In a division that has been mostly dominated by one team as of late, the American League Central has the potential to become a much more interesting race in 2019, simply due to the ever-evolving dynamic of an arms race across the league. Money drives business, and that rings true in the Majors as well, as certain teams shed payroll, at the same time opening the door just slightly more for other teams to take away the spotlight.
The Cleveland Indians have had relatively no issues recently in terms of locking up the division title, but this season has a chance to be different, as the Minnesota Twins boast a real chance to make it a two-dog fight into August and September.
The Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers are in a race to the bottom, but both should see improvements from last season, becoming more competitive, but still not being on the same echelon as the Indians and Twins.
Here is what the divisional race could look like at the end of the 2019 season.
Detroit Tigers — 5th
Currently, Detroit essentially has just Nicholas Castellanos to build around at the Major League level. The Tigers are holding out hope that their farm system becomes a revelation in the next year or two, otherwise, their rebuild will continue. Even with rumors of Castellanos being shopped throughout last year’s Trade Deadline and this past off-season, he remains with the team to open 2019, although he is set to hit free agency at season’s end.
Having finished near the bottom of the division over the past few years has afforded the team high Draft selections, and most recently they earned the first overall selection, which they used on former Auburn right-handed hurler Casey Mize. Currently ranked by MLB Pipeline as the league’s 17th-best prospect, Mize should be at the Major League level sometime around the All-Star break in 2020, giving him more time to develop with the team at Spring Training, hopefully increasing his durability after having had longevity issues in the past.
Castellanos enters as the franchise’s building block for the time being, but holds too much value for a rebuilding team to keep, and unless general manager Al Avila balks on dealing him, Castellanos will be playing right field for a contending team sometime around this season’s Trade Deadline.
Projected record: 66-96
Chicago White Sox — 4th
After courting and allocating what seemed like all of their resources in order to sign Manny Machado, the four-time All-Star surprised many by taking a ten-year, $300 million deal with the San Diego Padres, quelling any rumors of Machado going to the White Sox. After acquiring players that were either related to Machado (Yonder Alonso) or his good friends (Jon Jay), the 2019 installment of the White Sox will have to adjust going into Spring Training.
The franchise struggled big time last season, and there were no big pieces that they could ship out at the Trade Deadline to recoup much value for. The team has a number of high-potential prospects, headlined by uber-prospect Eloy Jimenez, who is knocking on the Major League door and will likely make his debut this season. Flamethrower Michael Kopech, hurler Dylan Cease and toolsy outfielder Luis Robert, all make up part of the club’s future, but their system still needs work.
Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada headline the group of Major Leaguers that fans can get excited about, but they are likely to battle the Tigers to remain out of the division’s cellar. Due to the Tigers being fully committed to the rebuild, the White Sox place barely ahead of Detroit.
Projected record: 68-94
Kansas City Royals — 3rd
A team that has the potential to surprise this year, the Royals have failed to impress since experiencing an influx of talent and riding that wave to winning the 2015 World Series. This team, while not on that ‘15 level, has the under-the-radar pieces to make noise early on in the season.
Shipping out franchise cornerstone Mike Moustakas to the Milwaukee Brewers last season was a hard pill to swallow for the team, but in return they netted two solid pieces, as Brett Phillips looks like a great center field option for the team going forward. Joining him in the deal was right-hander Jorge Lopez, who almost threw a no-hitter last season and has a good shot at making his first Opening Day roster.
The Royals also brought in speedster Billy Hamilton to add to their outfield competition, and second baseman Whit Merrifield, who just signed a surprising four-year contract extension, remains with the team for the foreseeable future. Old reliables Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez man the middle of the order for the team, and outside of that, they have some decent pieces to build around.
While not likely competing for a playoff spot, this team has the chance to reach its potential ahead of schedule and return to the playoffs sooner rather than later.
Projected record: 75-87
Minnesota Twins — 2nd
The team that presents Cleveland with its biggest competition, the Twins will need a breakout season from center fielder Byron Buxton to make that leap into the playoff conversation. The supporting cast of Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano and the newly-signed Jonathan Schoop, will need to carry this team in the field and at the plate, alongside Buxton.
Pitching-wise, Jose Berrios and Michael Pineda will need to help anchor the rotation, and both Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi will need to have solid seasons to help transition this team into the above-.500 column. This roster has the potential on paper to do so and just needs a few things to go their way for that to happen. Look for an early-season surge to force the Indians to make a few moves early on in the year.
Projected record: 85-77
Cleveland Indians — 1st
In the midst of a long-running reign in their division, the Indians went the route of cutting salary this off-season in a way to remain competitive, but not handcuff themselves financially down the road. Keeping ace Corey Kluber was a bit of a surprise, as most thought he would be gone due to cost-cutting measures.
By keeping Kluber, the team showed they can balance competing with being smart financially, and even though they lost Michael Brantley in free agency to the Astros, they have enough pieces to try and make up for his production. This team will need to make moves during the season in order to compete for a division crown again and should be busy at the Trade Deadline if they want to make a push into October.
Projected record: 88-74