Here is the 2nd part of my MLB Divisional Previews, with the AL Central. This will be a brief overview of their off season and what expectations to have for teams as well as what tier I see them in. I have 5 tiers; Favorites, Contenders, Playoff Teams, In the Hunt, Mediocre, and Bottom Feeders.
Chicago White Sox – In the Hunt
I consider the White Sox to be one of the more interesting teams in the MLB. After a past season where they were the definition of average, finishing 82-82, I don’t know what to think about this team. Last season they were struck by the injury bug with Luis Robert, Eloy Jiminez, Tim Anderson, and Yasmani Grandal all missing significant time failing to reach 100 games played. Now, with all those guys back and healthy, plus adding Andrew Benintendi, the lineup should be good, even with Jose Abreu leaving the team, right…? The pitching staff also looks solid on paper; led by CY Young candidate Dylan Cease coming off his breakout season where he posted a career high in IP, and career lows in FIP and ERA. The rest of the rotation is rounded out with Lance Lynn, who looked much better in the 2nd half of 2022, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, and Mike Clevinger. The bullpen will be missing star closer Liam Hendriks, who was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer in January. Without Hendriks, the pen will be headlined by Kendall Graveman, Aaron Bummer, and Jake Diekman. Also missing from the pen is hard throwing lefty Garrett Crochet who underwent TJ surgery last April, and will be back around in May. I’ve been fooled by this team before, last year it was due to injuries ruining this team, before last it was underperformances, so this year I’m not particularly high on this team. A healthy White Sox team with everyone at their best, is a division winner threat to the AL, if a majority of things go correctly, but I’m not buying it. For now, I have Chicago finishing in 3rd place in the division, but maybe the highest ceiling in the division.
Cleveland Guardians – Playoff Team
Things we know about the Guardians ; Pump out great pitching in the pitching farm in Cleveland, Always in the hunt for a playoff spot through December, Offense consistently lets them down. I think that Cleveland’s offense might be able to play up to par with the pitching this year. Breakout seasons last year from rookie Steven Kwan as well as Andres Giminez paired up alongside perennial MVP candidate Jose Ramirez made the lineup look a lot better than recent years. On top of that, they went out and brought in Josh Bell in free agency to be the big power bat of the lineup alongside Josh Naylor. With the losses of Austin Hedges and Luke Maile at the catching position Mike Zunino was brought in to fill the vacancy with the possibility to add more power to the lineup as Zunino has hit over 20 homers 4 times in his career and as recently as 2021 where Zunino was an all star and hit 33 homers. They didn’t add any pitching and quite frankly they didn’t have to as they have one of the best rotations in baseball in Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac, not to mention maybe the best 1-2 punch in the pen with James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase. Cleveland has the lineup to compete with some of the top pitchers in the league, and in my opinion a top 3 rotation to go along with that. Those 2 things are a recipe for success as I see the Guardians winning the division for the 2nd consecutive year.
Detroit Tigers – Bottom Feeder
Last offseason Detroit went all out to have a big free agency class bringing in Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez spending over 200 million dollars on the 2 just for Baez to have the worst season of his career and Rodriguez just to throw 91 innings with a K/9 of 7.1 as well as an ERA and FIP above 4. To add to the mess, former top prospect Spencer Torkelson looked awful in his first season of MLB slashing just .205/.285/.319 with a 76 WRC+ and just 8 homers in 110 games. This off season was just the opposite of last as all they did was bring back Matt Boyd and brought in Michael Lorenzen to be starters for the team as Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize work their way back from injury. The only things I have to look forward to with this season is Riley Greene getting his first full season in the bigs and Miggy’s farewell tour. This team won’t be good and will be looking forward to this years draft in July where they hold the 3rd overall pick, as well as hoping Torkelson, Baez, and Rodriguez bounce back.
Kansas City Royals – Bottom Feeder
I liked the youth infusion joining the squad last season in Bobby Witt Jr., MJ Melendez, and Vinnie Pasquantino, all of whom had solid seasons in their first taste of the pros, in Witt’s case, leading all Royals hitters in WAR and SB as well as hitting 20 HR. Brady Singer had a decent year as he led the team in IP, while posting the lowest ERA and FIP out of all Royals starters. The off season didn’t entail much – bringing back a 39 year old Zach Greinke and adding Jordan Lyles and Ryan Yarbough to the rotation. Former All Star Aroldis Chapman was also signed as a low risk high reward guy but has already gotten injured, as well as making a trade for former Red Sox lefty Josh Taylor. KC did the bare minimum in FA by just addressing pitching depth as they look into the future. Witt/Pasquantino/Melendez look to be the building blocks for KC as they keep trucking on in the rebuild. I have them in a dogfight with the Tigers for 4th place in the division.
Minnesota Twins – Mediocre
Minnesota went 78-84 last season and finished 3rd in the AL Central, only a 5 game improvement from 2021, but due to the Royals and Tigers regression they finished 2 spots higher in the division. In the last offseason they brought in superstar SS Carlos Correa on a 3 year deal including opt outs after every year; he tested FA, signed with both the Giants and Mets, failed their physicals, and then ended up back in Minnesota with a 6 year deal worth 200 million. Along with Correa, the Twins added Joey Gallo and Christian Vasquez, both of whom should be upgrades in the OF as well as at C. Gallo should be one of the larger beneficiaries of the no shift rule being implemented after coming off the worst season of his career hitting wise, as well as offering elite defense at multiple positions. One of the bigger moves of the off season trades, the Twins acquired Marlins stud Pablo Lopez in exchange for Luis Arraez, who was the AL batting champion last season. With the addition of Lopez, it gives the team a legitimate top 2 in Sonny Gray and himself, and an overall solid rotation being filled out with Joe Ryan. Tyler Mahle, who was acquired at last year’s trade deadline, and a wild card in Kenta Maeda who finished 2nd in ALCY voting in 2020, coming off of Tommy John surgery. I like this team to finish 3rd in the division, as I see the division as a whole trending upward I don’t think they did enough in the off season to really push themselves over the Guardians. However, I wouldn’t count them out completely as a WC team if Chicago struggles and they benefit from that.
That will wrap up the 2nd part of my Divisional Previews, next up will be the AL West. Feel free to comment at the end and let me know your own thoughts about any of the teams in the AL Central!