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American League Central preview: Cleveland Indians again look like team to beat

UPDATED: Tue., March 26, 2019

Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez bats during a spring training game against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday  in Glendale, Ariz. (Sue Ogrocki / AP)
Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez bats during a spring training game against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday in Glendale, Ariz. (Sue Ogrocki / AP)
Associated Press

Cleveland Indians

2018: 91-71, first place, lost to Houston in Division Series.

Manager: Terry Francona (seventh season).

He’s here: 1B-DH Carlos Santana, OF Carlos Gonzalez, DH Hanley Ramirez, OF-1B Jake Bauers, C Kevin Plawecki, OF Jordan Luplow, RHP Chih-Wei Hu, RHP Nick Wittgren, LHP Oliver Perez, INF Ryan Flaherty, C Dioner Navarro.

He’s outta here: OF Michael Brantley, DH Edwin Encarnacion, LHP Andrew Miller, RHP Cody Allen, C Yan Gomes, 1B Yonder Alonso, 3B Yandy Diaz, 2B Erik Gonzalez.

Outlook: Despite all the offseason subtractions, a fourth straight AL Central title still looks likely – it just wouldn’t be enough. Close no longer counts for a franchise and fan base that has waited since 1948 to celebrate a World Series title. The loss of Encarnacion, Brantley and Alonso has left a major power void that will need to be filled, and the Indians must find new ways to score other than home runs.

Minnesota Twins

2018: 78-84, second place.

Manager: Rocco Baldelli (first season).

He’s here: INF Marwin Gonzalez, DH-OF Nelson Cruz, 2B Jonathan Schoop, RHP Blake Parker, 1B C.J. Cron, LHP Martin Perez.

He’s outta here: Manager Paul Molitor, 1B Joe Mauer, OF-DH Robbie Grossman, 1B-DH Logan Morrison, 2B Logan Forsythe, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Matt Belisle, RHP Alan Busenitz.

Outlook: Baldelli, who at 37 is the youngest manager in the majors, spent the past eight seasons either on the coaching staff or working in the front office with the one of the game’s most innovative organizations, the Tampa Bay Rays. Baldelli has brought a fresh source of energy and ideas the Twins are banking on to help bring out the best in their young players, with the underperformance of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano remaining one of the biggest issues for the club to resolve. Buxton, the second pick in the 2012 draft, added muscle over the offseason and has had a strong spring at the plate. One of the fastest players in baseball only needs to be an average hitter for him to make a big impact, with his game-changing ability with the glove and run-generating speed on the basepaths.

Detroit Tigers

2018: 64-98, third place.

Manager: Ron Gardenhire (second season).

He’s here: 2B Josh Harrison, LHP Matt Moore, RHP Tyson Ross, SS Jordy Mercer, 2B Brandon Dixon.

He’s outta here: DH Victor Martinez, SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Francisco Liriano, C James McCann, RHP Alex Wilson, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RHP Artie Lewicki.

Outlook: At the big league level, it might not be pretty. The Tigers managed to finish third last year because the White Sox and Royals both reached triple-digit losses. Detroit isn’t likely to be much better this season, especially after right-hander Michael Fulmer was told this month he should have Tommy John surgery. The Tigers have a new middle of the infield with Harrison and Mercer, and Moore and Ross are interesting additions to the pitching staff, but the best-case scenario here is probably a surprising run at .500. One reason to watch Detroit is to follow Miguel Cabrera’s pursuit of 500 homers, but he’s 35 away and is coming off biceps surgery.

Chicago White Sox

2018: 62-100, fourth place.

Manager: Rick Renteria (third season).

He’s here: RHP Ivan Nova, 1B-DH Yonder Alonso, RHP Kelvin Herrera, RHP Alex Colome, OF Jon Jay, C James McCann, OF Brandon Guyer, RHP Ervin Santana.

He’s outta here: OF Avisail Garcia, DH-INF Matt Davidson, RHP James Shields.

Outlook: The White Sox hoped to kick a rebuilding project entering its third season into a higher gear by signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in free agency. They came away empty-handed when it came to the star sluggers, though they did get Machado’s brother-in-law (Alonso) and friend (Jay). The White Sox have six straight losing seasons and are coming off their highest loss total since the 1970 team dropped a franchise-record 106 games. They also struck out more times than any other team in big league history. Besides missing out on Harper and Machado, the White Sox won’t have pitcher Michael Kopech this year. He’s recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Kansas City Royals

2018: 58-104, fifth place.

Manager: Ned Yost (10th season).

He’s here: OF Billy Hamilton, RHP Brad Boxberger, INF-OF Chris Owings, RHP Chris Ellis, C Martin Maldonado.

He’s outta here: RHP Brandon Maurer, RHP Nate Karns, RHP Jason Hammel.

Outlook: Improve upon their 104-loss season. The Royals were pretty good down the stretch, when they jettisoned a bunch of aging veterans and began leaning on youth. It hurts that they lost six-time All-Star catcher Salvador Perez to reconstructive elbow surgery in spring training, but the reality is Kansas City is still at least a year or two from competing for a playoff spot. If the youngsters continue to progress, and a speed-speed-speed approach to the lineup pays off, the hope is that they can approach the .500 mark this season.

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