Is this Cleveland’s year?
The 2018 baseball season has arrived. Finally. The offseason was painfully slow. Trades were rare and organizations played serious hardball with free agent crop. Mercifully, the offseason is over.
Let’s, start with the A.L. Central:
Chicago White Sox
Manager: Rick Renteria
2017 Record: 67-95
Farm System Ranking: #7 (Minor League Ball Report)
Last Title: 2005
Division Title Chances: 1%
Rick Hahn’s maneuvering the Pale Hose trade chips over the past two seasons is already legendary. He flipped Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle and David Roberston into…1) Potential superstar second baseman Yoan Moncada, 23, a Cuban stud built like Yoenis Cespedes, 2) right-hander Lucas Giolito, 23 and one year removed from being the top pitching prospect in baseball, 3)centerfielder Eloy Jimenez , 21, the #4 Overall Prospect in baseball, right-hander 4)Michael Kopech, 21, the #10 Overall Prospect, 5)right-hander Dylan Cease, 22, the #61 Prospect) 6)left-hander Dane Dunning, 23, the #92 Overall Prospect and 7)outfielder Blake Rutherford, 20 the #99 Overall Prospect.
The best you can say about the White Sox rotation is that it has upside. Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Gioloto, Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer all are young and have potential. James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez are replacement level innings eaters.
The aforementioned Yoan Moncada should get his first full season in the big leagues. Look for a healthy number of strikeouts (Adam Dunn style), but also flashes of greatness. Avisail Garcia, Tim Anderson and Nicky Delmonico are good young players. Jose Abreu will hit 30 HRS and drive in 100 runs. Of course, that doesn’t translate to much trade value these days.
The very hittable Joakim Soria is their closer. Fireballer Nate Jones is also there.
Prediction: The 2018 White Sox have no chance at winning the A.L. Central or the Wild Card, but you might want to put them on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the 2021 World Series Champion.
Manager: Ron “Gardy” Gardenhire
2017 Record: 64-98
Farm system ranking: #16 (Minor League Ball Report)
Last Title: 1984
Division Title Chances: 2%
If the White Sox are the best case scenario for a rebuild, the Tigers are quite possibly the worst. Years of pilfering the farm to win Mr. I his elusive title took a toll. Don’t get me wrong. The Tigers had a great run from 2006-2014. 5 trips to the Post-Season, 2 World Series Appearances, Triple Crowns, MVP’s, Cy-Youngs, but no ring. And now, here we are.
As a Tigers fan, I want to note that from 1989-2005, the Tigers won 43% of their games and finished on average 23.5 games out of first place. Unrepentant, consistent losing. So, with that in mind, the winning stretch was blissful. Anyway, let’s talk about this team:
As a unit, the Tigers starting rotation potentially isn’t horrible. First, Michael Fulmer is healthy and will continue to evolve into a top of the rotation starter, Matt Boyd has shown all the signs that he could be a solid, mid-rotation starter, nearly throwing a no-hitter last year (yes, it was against the White Sox, in September, but still!), Jordan “my neck hurts” Zimmermann by all accounts is healthy…for now. Look for several 5IP/6ER/3K starts. Francisco “I didn’t realize he was still in the league” Liriano secured a role in the rotation over Daniel Norris, which is concerning. Daniel is still young, but he should better than Liriano at this point. Mike Fiers is on the DL, so Norris starts off in the rotation.
There is some intrigue here, but overall it could be very bad. The Tigers were 10th in the AL in offense last year and that was with Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton and JD Martinez. Yikes. A full season of Jeimer Candelario is going to be interesting. He looked like the real deal last year. Castellanos is on the rise and is the next decent trade chip. Miggy and Victor supposedly have their power back, but it’s only a matter of time before they break down. It would be good for Miggy to get some DH time this year, he does after all have 6 years left on his untradeable contract. James Mccann has a chance to be a fringe All-Star. The bat came around last year.
Shane Greene and…yeah. Joe Jimenez is the future dominating closer, supposedly. So, were Bruce Rondon and Joel Zumaya. Just sayin’.
They will battle it out for the cellar with the White Sox and Royals. I am interested to see if the Tigers can play better fundamental baseball under Gardy. The team was often sloppy with Ausmus.
Kansas City Royals
Manager: Ned Yost
2017 Record: 80-82
Farm System Ranking: Dead Last (Minor League Ball Report)
Last Title: 2015
Division Title Chances: 3%
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It seems like only yesterday when the Royals barnstormed their way to back to back World Series appearances, culminating with the 2015 championship. The young core of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas was the envy of the league. Plus, they had their veteran leader in Alex Gordon. Now, just 3 seasons later, Gordon is a shell of himself, Hosmer and Cain are gone, Yordano Ventura died in a tragic accident and Salvador Perez just tore his MCL, I shit you not, carrying his luggage. To make matters worse, the very thing that built the KC Royals mini-dynasty was their farm system which is now ranked last in the league. Well, at least Moustakas is back on a cheap deal.
On any given night, Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy will give you a quality start, but neither of them will make any All-Star teams. Danny Duffy remains an immensely talented stud and could help rebuild the Royals farm season at some point, but he’s 29 and he’s never pitched 200 innings.
Offensively, the Royals are average. Whit Merrifield is pesky. Newcomers Jorge Soler & Lucas Duda will bring some pop. Moustakas & Perez (when he returns) will anchor the lineup. Raul Modesi Jr. just hasn’t been able to break out like they hoped. Therefore, they’ll have another year of the light-hitting Alcides Escobar at SS.
Remember the 3-headed monster that was Kelvin Herera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland? Well, they still have Herrera who struggled in the closer’s role last year after years of dominance as a setup man. The rest of the gang consists of a whole lot of meh.
Royals fans can at least look back on 2015 with fond memories because for the foreseeable future they are headed back to another long stretch of irrelevance.
Manager: Paul Molitor
2017 Record: 85-77 (Lost Wild Card)
Farm Season Ranking: #12 (Minor League Ball Report)
Last Title: 1991
Division Title Chances: 20%
The Minnesota Twins are the biggest threat to the Cleveland Indians division title hopes. A trio of late offseason moves catapulted the Twins back into the division picture: the signing of Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison and the trade for Jake Odorizzi.
The aforementioned Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi are coming off substandard seasons, but both have solid track records and I would bet with this electric Twins lineup they’ll get some mojo back. Jose Berrios is one of the best young pitchers in the game and Ervin Santana (on DL till May 1 or so) put together one of the best seasons of his career last season at age 34.
This lineup got really good really quickly. Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier are both a sound bet to hit 40+ home runs. Eddie Rosario and Logan Morrison easily will hit around 30. The legend of Byron Buxton (Baseball’s Top Prospect for seemingly forever) is finally realizing his tantalizing potential of speed/defense/power. Jason Castro is one of the best “pitch framers” in the league.
Possibly the blind spot for the Twinkies. Relying on 41-year old journeyman Fernando Rodney and his spotty control as your closer is a recipe for disaster. Addison Reed is good, but he’s not striking fear in anyone’s heart. They have several pretty good arms like Ryan Pressly and Trevor Hildenberger that will get you a strikeout in a jam.
Minnesota probably won’t win the division, but they are a solid contender for a Wild Card berth in 2018 and they will score a lot of runs.
Manager: Terry Francona
2017 Record: 102-60 (Lost ALDS)
Farm System Ranking: #15 (Minor League Ball Report)
Last Title: 1948
Division Title Chances: 75%
Lost in the hysterical joy of the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series title run was the fact that the Indians have a pretty serious championship drought themselves. The physical toll of the brutal 7 game World Series run may have left the Indians vulnerable last year come post-season time. Their historic 22-game win streak may say otherwise, but October baseball is a different animal and they looked dazed as the Yankees stormed back to win the ALDS. This year will be different.
Corey Kluber is easily a top 5 starting pitcher and Carlos Carrasco is arguably in the top 10. Danny Salazar (starts on DL) is another potential stud if he can stay healthy. Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger all can give you quality innings:
MVP Candidates Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez anchor the lineup with All-Star caliber players in Jason Kipnis and Edwin Encarnacion and another potential young star in Bradley Zimmer. Mike Napoli lurks in AAA as a potential bounceback candidate from his 2017 Campaign with Texas where he hit 29 homeruns but batted only .193.
Andrew Miller & Cody Allen ’nuff said. Beyond those guys, Dan Otero, Zach McCalister, Nick Goody and Matt Belisle are solid. It really isn’t fair.
The Tribe are my pick to win the 2018 World Series. While I’m tempted to pick Houston to repeat, I think there is something to be said for the toll that the long postseason run can have on a team, even one stacked with young superstars.