AL Central capsules: Twins remain class of weak division

By Thomson Reuters Mar 19, 2024 | 9:14 AM


Chicago White Sox

2023 record: 61-101 (4th place, AL Central)


He gone: RHP Dylan Cease, SS Tim Anderson, INF Elvis Andrus, C Yasmani Grandal, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP Mike Clevinger, LHP Aaron Bummer, RHP Gregory Santos

New faces: RHP Prelander Berroa, SS Paul DeJong, RHP Michael Soroka, C Max Stassi, RHP John Brebbia, C Martin Maldonado, RHP Chris Flexen, RHP Steven Wilson, LHP Tim Hill, RHP Erick Fedde

Biggest question entering Opening Day: Are the White Sox set for an active rebuild in Pedro Grifol’s second season as manager, or are they only beginning to plunder the roster targeting another prospect-rich reset? Perhaps that question was answered when Chicago sent Cease — runner-up for the 2022 AL Cy Young Award — to San Diego on March 13 for Wilson and three prospects. With Cease in the rear-view mirror, all eyes turn to All-Star OF Luis Robert as a likely trade target during the season.

2024 Outlook: Perhaps the sun will come out sooner than expected on the Southside because of the potential superstar power that’s still around (for now) in Robert, DH Eloy Jimenez and INF Yoan Moncada. But after 101 losses, a trade-deadline fire sale and the subsequent subtraction of franchise pillars such as Hendriks and Anderson create doubt around a franchise closer to dormant than dominant for the past decade.

Cleveland Guardians

2023 record: 76-86 (3rd place, AL Central)


He gone: Manager Terry Francona, RHP Aaron Civale, RHP Cal Quantrill, RHP Enyel De Los Santos, SS Amed Rosario, DH Josh Bell, 1B Kole Calhoun, C Mike Zunino

New faces: Manager Stephen Vogt, RHP Carlos Carrasco, C Austin Hedges, RHP Scott Barlow, RHP Ben Lively, OF Estevan Florial

Biggest question entering Opening Day: Will the change in leadership be costly? The Guardians are transitioning from three-time Manager of the Year Francona (2013, 2016, 2022) — the longest-tenured skipper in the franchise’s history — to an unproven newcomer. Vogt, 39, saw his playing career end after the 2022 season and spent 2023 as the bullpen and quality control coach with the Seattle Mariners.

2024 Outlook: Offense outside of the uber-consistent and perennially underrated Jose Ramirez is in question. Ramirez finished with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and a majors-best 22 intentional walks last season, but depth at starting pitching (yes, 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber is still there) should keep the team competitive in a lackluster division. The Guardians have questions about their middle relief, but if they navigate those waters, they should finish games well with closer Emmanuel Clase (major-league-best 44 saves) swimming on the back end.

Detroit Tigers

2023 record: 78-84 (2nd place, AL Central)


He gone: DH Miguel Cabrera, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, RHP Michael Lorenzen, INF Nick Maton, C Eric Haase

New faces: RHP Kenta Maeda, RHP Jack Flaherty, OF Mark Canha, 3B Gio Urshela, RHP Shelby Miller, 2B Colt Keith

Biggest question entering Opening Day: Is the Tigers’ projected solid starting pitching strong enough to send the team to the playoffs? Tarik Skubal was named the Opening Day starter after being limited to 15 games (all starts) last season while working his way back from a 2022 season-ending elbow injury. Maeda and Flaherty will fill the roles left vacant by Rodriguez and Lorenzen. Another question facing Detroit is the play of SS Javier Baez, who hasn’t provided much bang for the buck during the first two seasons of his six-year, $140 million contract.

2024 Outlook: While the Tigers deal with the departure of 12-time All-Star Cabrera (retirement), they will look for offensive contributions from former top overall pick Spencer Torkelson and former fifth overall pick Riley Greene. Should that come to fruition along with the aforementioned solid pitching, Detroit should be able to entertain realistic division title hopes for the first time since it capped a four-year run atop the AL Central from 2011-14.

Kansas City Royals

2023 record: 56-106 (5th place, AL Central)


He gone: RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Jackson Kowar, RHP Brad Keller, 3B Matt Duffy, RHP Jonathan Heasley, RF Edward Olivares

New faces: RF Hunter Renfroe, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Seth Lugo, RHP Kyle Wright, RHP Nick Anderson, LHP Will Smith, 2B Adam Frazier

Biggest question entering Opening Day: Kudos to Kansas City for overhauling its roster, but will those new additions pay immediate dividends for a club that matched its lowest winning percentage in franchise history (.346, 2005) last season? Renfroe aims to bounce back following a dismal season in 2023 split between the Los Angeles Angels and Cincinnati Reds. Wacha and Lugo are expected to produce right out of the chute as the Royals look toward 2024 in order to get offseason acquisition Wright (shoulder injury) on the mound. Smith assumes the closer’s role, but how much work he actually receives remains to be seen.

2024 Outlook: The Royals likely won’t be entertaining playoff hopes, but perhaps 15 more wins from last year’s total isn’t out of the question. All eyes will remain on SS Bobby Witt Jr., who signed a franchise-record, 11-year, $288.8 million extension in February. Witt led the majors with 11 triples last season to go with 30 homers and 96 RBIs.

Minnesota Twins

2023 record: 87-75 (1st place, AL Central)


He gone: RHP Sonny Gray, RHP Kenta Maeda, 2B Jorge Polanco, RHP Tyler Mahle, RHP Emilio Pagan, OF Michael A. Taylor, INF Nick Gordon, OF Joey Gallo

New faces: 1B Carlos Santana, OF Manuel Margot, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, LHP Steven Okert, RHP Josh Staumont

Biggest question entering Opening Day: In short, it’s pitching … and the health of Byron Buxton. The departures of Gray and Maeda have catapulted Pablo Lopez to the role of the team’s ace, while fellow RHPs Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober will need to contribute to the rotation as well. RHP Chris Paddack is expected to move back to a starter’s role, while fellow starter DeSclafani will be tasked with eating innings as well. As for Buxton, he is expected to cover ground in center field this season after knee issues limited him to designated hitter duty in 2023.

2024 Outlook: Defending AL Central champion Minnesota owns the most talented roster in baseball’s weakest division. Manager Rocco Baldelli’s offense could see an uptick with a full year expected of Royce Lewis, who worked his way back from a torn ACL to put up more than respectable numbers last season.

–Field Level Media