AL Central Preview


Detroit Tigers

Key Additions: 2B Ian Kinsler, RHP Joba Chamberlain, RHP Joe Nathan

Key Losses: 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Doug Fister, SS Jhonny Peralta, 2B Omar Infante, RHP Joaquin Benoit, manager Jim Leyland

Pros: This team has improved its speed on defense dramatically this offseason. Ian Kinsler provides a solid option at second base to replace Omar Infante. Miguel Cabrera will be moved to first base while the Tigers give top-prospect rookie Nick Castellanos a look at third. If Castellanos can live up to his billing, they will have solid production and a potent offense this season despite the loss of big bat Prince Fielder, who was dealt to Texas for Kinsler. Closer Joe Nathan brings a veteran presence to the Tigers bullpen, and will fill the departed Joaquin Benoit’s role as ninth-inning man.

Cons: Young, promising shortstop Jose Iglesias, who had a solid rookie campaign last season and was supposed to anchor a much improved Tiger defense, will be out for at least half the season and maybe as much as the whole season with stress fractures in both shins. The Tigers traded for 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez to remedy the situation, but this move may leave the Tigers grasping for straws during the trade deadline. The loss of Fielder hurts Detroit’s offensive production this season.

Outlook: Looking to build on a first place finish in the AL Central last season, the Tigers were aggressive this past winter with some key addition to help bolster the team defensively. They lose a big bat in Fielder but his departure allows the Tigers more flexibility on defense. Miguel Cabrera will thrive in his natural position at first base. They lost Manager Jim Leyland to retirement but new manager Brad Ausmus brings a youthful exuberance to the club. If Detroit can get solid production from Nick Castellanos, mixed with productive pitching from the bullpen, then this team may finally get over the hump and win its first World Series since 1984.

2013 record: 93-69, first place, AL Central

2014 Prediction: 95-67, first place, AL Central


Cleveland Indians

Key Additions: OF David Murphy, RHP John Axford

Key Losses: RHP Chris Perez, OF Drew Stubbs, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Scott Kazmir

Pros: The Indians look to build off their big turnaround last season that saw them get back to the postseason for the first time since 2007. If starting pitcher Danny Salazar can prove his upside and build on his strong season as a rookie in 2013, he can quickly become an ace for the Tribe. With the exception of their starting rotation, Cleveland has maintained their roster from last season. Carlos Santana moves from catcher to third base, which may be to his benefit. Yan Gomes will be asked to takeover the permanent catching duties rather than sharing the job with Santana, as he did last season.

Cons: Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Indians were dump-trucked this offseason by not retaining starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who was clutch down the stretch for the Indians at the end of last season. The loss of solid middle rotation guy Scott Kazmir did not do them any favors, either. Cleveland’s pitching will not be as dynamic as last year. Michael Bourn is coming off a disappointing first season for the Indians, and will look to rebound if he can manage to dispel the hamstring issues that plagued the speedy outfielder in 2013.

Outlook: Despite some setbacks this offseason, the Indians will head into this season with second-year manager Terry Francona leading the way. The players love to play for him and if anyone can get the team to respond to setbacks, it’s him. First baseman Nick Swisher will need to be productive offensively along with second baseman Jason Kipnis in order for the Tribe to repeat last season’s success. The addition of closer John Axford can only help the abysmal relief pitching that departed closer Chris Perez displayed last season. Look for the Indians to repeat what they did last season.

2013 Record: 90-72, 2nd place AL Central

2014 Prediction: 92-70, 2nd place AL Central


Kansas City Royals

Key Additions: 2B Omar Infante, OF Norichika Aoki,

Key Losses: RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Luke Hochevar

Pros: Second baseman Omar Infante solidifies the Royals’ infield defense, and Norichika Aoki is a deceptively good hitter along with playing a solid right field. They have great bullpen depth. If pitcher Danny Duffy can bounce back from Tommy John surgery and James Shields can continue being an elite right-hander, the Royals will have some dynamic starting pitching this season. Also, most of the Royals’ lineup is still only 27-years old or younger, which means father time is on their side.

Cons: Kansas City did little to help its weak middle of the lineup this offseason. Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain will have to step up in order to build on their third-place finish last season. If hitting can bail out pitching rather than the other way around, which was a regular occurrence last season, then the Royals will be in good shape.

Outlook: After years of rebuilding, the Kansas City Royals are a team that enters every season begging the question: will this be the year they finally are ready to contend? Hitting in the middle of the order will be the key for them this season if they want to answer that question with a ‘yes.’ Their offseason additions can help bolster the lineup and add solid production on defense. This team is unpredictable, and could finish anywhere from first to fourth in the division. Look for Kansas City to improve on its 86-76 record last season.

2013 Record: 86-76, 3rd place AL Central

2014 Prediction: 90-72, 3rd place AL Central


Chicago White Sox

Key Additions: 1B Jose Abreu, OF Adam Eaton, OF Avisail Garcia, 3B Matt Davidson

Key Losses: RHP Addison Reed, LHP Hector Santiago

Pros: The White Sox can only go up after their abysmal 2013 season. Cuban international Jose Abreu adds a dynamic offensive threat, and other additions of Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson, and Avisail Garcia can help the White Sox go in a different direction. Starting pitcher Chris Sale is a beast and the lone bright spot on this team. Look for him to make a third consecutive All-Star appearance.

Cons: Veteran first baseman Paul Konerko has been on the decline for some time now. The additions in the offseason can help a bit in the short term, but the question mark lies in their impact in the future. Where is this team headed? Unfortunately for White Sox fans, they’re probably not headed anywhere this year.

Outlook: It can’t get any worse than last season, when the White Sox finished dead last in runs scored. They will improve upon that this year with the addition of Jose Abreu. If this team can reach 70 wins, then this season has to be deemed a success.

2013 Record: 63-99, 5th AL Central

2014 Prediction: 70-92, 5th AL Central


Minnesota Twins

Key Additions: RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Phil Hughes

Key Losses: None

Pros: The Twins have finally moved former All-Star catcher Joe Mauer to first base and they added some pitching depth this offseason. They have the top prospect in all of baseball waiting for his call up in outfielder Byron Buxton. Closer Glen Perkins is begging to show that he can be a dominant. The Twins will be better this season than last.

Cons: However, they won’t be that much better. The Twins signed former Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes, who is a mediocre pickup at best. Joe Mauer isn’t the player he used to be and outfielder Aaron Hicks looks to rebound from a dreadful rookie season.

Outlook: Moving Joe Mauer to first base will help the Twins defensively. This is a team rebuilding with some bright young prospects coming soon. Minnesota reached into their pockets with the signings of Hughes and Nolasco, which is a deviation from their usual offseason strategy. But they will be stagnant this season and should finish around where they were last season.

2013 Record: 66-96, 4th AL Central

2014 Prediction: 73-89, 4th AL Central

World Series Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals def. Detroit Tigers 4-3


Tony Callens can be reached by email at [email protected]