AL Central offseason recap: Twins bulk up, White Sox on the rise

Minnesota Twins

Last year: 101-61, first place

Who’s gone: 1B C.J. Cron, RHP Kyle Gibson, LHP Stephen Gonsalves, RHP Brusdar Graterol, RHP Trevor Hildenberger, LHP Martin Perez, 2B Jonathan Schoop

Who’s here: C Alex Avila, RHP Homer Bailey, RHP Tyler Clippard, 3B Josh Donaldson, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Kenta Maeda

Outlook: Minnesota struck out on acquiring game-changing starting pitchers in free agency, so the Twins used the first half of the offseason to re-sign free agents Jake Odorizzi, Michael Pineda and Sergio Romo. The Twins also gave Miguel Sano a three-year deal contract extension. Still not satisfied, Derek Falvey and Thad Levine rolled up their sleeves and got to work in January. Minnesota inked Donaldson to a franchise-record deal worth $92 million, essentially replacing Cron’s bat with one of the best offensive players of the last decade. Donaldson will be featured in the middle of a lineup that smashed a league-record 307 home runs in 2019. The Twins’ biggest questions, of course, was the pitching staff. Minnesota addressed the issue by bringing in veterans like Bailey, Hill and Maeda to the rotation. Although Jose Berrios remains the only ace on the staff, the Twins’ offseason moves should be more than enough to clinch another divisional crown in a rather weak AL Central — and play deep into October.

Our prediction: 96-66, first place


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Cleveland Indians

Last year: 93-69, second place

Who’s gone: RHP Tyler Clippard, 2B Jason Kipnis, RHP Corey Kluber, OF Yasiel Puig (remains a free agent), RHP Danny Salazar (remains a free agent)

Who’s here: OF Delino DeShields Jr., 2B Cesar Hernandez, C Sandy Leon, OF Domingo Santana

Outlook: After trading Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati at the 2019 trade deadline, Cleveland continued to reshape its pitching staff this offseason. Coming off a season shortened by injury, Kluber, a two-time Cy Young award winner, was sent to Texas in December for an intriguing minor-league reliever and DeShields. Do these moves signify a rebuild? Not exactly. The Indians’ starting rotation still has some talent in Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber but won’t be the same dominant force it was two or three seasons ago. Cleveland now has money freed up to possibly ink shortstop Francisco Lindor to a long-term deal. Lindor, a four-time All-Star, has two years remaining before he hits free agency. Cleveland’s start to the 2020 season might determine if it trades Lindor by the 2020 deadline, a move that would certainly induce a rebuild in Cleveland as the gap between the Twins and Indians grows larger.

Our prediction: 80-82, third place


Chicago White Sox

Last year: 72-89, third place

Who’s gone: C Welington Castillo, RHP Dylan Covey, OF Jon Jay, RHP Ian Nova, LHP Josh Osich, LHP Hector Santiago

Who’s here: RHP Steve Cishek, DH Edwin Encarnacion, LHP Gio Gonzalez, C Yasmani Grandal, LHP Dallas Keuchel, OF Nomar Mazara

Outlook: The White Sox inarguably had the busiest offseason — and perhaps the most impressive. It all started when Chicago signed Grandal, the top catcher on the free-agent market, to a four-year, $73 million deal — the largest in team history. Not only will Grandal bring one of the best bats at the position (.246/.380/.468, 28 homers in 2019), but he’ll also serve as a veteran presence in a battery with young, talented hurlers like Lucas Giolito. Chicago added to its starting rotation with signings of Gonzalez and Keuchel, and possibly the biggest surprise of the winter was Encarnacion packing his bags for Chicago, a player who’s smacked 32+ dingers in eight consecutive seasons. With defending batting title champion Tim Anderson back in the lineup, the White Sox should be able to hang with Cleveland and Minnesota in the race for the division.

Our prediction: 85-77, second place


Kansas City Royals

Last year: 59-103, fourth place

Who’s gone: RHP Jacob Barnes, 3B Cheslor Cuthbert

Who’s here: RHP Chance Adams, 3B Maikel Franco, RHP Greg Holland

Outlook: Yawn. An unexciting team had a rather boring offseason, its biggest free-agent move being the signing of third baseman Maikel Franco, who took a step back last year but posted a .270/.314/.467 slash line and 22 homers for Philadelphia in 2018. Alex Gordon, the second overall pick by Kansas City in the 2005 draft and a three-time All-Star, returns to the Royals on a one-year deal that could be his swan song. There’s really not much else to report here as Kansas City remains years away from contending.

Our prediction: 60-102, fourth place


Detroit Tigers

Last year: 47-114, fifth place

Who’s gone: INF Josh Harrison, RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Matt Moore, INF Ronny Rodriguez, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Drew VerHagen

Who’s here: 1B C.J. Cron, RHP Zack Godley, OF Cameron Maybin, RHP Ian Nova, LHP Hector Santiago, 2B Jonathan Schoop, 1B Kennys Vargas

Outlook: Unlike Kansas City, at least Detroit tried this winter. It didn’t have much of a choice after losing 114 games in 2019, the second-worst season in franchise history. The Tigers brought in Schoop and Cron in free agency, adding two players who combined to clobber 48 homers for the Twins last year. Veteran outfielder Maybin rejoins the franchise that selected him 10th overall in 2005. While Godley, Nova and Santiago aren’t coveted starting pitchers anymore, they’ll be a step up from Detroit’s staff which posted the league’s third-worst ERA last season at 5.24. And, oh yeah, Ron Gardenhire returns as manager. It can’t be as bad as last year, right?

Our prediction: 59-103, fifth place