By Calvin Ralph
Over the next few weeks, we are taking a look at the offseason story lines for all the teams in baseball, division by division. Last week, we did our first preview: the AL East. This week we look at the AL Central.
Chicago White Sox:
Biggest Move: Jeff Samardzija. He was acquired in a six-player deal with Oakland during the offseason. Adding Samardzija to a rotation already featuring Chris Sale will make it as good as any in the division. Both pitchers will be relied upon for quality starts every time they’re on the mound, and will need to live up to that expectation if the White Sox are to contend.
Biggest Loss: Paul Konerko: The White Sox legend retired at the end of the 2014 season. He looks to be a lock for the Hall of Fame with career stats of .279 AVG, 2340 Hits, 439 HRs, and 1412 RBIs.
What Would Make the Season a Success: Making the playoffs. With a major upgrade in the starting rotation and bullpen help as well, a successful season on the south side will mean October baseball.
Biggest Move: Nothing. The Indians have not made any big time moves to vault them into contention.
Biggest Loss: Nothing. They didn’t lose much but didn’t gain much either this offseason.
What Would Make the Season a Success: Being competitive. Last year this team was in contention for a playoff spot, but with teams in their own division improving, merely holding steady will be a win.
Biggest Move: Yoenis Cespedes. He came over from Boston, where he spent a half a season after being traded by Oakland. The lineup for Detroit has the potential to be the best not just in the division, but in the entire league. This will only happen, though, if Cespedes, Miguel Cabrera, and the rest of the lineup stays healthy and productive.
Biggest Loss: Max Scherzer. Scherzer left Detroit to sign a 7-year deal with the Washington Nationals. The 2013 CY Young winner leaves a depleted rotation that also lost Rick Porcello in the Cespedes trade.
What Would Make the Season a Success: Justin Verlander returns to the ace he once was. Verlander won a Cy Young in 2011, but he needs to return to that form to lead the Tigers to the playoffs with a loaded starting lineup behind him. If this happens, and the rest of the Tigers staff holds their own, they will once again be a serious threat in the playoffs.
Kansas City Royals:
Biggest Move: Edinson Volquez. Volquez seems to fill the hole that James Shields left behind. If Volquez can win 10+ games and keep his ERA down he could be one of the best offseason acquisitions in baseball.
Biggest Loss: Billy Butler: the 7-year vet was the rally cry for the Royals push to the World Series last season. He moves on to Oakland, where he’ll surely be welcomed, but will be sorely missed in KC.
What Would Make the Season a Success: Winning the Division. The Royals still have many young, productive pieces returning from last season. If they can carry the momentum from the end of last season into this year, they will surely have a chance to win the division and make it back to the World Series.
Biggest Move: Ervin Santana. Santana comes to Minnesota after signing a 4-year, $55 million dollar deal, one of the largest deals in team history. A one, two of Santana and Phil Hughes atop the rotation should help the Twins stay afloat in a very tough division.
Biggest Loss: Nothing: In fact let’s make this another Biggest Move.
Biggest Move #2: Torii Hunter. Hunter spent the first 11 years of his career in Minnesota. He comes back to lead a very young outfield, and if he mentors this young team correctly, watch out; they could sneak up on the rest of the division.
What Would Make the Season a Success: Being relevant into September.The Twins are young and talented, but I don’t see them getting past Chicago or Detroit to win the division. Snagging a wild card could prove equally difficult, so not being the worst should be the goal for this year.