Predicting the A.L. Central.

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Updated: March 30, 2017

We are now into part five of our prediction series, as the regular season approaches. We can now throw out our best guesses for what we think might happen. Maybe they’re educated guesses, maybe they’re gut feelings, or maybe they’re extremely bold predictions that we make out of thin air and hope come to fruition so we can claim to be geniuses! Today, we take a look at the A.L. Central, home to the defending A.L. Champs, the Cleveland Indians.

After passing hands from the Minnesota Twins to the Detroit Tigers to the Kansas City Royals, last season the Indians took the reins, and they are a strong bet to stay there for the foreseeable future. With arguably the best rotation in baseball, (if healthy,) a devastating bullpen that features Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and added Boone Logan, a true franchise superstar in Francisco Lindor, and a farm system that is still stacked, the Indians are built to be great for a while. The Indians went all the way to the World Series even though two of the A.L.’s top fifteen pitchers were either severely limited or out altogether in Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. The Indians will return both, and having them back and rested will allow them to help ease Corey Kluber into the season after his massive workload last year. The Indians are also returning former MVP candidate Michael Brantley and brought in slugger Edwin Encarnacion to take over first base. Basically, this team is stacked, and as much as everyone loves the Boston Red Sox to be the best team in the A.L., the Indians are a better bet to be that team, and will be.

The Royals and Tigers are stuck in similarly precarious positions. For the Royals, they have so many pending free agents like Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Eric Hosmer, that if they find themselves struggling as the trade deadline approaches, they’re going to have to make a difficult decision; do you begin your rebuild then by trading away some or all of those players before you lose them for nothing? Remember that there is no draft pick compensation attached to free agents beginning this next off-season, so teams are not going to be able to just hold on to player, knowing that at the very least they’ll receive a draft pick if and when he signs with another team. The odds are good that the Royals will struggle; Greg Holland and Wade Davis are gone from this bullpen, the rotation lost Edinson Volquez to free agency and Yordano Ventura‘s tragic death creates another hole that’s hard to fill in many ways for this franchise.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have so many aging stars locked into long-term contracts, and if the team finds itself falling out of it they’ll again try to start moving some of those players. Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton, and even Miguel Cabrera could all be shopped in hopes of creating flexibility for this team to start to move forward from this core into something new. The Tigers have enough talent here, though, that they should be competitive this season, but you get the sense that the championship window has closed on this current iteration of the Tigers, and it might just be time for this team to mix things up. The front office seems to already recognize this, as they tried to shop some or all of those stars this season. The problem is that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone willing to take on some of those contracts like Cabrera’s or Verlander’s, so the odds are that the Tigers are just going to have to slowly start to tinker around the edges in an attempt to get younger while trying to maximize what’s left of an aging core that just never could quite break through.

The Twins and Chicago White Sox are in similar situations as they’re both in different stages of a rebuild; the Twins have been working on it for a few years now, but with not a lot to show for it, and the White Sox just decided to tear it all down, trading away Chris Sale and Adam Eaton and shopping everyone from Jose Quintana to Todd Frazier to Melky Cabrera to David Robertson. This season will be about getting the young guys some experience while showcasing some of those players in the hopes of continuing to add to what’s become one of the best farm systems in baseball. Many are expecting the White Sox to be one of the worst teams in baseball, but when you have this many young players, especially with high ceilings, you just never know how quickly they might adapt to the majors and start playing well. This team could surprise a lot of people if the young guys step up and become superstars quicker than many think. The Twins have a solid young core, but none of them have really been able to put it together just yet. Byron Buxton is a solid prospect, but he has mostly struggled at the major league level. Miguel Sano has stratospheric power but strikes out a ton and isn’t very good defensively, and the rotation is just flat out not going to be very good.

The Indians won this division by eight games last season, but don’t expect it to be that close this season. The Indians are so well built and are returning some key performers from injury this season on top of bringing in Encarnacion to anchor the lineup and Logan to add even more depth to a great ‘pen. The Indians could be downright scary this season. The Tigers could challenge for a wild card spot all season long, but they also have some serious age and health question marks all over this roster. The Royals struggled last season and didn’t do very much to improve for this season, and the White Sox and Twins are still in various stages of rebuilding. This division will likely be the least competitive, as the Indians should have it all but sewn up quicker than any other division winner.

1.)Indians 2.) Tigers 3.) White Sox 4.) Royals 5.) Twins

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