By JDCam 02.16.15
There was greater parity in the AL Central in 2014. A strong off-season by its poorer clubs (White Sox) and recent playoff success (Tigers, Indians and Royals have all been in the last two seasons, including an AL Central World Series representative in two of the last three seasons) has led to the division shaking the mantle of one of the weakest in baseball.
In 2014, aside from the Royals remarkable run, the hapless Twins and White Sox got a little better (4 and 10 more wins respectively), while Detroit and Cleveland got a little worse (3 and 7 more losses than in 2013). With perhaps no team having a stronger off-season than the Chicago White Sox, the Central is shaping up to a slugfest four horse race in 2015.
2014: 90 wins: Steamer 2015: 85 wins; Conway West: 84 wins (2nd); JD Cam: 85 wins (1st)
In: Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon, Shane Greene, Anthony Gose
Out: Max Scherzer, Don Kelly, Danny Worth, Rick Porcello, Tori Hunter
Things to like: Yoenis Cespedes: a healthy Jose Iglesias; a dominant middle of the lineup
Things to worry about: Miguel Cabrera and V-Mart coming into spring off of surgery; Pressure on a rebound season from Justin Verlander; an awful bullpen.
With V-Mart’s torn meniscus the latest in a series of winter challenges, the Tigers may have an uphill battle to retain their AL Central crown. The addition of Cespedes, pending the health of Martinez and Cabrera, creates the most formidable 3/4/5 combination in baseball. Detroit is counting on Justin Verlander returning to ace-like form and not going the way of CC Sabathia. The Tigers did little to improve their bullpen which hamstrung them the last few season both in the regular season and playoffs. The Tigers face a lot of question in 2015 but should still have enough to top the division for the fifth straight year.
2. Cleveland Indians
2014: 85 wins: Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 88 wins (1st); JD Cam: 84 wins (2nd)
In: Brandon Moss, Gavin Floyd, Scott Downs
Out: Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Masterson, Nyjer Morgan
Things to like: Underrated rotation; Solid core of young hitters; Francisco Lindor’s debut
Things to worry about: Not enough offensive production; question marks surrounding young starters.
The Indians didn’t do much this off-season, but then, they didn’t have to. With a core of excellent young hitters (Brantley, Kipnis, Santana) and the emergence of 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, the Indians look primed to challenge the Tigers for divisional supremacy. Much will depend on the development of Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazaar, who could combine with Carlos Carrasco and Kluber to form a dominant rotation. Cleveland fans have to be excited by the possibility of top SS prospect Francisco Lindor making his debut in 2015. Do not sleep on the Indians; they should be competing for a wild card spot at worst come September.
3. Kansas City Royals
2014: 89 wins: Steamer 2015: 81 wins; Conway West: 80 wins (4th); JD Cam: 80 wins (4th)
In: Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, Kris Medlen
Out: Billy Butler, James Shields, Nori Aoki, Aaron Crow, Bruce Chen, Josh Willingham
Things to like: Alex Rios is due for an ‘on’ year; a dominant bullpen, high end young starters
Things to worry about: Inferior replacements for their lost pieces; not enough offense; risky rotation pieces
The Royals enjoyed a remarkable fall run hanging onto the coattails of an equally remarkable bullpen. The late inning trifecta of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland is as good as any in baseball. The Royals lost a huge part of their identity in Billy Butler in the off-season, as well as number one starter and a clubhouse leader in James Shields. They added to an already strong outfield by overpaying for Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen are worthy rotation gambles. KC caught lightening in a bottle in September last season but Royals fans should be prepared for an inevitable letdown.
4. Chicago White Sox
2014: 73 wins: Steamer 2015: 78 wins; Conway West: 83 wins (3rd); JD Cam: 82 wins (3rd)
In: David Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, Gordon Beckham
Out: Marcus Semien, Dayan Viciedo, Paul Konerko
Things to like: See ‘in’ category; no more Adam Dunn; Carlos Rodon’s fast development
Things to worry about: An average infield; not enough rotational depth
No team got better this off-season that the White Sox. GM Rick Hahn deserves a ton of credit for aggressively addressing areas of need. David Robertson will give them much needed stability at the back end of their bullpen, while a one two rotational punch of Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija is a formidable one, particularly with the emergence of Jose Quintana in 2014. The White Sox upgraded in the outfield, replacing Dayan Viciedo with Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche replaces south side legend Paul Konerko in the comfy confines of US Cellular Field which are LITERALLY made for him to mash 25-30 HR. If everything goes right for the White Sox they could challenge for the division, however a finish around .500 is more realistic and not to be sniffed at given recent seasons.
5. Minnesota Twins
2014: 70 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 69 wins ; JD Cam: 73 wins
In: Ervin Santana, Tori Hunter, Tim Stauffer
Out: Jared Burton, Jason Kubel, Anthony Swarzak
Things to like: Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes at the front end of an improved rotation; a slew of young power bats; a more progressive manager in Paul Molitor; Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer making MLB debuts in 2015.
Things to worry about: Apocalyptic outfield defense; a still weak rotation; Joe Mauer’s decline.
Coming off the back of 4 consecutive 90 loss seasons the Twins front office unusually made a few moves this off-season, adding Ervin Santana to the front end of a rotation that was anchored by a remarkably under-appreciated season from Phil Hughes in 2014. The Twins added fan favorite Hunter for some vocal clubhouse leadership and while he will contribute offensively he is a defensive liability. Minnesota had one of the most productive offenses in 2014 a trend that could continue if Brian Dozier (Kyle Seager 2.0), Danny Santana and Oswaldo Arcia can continue to develop and Kennys Vargas can build on an impressive debut. Look for some of the Twins vaunted prospects to make their MLB debuts in 2015. The Twins should be better, but they aren’t ready to compete for the division yet. Look out AL Central 2017.