Texas Rangers

March 30, 2014

Baseball preview: American League Central

Last year: 93-69 (first, AL Central)

Detroit Tigers

Last year: 93-69 (first, AL Central)

New faces: 2B Ian Kinsler (Rangers), RHP Joe Nathan (Rangers), OF Rajai Davis (Blue Jays), RHP Joba Chamberlain (Yankees), LHP Ian Krol (Nationals)

Former faces: 1B Prince Fielder (Rangers), RHP Doug Fister (Nationals), RHP Joaquin Benoit (Padres)

Better, worse or same? Same.

Why: They traded away Prince Fielder so they could move two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera back to first base. In doing so, they opened up a spot at third base for top prospect Nick Castellanos and brought back an All-Star second baseman in Ian Kinsler. Detroit’s biggest strength remains its rotation behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. And the bullpen, a significant question mark last season, has been stabilized by veteran closer Joe Nathan. They’re the favorites to win the Central once again.

Kansas City Royals

Last year: 86-76 (third, AL Central)

New faces: OF Norichika Aoki (Brewers), 2B Omar Infante (Tigers), LHP Jason Vargas (Angels), 3B Danny Valencia (Orioles)

Former faces: RHP Ervin Santana (Braves), LHP Will Smith (Brewers), 2B Chris Getz (Blue Jays), RHP Luis Mendoza (Japan), OF David Lough (Orioles)

Better, worse, same? Better.

Why: They have spent the past few seasons trying to build a team capable of reaching the postseason for the first time since 1985. Losing Ervin Santana hurts, but they still have James Shields for a season and locked up Jason Vargas last winter. KC also has one of the top closers in the game, Greg Holland, and an elite defense. Offensively, the Royals acquired Norichika Aoki to bat leadoff and have a formidable 3-4-5 with Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. They should challenge for at least one of the two wild card spots and leave behind the dubious distinction of being one of only two teams (along with the Blue Jays) without a playoff berth since 2001.

Cleveland Indians

Last year: 92-70 (second, AL Central)

New faces: OF David Murphy (Rangers), 3B David Adams (Yankees), RHP David Aardsma (Mets), RHP John Axford (Cardinals), LHP Josh Outman (Rockies)

Former faces: OF Drew Stubbs (Rockies), RHP Joe Smith (Angels), RHP Chris Perez (Dodgers), LHP Scott Kazmir (Athletics), RHP Matt Albers (Astros)

Better, worse or same? Worse.

Why: Most of last year’s team is back, but the rotation has question marks with the loss of Kazmir. And they spent this off-season making minor upgrades such as adding former Rangers outfielder David Murphy and reliever John Axford. Jason Kipnis had a breakout season last year, and free agent additions Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher performed well. They won’t be much worse, but it’s hard to see them sustaining a 92-win level. The thought here is they remain competitive but drop back a notch or two.

Chicago White Sox

Last year: 63-99 (fifth, AL Central)

New faces: 1B Jose Abreu (Cuba), OF Adam Eaton (Diamondbacks), RHP Ronald Belisario (Dodgers)

Former faces: RHP Addison Reed (Diamondbacks), LHP Hector Santiago (Angels), INF Brent Morel (Blue Jays), RHP Gavin Floyd (Braves)

Better, worse or same? Better.

Why: It’s not too difficult to improve a 99-loss team. The White Sox signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu and also were active on the trade market by acquiring Adam Eaton to bat leadoff. The rotation is fronted by Cy Young contender Chris Sale, and Nate Jones is expected to become the team’s closer with the departure of Addison Reed. They’re better but not significantly enough to be considered contenders.

Minnesota Twins

Last year: 66-96 (fourth, AL Central)

New faces: RHP Ricky Nolasco (Dodgers), RHP Phil Hughes (Yankees), C Kurt Suzuki (Athletics), DH Jason Kubel (Diamondbacks)

Former faces: 1B Justin Morneau (Rockies), C Ryan Doumit (Braves)

Better, worse or same? Better.

Why: They needed pitching and they spent big money — at least for a team like the Twins — to do it. Ricky Nolasco got a four-year, $49 million deal, and Phil Hughes received a generous three-year, $24 million deal. They also re-signed Mike Pelfrey and brought in veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki. Offensively, the Twins hope for Joe Mauer’s move to first base full time helps him regain his MVP form as well as bounce-back years by Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe. It should be a better season up north, but the highlight of the season will be in July when the Twins host the All-Star Game.

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