It should surprise no true baseball fan that the American League Central will ultimately consist of two races next season. While the White Sox, Twins, and Tigers fight it out for the crown, the Indians and the Royals will enter their third consecutive season of trying not to be the low man on the totem pole. They tied in 2009, starting the bloodsport competition. Last season the Indians somehow outlasted the Royals, grasping out to snag the coveted fourth place title. And though this next season will surely result in the cities of Cleveland and Kansas City growing disinterested in baseball around August yet again, the future couldn't possibly remain bleak for both franchises for too much longer, could it? Realistically, both teams should start trending upwards soon. The question is which team will make it out of the depths first.
While the Royals have been a disappointing bundle of terrible since George Brett retired (discounting the 2003 season), the Indians were one game away from the World Series as recently as 2007. How did they fall so hard, so fast? As soon as the 2008 season started going down the tubes, Mark Shapiro decided it was time to cash in on CC Sabathia. The trade unfortunately didn't work out quite as well as hoped, as Matt LaPorta still hasn't lived up to his potential and the other three players (Michael Brantley, Zack Jackson, and Rob Bryson) suffering from "Not-That-Good-At-Baseball" Syndrome. This would lead to more shipping out of veterans, with some moves being much more effective (Casey Blake for Carlos Santana) than others (Cliff Lee for a handful of ick). Cleveland declared themselves to be in full rebuild, establishing themselves as the Royals roommate in the basement for the next few seasons.
Both teams are fairly lacking in this regard, but the edge easily goes to the Indians. Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana are streets ahead of any hitter on the Royals, though Billy Butler is nothing to sneeze at. Joakim Soria is the best pitcher on either team and he won't even be on the Royals come August. There is no reason to hold onto an elite closer when the team might not win more than 65 games. If Moore was willing to trade Zack Greinke, he shouldn't hold back when it comes to the Mexicutioner. Some contender will need bullpen help and pay out the ass in late-July. The other three players mentioned should be in the division for the foreseeable future. Butler and Choo are great young hitters who won't be eligible for free agency until 2014 and Santana is arguably the best young catcher in baseball (I will accept Buster Posey in this argument. Matt Wieters does not count.). The less said about the rest of their lineups the better. The starting rotations are somehow worse, consisting mostly fourth and fifth starters. Good thing the farm systems are strong.
The Indians may have better talent at the major league level, but the Royals have a much more well rounded farm system. Cleveland's system has great pitching. Alex White, Drew Pomeranz, and Jason Knapp all have the potential to be top of the line starters. Joe Gardner and Kyle Blair are another two arms that could easily become solid innings-eaters in the majors. They may have to ship some of this pitching out to get some more hitters, as no position players left in the minors project to be anything spectacular. If Choo and Santana stay as productive, Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, and Nick Weglarz need only be slightly above average to make for a solid core group.
The Royals have stockpiled a ridiculous amount of talent down in the minors. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, and Wil Myers should give Kansas City one hell of a lineup with or without Billy Butler still in it. Alcides Escobar will provide plus-plus defense at short for years to come, essentially becoming the Elvis Andrus of the Midwest. The current rotation is garbage, but that is going to change very quickly. Danny Duffy, John Lamb, Michael Montgomery, and Chris Dwyer give the team four southpaws with at least B potential. Throw in RHPs Jake Odorizzi, Aaron Crow, and Tim Melville and you have seven arms that look very frightening.
It seems like we've been hearing about how the farm systems for both of these teams have been on the verge of breaking out and catapulting their respective teams into extended eras of playoff chases. If I had to put money on which organization has the brighter future, I would have to go with Kansas City. This might be due to me now living in Royals territory, but I look at the depth of that farm system and don't see how Dayton Moore could mess this one up. It seems too fool-proof. But then again, it is Dayton Moore.
Since people were complaining about the recent string of "negative" articles, I decided to go with this instead of the pitching half of the Anti-All Star team for now. Expect that post next Thursday, pending something awesome happening.