Baseball is back, they call it America’s Summer Game so it’s always a sign of better weather ahead. Andy Turner brings you all you need to know ahead of the new season. Today the American League Central comes into focus…
The Cleveland Indians met the Chicago Cubs in last season’s World Series in a battle of the two best managers in baseball.
I don’t believe anybody considered that Cleveland was anywhere close to being a contender when Terry Francona was appointed in 2012. However, he has done an outstanding job, with the Indians perpetually in or challenging for the playoffs.
Last season his starting rotation was decimated by injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, while Trevor Bauer also spent time out after injuring himself on a drone! The pitching, led by ace Corey Kluber and imaginative use of the bullpen (specifically the excellent use of Andrew Miller by Francona) took the World Series to the 7th game.
Did I mention that arguably the Indians best hitter Michael Brantley was injured pretty much all season? The Indians should be contending for a while yet.
The Kansas City Royals were World Champions in 2015, one season after losing in the World Series. An omen for Cleveland perhaps? The Royals roster was superbly put together with their mid-market status in mind, but they have seen star players start to leave in free agency. One their ace relievers, Wade Davis, has left, while the devastating loss of starter Yordano Ventura in a fatal off-season accident has seen the Royals go in to rebuilding mode.
They still have many of the position players that won a world series only a few years ago, but the MVP of the 2016 all-star game is in the last year of his contract and other players weren’t fit last season. The Royals don’t look capable of making up 13.5 games on the Indians.
A team looking to be moving in an upward direction are the Minnesota Twins. After some abject years the Twins brought in a new GM to oversee the next stage of the youth movement of position players, such as Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario. The roster is peppered with veterans like Catcher Jason Castro, club legend Joe Mauer and all-star 2b Brian Dozier.
The Twins had one of the worst starting rotations in baseball last year. Apart from veteran Ervin Santana, who is there to consume innings, it doesn’t look to be any better this season. This is the next part of the ‘rebuild’.
Detroit were the power in this division for quite a few years but they are yet another team seemingly committed to a rebuild, with the attendant slashing of what was one of the highest payrolls in baseball. Justin Verlander is still the ace of the pitching rotation and he had a bounce back year with a 16-9 record after a couple of underwhelming seasons. It was a good job because the other big earners – Anibal Sanchez and Jordan Zimmermann – were poor to average.
The best of the Tigers position players were injury prone Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler. They are still great on their day, there just seem to be less days now.
With Nick Castellanos and Justin Upton there is plenty of talent in the Tigers line-up, but it is high priced and depending how the season starts might not be in Detroit by season’s end.
The Chicago Whitesox looked like they were readying themselves to challenge for the division at the start of 2016, but it all fell apart. There were persistent rumours that star pitcher Chris Sale was unhappy, so in response to a disappointing season the White Sox have aggressively looked to rebuild with the future in mind.
Sale was traded to the Red Sox, while star centre fielder Adam Eaton was dealt to Washington. In return the White Sox picked up a number of young prospects, including Yoann Moncada who is said to be the best young prospect in baseball.
The White Sox have talent, Jose Abreu at first and Avisail Garcia in right field are two spectacular young players, and I believe that there are far worse pitching rotations in baseball. With David Robertson as the closer the White Sox rebuild may be quicker than a lot of other teams, assuming of course that the deconstruction is over.
Chicago baseball fans of both hues could be in for good times ahead.