The AL Central Preview is the sixth and final (thank god!) in a series of divisional previews for the 2016 MLB season as viewed through the eyes of the indefatigable Jed Rigney. NL EAST AL WEST NL CENTRAL AL EAST NL WEST
Well, we finally we made it to the end, you guys. It’s been a long and tedious journey, but somehow we persevered. I want to thank both of you for following along. I really couldn’t have done it without you. I mean, really, if you’ve read all these previews, it should count as some sort of community service.
Anyway, back to the team previews. To review: We’re taking a look at the positives and negatives for each team going into this season. Honestly, somewhere around the halfway point I thought I wasn’t going to make it, and I was seriously considering dropping it all together. But the readers would not be so lucky. There are 30 Major League Baseball teams and, by golly, I am going to do every last one of them.
However … there’s nothing in the rules that says how much I have to say about each team. As a matter of fact, other than the basic concept of Three Up, Three Down, there are no rules. So …
Next up is the American League Central. And you know what? No one cares, and I’m out of gas so we’re going lightning round!
Chicago White Sox
Everyone thought the White Sox made themselves better before last season, so it’s hard to take them seriously this season.
1 UP – Chris Sale
One of the best pitchers in baseball. His slider is a destroyer of knees.
1 DOWN – Shortstop
Everyone’s waiting for Tim Anderson to come up. Until then, Jimmy Rollins will be striking a pose between third and second base.
2 UP – Trade Acquisitions
I like them getting Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie. This team is always willing to make more trades.
2 DOWN – Designated Hitter
Adam Laroche retired abruptly when the team told him his son couldn’t be in the clubhouse all the time. Hey, Adam, if you wanted your kid in the clubhouse, try not being terrible at baseball.
3 UP – Jose Abreu
He had a breakout year two years ago, then slipped a little last season. Look for him to unslip himself this year.
3 DOWN – Tough Division
The Royals, Indians, Tigers and Twins are going to make this season tough for the White Sox.
Wow, that was quick. I realize now I should’ve just done these previews like this from the start. The Indians have great pitching and some good hitting and the statistics point to them having the best record in the division.
1 UP – The Rotation
The Indians probably have the best rotation in the American League. They are mostly young and cheap – kind of like Lindsay Lohan a few years back.
1 DOWN – Outfield
A good nickname for the current set of outfielders would be Cuyahoga River. Why? Because they’re so awful I wouldn’t be surprised if they just burst into flames.
2 UP – Francisco Lindor
The young shortstop revolution has begun. After almost 15 years of mediocrity at the position, Lindor, along with Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are this generation’s Jeter, Garciaparra and A-Rod. Fame and/or infamy awaits!
2 DOWN – Cleveland
Many cities have “curses” that prevented them from winning championships, like “The Bambino” and “The Billy Goat,” but what if your curse is the city you live in?
3 UP – Tito!
Not to be confused with the gentleman from the Jackson 5, Terry Francona is one of the game’s great managers, and that’s easy as one-two-three. Or simple as do-re-mi.
3 DOWN – Defense
All the great starting pitching in the world don’t mean jack poop if the defense isn’t there to catch the ball. The Indians have made some improvements on defense, but not enough.
It feels like the window for a championship has closed on these guys, but they’re still out there giving it their best shot.
1 UP – Miggy
Miguel Cabrera is one of the best hitters in baseball and has been for almost a decade. Unfortunately, he’s also one of the best eaters in baseball and has been for a lot more than a decade.
1 DOWN – Nick Castellanos
At a certain point it’s time to pull chute on these prospects. The Tigers are just about at that certain point with Castellanos.
2 UP – Justin Upton
Teams are getting pretty savvy about who is and who isn’t good on defense. It looks like that cost Upton some money on his big free-agent contract, but he’s a very good hitter and a nice addition to the Tigers lineup.
2 DOWN – Jordan Zimmermann
The Tigers signed Zimmermann early in the offseason and, based on what some of the other second-tier pitchers went for, the Tigers may have overpaid.
3 UP – Justin Verlander
Most of the last two seasons were not a good year for Verlander. He struggled on the mound and off the field there was that nasty business with the nude photos of him and Kate Upton. I think he’s going to be an All-Star pitcher this year, and I’m not just saying that to gain favor with Kate Upton.
3 DOWN – Closer
“Once more unto the breach” should be the motto of the Tigers bullpen and also the Tigers’ front office in regard to signing closers. One of the guys they put out there will eventually be good, right? Right?
Kansas City Royals
Once again, the Royals have been projected to have a mediocre record. But you don’t play the games on paper. Or haven’t you heard?
1 UP – Alex Gordon
Keeping Gordon was a nice move. He seemed to give them a home-team discount and by “discount” I mean he still got a $72 million contract. For what it’s worth, I am also willing to offer a home-team discount.
1 DOWN – Ned Yost
Look, I don’t care how many World Series championships this guy rings up, he just isn’t a good manager. He’s the kid on the elevator who presses all the buttons and then gets excited when it eventually stops on his floor.
2 UP – Defense
One of the primary strategies the Royals have employed during their recent success is an emphasis on defense. It’s not sexy, but it’s been very successful – like Melissa McCarthy.
2 DOWN – Kendrys Morales
Do you remember when Morales was on the Angels and he broke his leg during a home-plate celebration? Yeah. Maybe we shouldn’t plan on him being healthy two full seasons in a row.
3 UP – Bullpen
The Royals have also established a league-wide trend of emphasizing a shutdown bullpen. Wade Davis is almost unhittable. Even after Greg Holland started to stink, pitcher after pitcher stepped in and shut down opposing teams. Kind of not fair, really.
3 DOWN – Sal Perez
Nobody starts more games at catcher per year than Sal Perez. Good for him! Also, bad for him! Come on, Yost. He helped you win a World Series. Let him have a day off every now and then.
This is an intriguing team that outperformed its core statistics last year and has plenty of talent coming in.
1 UP – Byron Buxton
Buxton is considered one of the best prospects in the game and the one with the best overall skill set. He could be the league’s next great center fielder. If he starts off slow, the Twins also have outfielder Max Kepler who can take over. Kepler is baseball’s first real German prospect though he’s not the first German to try to take over a northern territory.
1 DOWN – Joe Mauer
I remember when Mauer was one of the most untradeable team assets in baseball and then, almost overnight, he became one of the most untradeable team liabilities in baseball.
2 UP – Miguel Sano
Sometimes when a team calls a top prospect to the Major League level, there is an adjustment period. For Sano, his only adjustment was “How far should I hit these home runs?”
3 UP – Byung Ho Park
It might just be me, but every time I think of Park playing in Minnesota, I immediately think of the Asian guy in Fargo who was trying to make time with a pregnant Margie and claimed his wife that he never had died of leukemia. Anyway, Park comes over from the Korean league where he hit 52 home runs last year.
2 DOWN – Rotation
If this starting rotation was even remotely good, I’d be picking the Twins to win the division. Oops! Spoiler alert. Sorry about that.
3 DOWN – Luck
Last year the Twins were fairly lucky overall and it’s unlikely that will repeat. We started this whole series with a quote from The Shawshank Redemption, so we’re going to end it with one: “Bad luck, I guess. It floats around. It’s got to land on somebody.”
And the winner is…
I think this is the most balanced division in baseball, which isn’t really a compliment to the teams at the top, but I think Cleveland squeaks by at the end, and no teams make the playoffs as wild cards.