The American League Central was possibly the worst division in the MLB last season, despite being home to one of the four 100-plus win teams in the league and another 90-plus win team. It was the other three teams that really brought the division down. The White Sox finished in third, and while their 72-89 record was bad, it was World Series caliber when compared to what places 4 and 5 did. The Royals went 59-103, and they came in fourth. Not only that, but they were a whopping 11.5 games ahead of the Tigers. ELEVEN AND A HALF (the White Sox and Tigers had one of their games canceled that they never played, both finishing the season playing only a 161 game schedule). Their record of 47-114 was the 16th worst in the modern era and the third-worst in the last 50 years!
Anyway, enough about how pathetic the AL Central was last season (the Twins also put up approximately zero fight in the Divisional round against the Yankees). It’s a new year, so let’s predict what these teams are going to do or have already done.
The Twins offense was one of the best in the league last season, and they are retaining a lot of their lineup in 2020. However, what they are not retaining is their starting pitching staff. Kyle Gibson, who, after a strong 2018, regressed in 2019, is finishing the year with a 4.84 ERA. He still did throw 160 innings for the team though, and he has already signed with the Texas Rangers. Michael “Pine Tar” Pineda is also a free agent, who had a 4.01 ERA in 146 innings last season. That’s over 300 innings they have to replace, and if they don’t bring back Pineda, they’re going to need to sign at least two solid starters if they want to avoid a serious regression. While they probably won’t be in the running for a top-tier arm in their market, Ivan Nova could eat up some innings and Alex Wood is a prime bounce-back candidate after having an ERA of nearly six in just 35.2 innings but also averaging an ERA of 3.29 in the previous three years. If they want to spend even more, Zack Wheeler could land in Minnesota if they throw him enough money. They’re not going to get Cole or Strausburg, but they need to get somebody.
The Indians are in a weird spot. They missed the playoffs last season despite winning 93 games, and on top of that there’s a boatload of speculation about trading star shortstop Francisco Lindor. With two more seasons left before he hits free agency, they could hit a “soft-reset” on the team and not make any serious additions while bolstering their farm system, aiming to seriously compete again in the next two or three years. Should they? I don’t think so, because I don’t believe in the Twins. I don’t think they’re going to be nearly as good as they were last season, and if the Indians can just plug a few holes, they could be in good shape to take the division back. If I’m them, I’m doing everything I can to bring back Yasiel Puig, who they traded for last season and hit .297/.377/.423 in 49 games for Cleveland. They also could use a second baseman, and while bringing back Kipnis is an option, he’s not the player he once was, so it might just be best to move on. They could go for one of the big names in a relatively thin second base class and pick up Ben Zobrist or Brian Dozier, or they could look at someone like Jonathan Schoop, who is significantly younger and actually had a better OPS than both of them. Mainly, they should just bolster their depth, maybe add some bullpen arms, trust that their core will improve and hope the Twins fall back down to earth.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox might just be the most interesting team to monitor this offseason in the entire MLB. After missing out on big-name free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado last season, they seem to be going all-in this year. They already inked catcher Yasmani Grandal to the biggest contract in franchise history – a whopping four-year, $73 million deal. They are also likely not finished, seeing as they have enough talent to try to compete but have some serious holes that need to be filled. While they can’t be expected to break the bank for Cole, Strausburg or Rendon, there are a couple of really good free agents that could be realistic, ones that could push them into contention. One is Nicholas Castellanos, who had an OPS of .863 in 2019, split between the Tigers and that other Chicago team. He could provide a really solid bat in the middle of their lineup, making the heart of their order of Castellanos, Grandal and Jose Abreu very formidable. They also need starting pitching and Rick Porcello, who’s struggled recently but is just four years removed from his Cy Young season, could be a relatively cheap option. If they don’t want to bet on a bounce back, they could go with Madison Bumgarner or even NL Cy Young runner-up Hyun-Jin Ryu, but the two of them will come at a significantly higher price. The White Sox could be surprise competitors, as long as they make the right moves.
Kansas City Royals
And here’s where we get to the garbage that is the bottom of the AL Central, so I’ll keep it shorter. The Royals will not compete in 2020. I could list off the areas they need help in, but it would be quicker to do it in reverse. Whit Merrifield is a good baseball player, Salvador Perez is one of the last remaining studs from their 2015 championship team and Jorge Soler has a nice bat. That’s about all the guarantees they have. There are a couple more “locks,” in the sense of these players are fine so that’s good enough for the Royals. Players like Adalberto Mondesi, Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy are all just … eh. They’re not great, but they do the trick. They’re probably going to add a handful of low-tier free agents to fill out the roster, but their main goal will likely be to beat out the division-rival Tigers for the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Oh boy. The Tigers are bad. Like, really bad. They’re going to be really bad again in 2020. Like, really, really bad. Will they win a game? Ye-probably. Will they win 40? That’s a toss-up. There is very little major league talent on this team, and practically everyone agrees that at this point, the rebuild is in full swing so they should keep it going. Throw minor leaguers out there, see if any of them could be diamonds-in-the-rough, and inflate the records of the Twins, Indians and White Sox. The only one I feel bad for is Miguel Cabrera, who at 37 years old is officially stuck in Detroit for the long-run. At least his contract is up soon though right – oh, oh no. He’s making $30 million a year through 2023 and has an $8 million buyout in 2024 and 2025!? Man, Tigers, what have you done to yourselves?