Minnesota Twins – 5th Place
Generally speaking, this team is hoping that their days of rebuilding are drawing to a close. They brought back Torii Hunter, most likely to give fans a reason to come to the ballpark – and though there’s nothing bad you can really say about a player like Joe Mauer, he just isn’t the same player anymore.
This team’s future will depend on Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and a few other young prospects who are just about ready, but not quite.
Unless pitchers like Mike Pelfrey and Ricky Nolasco have brilliant years, I can’t see how the Twins climb out of the cellar in 2015, let alone climb into contention.
Kansas City Royals – 4th Place
Key subtractions: James Shields, Billy Butler, Norichika Aoki, Josh Willingham, Aaron Crow, Raul Ibanez
Yes, it’s true this team set the sport on fire last season in October. I look at their key subtractions though and I see some key pieces to that late stretch that helped define who the Royals were. Sure, their bullpen is what seemed to set them apart, but I think most everybody has caught on to what made this team special are are trying to replicate it.
Bullpen arms to me are the most fickle of the bunch. Look at relievers like Brad Lidge or Koji Uehara who both had stellar performances and then everybody practically expected a duplicate result, and their teams faded away because they couldn’t anchor at the same level as the previous year.
I think now that teams around Kansas city are focusing more on the strength of their bullpen, that begins to chip away at the advantage that the Royals once had. I look at the lineup, to me it got weaker and less reliable. I look at the rotation and it all comes down to Yordano Ventura. Is he for real? He basically has to go from a mid-rotation starter to a #1 after his rookie year, I’m not sure he’s up for that.
For me, it comes down to raised expectations that a team similar to the Rockies in 2007 cannot possibly achieve in the year after. They got hot at the right time, everything clicked – and I think the pendulum swings the other way in 2015.
Detroit Tigers – 3rd Place
Key additions: Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene
I am starting to get that “when will he start to break down?” feeling when it comes to Miguel Cabrera. He turns 32 in a few weeks so it is inevitable that in the next few years we’re going to look at Cabrera in almost the same way we look at a player like Albert Pujols. Here’s hoping he stays healthy and we begin to have conversations about whether Miguel Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters of all time without having to mention anything about “PED” usage.
You can’t lose a starter like Scherzer and get better right away. I am as big of a David Price fan as they come, but I think he will find himself out of Detroit before the season is over.
I look at the team and I think about whether players like Jose Iglesias, Anthony Gose, and J.D. Martinez can play as big of a role in a playoff team as the Tigers probably need them to do. I also look at players like Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon and think the Tigers will be lucky to get back to back wins when they pitch. You pair that up with their bullpen and the uncertainty around Justin Verlander and you have potential for a nosedive year in Detroit.
I think it’s over in Detroit, I think they had their shot at being the class of the American League and their window has been shut.
Cleveland Indians – 2nd Place
I like the scrappiness of this lineup, but I’m just not totally sure if I can trust that Brandon Moss & Nick Swisher (coming back from surgery) will be the big time run producers that Cleveland needs them to be. Is Michael Brantley able to repeat his 2014?
I do find it amazing that if you ask 100 baseball fans but not diehard’s who won the AL Cy Young, I bet a good amount wouldn’t name Corey Kluber.
Part of why I give Cleveland so much credit is I truly believe Terry Francona is one of those managers who gets the best out of everybody on the field. The rotation is good enough to compete in this division, the true test will be whether this lineup can produce runs and play the field well enough to keep the starters in the game.
I look at the heart of this order, throw in Swisher is he comes back healthy – plus a decent rotation and I see a team that should be able to compete in a division that overall got worse this winter. Toss in the Francona Factor for added value.
Chicago White Sox – 1st Place
Key additions: Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche, David Robertson, Emilio Bonifacio.
The White Sox probably had the most exciting off-season in this division, and to be honest – it wasn’t hard to accomplish. The addition of Samardzija to compliment Sale and lessen the burden on Jose Quintana was a great move. Quintana will be just fine in the #3 role this year.
Adding the David Robertson who is eager to prove he is one of the best closers in the game was also a great move. He was able to fill in for Mariano Rivera, that’s not something most pitchers could do effectively, and should prove to be a big factor in whether he can handle the postseason’s biggest spots.
I like adding in LaRoche, a player who always just seemed to do his job well while in Washington. I’m not the biggest Melky fan, most of that stems from his PED bust and fake website, Still, he’s an upgrade for a team that won just 73 games last year.
The biggest concern for me is whether this team can effectively jump on the back of Jose Abreu and stay the course for 162 games. If so, he’s an MVP. They lack roster depth, and I do think they could find themselves in a bit of trouble if things go south in terms of the team’s health.
On paper though, they have the most talented roster. If all goes right for every team in this division, I think they can win the division.
AL Central MVP: Jose Abreu. If I am picking the White Sox to win the division, I’m really not sure how any other MVP candidate would be logical for me.
AL Central Cy Young: Sale is nasty but I think I’m gonna go with Samardzija, mostly just because. If Sale is the best, I’m just going to delete the last part of the previous sentence and say I told you so.
AL Central Sleeper: Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians is the guy I think may have the greatest positive impact that everybody wonders where he came from.
5th Place – Minnesota Twins
Ervin Santana is a pretty poor contract to dole out to a team trying to finish a rebuild. There are some good, young players on the way and we could be hearing from the Twins soon, but not this year.
4th Place – Kansas City Royals
They lost sight of what made them special. Sure, they lost James Shields, but they panicked and inked Edinson Volquez, which is a disaster waiting to happen. They also replaced some departing hitters with old, injury-plagued players after riding a wave of youth to the top last season. They lost a lot of talent and did very little to replace them. I love Ventura and this he’s ready for greatness, but he’s got very little support this year.
3rd Place – Cleveland Indians
The team can’t score runs or catch the ball and it’s not a safe bet for Kluber to repeat. He’ll be really good, but can he continue to be great? I do think the rotation is very strong behind him with Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, and Cody Allen keeps getting better anchoring that bullpen, but the offense won’t be able to keep up with the unearned runs to get the ball to him.
2nd Place – Detroit Tigers
Glad to see Jessep coming around to my point of view on the Tigers. They accelerated the decline a bit, trading a pretty good pitcher in Rick Porcello for Yoenis Cespedes, the most overrated player in baseball. They’re still good, though, and I think the division is too weak for them fall out of the race. Cabrera started his decline at the end of the 2013 season and will continue to regress, but he was so good in his prime, his slide will still be potent. Victor Martinez is a threat and I think JD Martinez is for real. Can’t forget Ian Kinsler. The rotation is still strong with Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Alfredo Simon and youngster Shane Green, who impressed me last season with the Yankees. I think the bullpen will be OK once Brad Ausmus gets Nathan out of the closer role, and potentially off the team. Joakim Soria is in mid-season form in spring training and Bruce Rondon has a lot of potential, despite a shaky spring.
The Tigers are going away, but not quickly.
1st Place – Chicago White Sox
Great timing for the Sox, as the Tigers and Royals regression paves the way for the team that most feel won the off season. The team is not well-balanced offensively and Conor Gillaspie matching last season (or even exceeding it) will go a long way in lengthening the lineup if he’s hitting well enough to slide into the second spot in the order. If Melky Cabrera has to hit second, it either leaves no protection for the cleanup hitter or forces Robin Ventura to put a sub-par hitter in the very important second spot. The bullpen isn’t bad, though I expect the team to regret the long-term, big money deal given to David Robertson well before it’s up. Probably not this year, though. The starting pitching is what will carry them. Chris Sale, new acquisition Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana are a formidable top three
AL Central MVP: J.D. Martinez. I believe far more in “outta nowhere” seasons like his 2014 if it comes from a mechanical change like his did as opposed to just a fluke.
AL Central Cy Young: Chris Sale. He was my pick last season and the upstart Kluber ruined it. I’ll roll the dice again.
AL Central Sleeper: Adam Eaton. He is primed for a huge breakout.