The 2014 offseason has been a busy one to say in MLB. We have seen moves like Jon Lester going to the north side of Chicago, The Padres getting a completely new outfield look with Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers patrolling the outfield left right, and the BoSox getting the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez for their left side of the infield. The Tigers have been in the news themselves throughout the winter months. Most notably, they traded starting pitcher Rick Porcello to Boston for outfield and power hitter Yoenis Cespedes. I personally would have preferred to keep Ricky P, he was always one of my favorites and blossomed really well in 2013 for us. Nothing against Cespedes by any means, I believe he will fit in very well in the teeth of the lineup, sandwiched between the Martinez boys. They also made moves for starting pitchers Shane Greene (Yankees) and Alfredo Simon (Reds) via trade. Another big story this offseason in Detroit was whether or not Mad Max Scherzer would re-sign with the Tigs. As of last night, he agreed to a 7-year contract with the Washington Nationals for over $200 million. A precursor to us not being interested in signing him was avoiding an arbitration hearing with current Tigers lefty David Price, signing him to a 1-year deal worth nearly $20 million. After all these moves. The Tigers now hold the 3rd highest payroll behind who else, but those Bronx Bastards and the Hollywood Dodgers.
The Tigers are not the only team in their division to make some noise this offseason however. Every other team in the AL Central. Here are some key moves made by their division rivals:
Chicago White Sox: traded for SP Jeff Samardzija from Oakland, signed OF Dave Robertson and Melky Cabrera
Cleveland Indians: traded for 1B Brandon Moss from Oakland, signed SP Gavin Floyd
Kansas City Royals: signed SP’s Luke Hochevar and Edison Volquez, signed OF Alex Rios, signed DH Kendrys Morales
Minnesota Twins: signed OF Torii Hunter and SP Ervin Santana
You gotta think the big winner in the division this offseason (so far) is the White Sox. From a standpoint of addressing the big holes in their roster, they definitely did that. They acquired players to help bolster each phase of their game. Samardzija forms a dominant 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation with lefty ace Chris Sale. The Melk Man gives another good reliable bat in the lineup and provides a decent upgrade in the outfield defense. Dave Robertson was a very solid and dependent set-up man and closer in his time with the Yankees and will certainly help the Chi Sox in the pen. They had a lot of work to do and did their job.
Despite them probably not being able to re-sign James Shields, KC did pretty solid as well. They essentially replace Shields with Volquez, former 1B/DH and fan favorite Billy Butler with Morales and Nori Aoki with Rios. Maybe not necessarily upgrades at each of those spots, but certainly filling the void for an already good team without messing with their outstanding bullpen.
Minnesota on paper certainly looks like a much more competitive team than in recent years. They are fairly young and do have some question marks still, but the fact is they do have so good players in a lot of the right positions. Some big key things to look out for them will be the emergence of super prospect Byron Buxton, soon to be the everyday CF for years to come. Joe Mauer may not be the same player he was six, seven years ago, but is more than capable of rebounding and producing adequately. The return of longtime Twin great Torii Hunter will certainly be a boost on a number of levels as well, especially both on the field and in the clubhouse. Most importantly, he will finish his career with the team he started with. If guys like Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Arcia, and Eduardo Escobar can improve, and C Kurt Suzuki can replicate his solid 2014 campaign, the Twinkies are a growing formidable opponent in the AL Central.
The Cleveland Indians were probably a little more quiet than they would have liked. They have a young rotation they really like and will continue to improve, headlined by 2014 AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Some rather disappointing seasons from 2B Jason Kipnis and DH/1B/OF Nick Swisher pushed this team back a bit in the standings. Carlos Santana struggled early in 2014 as well, but picked it up in the 2nd half of the season. He could use a good bounce back season though too. Some solid numbers from those three players along with CF Michael Bourn will greatly increase this team’s chances at winning the division, or at the very least a playoff spot. The terrific season by MVP candidate Michael Brantley, who I believe is the most underrated player in baseball, and under-the-radar performance of Lonnie Chisenhall is definitely another thing for this team to build on going into 2015.
So with only a month of so away from spring training taking place in Florida and Arizona for MLB, the AL Central has made some noteworthy noise and made the division much more competitive. How does the division shake up now? Let’s be honest, the division still runs through the Motor City and has for four straight seasons. Can they make it 5? Absolutely. But it is by no means easy. Here is my personal prediction:
1st – Detroit Tigers: 91-71
2nd – Kansas City Royals: 89-73
3rd – Chicago White Sox: 88-74
4th – Cleveland Indians: 84-78
5th – Minnesota Twins: 75-87
What do you think? How will the 2015 AL Central shake out? Chip in!