Since 1994, the Cleveland Indians have won the American League Central regular season divisional crown ten times, leading all AL Central teams by a decent margin. This means that in 24 years, the Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox have combined — COMBINED — to win 14 divisional titles between themselves, a testament to the utter domination that the Indians have had over their divisional foes.
But even as the Indians look at 2019 as yet another season that they are favorites to take the division crown, is that really a good look for the sport of baseball?
This division currently is made up of three teams that are in full-on rebuilding mode, as the Royals, Tigers and White Sox tore it all down in the past few seasons and decided that their best chances at winning a title consisted of not winning at all. Both teams are looking to factor into the playoffs in a few seasons, and the White Sox have a much better core to build upon going forward, even though they did have better players to trade and help restock their minor league system than the Royals did.
Facing issues paying everyone that helped them not only win the division but the World Series in 2015, the Royals decided to tear it down and cut costs for the 2016 season, and they have not seen even an ounce of that success since, showing how disadvantaged small-market franchises are in a sport that is easily dominated by big markets that can dole out the big-time money deals to good players.
This contributed to the Indians’ reign, but that was not the only piece that fell into place. The White Sox, after winning the World Series in 2005 and winning the division again in 2008, Chicago fell apart in the ALDS to the Tampa Bay Rays, and they have faced roster issues ever since then, which led to the eventual departure of Chris Sale in the deal sending him to the Boston Red Sox.
A very popular topic at the time, the deal that netted Sale for the Red Sox can be seen as that final piece they needed to finally make some headway between them and their AL competitors, marked off by their World Series championship last season, which Sale was an integral part of, coming in to close the final game of the series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Tigers, just like the White Sox, are still floundering along in baseball purgatory, trying to rebuild but also holding onto valuable assets in hopes to get a big haul for them. Players like Nicholas Castellanos and Michael Fulmer are the two big-ticket pieces for this team, but both still remain in Detroit due to injuries or not having the best package to ship them out yet.
Detroit is an interesting case, as their minor league system is on the rise but not developed enough to prove that their rebuild is working. Having had the first overall selection in last year’s draft was helpful, as Casey Mize from Auburn was the best arm in the draft and was pretty much a consensus first-overall selection before going to the Tigers at No. 1.
The Indians are not a necessary lock to repeat again as divisional champs though, mostly because of their cost-cutting measures that they went through this offseason. However, the final team in their division is the closest they have in terms of divisional competition.
The Twins are coming along nicely, albeit a bit slower than they should have been on their retooling plan. Having won the division in both 2009 and 2010, the team lost to the New York Yankees both years in the ALDS, and they have had issues competing since then.
Having centerfielder Byron Buxton be one of the team’s main pieces heading into 2019 is good and bad in the same breath, as Buxton is primed to break out but he is in need of more talent surrounding him on the roster. Players like Max Kepler, Willians Astudillo, and pitcher Jose Berrios are all key young cogs to keep the Twins moving along, but they are still missing that one final piece to push them over the edge.
While the path for the Indians is quite easy yet again to win the divisional crown, the Twins are the most likely threat they will face this season. The Twins are getting close to the end of their rebuilding timeframe and are on the cusp of contending, but it looks like the Indians will take the divisional crown again, which would be their fourth in a row and their sixth since 2000.