We’ve spent a lot of time discussing the Indians and their offseason moves, but what about the rest of the AL Central? Let’s take a look at their primary competition and see what the Indians will be facing in 2014.
Notable Additions: 2B Ian Kinsler, SS Alex Gonzalez, P Joe Nathan, P Joba Chamberlain
Notable Subtractions: 1B Prince Fielder, SS Jhonny Peralta, P Doug Fister, INF Omar Infante
Some of the Tigers’ offseason moves were head scratchers, in my opinion. I kept wondering if something was going on behind the scenes, perhaps some financial issues or something of which the public was unaware. After a poor postseason performance, the Tigers flipped Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler. In some ways, the deal was shrewd. Fielder’s body type is not expected to age well, and while he’d likely have great value over the next few years, his contract was more likely to be an albatross in its later years. With high-tier prospect Nick Castellanos waiting in the wings, Miguel Cabrera could move to 1B and Castellanos could take over at 3B. Then you add Kinsler to a position where the Tigers had struggled to find a long-term solution. With Fielder’s departure, you lose the potent 1-2 punch of Fielder and Cabrera in the lineup; although Cabrera probably doesn’t need a lot of assistance to perform well. What about the addition of Kinsler? Christina Kahrl wrote a fantastic piece in early March after Kinsler made some angry comments about how he’d like to see the Texas Rangers go 0-162. Kahrl looked at a Kinsler transition from the hitter-friendly Ballpark at Arlington, to more pitcher-friendly Comerica. To summarize (although you should go read the full article) Kinsler was already experiencing a decline before he was traded to Detroit, and a more difficult park for hitters. Kinsler’s bad feelings toward the Rangers could provide revenge fuel, or could end up distracting him from the task at hand. Or they could end up being a complete non-factor. I do think Fielder will thrive at his new home park, in comparison to Kinsler.
The most baffling move that Detroit made, in my opinion, was the trade of Doug Fister for a rather mediocre return. It could be that they saw the financial writing on the wall – they couldn’t afford to keep Fister, Cabrera, and Max Scherzer long term. But why not attempt a better return for Fister? They’ve always had a “win now” vibe about them…why not keep Fister for the 2014 campaign, knowing that they went deep into the postseason the past two seasons? Even if they found him expendable because of the presence of Drew Smyly on the roster, why not demand a better return on a trade?
Joe Nathan was a good add for the Tigers, especially due to the fact that the back end of their bullpen has always been an Achilles heel. Alex Gonzalez was an addition of necessity, after young shortstop Jose Iglesias was injured and will likely miss the season. Gonzalez is a serviceable replacement, but at the age of 37, will have less range and agility than Iglesias. (Plus they had to surrender part of their meager return from the Fister deal to acquire Gonzalez). Even though Iglesias didn’t have the power numbers of Peralta, he did provide a reliable presence in the field. A friend of mine that is a Tigers fan thinks that the loss of Omar Infante will hurt the Tigers more than they realize. They let Infante walk, primarily because their infield was set – Cabrera at 1B, Kinsler at 2B, Iglesias at SS, and Castellanos at 3B. He could have filled in for the now injured Iglesias though, and his .318/.345/.450 line last season was quite good. On the flip side, he’s had injury issues with Kansas City this spring as well, and one could argue that 2013 was a career year for him and essentially an outlier.
We’ll see if some of these odd moves work out for the Tigers this season. I think they’re a less strong team than they were in 2013, although with a rotation that includes Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez, they still have a high likelihood of success. On some teams, any of those three could qualify as an ace at the top of a rotation. The million dollar question remains – do any other teams in the AL Central have enough to knock the Tigers off of their perch?
Kansas City Royals:
Notable Additions: P Jason Vargas, INF Omar Infante, OF Norichika Aoki, 3B Danny Valencia
Notable Subtractions: P Ervin Santana, P Will Smith, OF David Lough, INF Jamey Carroll, 2B Chris Getz, C George Kottaras, OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio
The Royals are a real wild card this season, in my opinion. If some of their players wouldn’t have had such a slow start to the 2013 season, they would have been battling the Indians right down to the wire. As it stands, they finished six games back of the Tribe in the wild card standings, but had crept closer at times during the season. I don’t think anyone realized that Ervin Santana would end up going unsigned most of the offseason; I figured his outrageous demands would subside and he would settle for something. I wonder if the Royals wouldn’t have been better off keeping Santana as opposed to signing Jason Vargas as his replacement? Although at that point in the offseason, it looked like Santana may be priced out of their reach. I don’t blame them for acting quickly to fill a need, although I do question the four years/$32 million the Royals gave him.
Their bullpen will take a slight hit as well, with the injury to Luke Hochevar. The former first-round pick always struggled in the rotation, until the Royals moved him to the bullpen. He really seemed to find his niche, and was untouchable there for most of last season. Their offense was already promising, and now they’ve added Infante, Aoki, and Valencia to the mix. If their pitching holds up, this could be a team to watch.
An interesting fun fact – Jason Donald was in camp with Kansas City this spring. He will start the season at Triple-A.
Chicago White Sox:
Notable Additions: 1B Jose Abreu, OF Adam Eaton, P Scott Downs, P Matt Lindstrom
Notable Subtractions: P Addison Reed, P Hector Santiago
The White Sox actually finished below the Minnesota Twins last offseason, just missing 100 losses at 63-99. Part of that was thanks to the Indians, who crushed the south siders all of last season as they went 17-2 against them. Even though they lost promising starter Hector Santiago and closer Addison Reed, they made some notable additions in Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton. I think Abreu could be an exciting player to watch, even if he does create somewhat of a log jam since the White Sox still have Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko.
While they may have a few fun players to watch, I don’t expect them to be a threat for the division this season. In fact, they may end up shopping some of their players – there are rumors they were listening on both Alexi Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo this offseason.
Notable Additions: P Ricky Nolasco, P Mike Pelfrey, P Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki
Notable Subtractions: C/OF Ryan Doumit, P Vance Worley, P Andrew Albers, OF Clete Thomas, P Liam Hendriks
Even though the Twins have long been classified as a small-budget, small-market franchise, I don’t think you can exactly call them cheap. Not only did they hand out a mega-deal to home-grown star Joe Mauer a few years back, this offseason they also gave Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $49 million deal, Mike Pelfrey a one-year, $4 million deal, and three years, $24 million to Phil Hughes. I originally thought that Hughes may struggle to get a major league deal; the Twins not only gave him a major league deal, but they inked him for multiple years. Rumor has it that the Twins weren’t planning to stop there; they supposedly made a multi-year offer to Ervin Santana and several offensive players as well. Nobody else took the money.
While they Twins still look rather “meh” for this upcoming season, they have several very promising players in the minors. Byron Buxton, the second overall pick in the 2012 playoffs, is already sending chills down my spine as an Indians fan. They also have Miguel Sano, although he will miss significant time after Tommy John surgery this offseason. I don’t think the Twins will be down in the count for long, but I don’t think this is the year they start their climb from the bottom levels of the AL Central.
Those are my thoughts about the rest of the AL Central heading into the 2014 season. The order in which I listed them is not an accident; I think these four teams will finish in this order. Where do the Indians fit into this? I’m actually somewhat uncertain at the moment. If the Indians see bounce-back years from Nick Swisher, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn, and David Murphy, the offense could be in good shape. They need to hope that the starting rotation not only remains healthy, but can replace the numbers lost by the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. I really think they’ll go as far as their pitching takes them; with a good performance from them, they’ll end up near the top of this heap. If not, they could end up below both Detroit and Kansas City. They also need to learn to beat Detroit in head-to-head matchups, and maintain good records against the rest of the AL Central. We could also hope that these four teams’ weaknesses are exposed during the season, because they definitely have them. Whoever manages these weaknesses the best could walk away with the AL Central crown.