Last season the AL Central was a two-team race throughout the season as the Minnesota Twins took the crown with 101 wins, eight games in front of Cleveland. We enter the new season with a different contender potentially entering the landscape.
Minnesota surpassed all expectations last season as they won an eye-opening 101 games while leading the MLB in home runs with 307. When it comes to the upcoming season Minnesota has done everything needed to try and keep a hold on the division. Some familiar faces are back on this year's squad as starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi accepted his $17.8 million-dollar qualifying offer and Miguel Sano accepted a 3 year/$30 million-dollar extension.
Along with Odorizzi Minnesota added two cheap veteran starting pitchers that are 'low risk, high reward'. Rich Hill agreed to a 1 year/$3 million-dollar deal and Homer Bailey settled on 1 year/$7 million-dollars.
Rich Hill only started 13 games last season, he pitched 58.2 innings with a 2.35 ERA (4.10 FIP), 18 walks and 72 K's. After getting left elbow surgery the 40-year-old starter won't be ready to throw until June. Along with Hill, Michael Pineda is suspended 60 games for PEDs. Minnesota will have to stay afloat with there bats if the season starts sooner than we think.
Homer Bailey is not an elite arm but he is a good guy to take a chance on for this depleted Twins rotation. In 2019 Bailey recorded 31 starts with 163.1 innings, a 4.57 ERA (4.11 FIP), 149 K's and 53 walks. The 33-year-old is hoping to make an impact on a one year contract.
Minnesota also attempted bolstered up the bullpen with two light moves as they signed Sergio Romo and Tyler Cippard to one-year deals.
The biggest name acquired by the Twins was the third base power bat of Josh Donaldson, inking him to a 4 year/$92 million-dollar deal. After an injury-riddled 2018 season, Donaldson got back to his old ways when he joined Atlanta. In 2019 he slashed .259/.379/.521 with 37 home runs, 94 RBIs and one of the best exit velocities in the league at 92.9 MPH.
A top half of the power-lineup of Kepler, Polanco, Donaldson, and Cruz is most likely going to do damage, Minnesota will hope to stay a stride ahead of the competition another season in 2020.
Cleveland didn't have a really busy off-season but made some moves that could put them in the right direction entering the upcoming season. Indians traded for a backup catcher to be behind Roberto Perez when they made a deal with Boston. Sandy Leon was traded for minor league pitcher Adenys Bautista.
Leon is a decent backup catcher for Cleveland. In 2019 he played 65 games and slashed .192/.251/.297 with 5 home runs.
Along with Leon, the Indians signed free agent infielder Cesar Hernandez when Philadelphia let him walk. Hernandez is a great addition to this squad, he's typically a very consistent hitter and has only missed two games the past two seasons. The Indians inked him for 1 year/$6.25 million-dollars. In 2019 Cesar slashed .279/.333/.408 with 14 home runs, one away from tying his career-high. He will be a great all-around member for this squad trying to make a run for the AL Central.
The biggest decision made by Cleveland this off-season was trading away 2-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to the Rangers in exchange for 21-year-old reliever Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields. Trading Kluber freed up $17.5 million for the 2020 season.
The big piece on the way to the Tribe is Clase, he is an outstanding arm who made his debut out of the bullpen last season. He pitched 23.1 innings with a 2.31 ERA (3.43 FIP), 21 K's and 6 walks. His velocity is top tier, according to baseballsavant.com his fastball averages out at 99.5 MPH and has topped out at 101.8 while his cutter averages out at 99.2 and has topped out at 101.2. Emmanuel threw his cutter 73.3% of his 23 innings and his fastball only 5.5%.
Cleveland looks good this season, you could say better than last year and maybe a little deeper. They have the tools to make a run at the Central with the Twins depleted rotation to begin the season.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Surprised to see the White Sox in the mix? In 2019 Chicago finished 28.5 games back from Minnesota as they sat at a 72-89 record to end the season. Are the White Sox legit contenders for the AL Central in 2020? I would call it a long shot, but it is not impossible.
Chicago started the off-season by signing arguably one of the best catchers in the game in Yasmani Grandal to a 4 year/$72 million dollar deal. Grandal finished his last season in Milwaukee slashing .246/.380./.468 with 28 home runs and 77 RBI. 27 runners caught stealing was the second-best in the MLB last season behind JT Realmuto who blew everybody out of the water with 43. Along with that, they brought back James McCann on a one year deal to be Grandal's primary backup.
Chicago flipped the switched after and went after starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. They inked him to a 1 year/$5 million-dollar deal. Gio ended his 2019 campaign in Milwaukee with an ERA of 3.50 (4.04 FIP) in 87.1 innings pitched. The Sox were fast to go after the next available talent as they added Dallas Kuechel on a 3 year/$55.5 million-dollar deal. 32-year-old Kuechel was in Atlanta for some time last season and posted an ERA of 3.75 (4.72 FIP) in 112.2 innings. He also had a ground-ball rate of 60.1% which was in the top of the league.
Chi-town wasn't done there, a week later they brought in veteran power bat Edwin Encarnacion on a one year contract. Last season the 37-year-old slashed .244/.344/.531 with 34 home runs and a WAR of 2.9. Along with that, they extended top prospect center fielder Luis Roberts to a six-year deal worth $50 million.
Wanting to add to the pen as well, Steve Cishek was signed to a one year contract.
If you want to see the perfect rebuild in sports the White Sox could end up being that team. They have signed and extended multiple pieces for the future, along with prospects, while not trading away valuable assets. This team is set up for a great future but it will be interesting to see how they can match-up with the Twins and Indians for the AL Central crown in 2020.