The White Sox have made a number of changes and not all were for big names coming back to Chicago. If their moves meet the potential there is a chance that the White Sox make it back to the division race but there are a lot of questions. Chicago looks better this year but moves have added more questions than answers and for that reason the White Sox will be out of the playoffs even if their future looks much brighter with a number of good prospects looking to find their feet in the MLB.

 

Biggest Loss:
Hector Santiago, RHP (Trade, LAA)
– Among the mass amounts of moves from Rick Hahn in the last full year was the loss of Santiago who will leave a hole in the bullpen as he provided good relief that was not replaced with his trade to LA

Biggest Addition:
Jose Abreu, 1B (Free Agent, Cuba)
– He is the biggest mystery of the moves as well with the White Sox hoping he becomes a Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes and can provide some great power as the first baseman hopes to become the next Cuban sensation

Player to Watch:
Adam Eaton, OF
– A Former Top 100 prospect Eaton will get his chance to play every day for the White Sox and is hoping to show that his ranking was worth it as everyone watches to see if one of Rick Hahn’s youth moves pays off early

 

Cleveland Indians

cle_indians.fw

The Cleveland Indians would see one of the most under the radar rebuilds in 2013 as they would take the budget approach. As the Toronto Blue Jays opened the pocket books to put together a team the Indians would bring in a number of reclamation projects. The Indians’ strategy would prove to be the more successful approach as they went from second to last in the division to second place. They would sit in the top spot for weeks last year and would only concede the top spot in the division by one game. The collection of players that seemed to be on their way down and out turned out to be a force for the season and they will be looking to do the same thing this year. The only problem with the way they built their team in 2013 was the fact that if the reclamation projects panned out many of them would look to leave for bigger paydays. It is as if the Cleveland Indians did all of the work and other teams will be reaping the benefits. That would be true for the rotation as the Indians would lose two of the biggest parts of their rebuild. Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez were struggling before they came to Cleveland and in 213 both would have great years. For those seasons they would take deals at other clubs and would leave the Indians with some big holes in the rotation. With their departures the Indians are looking to young talent to take over as Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco try to fill the void. Justin Masterson will once again lead the rotation as the ace and as the one top pitcher from last year who didn’t leave. The offence remains fairly intact with Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Jason Kipnis, and Michael Brantley. The offence is still solid but it was the rotation that was the difference last year and that has changed. The bullpen will provide some support for the rotation with John Axford trying to get back to form and Marc Rzepcynski looking to play an important role in relief. The Indians had some great success in their unique rebuild last year but their success has proven to be a bad thing as good players are leaving and forcing the Indians to look to young talent to take over. The Indians are hoping to continue that success and move on from their losses and although they do have to depend on unproven talent the team’s core is still intact. They will not be the same team as last year but they will fight for a postseason spot and could return to the postseason even if they don’t win the division.

 

Biggest Loss:
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP (Free Agency, Bal)
– He was one of the many reclamation projects that the Indians took on last year and he paid off in a big way but his success would give him leverage in the offseason as he would leave a big hole in the Indians’ rotation to join the Baltimore Orioles

Biggest Addition:
David Murphy, OF (Free Agency, Tex)
– Murphy is not necessarily a big earth-shaking move nor is he a reclamation project but his addition to the team will give the Indians a consistent player and defender in the lineup for the Indians

Player to Watch:
Nyjer Morgan, OF
– Morgan fits the profile of what the Indians have done last year as he is a player who has shown plenty of potential but recently has fallen off of his trajectory and now he looks to work his way into the lineup as the next success for the team

 

Detroit Tigers

det_tigers.fw

The Tigers are the defending division champions and they have been the only big team in the division for the last few years. The Tigers are coming off of three straight division wins and have been considered one of the best teams in the league through that time. With Justin Verlander leading a great pitching rotation and the devastating duo of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera on offence the Tigers looked promising year after year. They would continue to use that lineup to win their division for the last three years but have fallen short in the postseason year after year. They would lose in the ALCS in 2011 and 2013 while they would be swept in the World Series in 2012. After three seasons of not finishing where they expected the Tigers would make some changes in hopes that a shakeup could provide the boost they need to get over that postseason hump. The offseason would see a lot of changes for the Tigers as a number of big players and their leader on the bench would leave. Prince Fielder, Jhonny Peralta, Doug Fister, Omar Infante, Joaquin Benoit, and Jose Veras would all find new places to play this offseason. Joining these players would be longtime Manager Jim Leyland who retired following the ALCS. The Tigers kept a number of key players and would remain but there is no doubt that the Tigers from the last three years are no longer together. The offence took the biggest hit with Peralta and Fielder leaving and being replaced by Ian Kinsler, included in the trade for Prince Fielder, and Jose Iglesias, who was acquired midseason last year. Both are good players but they do not provide the same level of offence as those who left. Doug Fister is a big loss for the pitching staff but with one of the deepest rotations in baseball there are replacements. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez create a great top three while Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly look to make up for the loss of Fister. The Tigers’s biggest challenge will be to go from a manager that has seen everything to a manager that will be seeing everything for the first time as the skip. Brad Ausmus has big shoes to fill as the manager of the Tigers and he will look to continue the success of the team. Detroit is a different team this year and there are more holes than usual but that doesn’t mean they will be out of the postseason picture as they still seem to be the best team, on paper, in the division as another division title and postseason run could be in their future.

 

Biggest Loss:
Prince Fielder, 1B (Trade, Tex)
– The Tigers would boast one of the best middle batting orders in the game as Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder provide two dangerous options to pitch to and although he was not the dominant player he used to be but he is better that his replacement in Kinsler

Biggest Addition:
Ian Kinsler, 2B (Trade, Tex)
– Kinsler is not the power hitter that Fielder has shown himself to be but he does provide another veteran presence in the middle of the infield with great defence and a good batting average that make him a legitimate leadoff hitter

Player to Watch:
Nick Castellanos, 3B
– The trade of Fielder would mean some big changes for the team as Miguel Cabrera will now move to first base leaving the hot corner to Castellanos that will look to make his own impact on the lineup this year with this chance

 

Kansas City Royals

kc_royals.fw

As a part of the American League West the Kansas City Royals where one of the best teams in the league constantly at the top of the division. Since entering the AL Central in 1994 the story has been much different. They have not been back to the postseason since 1985 and have been at the bottom of the league many times in that period. Recently the Royals have started their latest rebuild and it has been more successful than most. In 2013 the Royals would see their first winning season since 2003 as they finished 2013 in third place in the division 10 games over the .500 mark. It was the first glimmer of hope for the Royals in 10 years and they are hoping that they can continue their new rebuild to begin the climb into the hunt for the division in 2014. The offence for the Royals remains much of the same as last year with only Chris Getz and David Lough leaving. That may not be a good thing as it was the offence that seemed to hold the Royals back last year. There are a number of players with a lot of potential as Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have shown some potential but need to step up to be bigger parts of the offence this year. Billy Butler also looks to remain one of the best designated hitters in the game as he hopes to return to his form from 2012 when he hit 20+ home runs and had over 100 RBIs. The additions of Norichika Aoki and Omar Infante will not help with driving in runs but could help with putting more men on base for their big hitters to drive in and score more. The pitching staff was the one aspect of the team that would change the most for the Royals with the loss of Ervin Santana leaving a hole in the rotation. The Royals were boosted with the arrival of James Shield in 2013 but Santana is gone and in his place will be Jason Vargas who had a 9-8 record in 24 games last year with a 4.02 ERA. It will not replace the 32 games and 3.24 ERA of Santana who became one of the most sought after pitchers in free agency and left to Atlanta. The rotation is not better but it is not terribly worse meaning that fans can expect another good year from them if they can get support from the offence. The rotation will The Royals are still improving and they look to be headed towards another winning season but they are a few pieces away from competing for the division and earning a postseason spot.

 

Biggest Loss:
Ervin Santana, RHP (Free Agency, Atl)
– The offseason was a strange one for pitchers as Masahiro Tanaka would have to decide where he was going before other pitchers were signed and with Tanaka gone Santana became the biggest name in the free agency market with the Braves winning and taking away a solid pitcher for the Royals

Biggest Addition:
Norichika Aoki, OF (Trade, Mil)
– He is not the offensive powerhouse that the Royals need to put up more points but he will likely act as a good leadoff hitter that can give their bigger hitters a chance to score more runs if they can step up

Player to Watch:
Jason Vargas, LHP
– Replacing a solid starter is no easy task but Vargas would receive a fairly good size contract in order to replace Ervin Santana but his spot in the rotation may not be worth it if all he can do is eat innings and not win games without a big offensive support

 

Minnesota Twins

min_twins.fw

The Minnesota Twins were the last team to beat the Detroit Tigers for the Central Division but they have not come close to returning to that form. They seemed to be on their way to long-term success with the paring of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau propelling the offence past everyone else but then Morneau would get a concussion and his promising career in Minnesota would come to an end. Joe Mauer would also begin falling off of his MVP numbers and the Twins would quickly find their way to the bottom of the division. They would find themselves near the bottom of the division again in 2013 and would be four games away from a 100-loss season. As they continue to struggle the in the present the future is looking very bright for the Twins. They have what can be considered the best farm system in the MLB with two of the best prospects in baseball. Both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano will soon provide the Twins with a one-two punch that will look familiar to another one-two punch from their dominant years in the Central division. Unfortunately for Twins fans in 2014 these top prospects will likely not make their marks until the 2015 season, although either may find themselves in the lineup at the end of the 2014 season when rosters expand. As a result the Twins remain a team with a few good players but not enough to make a big impact on the division. Joe Mauer remains the constant for Minnesota although he will move from behind the plate to first base this year. The Twins would give Mauer some support with the addition of Kurt Suzuki and Jason Kubel although neither will be able to match Mauer’s output. In the rotation the Twins would look to grab reinforcements as well when they added Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to the top five. Both will likely make the rotation this year with Nolasco looking to be the top pitcher for the team. In 33 starts last year Nolasco would put up respectable numbers with a 13-11 record and a 3.70 ERA but those are not necessarily ace numbers. The rest of the rotation is not terrible but they are not dominant and they will give up games. The Twins are a mix of good players and mediocre players that don’t seem to be good enough to really challenge anyone at the top of the division. They seem to be waiting for their great farm system to finally pay off and are just treading water until that can happen as they will sit at the bottom of the division and away from the division battle.

 

Biggest Loss:
Ryan Doumit, C (Free Agency, Atl)
– With Mauer moving to first base the Twins needed a good catcher and they would go out trying to find one after they lost their backup in Doumit who had better output than the replacement

Biggest Addition:
Ricky Nolasco, RHP (Free Agency, Mia)
– The rotation is another source of pain for the Twins and they would try to figure it out by signing Nolasco who will serve as the team’s ace for 2014 and will look to become a true #1 with his chance

Player to Watch:
Phil Hughes, RHP
– Hughes looked like he was on his way to be another strong pitcher in the Yankees organization but last year he struggled and the Yankees would let him walk as he comes to the Twins for his attempt to return to that promising pitcher he used to be

 

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 163 other followers

%d bloggers like this: