Morning Coffee: American League Central Preview
The Kansas City Royals play baseball in the American League Central division. If you were unaware of that, then welcome to the game of baseball. I quite enjoy it. Every off-season brings change around baseball, but this year, the American League Central saw more rearranging than I remember in past seasons. Most of the rosters are pretty recognizable, but there are enough wholesale changes that the composition of the division could see a big change from where it was in 2013 when the Royals finished behind the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians and ahead of the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. I think the division will break down similarly this season, but I think the Royals and Indians change places. The following is my look at the other four teams in the division since we talk Royals every day at Pine Tar Press.
The Tigers won their third straight AL Central title in 2013 and made it to the ALCS last year. That just wasn’t enough, though, and probably with good reason. This is a team with the last three American League MVPs (Cabrera and Verlander) and two of the last three AL Cy Young winners. They had depth in the lineup and beyond the two Cy Young winners, they had starters who would slot as a one or two on many teams. The Tigers decided in the off-season that the team just wasn’t complete enough. They signed Joe Nathan to shore up the bullpen and they traded Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. With those two moves, the defense got better and the bullpen got better. The offense probably took a step back, but the hope is that they’ll be more complete and can keep winning in the regular season while translating that success to the postseason.
The head scratching move of the off-season was trading Doug Fister to the Nationals for a utility player, a reliever and a fairly average starting pitching prospect. The Tigers wanted to save a little money and move Drew Smyly to the rotation, so that opened it up, but I think they got worse by doing that. I also wonder if they had plans for left field in free agency that just didn’t come to fruition. The Tigers are a more complete team, but they’re not a better team overall, in my estimation. Losing Jose Iglesias for the year isn’t as big of a deal as some think because I don’t think he’s worth much with the bat and they have picked up a couple good glove guys to play shortstop anyway. If they go with Alex Gonzalez, that could be a problem for them
The Indians surprised last year because their pitching was far better than anyone expected it to be. Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir gave them over 330 innings in the rotation of quality pitching that they hope to replace with Danny Salazar and Shaun Marcum. I like Salazar a lot, but it will be a tall task for him to replace what Jimenez did, especially in the second half. I’ll say this, though. I really like Corey Kluber and think he’s about to break out and be a legitimate 2/3 type starter, building on his success of last year and getting even better. If he does that, him paired with Masterson will make a formidable top of the rotation that should help them win some games. I like the Indians bullpen more than most, but John Axford is a risky proposition at the back end. They have enough good arms, though, that he can be replaced rather easily.
Offensively, not much has changed, but they’ve opened up a starting spot for Yan Gomes. Gomes is a very good defensive catcher who saw his bat come alive last year. He’s not the hitter that Carlos Santana is, but he’s close enough that his defensive advantage makes the Indians better behind the plate than they were in 2013. Santana is actually going to be the starting third baseman for the Indians and serve as backup catcher, so that experiment might be fun to watch. I love Santana’s bat. Jason Kipnis is a star at second base and Nick Swisher moving to first is a good move for the Indians both offensively and defensively. Michael Bourn will miss the start of the season but isn’t expected to be out too long, so when he gets back, and outfield of Murphy, Bourn and Brantley will be very solid both offensively and defensively. Overall, I think this is a solid team, but they take a step back after losing all that pitching they had in 2013.
I’m not exactly sure what the White Sox are doing. They have one of baseball’s best pitchers in Chris Sale and a guy in Jose Quintana who has surprised me by getting better and is now performing at a level that seems sustainable for me. In addition to those two, they have John Danks, who is the average lefty. They’re going to supplement them with former Royals pitcher, Felipe Paulino and rookie Erik Johnson. I actually really like the White Sox rotation and think that gives them a chance to win a few more games than they did last year. Their bullpen has a shot to be decent, but it’s very volatile. Nate Jones, for example, will probably be their closer. He has an electric arm, but the results are spotty with him. I like their left/right balance out there with Downs and Veal from the left side, but again, there is just too much unreliable.
Offensively, the White Sox were really bad last year and they’ve done some revamping of their roster. They went out and signed Jose Abreu, but it’s hard to say what they’ll get from him. They retained Paul Konerko, who probably would have helped the team more had he decided to retire, but he’ll be good insurance if Abreu struggles early. Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson were both acquired via trade and both can help the offense, but neither one has shown yet that they can really boost an offense. I like Alejandro De Aza more than a lot of people, but he’s another one who isn’t much more than just a guy. Avisail Garcia is one player who could take a step forward for them. If he and Abreu really hit, this lineup has a chance to be much better, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The Twins are kind of where the Royals were a few years ago in that they have a lot of good prospects working their way through the minors, but they’re not there yet. After trading Justin Morneau last year, the Twins have decided that Joe Mauer is now a full-time first baseman and Josmil Pinto will handle the catching duties. Pinto has put up some good numbers in the minors and was great in the big leagues last year in a very small sample, but who knows if that’s sustainable? The rest of the offense remains pretty rough. Brian Dozier surprised a lot of people last year and led the team in homers with 18. That’s Royals-esque. This offense is not good and doesn’t appear to be getting better this season.
On the pitching side, the Twins revamped their starting staff by signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. They also re-signed Mike Pelfrey and still have Kevin Correia who had less strikeouts than Greg Holland last year but still tied for the Twins team lead. The hope is that Kyle Gibson can get it all together and make the Twins rotation be at least mediocre after the disaster of last season. Nolasco and Hughes are big upgrades, but I don’t think they’ll be enough to help this team too much. ThereÂ is a lot of talent in the bullpen and it begins with their closer, Glen Perkins who is very good. He’s not quite at Greg Holland level, but he’s notÂ thatÂ far away. I like the depth they have, which is always a good thing since there’s so much volatility in the bullpen typically. It’s probably Minnesota’s biggest strength.
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