AL Central 2017 preview: Can the Royals make one last run with this core?

Over the last two seasons the AL Central has been dominated by small market teams. In 2015 the Kansas City Royals won 95 games and won the division by 12 games. They went on to win the World Series after winning the pennant in 2014. Then, in 2016, the Cleveland Indians won 94 games and claimed the division title by an eight game margin. The Tribe then pushed the best team in baseball to extra innings in Game 7 of the World Series.

The last three AL pennant winners have come from the AL Central and it’s very possible it will happen again in 2017. But, before we go any further, let’s quickly take one last look back at the year that was in the division:


2016 W-L record

Run Differential

Expected W-L

Record in 1-Run Games

Indians

94-67

+101

91-70

28-21

Detroit Tigers

86-75

+29

83-78

26-17

Royals

81-81

-37

77-85

23-25

Chicago White Sox

78-84

-29

78-84

23-29

Minnesota Twins

59-103

-167

66-96

15-29

You’ll notice both the Indians and Tigers played only 161 games last year. That’s because they had a game rained out late in the season, but since the outcome was not going to have an impact on any postseason races, the game was not made up.

Anyway, the Indians were the best team in the AL Central by no small margin last year. Best record (by a lot) and best run differential (by a lot). Nothing has changed. If anything, they got better over the winter. The Detroit Tigers were only 2 1/2 games short of a Wild Card spot, so they were in the race all year, and they were largely inactive during the offseason. There were rumblings of a fire sale, but nope, didn’t happen. The same core returns.

The Chicago White Sox, after several disappointing seasons, took the plunge and started a rebuild over the winter. Chris Sale and Adam Eaton are gone, and it’s only a matter of time until Jose Quintana , David Robertson , Todd Frazier , and Melky Cabrera are traded away as well. Maybe Jose Abreu too. The Minnesota Twins had baseball’s worst record a year ago -- no other club lost more than 94 games in 2016 -- and they are still a long way from contention.

usatsi-9231824.jpg
Both Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be free agents after 2017. USATSI

The most interesting team in the division is the Royals, who went into the winter with a slew of core players due to become free agents after 2017. Impending free agents Wade Davis and Jarrod Dyson were traded for younger players with long-term control. Fellow impending free agent Danny Duffy was signed to a long-term extension. Even after that, the quartet of Eric Hosmer , Lorenzo Cain , Mike Moustakas , and Alcides Escobar will become free agents next winter. 

It’s unlikely if not impossible the Royals will be able to re-sign all those guys. I’m not even sure a big market team could afford to re-sign them all. That group is going to make a lot of money next offseason. So, because of that, the 2017 season will be Kansas City’s last rodeo with this core. And if things don’t go according to plan, general manager Dayton Moore is prepared to tear it down and hold a fire sale at the trade deadline. From Joel Sherman of the New York Post:

“We would have to consider it [a fire sale] if things do not go right,” Moore told The Post.  

...

“We are all motivated, not to keep the team together, but because we think we are good,” (righty Chris) Young said. “We think we have something to prove. Last year we did not live up to our own expectations internally.”  

The Royals had to scramble for pitching prior to spring training after young Yordano Ventura was tragically killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. That led them to Jason Hammel and Travis Wood . Also, stalwart catcher Salvador Perez suffered a knee injury during the World Baseball Classic -- ironically, it happened when his Royals backup Drew Butera stumbled into him -- though he escaped with only inflammation. Still, it was a reminder how much needs to go right for the Royals to contend. They need everyone healthy and performing well if they’re going to make one last run in 2017.

Let’s take a look at how the simulations and oddsmakers see the 2017 AL Central race shaking out, shall we?


SportsLine Proj. Wins

Westgate Over/Under

SportsLive Div. Odds

Westgate Div. Odds

SportsLine Playoff Odds

Indians 91.1 93.5 79.8% 85.7% 86.4%
Royals 80.3 74.5 10.2% 5.3% 22.5%
Tigers 78.2 83.5 6.3% 15.4% 14.2%
White Sox 75.0 68.5 2.7% 1.0% 5.9%
Twins 72.4 75.5 1.0% 3.8% 2.7%

Can’t say I’m surprised to see the Indians are overwhelming favorites. I think they’re better than last season thanks to the addition of Edwin Encarnacion and a potentially healthy Michael Brantley . The only things really standing in their way are a World Series workload hangover effect and injuries.

The Royals have made a habit of beating projections in recent years (well, not last year, but in 2014 and 2015), and if they’re going to make one last World Series run with their core group, they’ll need to beat the projections once again. The Tigers seem to be stuck in the middle, which is not a good place to be. They’re not good enough to be a no-doubt contender and not bad enough to tear it all down and rebuild. Besides, some massive contracts would prevent a tear down anyway.

Now that we’ve looked at the AL Central picture overall, let’s examine the division on a team-by-team basis.

Cleveland Indians

What are the Indians going to get from Brantley? And, if he is healthy, is this the best lineup in the AL? It’s very possible . Mike Napoli was good last year, but Encarnacion is better, and now Cleveland will have full seasons of Andrew Miller and Brandon Guyer as well. This team looks like a potential powerhouse. On the Fantasy side , Scott White looked at how Encarnacion will mesh with his new ballpark.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are facing a crucial season, R.J. Anderson writes . They have many impending free agents and it’s entirely possible they’ll have to trade those guys at the deadline if they’re out of the race. Letting players like Hosmer and Moustakas walk for nothing more than a dinky draft pick would be a mistake. Scott White wonders whether Jorge Soler is ready for a breakout, both in Fantasy baseball and real baseball .

Detroit Tigers

Matt Synder looked at the two possilble outcomes for the 2017 Tigers : if things go right, and if things go wrong. This club has a chance to contend, but if everything goes wrong, they could be an active seller at the trade deadline. The Tigers are built around some aging sluggers, and Scott White wonders whether they can be counted on in Fantasy .

Minnesota Twins

The Twins have some exciting young players, though as R.J. Anderson writes , they’re not ready to help Minnesota contend in 2017. Expect to hear several veterans involved in trade rumors at the deadline. Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana jump to mind. On the Fantasy side , Chris Towers wonders whether Dozier can repeat last season’s power surge.

Chicago White Sox

The rebuild isn’t over, as Dayn Perry writes . Veterans like Quintana and Robertson will be moved at some point, then the White Sox will have to make playing time available for top prospect Yoan Moncada . Chris Towers examined the Fantasy outlooks of Moncada and top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito .

Download the CBS Sports App today and get instant tournament news and alerts, plus get the latest picks and upsets from SportsLine!

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

Show Comments Hide Comments
CBS Sports Shop
Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Champs Gear
Our Latest Stories
    Bracket Games