What do you do after you have won three straight American League Central names?
If you are the Cleveland Indians, then you cut payroll by shedding stars via free agency and the trade marketplace. Factor in Francisco Lindor’s strained calf, as well as the ice beneath Cleveland’s feet is the thinnest it has been in years.
Nevertheless it could be worse. The rotation remains led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, that became the first 200-strikeout foursome ever last season. Lindor will eventually 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 excellence within the division.
Playoff opportunities: 70 percent
Following a disappointing 78-win season, the Minnesota Twins have treated Cleveland’s cost-cutting for a window of opportunity.
A crime that scored a solid 4.6 runs per game last year is deeper now as a result of the additions of Nelson Cruz, Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron. The pitching staff, meanwhile, should gain from Martin Perez and Blake Parker and a healthful Michael Pineda.
However the big question is if Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano can push the Twins over the top by putting themselves back to their respective paths to stardom. How this will go is really anybody’s guess.
If all goes well, the Twins will challenge the Indians for the AL Central title. Otherwise, they’re likely a .500-ish team that will have trouble surviving a difficult race to the 2nd wild-card spot.
Playoff chances: 40 percent
Chicago White Sox
There is a parallel universe somewhere where the Chicago White Sox are a significant competition in 2019 despite their 100 losses in 2018.
In that world, the White Sox have signed Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. To boot, flame-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech includes a healthy elbow.
In this world, however, the White Sox have already lost out on Machado, and they appear to be out on Harper as well. What’s more, Kopech is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
South Siders can nevertheless anticipate the coming of top prospect Eloy Jimenez plus the further 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 losing 104 games last season, the Kansas City Royals do not seem interested in a top-to-bottom rebuild.
For what it is worth, there are a number of good pieces in the lineup (Whit Merrifield and Adalberto Mondesi) and pitching staff (Danny Duffy and Brad Keller). These will ensure that the Royals are watchable in 2019.
However great? Nah. And whether they like it or not, they will have to consider employing the transaction market to construct their No. 24 farm strategy.
Playoff opportunities: 5 percent
The Detroit Tigers lost”only” 98 games in 2018, but they do not look any better equipped to carry on 2019 compared to White Sox or Royals.
In concept, a healthy Miguel Cabrera and fresh faces like Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Christin Stewart should enhance an offense that scored 3.9 runs per game in 2018. Nevertheless the offense will suffer with the inevitable death of Nicholas Castellanos. There is not much hope for your club’s pitching team .
Detroit does have a good farm system, but it has more quantity than quality. Until that changes, it’s hard to use the power of positive thinking into the Tigers’ playoff chances.
Playoff chances: 5 percent