Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Florida and Arizona beginning today, and that means the best time of the year is upon us once again: America’s pastime is back!
Over the next few weeks, I will be breaking down all 30 teams division by division in my 2016 MLB Preview. The defending World Champion Kansas City Royals play ball in the American League Central, so that is where we will begin.
- Kansas City Royals* 95-67
- Minnesota Twins 83-79
- Cleveland Indians 81-80
- Chicago White Sox 76-86
- Detroit Tigers 74-87
- Kansas City Royals* 93-69
- Cleveland Indians 84-78
- Minnesota Twins 82-80
- Chicago White Sox 77-85
- Detroit Tigers 75-87
Just like 2015, I do not think this division is going to be close. The Royals are playing with a two-year window and until somebody proves otherwise, they are the best team in baseball. Losing Ben Zobrist to free agency will hurt, but bringing Alex Gordon back was a tremendous boost for this organization and this fan base, whose last two seasons have felt like a dream after a miserable previous 28 years. The bullpen should be excellent once again with the return of Joakim Soria offsetting the loss of Ryan Madson to free agency. The defense remains intact and the outfield defense received an upgrade over the off-season by simply making Jarrod Dyson the starting right fielder. Five years and $70 million (and a first-round draft pick) is a hefty price to pay for Ian Kennedy, but such is the cost of durable starting pitchers these days who will sit in the middle of a rotation and eat up innings. I expect Kansas City to boat race the American League Central once again and make another deep run into a Blue October.
The remainder of this division is hard to figure out. Even with Michael Brantley beginning the season on the DL, I think the Indians pitching will be just enough to sneak them past the Twins for second place. I am a big Francisco Lindor fan as well and his bat developed faster then even they could have hoped. I am also anxiously awaiting the day when Bradley Zimmer takes his brother Kyle deep when they face off in the majors. The younger Zimmer has above average tools across the board and he should be roaming around center field of Progressive Field at some point in 2016.
One name to remember for Minnesota is Jose Berrios. The supplemental first-rounder in 2012 will instantly be their best starter once he makes his debut. I think he is a front runner for AL Rookie of the Year. They will need him because the rest of the rotation is not very good. As good of a hitter Miguel Sano is, I am against throwing him out in right field (there will be a common theme in these previews when I come across teams playing guys out of position to “get their bat in the lineup”). I cannot see this turning out positively for them from a defensive standpoint. He is a corner infielder, but they have three of them (Plouffe, Mauer, Park) before even considering Sano. Byron Buxton could not have possibly received more hype than he did. I think it is going to take a few years before we see the kind of player he can become. He will not become an instant star like some of these other guys have.
The White Sox are a puzzling team. They made moves last offseason in an attempt to make a postseason push, but the pieces just did not fit together on the field, at least in year one. I like the Todd Frazier acquisition more for a clubhouse standpoint. He is sort of a one tool player – he has power. That should play in that park, but they paid a hefty price in prospects while their farm system is rather thin at this stage and if they do not win this season, I could see a rebuild coming here. I keep thinking what could they possibly get for four years of Chris Sale if three years of Shelby Miller could net Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair? Or Ken Giles can bring back FIVE players from a loaded Astros farm system. If it were me running this thing (which it’s not), I would seriously consider it right now. Sale’s value will never be higher and an injury is always one pitch away. I see this similar to the Royals’ situation in 2010 with Zack Greinke. It is never east to make a move of this magnitude, but sometimes it needs to be done. Kansas City would not be where they are right now without Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar and Wade Davis. They would not have any of them if they held onto Greinke. If the South Siders endure another losing campaign in 2016, it may be time to start looking toward the future.
UPDATE 3/20: So the White Sox clubhouse appears to be in shambles after Adam LaRoche stepped away from the team when Ken Williams told him that his son was not allowed to be in the clubhouse. Chris Sale does not appear to be happy either as he has been saying that Williams has been lying to the team. Sale seems to be a very nice guy and always says the right thing so when something upsets him and he says something about it, then something is not right. We are not even out of spring training and the clubhouse chemistry is already a disaster. It is things like this that bring an organization down. I only know what it being reported, but I do know that teams that are not on the same page and do not get along do not win baseball games. Sale is still on the team, but like I mentioned above, I think it would be smart to see what a potential return could look like. If he is not happy with the front office, then why not make the move? They claim to be building around him, but I do not see the logic in building around a player who plays in 30 games a season. Pitchers only have so many bullets in them and as things look right now, this team will probably not be contending any time soon. Why wait for something to happen to his health? His value will never be higher. I say do it, but that is just my opinion. I am not a general manager. Bottom line is this team better get things together and quickly if they want to even think about the postseason. I will leave them in fourth place but I would also not be surprised at all if the lack of chemistry ultimately brings the Sox to last place, leading to a lot of DADGUMMIT from Hawk Harrelson this year.
The Tigers had a nice run atop this division, but their time has come and gone. The good news here is they made moves that they needed to make at the deadline and I am a big Michael Fulmer fan. He immediately becomes the top prospect here, but the farm system is still mostly barren. Miguel Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but his albatross contract will get worse every year until he turns 40 in 2023 (that is if his two $30 million vesting options for 2024-25 do not vest) and Victor Martinez also is not getting any younger. Jordan Zimmermann is a nice fit on a contending team. This is not one. Justin Upton is one of the more overrated players in baseball. He goes on extremely cold streaks at times and more often than not, he is piling up the strikeouts rather than driving in runs. This is yet another contract that Detroit will regret handing out. Francisco Rodriguez continues to get the job done despite diminished stuff, but can they get him the ball with a lead? The Tigers bullpen has been an issue for years, and I do not see that being any different in 2016. This is also the team that gave Mike Pelfrey a two-year deal to “improve” their rotation. That should say it all.