Kansas City now has a pair of World Series trips in their back pocket as a result of their success over the last two seasons. With Detroit's trip to the Fall Classic in 2012, the American League's representative has come from the AL Central in three of the last four championships. The time has come for the rest of baseball to recognize that, at this point in time, the Central might be the best and toughest division in the American League.
Here's a quick look around the division to check in on how the Twins' competition in the division is shaping up for 2016.
Kansas City Royals
2015 Record: 95-67
Playoffs: Won World Series (4-1)
Players in: Ian Kennedy, Joakim Soria, Travis Snider, Clint Barmes, Dillon Gee, Brian Duensing
Players out: Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist, Greg Holland, Ryan Madson
Remember last year when we were busy laughing about how the Royals signed Kendrys Morales to a two-year deal, lost James Shields and yada yada yada? You remember. They won the whole thing after having what looked like, on paper, an obviously inferior team. Now we enter 2016 with a Royals squad whose rotation is led by Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy, and Edinson Volquez. I don't mind that as a top three, but I'm also notoriously optimistic and I don't know how Kansas City is going to cobble together 70 or 80 starts from anyone else.
I like that they brought Soria back. Holland is recovering and Madson is gone, but I expect their bullpen to still be excellent this year. Their lineup might be one of the best in the division, and they have a really good, talented core group of players. Nobody should be writing the Royals off, but that rotation is obviously suspect. Thankfully they still have a bullpen that can close it out after about five innings.
Even with a suspect rotation I think Kansas City makes a run at a Wild Card spot.
Possible rotation: Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Yordano Ventura, Chris Young, Kris Medlen
Possible starters: Salvador Perez (C), Eric Hosmer (1B), Omar Infante (2B), Mike Moustakas (3B), Alcides Escobar (SS), Alex Gordon (LF), Lorenzo Cain (CF), Paulo Orlando? (RF), Kendrys Morales (DH)
Predicted finish: 85-77 (2nd)
2015 Record: 81-80
Players in: Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Juan Uribe, Tommy Hunter, Collin Cowgill, Dan Otero
Players out: Chris Johnson, Mike Aviles, Gavin Floyd, Ryan Raburn, Jerry Sands, Nick Hagadone
This team has, hands down, the best rotation in the division. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are two really good arms to lead that crew, and Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer make for a very solid 3-4. The bullpen does concern me a little, but my biggest question for Cleveland is: how are they planning on scoring runs?
Michael Brantley won't be around from Opening Day, and he was their best regular in the lineup. Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, and Francisco Lindor should be able to do a little damage, but this team desperately needs Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes to rebound after they took huge steps backwards. Uribe was a nice late addition but is 37 and probably can't be relied upon to be anything more than a league average bat. Mike Napoli is 34, and even though he finished strong with the Rangers last year, he was so bad before the trade that the Red Sox let him go for the proverbial PTBNL. As far as BaseballReference.com is concerned, that PTBNL was never actually named.
I really like this rotation, but there are about six spots in Cleveland's lineup where I just have no idea what kind of production they'll get.
Possible rotation: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin
Possible starters: Yan Gomes (C), Mike Napoli (1B), Jason Kipnis (2B), Juan Uribe (3B), Francisco Lindor (SS), Rajai Davis (LF), Tyler Naquin? (CF), Lonnie Chisenhall (RF), Carlos Santana (DH)
Predicted finish: 81-81 (4th)
Chicago White Sox
2015 Record: 76-86
Players in: Todd Frazier, Alex Avila, Jacob Turner, Dioner Navarro, Matt Albers, Mat Latos, Austin Jackson, Jimmy Rollins, Brett Lawrie, Jerry Sands, Daniel Fields, Tommy Kahnle, Will Lamb
Players out: Alexei Ramirez, Tyler Flowers, Gordon Beckham, Geovany Soto, Jeff Samardzija, Hector Noesi
It's no wonder Chicago made a bunch of changes on the position player side of the ball. The only hitters posting an OPS+ better than league average were Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton. Picking up Frazier was a critical move for the middle of that batting order, but swapping in two new catchers, taking a flyer on Lawrie, and adding Jackson late on a nice deal could help stretch things out a little bit. But Rollins is worth more for his name than his performance at this point in his career, and both Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia need to find ways to hit more. Lawrie and Jackson, nice moves though they were, are both a long way from being reliable producers, too. Chicago needs to score 70 or 80 more runs in 2016 than they did in 2015 if they're going to be a threat, and I'm not sure they'll do it.
A rotation led by Chris Sale and Jose Quintana is a good place to build off of, however. Latos is a nice low-risk maneuver on a bounceback campaign, and Carlos Rodon will get an opportunity to show what he can do in a full season. There's a real chance that it's Chicago, and not Detroit, that has the division's second-best rotation. Chicago returns a bullpen mostly still in tact from last year, and they can rack up a few strikeouts.
I like the middle of Chicago's batting order better than Cleveland's, but I like the White Sox pitching staff a bit less.
Possible rotation: Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, Mat Latos, John Danks
Possible starters: Dioner Navarro (C), Jose Abreu (1B), Brett Lawrie (2B), Jimmy Rollins (SS), Todd Frazier (3B), Adam Eaton (LF), Austin Jackson (CF), Avisail Garcia (RF), Melky Cabrera (DH)
Predicted finish: 78-84 (5th)
2015 Record: 74-87
Players in: Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey, Mark Lowe, Mike Aviles, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Justin Wilson, Francisco Rodriguez, Cameron Maybin
Players out: Rajai Davis, Alfredo Simon, Al Alburquerque, Alex Avila, Tom Gorzelanny, Joe Nathan, Randy Wolf, Kyle Lobstein
Just when you thought Detroit's window was about to slam shut, they grab Upton, Zimmermann, Lowe, and Rodriguez to shore up a couple of the areas that desperately needed help. Once again you have to appreciate not just the club's rotation, which still features Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez in addition to Zimmermann, but the lineup. Victor Martinez isn't getting any younger, but he's not the only guy helping out Miguel Cabrera. Upton and the extended J.D. Martinez will really help to extend the middle of that batting order, and the combo of Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias at second and short should continue to pay dividends on both ends. I'm not sold on Anthony Gose leading off again.
Among the five relievers making the most appearances for the Tigers last year, only Blaine Hardy remains. Grabbing K-Rod to close and Lowe to play set-up illustrated just how aggressive Detroit needed to be in bolstering their relief, and while there are still questions beyond those pitchers it's still a more settled area than it was last year.
Overall I think Detroit is pretty good. There are a few pretty blatant weaknesses, but they should bounce back from a 74-win campaign in 2015.
Possible rotation: Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey, Shane Greene
Possible starters: James McCann (C), Miguel Cabrera (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Nick Castellanos (3B), Jose Iglesias (SS), Justin Upton (LF), Anthony Gose (CF), J.D. Martinez (RF), Victor Martinez (DH)
Predicted finish: 91-71 (1st)
How do the Twins stack up against the rest of the AL Central? Where do you think they fit on paper?