The offseason isn’t over yet, but as the embers of its action are slowly withering, it’s easy to spot who the three teams to watch in the AL Central will be: World Series winners the Kansas City Royals, the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians.
The Tigers plan to make last year’s 74-win season an isolated event. It stopped a streak of four consecutive postseason appearances and four consecutive AL Central titles. Through that period the Tigers made the World Series once and their players won three MVP awards: Justin Verlander once and Miguel Cabrera twice. After the down year of 2015, the Tigers went past the luxury tax threshold for the first time, signing Jordan Zimmermann (five years, $110 million), Francisco Rodriguez (trade) and recently, Justin Upton (six years, $132 million).
The trio weren’t the only impressive additions, but they join a lineup that includes Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler, while the Tigers are hoping the smaller changes they made to their pitching roster will help them bounce back from the rough 2015 season in which they finished 5th in the division for the first time since 2008, posting their first losing record since that year as well.
The Indians? While their payroll is $100 million less than that of the Tigers, there are some high expectations of them to give the Royals and Tigers a run for their money. The Indians have been good or pretty good for a number of years now, going 81-80 last season. Most of their hopes rely on their rotation which they’ve been sheltering from trade offers all offseason, which includes Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, but they think that the additions they’ve made during the offseason without throwing too much money at free agents should help solidify their hitting and defense, and pushing their offense beyond the 669 runs they scored last season.
And then there’s the Royals, who didn’t change much, but were able to not lose too much either. They were able to sign Ian Kennedy to help out a decent but not too stellar rotation while not lose anything major from their very good bullpen, hoping that Johnny Cueto walking away won’t hurt them too much. He didn’t do much in the regular season after getting traded from the Cincinnati Reds, so it’s hard to say he was an integral part of their long term success.
Ben Zobrist signed with the Chicago Cubs, but the Royals weren’t really eager to keep him considering his contract demands. Managing to hold on to Alex Gordon seems to be their crowning achievement this offseason, hoping that their way of building and playing, which has more to do with chemistry and familiarity between players than anything else, is good enough for another playoff run towards the World Series.
What about the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins? The White Sox seem to be one big signing away from joining this group, but they’ve missed out on the players who could make that kind of impact, and Todd Frazier won’t be enough. The Twins aren’t in that kind of competition with anyone, and although they’re projected to get better, it might mean poaching some wins from the others, but not sticking in the pennant race for the long run.