Capsules of American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:
2018: 91-71, first place, lost to Houston in Division Series.
Manager: Terry Francona (seventh season).
He’s Here: 1B-DH Carlos Santana, OF Carlos Gonzalez, DH Hanley Ramirez, OF-1B Jake Bauers, C Kevin Plawecki, OF Jordan Luplow, RHP Chih-Wei Hu, RHP Nick Wittgren, LHP Oliver Perez, INF Ryan Flaherty, C Dioner Navarro.
He’s Outta Here: OF Michael Brantley, DH Edwin Encarnacion, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Cody Allen, C Yan Gomes, 1B Yonder Alonso, 3B Yandy Diaz, 2B Erik Gonzalez.
Projected Lineup: SS Francisco Lindor (.277, 38 HRs, 92 RBIs, tied for AL lead with 129 runs), 3B Jose Ramirez (.270, 39, 105, 34 steals), CF Leonys Martin (.251, 9, 29 in 78 games for Tigers; just 6 games with Indians), 1B Carlos Santana (.229, 24, 86 in 161 games with Phillies), LF Jake Bauers (.201, 11, 48 in 96 games as rookie with Rays) or Carlos Gonzalez (.276, 16, 64 in 132 games with Rockies), DH Hanley Ramirez (.254, 6, 29 in 44 games with Red Sox), 2B Jason Kipnis (.230, 18, 75), C Roberto Perez (.168, 2, 19, 70 Ks in 62 games), RF Tyler Naquin (.264, 3, 23 in 61 games).
Rotation: RH Corey Kluber (20-7, 2.89 ERA, 222 Ks, 215 innings), Trevor Bauer (12-6, 2.21, 221 Ks in 175 1/3 innings), Carlos Carrasco (17-10, 3.38, 2 complete games, 231 Ks), Mike Clevinger (13-8, 3.02, 207 Ks), Shane Bieber (11-5, 4.55 as rookie).
Key Relievers: LH Brad Hand (0-1, 2.28, 8 saves in 28 games with Indians; 2-4, 3.05, 24 saves in 41 games with Padres), RH Dan Otero (2-1, 5.22 in 61 games), LH Adam Cimber (0-3, 4.05 in 28 games), RH Tyler Clippard (4-3, 3.67, 73 games with Blue Jays), LH Oliver Perez (1-1, 1.39, .104 average vs. RHBs), LH Tyler Olson (2-1, 4.94, 43 games), RH Jon Edwards (0-0, 3.12 in 9 games), RH Nick Goody (0-2, 6.94 in 12 games before elbow surgery).
Hot Spots: Bullpen and Outfield. Both look radically different in 2019. The Indians’ decisions not to re-sign Allen, the team’s career saves leader, or Miller, who carried Cleveland to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, has put pressure on Francona to construct a relief corps to complement one of baseball’s best starting staffs. Fortunately, he has plenty of options. Hand recorded 24 saves with San Diego last season before he was traded to Cleveland, but the pressure will be much different pitching for a title contender. The Indians’ outfield will likely be an ongoing project during the season’s first two months.
Outlook: Despite all the offseason subtractions, a fourth straight AL Central title still looks likely — it just wouldn’t be enough. Close no longer counts for a franchise and fan base that has waited since 1948 to celebrate a World Series title. The loss of Encarnacion, Brantley and Alonso has left a major power void that will need to be filled, and the Indians must find new ways to score other than home runs. Once July rolls around, they could again be tempted to deal Kluber or Bauer for a big bat. Lindor’s uncertain future in Cleveland — he’s under contract control through 2021 — has ramped up the urgency to win it all soon.
2018: 78-84, second place.
Manager: Rocco Baldelli (first season).
He’s Here: INF Marwin Gonzalez, DH-OF Nelson Cruz, 2B Jonathan Schoop, RHP Blake Parker, 1B C.J. Cron, LHP Martin Perez.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Paul Molitor, 1B Joe Mauer, OF-DH Robbie Grossman, 1B-DH Logan Morrison, 2B Logan Forsythe, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Matt Belisle, RHP Alan Busenitz.
Projected Lineup: RF Max Kepler (.224, 20 HRs, 58 RBIs, .997 fielding percentage), SS Jorge Polanco (.288, 6, 42 in 77 games), DH Nelson Cruz (.256, 37, 97 with Mariners), LF Eddie Rosario (.288, 24, 77, 31 doubles), 3B Marwin Gonzalez (.247, 16, 68), 1B C.J. Cron (.253, 30, 74 with Rays), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.233, 21, 61 with Orioles and Brewers), C Jason Castro (.143, 1, 3 in 19 games), CF Byron Buxton (.156, 0, 4, 42 Ks in 90 ABs).
Rotation: RH Jose Berrios (12-11, 3.84 ERA, 202 Ks), RH Kyle Gibson (10-13, 3.62, 179 Ks), RH Jake Odorizzi (7-10, 4.49, 162 Ks), RH Michael Pineda (did not pitch while recovering from Tommy John surgery), LH Martin Perez (2-7, 6.22 in 85 1/3 innings with Rangers).
Key Relievers: RH Trevor May (4-1, 3.20, 3 saves, 36 Ks in 25 1/3 innings), LH Taylor Rogers (1-2, 2.63, 2 saves, 72 appearances), RH Blake Parker (2-1, 3.26, 14/17 saves with Angels), RH Addison Reed (1-6, 4.50), RH Fernando Romero (3-3, 4.69, 11 starts), RH Trevor Hildenberger (4-6, 5.42, 7 saves, 73 appearances).
Hot Spot: Closer. The role remains open after Fernando Rodney was traded away last summer, and Baldelli had not even committed to designating a ninth-inning specialist. He could opt for a matchup-dictated committee approach. Either way, for the Twins to succeed in 2019 they will need a reliable core of relievers to emerge for tense late-game situations. Rogers, who finished last season on a 26-inning scoreless streak that’s the fifth-longest in club history, gives them a good start. The addition of Parker, the primary closer for the Angels last year, presents another piece. May, a converted starter who returned from Tommy John surgery that kept him out the entire 2017 season and first half of 2018, is another strong candidate for those critical outs in the eighth and ninth. Gonzalez’s arrival a week into spring training as a multi-positional everyday player was well-timed, with third baseman Miguel Sano, already facing a crossroad season in his so-far-unfulfilling career, out until at least early May due to a severe cut above his heel.
Outlook: Baldelli, who at 37 is the youngest manager in the majors, spent the last eight seasons either on the coaching staff or working in the front office with the one of the game’s most innovative organizations, the Tampa Bay Rays. Baldelli has brought a fresh source of energy and ideas the Twins are banking on to help bring out the best in their young players, with the underperformance of Buxton and Sano remaining one of the biggest issues for the club to resolve. Buxton, the second pick in the 2012 draft, added muscle over the offseason and has had a strong spring at the plate. One of the fastest players in baseball only needs to be an average hitter for him to make a big impact, with his game-changing ability with the glove and run-generating speed on the basepaths. The additions of Cruz, Cron, Gonzalez and Schoop have quietly boosted the power-hitting potential, and this could be one of the most balanced and productive lineups in the league. If Berrios takes another step forward from his All-Star season, Odorizzi improves on his underwhelming debut and rotation newcomers Pineda and Perez rack up some innings, the Twins could give the Indians a run for the AL Central after finishing 13 games out last year.
2018: 64-98, third place.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (second season).
He’s Here: 2B Josh Harrison, LHP Matt Moore, RHP Tyson Ross, SS Jordy Mercer, 2B Brandon Dixon.
He’s Outta Here: DH Victor Martinez, SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Francisco Liriano, C James McCann, RHP Alex Wilson, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RHP Artie Lewicki.
Projected Lineup: 2B Josh Harrison (.250, 8 HRs, 37 RBIs in 97 games with Pittsburgh), 3B Jeimer Candelario (.224, 19, 54), RF Nicholas Castellanos (.298, 23, 89), 1B Miguel Cabrera (.299, 3, 22 in 38 games), LF Christin Stewart (.267, 2, 10 in 17 games) or Mikie Mahtook (.202, 9, 29 in 67 games), DH Niko Goodrum (.245, 16, 53), C Grayson Greiner (.219, 0, 12 in 30 games) or John Hicks (.260, 9, 32 in 81 games), SS Jordy Mercer (.251, 6, 39 with Pittsburgh), CF JaCoby Jones (.207, 11, 34).
Rotation: RH Jordan Zimmermann (7-8, 4.52 ERA), LH Matthew Boyd (9-13, 4.39), LH Matt Moore (3-8, 6.79 with Texas), RH Tyson Ross (8-9, 4.15 with San Diego and St. Louis), LH Daniel Norris (0-5, 5.68) or RH Spencer Turnbull (0-2, 6.06).
Key Relievers: RH Shane Greene (4-6, 5.12, 32/38 saves), RH Joe Jimenez (5-4, 4.31), LH Daniel Stumpf (1-5, 4.93), RH Buck Farmer (3-4, 4.15), RH Drew VerHagen (3-3, 4.63).
Hot Spots: Toledo and Erie? The real action for the Tigers in 2019 could take place in the minor leagues, where Detroit will hope for significant progress from pitchers Matt Manning, Franklin Perez and Beau Burrows — not to mention right-hander Casey Mize, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft. Young outfielder Daz Cameron might be able to help in the big leagues sooner than those pitchers.
Outlook: At the big league level, it might not be pretty. The Tigers managed to finish third last year because the White Sox and Royals both reached triple-digit losses. Detroit isn’t likely to be much better this season, especially after right-hander Michael Fulmer was told this month he should have Tommy John surgery. The Tigers have a new middle of the infield with Harrison and Mercer, and Moore and Ross are interesting additions to the pitching staff, but the best-case scenario here is probably a surprising run at .500. One reason to watch Detroit is to follow Cabrera’s pursuit of 500 homers, but he’s 35 away and is coming off biceps surgery.
Chicago White Sox
2018: 62-100, fourth place.
Manager: Rick Renteria (third season).
He’s Here: RHP Ivan Nova, 1B-DH Yonder Alonso, RHP Kelvin Herrera, RHP Alex Colome, OF Jon Jay, C James McCann, OF Brandon Guyer, RHP Ervin Santana.
He’s Outta Here: OF Avisail Garcia, DH-INF Matt Davidson, RHP James Shields.
Projected Lineup: RF Jon Jay (.268, 3 HRs, 40 RBIs with Kansas City and Arizona), 3B Yoan Moncada (.235, 17, 61, major league-leading 217 Ks), 1B-DH Jose Abreu (.265, 22, 78), DH-1B Yonder Alonso (.250, 23, 83 with Cleveland), C Welington Castillo (.259, 6, 15), LF Daniel Palka (.240, 27, 67), SS Tim Anderson (.240, 20, 64), 2B Yolmer Sanchez (.242, 8, 55), CF Adam Engel (.235, 6, 29).
Rotation: LH Carlos Rodon (6-8, 4.18 ERA), RH Reynaldo Lopez (7-10, 3.91), RH Lucas Giolito (10-13, 6.13, major league-leading 118 earned runs), RH Ivan Nova (9-9, 4.19 with Pittsburgh), RH Ervin Santana (0-1, 8.03, 5 starts with Minnesota) or LH Manny Banuelos (9-7, 3.73 in 31 appearances, 18 starts at Triple-A with Dodgers).
Key Relievers: RH Kelvin Herrera (2-3, 2.44, 17/19 saves with Kansas City and Washington), RH Alex Colome (7-5, 3.04, 12/17 with Tampa Bay and Seattle), RH Nate Jones (2-2, 3.00, 5 saves), LH Caleb Frare (0-1, 5.14, 11 appearances).
Hot Spot: Third Base. Moncada’s development is something to watch. The White Sox need him to take a step forward and start delivering the way they envisioned when they got him and pitcher Michael Kopech from Boston in the Chris Sale trade at the 2016 winter meetings. At 23, Moncada certainly has time — and room — to grow. The White Sox hope a position switch will help him cut down on errors after he led all second basemen with 21 last season, and maybe make it easier for him to settle in at the plate and eliminate some strikeouts as well.
Outlook: The White Sox hoped to kick a rebuilding project entering its third season into a higher gear by signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency. They came away empty-handed when it came to the star sluggers, though they did get Machado’s brother-in-law (Alonso) and friend (Jay). The White Sox have six straight losing seasons and are coming off their highest loss total since the 1970 team dropped a franchise-record 106 games. They also struck out more times than any other team in big league history. Besides missing out on Harper and Machado, the White Sox won’t have Kopech this year. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery. But a strong showing by prized prospect Eloy Jimenez in the outfield, a few steps forward by Moncada, Giolito, Rodon and Anderson, and the rise of pitcher Dylan Cease in the minors would certainly ease some of the sting.
Kansas City Royals
2018: 58-104, fifth place.
Manager: Ned Yost (10th season).
He’s Here: OF Billy Hamilton, RHP Brad Boxberger, INF-OF Chris Owings, RHP Chris Ellis, C Martin Maldonado.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Brandon Maurer, RHP Nate Karns, RHP Jason Hammel.
Projected Lineup: SS Adalberto Mondesi (.276, 14 HRs, 37 RBIs, 32 SBs), 2B Whit Merrifield (.304, 12, 60, MLB-best 45 SBs), LF Alex Gordon (.245, 13, 54), 1B Ryan O’Hearn (.262, 12, 30), DH Jorge Soler (.265, 9, 28), 3B Hunter Dozier (.229, 11, 34), RF Chris Owings (.206, 4, 22 with Diamondbacks), CF Billy Hamilton (.236, 4, 29, 34 SBs), C Martin Maldonado (.276, 9, 44 with Angels and Astros).
Rotation: RH Brad Keller (9-6, 3.08 ERA), RH Jake Junis (9-12, 4.37), LH Danny Duffy (8-12, 4.88), RH Ian Kennedy (3-9, 4.66), RH Jorge Lopez (2-5, 5.03 with Brewers and Royals).
Key Relievers: RH Wily Peralta (1-0, 3.67, 14 saves), RH Brad Boxberger (3-7, 4.39, 32/40 saves with Diamondbacks), RH Kevin McCarthy (5-4, 3.25), LH Tim Hill (1-4, 4.53), LH Brian Flynn (3-5, 4.04), LH Jake Diekman (1-3, 4.73 with Rangers and Diamondbacks).
Hot Spot: Bullpen. The Royals expect their relief corps to be vastly improved this season, especially if former first-round pick Kyle Zimmer can remain healthy and contribute out of the bullpen. The bullpen was among the worst in baseball last season, so the only direction the club can go is up in that department.
Outlook: Improve upon their 104-loss season. The Royals were actually pretty good down the stretch, when they jettisoned a bunch of aging veterans and began leaning on youth. It hurts that they lost six-time All-Star catcher Salvador Perez to reconstructive elbow surgery in spring training, but the reality is Kansas City is still at least a year or two from competing for a playoff spot. If the youngsters continue to progress, and a speed-speed-speed approach to the lineup pays off, the hope is that they can approach the .500 mark this season.