What do you do once you have won three straight American League Central titles?
If you’re the Cleveland Indians, then you reduce payroll by shedding stars through free agency and the trade market. Factor in Francisco Lindor’s strained calf, and the ice under Cleveland’s feet is the thinnest it’s been in years.
Nevertheless it might be worse. The turning remains led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, who became the primary 200-strikeout foursome ever final year. Lindor will gradually reteam with Jose Ramirez to form arguably the very best celebrity offensive duo in MLB.
Besides which, the Indians really only have one challenger for superiority within the branch.
Playoff opportunities: 70 percent
After a disappointing 78-win season, the Minnesota Twins have rightfully treated Cleveland’s cost-cutting as a window of opportunity.
A crime that scored a strong 4.6 runs per game last season is deeper now thanks to the additions of Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron. The pitching staff, meanwhile, should benefit from Martin Perez along with Blake Parker and a healthy Michael Pineda.
Yet the big question is if Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano can push the Twins over the top by putting themselves back to their various paths to stardom. This can go is really anyone’s guess.
If all goes well, the Twins will challenge the Indians for the AL Central title. If not, they’re probably a .500-ish team that will have trouble surviving a tough race to the 2nd wild-card spot.
Playoff opportunities: 40 percent
Chicago White Sox
There’s a parallel universe somewhere in which the Chicago White Sox are a serious contender in 2019 despite their 100 declines in 2018.
In that universe, the White Sox have signed either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. To boot, flame-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech has a wholesome elbow.
Within this universe, but the White Sox have already lost out on Machado, and they appear to be outside on Harper too. What is more, Kopech is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
South Siders can nevertheless anticipate the coming of top prospect Eloy Jimenez and the additional maturation of the White Sox’s other kids. But hopes for a playoff berth are reserved for 2020.
Playoff opportunities: 5 percent
Kansas City Royals
Despite dropping 104 games last season, the Kansas City Royals don’t look interested at a top-to-bottom rebuild.
For what it is worth, there are some good bits in the lineup (Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi) and pitching staff (Danny Duffy and Brad Keller). These can ensure that the Royals are watchable in 2019.
However good? Nah. And whether they like it or not, they will have to consider using the transaction market to build their own No. 24 farm system.
Playoff opportunities: 5 percent
The Detroit Tigers lost”just” 98 games in 2018, but they don’t look any better equipped to take on 2019 compared to White Sox or Royals.
In concept, a healthful Miguel Cabrera and fresh faces like Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Christin Stewart should enhance an offense that scored 3.9 runs each match in 2018. Yet the offense will suffer with the inevitable death of Nicholas Castellanos. There isn’t much hope for the club’s pitching staff either.
Detroit does have a good farm system, but it has more quantity than quality. Until this changes, it is hard to apply the power of positive thinking into the Tigers’ playoff chances.
Playoff chances: 5 percent
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