2014 American League Central Preview: The Kansas City Royals Earn Their Crown
The American League Central Division has a lot of things to be enthusiastic about. They have the best overall hitter in the game and two-time defending American League Most Valuable Player in Miguel Cabrera. In fact, the American League Central has four of the last five American League MVPs. They have, arguably, the best pitcher in the game with Justin Verlander. The American League Central is responsible for six of the last eight AL Cy Young Award winners, including the winner in 2013 Max Scherzer. Despite all the awards over the past few years, the American League Central teams have not done a good job of building teams. They were the only division last year to have two teams with win totals in the 60s: Minnesota Twins with 66 wins and Chicago White Sox with 63 wins. Read ahead to find out what the 2014 season has in store for the worst division in Major League Baseball.
Detroit Tigers: 2013 record: 93 – 69. Projected 2014 record: 87 – 75.
The Detroit Tigers are the three-time defending champions. While 2014 may still see the Tigers in the playoffs, it will not see a Detroit repeat as champions for a fourth time. The Tigers had more significant losses than gains this off-season and made their biggest move in an attempt to save money. This monetary focus is predicted to retain Max Scherzer for the long term. The Tigers added a top five middle infielder (arguably top two second baseman) when they traded the Texas Rangers back in November for Ian Kinsler. Adding Kinsler came at the cost of losing Prince Fielder. While Kinsler is one of the best at his position, he cannot match Fielder’s production, offensively, and does not give the team an everyday presence like Fielder who missed only one game since 2008. Prince is as guaranteed as death and taxes. Actually, you can hide from taxes for a year, so Prince is more reliable than taxes. Aside from the blockbuster trade, the Tigers gained Rajai Davis, Joba Chamberlain and Steve Lombardozzi as significant additions.
The issue with these “major” additions is that none of them jump into a starting role which means there is no every day improvement to come for the Tigers. The only addition that helps the Tigers be competitive in the year to come is Joe Nathan. The active leader in career saves will add stability to the Achilles heel that is Detroit’s bullpen. Jim Leyland, Doug Fister, Jose Veras, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante and Joaquin Benoit will all be in different uniforms for 2014. Each of these loses considerably hurts the Tigers. Jim Leyland was considered by some to be complacent and not adding an edge to the Tigers last year. What no one can disagree with is that Leyland is a winner. Losing that at the manager position will be hard to replace.
The departure of Doug Fister leaves a void in the starting five that will most likely be filled by Drew Smyly. The Tigers top three starters (Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer) will all flirt with 17 wins this year because they are just that good. Jose Iglesias will attempt to replace Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, but does not have the same offensive tools the Tigers are accustomed to. The 2014 Detroit Tigers have some of the best players and talent in the game. Their depth throughout the 25 man roster will keep them from a title this year unless everyone plays well above their potential.
Cleveland Indians: 2013 record 92 – 70. Projected 204 record: 88 -74
The Indians outlook for 2014 is bright. They will continue their winning ways from last year as their 2013 rebuilt lineup and Terry Francona are still in place. Where the Indians slid back this off-season was in starting pitching. The loss of Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez took away two of their top three pitchers last year. Cleveland does have their young starter Danny Salazar, who is looking dead in the eyes of a breakout season. The other possible replacement for their starter staff came when they picked up Shawn Marcum off free agency.
This move seemed to be the MO for Cleveland this winter break as they replaced average players that have potential with more average players that have potential. Drew Stubbs was traded away and replaced by David Murphy.
Even with Murphy’s down year last year, he adds more stability in getting on base, but cannot match the base stealing of Drew Stubbs. Cleveland also exchanged closers. Chris Perez departed and John Axford will get the ball in the ninth inning to start the season. Terry Francona will find a way to keep this team with a winning record in 2014, but the loss of Kazmir and Jimenez will hurt their chances to reach the playoffs.
Kansas City Royals: 2013 record: 86 – 76. 2014 Projected record: 92 – 70
The Royals made an enormous step in the right direction in 2013. Everything came together with high upside talent like Eric Hosmer, Greg Holland, and Salvador Perez going full beast mode. Veterans Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, James Shields, and Jeremy Guthrie played consistent all year. 2014 looks to be yet another jump in the right direction for the Royals.
Off-season losses were kept to a minimum. The only loss of any worth was LHP Will Smith out of the bullpen and Ervin Santana from their starting rotation. The Royals added strength in their outfield with Norichika Aoki, their middle infield with Omar Infante, and to their starting rotation with Jason Vargas who will replace Ervin Santana.
The additions plus young talent coming into their own, will help Kansas City improve on the ninth best team batting average in the league last year. The Royals are looking to improve their power after having a bottom third OPS and the league’s third lowest homerun total. This power production will need to come from third baseman Mike Moustakis.
If Moustakis cannot immediately impact the lineup, off-season pickup, Danny Valencia, from the Baltimore Orioles, should give the team more pop this year. The Royals’ starters had the sixth best earned run average and fourth most quality starts in 2013. If they can maintain that performance from the bump, the Royals will dominate the American League Central in 2014.
Minnesota Twins: 2013 record: 66 -96. Projected 2014 record: 69 – 93.
What is colder than a Minnesota winter? The Twins. Just three years removed from a division title and having, debatably, the best catcher in the game, Joe Maurer, the Twins had an abysmal year in 2013. Expect to see better starting pitching from Minnesota in 2014. Minnesota added two quality arms during the off-season.
Ricky Nolasco and Phil Huhges will lower Major Leagues Baseball’s second worse earned run average of 4.55. Nolasco is a guy who misses bats and eats innings for dinner. Ricky has not pitched less than 191 innings over the last four years. Hughes, undoubtedly, has question marks when it comes to consistent performance, but he should not be much of a concern for Minnesota. Phil will enjoy moving half his starts from hitter friendly Yankee Stadium to pitcher friendly Target Field. Throughout Phil’s career he performs significantly better away from the Bronx. Phil’s career earned run average of 6.32 at Yankee stadium is almost double his earned run average on the road (3.88). His (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP) goes from 1.545 to 1.351, which equates to 2 less base-runners per game for the right hander.
Offensively, Minnesota’s moves were a wash. They let go of Ryan Doumit and replaced him with Kurt Suzuki. The firepower is there with left fielder, Josh Willingham, becoming a perennial All-Star and most valuable player candidate, Joe Maurer, moving to first base and presumably adding 10 – 30 games to his year. Pieces to the baseball puzzle are coming together in Minnesota. This year will not yield playoff results. But post-season baseball in Minnesota is not far off.
Chicago White Sox: 2013 record: 65 – 97. Projected 2014 record: 65 – 97.
The 2014 Chicago White Sox are looking on the bright side. They have a lot of young talent on the Major League Roster. They have veterans that are capable of putting up big power numbers. And they play in Major League Baseball’s weakest division.
While it would be a movie script tale for the White Sox to compete this year for the post season, there will be plenty of fireworks and highlights on the South Side of Chicago. Departures of Hector Santiago and Addison Reed left holes in the pitching staff for Chicago. Replacements Felipe Paulino and Mitchell Boggs look to produce at a high level in 2014.
The “Pale Hoes” also added bullpen depth with left-handed pitcher Scott Downs and Eric Surkamp. Scamp is a potential starter for the White Sox. Offensively, Chicago came up big with Adam Eaton and Cuban defector, Jose Abreau. Eaton has been one of the Arizona Diamondbacks top prospects for the past couple of years.
Once he came up to the Majors last year he sparked Arizona’s offense and they never looked back. Eaton is a well above average outfielder and has speed to burn. Any team would be happy to add him to their outfield.
Abreau was one of the most coveted players in the leagues off-season. Even though Jose had never played in any sort of American organized baseball, he showed flashes of greatness at the World Baseball Classic in 2013. The explosion of Yasiel Puig only drove the market up for Abreau, who landed in Chicago. If Abreau can produce as expected, the White Sox just secured a franchise first baseman for the next six years. The 2014 season will see the White Sox battle to stay out of the basement, but has the potential for league leading excitement.
The American League Central will provide a thrilling brand of baseball this summer. Unfortunately, the top teams will not compete for the American League title. The Kansas City Royals will be this year’s Pittsburg Pirates, and with some luck, could see themselves winning a round in the playoffs. Current and future superstars are all around, but the overall talent and depth in the Central will keep the quality of baseball below the league average. All the teams are setting themselves up for future success, so look for plenty of big plays in 2014 and success later on.
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