What should you do once you have won three straight American League Central titles?
If you are the Cleveland Indians, then you cut payroll by dropping celebrities via free agency and the commerce market. Factor in Francisco Lindor’s strained calf, as well as the ice under Cleveland’s feet is the thinnest it’s been in years.
Yet it could be worse. The turning is still led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger, that became the primary 200-strikeout foursome ever final season. Lindor will gradually reteam with Jose Ramirez to sort arguably the very best superstar offensive duo in MLB.
Besides that, the Indians really only have one challenger for excellence within the branch.
Playoff opportunities: 70 percent
After a disappointing 78-win season, the Minnesota Twins have treated Cleveland’s cost-cutting as a window of opportunity.
An offense 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 team, meanwhile, should benefit from Martin Perez along with Blake Parker plus a healthful Michael Pineda.
Yet the major question is if Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano can push the Twins on the top by getting themselves back on their various paths to stardom. How this can go is really anyone’s guess.
If all goes well, the Twins will challenge the Indians for the AL Central title. Otherwise, they are likely a .500-ish team which will have difficulty surviving a difficult race to the 2nd wild-card spot.
Playoff opportunities: 40 percent
Chicago White Sox
There’s a parallel universe somewhere where the Chicago White Sox are a significant contender in 2019 despite their 100 losses in 2018.
In that world, the White Sox have signed either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. To boot, flame-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech has a healthy elbow.
In this universe, however, the White Sox have lost out on Machado, and they appear to be outside on Harper too. What’s more, Kopech is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
South Siders can still anticipate the arrival of high prospect Eloy Jimenez plus the additional development of the White Sox’s other kids. But hopes for a playoff berth are best reserved for 2020.
Playoff opportunities: 5 percent
Kansas City Royals
Despite dropping 104 games last season, the Kansas City Royals don’t seem interested in a top-to-bottom rebuild.
For what it is worth, there are a number of fantastic 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 might have to contemplate employing the transaction market to construct their No. 24 farm strategy.
Playoff chances: 5 percent
The Detroit Tigers lost”just” 98 games in 2018, but they do not seem any better equipped to carry on 2019 compared to White Sox or Royals.
In concept, a healthy Miguel Cabrera and new faces like Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Christin Stewart should improve an offense that scored 3.9 runs each game in 2018. Yet the crime will suffer from the departure of Nicholas Castellanos. There isn’t much hope for your club’s pitching staff .
Detroit does have a good farm system, but it has more quantity than quality. Until that changes, it is hard to use the power of positive thinking to the Tigers’ playoff possibilities.
Playoff chances: 5 percent