2013 result: 93-69, 1st place, lost to Red Sox 4-2 in ALCS
Aside from the baffling deal that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals for loose change and chapstick, Dave Dombrowski engineered a prudent offseason that keeps the team solvent even after many key players left (You hear that, Pittsburgh?). First and foremost is the Prince Fielder trade, sending his massive contract (and postseason lethargy) to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler, thus freeing up payroll space and strengthening the infield. The leaky bullpen that helped cost Detroit the ALCS last year (mostly due to a lack of a stable closer) has been patched up somewhat with Joba Chamberlain and AL Central veteran Joe Nathan, although it still needs an extra power arm or two. Most notably, the youthful Brad Ausmus has stepped in for Jim Leyland as manager, a decision that I’ll preemptively deem brilliant simply because I got Ausmus’ autograph when I was kid. In all seriousness, though, the jaw-dropping Max Scherzer/Justin Verlander/Anibal Sanchez trio and a roster that’s been to the ALCS three straight times probably makes for the easiest division lock in baseball.
Prediction: 94-68, 1st place
Kansas City Royals
2013 result: 86-76, 3rd place
It took ten years, patient development of the farm system, and even trading Wil Myers, but the Royals can finally bask in a winning season. Given a playoff drought that stretches back to their sole WS championship in 1985, and this year marking their highest non-strike winning percentage since 1989, that may seem successful only by the lowest expectations. But it’d be unfair to dismiss just how well KC did in 2013, staying in a crowded wild card race until the final weeks. They did so on the strength of a rotation led by James Shields and Ervin Santana, as well as Gold Glove winners Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Salvador Perez. Santana has departed, but Jason Vargas has been brought in to fill that hole. Omar Infante also was brought in to strengthen the infield and Norichika Aoki fills the right field gap. Thus, KC should be solvent enough to have another winning season, but in a division that has Scherzer, Verlander and Sanchez pitching on one team, they haven’t quite matured enough to grab first place. They could definitely contend for a wild card spot, but will have a hard time with the east and west as deep as they project to be.
Prediction: 84-78, 2nd place
2013 result: 92-70, 2nd place, lost to Tampa Bay in AL Wild Card game
After winning 68 games in 2012, the Indians undertook an ambitious offseason overhaul that could serve as a template for future quick turnarounds. With Manny Acta shafted as manager in favor of Terry Francona, the Tribe signed and traded for a plethora of high risk/high reward and sensible investments like Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Jason Giambi, and Matt Albers. The result: 24 more wins and their first postseason berth since 2007. Unfortunately, they’re not too likely to repeat that success in 2014, especially after some dismantling that saw starters Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez and relievers Chris Perez and Albers depart. Especially considering pitching was the key to the turnaround, and GM Chris Antonetti’s inability to fully replace them, this will prove decisive in mitigating Cleveland’s playoff hopes. But they should still likely have another winning season.
Prediction: 83-79, 3rd place
Chicago White Sox
2013 result: 63-99, 5th place
While the Twins’ disastrous season was merely the lowest point of a decline in motion for several years, the rival White Sox’ trip to the cellar was sudden and precipitous, winning 22 fewer games than they did in 2012 and finishing dead last. Aside from simply looking sluggish and disinterested in just about every game they played, they featured one of the worst offenses in the majors, good enough for last in the AL with a team .302 OBP. While dealing many key players since the middle of last season to rebuild (Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, Jake Peavy), GM Rick Hahn has nonetheless made several pickups that should boost Chicago’s win total this year. Adam Eaton, Mark Davidson, and Jose Abreu will bring new life to the offense, while Ronald Belisario and Scott Downs should patch up the bullpen. They won’t be this year’s Indians, and the rebuilding should take a few years, but an improved offense alone (especially if Cuba native Abreu succeeds like Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes) should net them a few more wins.
Prediction: 70-92, 4th place
After a promising first season in Target Field in 2010, the Twins have dramatically regressed each year since, and 2013 marked the nadir not only of recent times, but arguably for all-time (Indeed, MN sportswriting stalwart Patrick Reusse deemed it the worst he had ever seen). Aside from a strong (albeit overworked) bullpen, Minnesota slumped with perhaps the worst starting pitching in baseball (4.55 team ERA, second only to Houston) and an offense that, while not as patchwork as the “who the hell is Steve Holm?” days of 2011, still underwhelmed. Yet, even after the Indians demonstrated that a dynamic new manager and aggressive dealing can yield a tremendous turnaround, the Twins bafflingly chose to stay the course, extending manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff and limiting their new starting pitching to Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. I’ll concede this much: With at least two serviceable starters and a little more stability at catcher and first, the Twins will win more games than they did last year, and top-ranked prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton do provide some excitement for the near future (Although Sano is undergoing Tommy John surgery). But with the stagnant, unaccountable ownership/front office/coaching hierarchy still in place and a payroll that hasn’t been fully utilized to fill many gaps, the Twins look to be rebuilding for the next few years.
Prediction: 68-94, 5th place
Who will win the AL Central in 2014?
- Chicago White Sox (50%, 4 Votes)
- Detroit Tigers (50%, 4 Votes)
- Minnesota Twins (0%, 0 Votes)
- Cleveland Indians (0%, 0 Votes)
- Kansas City Royals (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 8