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AL Central Q&A

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Twinkie Town put all five teams under the microscope, with input from each SB Nation site; here’s what the managers had to say

Believe it or not, real, actual baseball is right around the corner. The spring games have already started, and Opening Day is just over a month away. After a few months of watching a lukewarm stove, it’s time to catch up with what’s going on around the division. I sent some questions around to folks from our sister sites in the SB Nation network for the Chicago White Sox (South Side Sox), Detroit Tigers (Bless You Boys), Kansas City Royals (Royals Review), and Cleveland Indians (Let’s Go Tribe). They were kind enough to answer the questions, which you find below. My answers are at the bottom as well.

[TJ led off his weeklong series with, natch, the White Sox, over at Twinkie Town.—BB]

Assume any editing mistakes are mine. And with no further ado, it’s time to pass the microphone to ...


Chicago White Sox: Brett Ballantini, Managing Editor, South Side Sox

(Note: Brett answered these questions while Manny Machado was still a free agent.)

What players and/or storylines should we be watching on your team this spring?

Jesus, we gotta start with a question like this? Ugh. OK. [INSERT MASSIVELY PAID FUTURE HALL OF FAME FREE AGENT HERE]’s adjustment to the [AMERICAN LEAGUE/AL WEST/SOUTH SIDE/OFFENSIVE PROTECTION OF AN ADAM ENGEL BEHIND HIM].

If we’re pretending that Manny is gonna sign in Korea and Bryce is going to do his missionary work until the new CBA, uh, let’s see …

The White Sox have no starting rotation. I mean, best case, Carlos Rodón is a bit better than league average, Reynaldo López stops shaking hands with danger and pitches to another sub-4 ERA, Lucas Giolito wakes up, and... oh man I just nodded off writing this. This is a HORRIBLE rotation. So, watch that. Or listen, for the cracks of bats, gasps of crowds and whatnot.

Can Daniel Palka catch the ball, or will he need to start wearing a goalie mask out in right field?

Does Eloy Jiménez’s defense really need work (you may or may not recall, that was the horseshit [cough] reason [hack] given [choke] for not calling [service time] Eloy up, like, in June last season. In a lineup with MAYBE two average offensive players, Eloy could play left field barehanded, bareheaded, just plain bare nekkid, and be worth breaking camp with the White Sox.

Man, I’m getting depressed.

Hey, though, the bullpen, which started the offseason looking like my 1982 Little League All-Star club (to be fair, we advanced in the Williamsport tournament by beating another team 55-1, so that’s not entirely a bad thing, aside from average height being like 4´11´´) and has growed up real good. Alex Colomé, Kelvin Herrera, Jace Fry, Nate Jones on the once a week he’s not aching, that has the makings of a better than average 7th-inning-on crew.

See what we’re reduced to, here on the South Side?

What is one more player personnel move you would like to see your team make before spring training ends?

Acquiring a 3.0 WAR major leaguer.

OK, a 2.0 WAR major leaguer.

They’ve acquired a few players this offseason, Jon Jay, the relief dudes, somebody named Brandon Guyer. But no one projected for even 1.0 WAR, I don’t think. That sorta sucks.

So, how about “a” player personnel move? Anything. Gio González off the discount rack? Cool. Adam Jones, to mentor and patrol right field without a goalie mask? Cool.

Obviously, we need Machado. So that’s the move. Everyone is telling us it’s gonna happen. So it’s gonna happen. Don’t take this away from me.

Then, like dominoes falling, Bryce, Dallas … DIVISION!

What’s changed over the offseason for your team? What is new and good, what is new and bad, and what is just plain different?

I guess my depressive act above sort of covers this, but let’s see … besides acquiring actual major league relief pitchers, uh, the White Sox are turning two sections in right field into a sort of island, with running water on all sides and a big goose head tapper in the middle. The front rows are made up of black leather seats, where are gonna hurt like hell in August, but for those wintry mix, parka games in April, are gonna kick ass.

New and bad? We signed James McCann, at a time in the offseason when actual major league catchers were available to sign.

Just plain different? Being willing to spend Samsonite suitcases filled with money, with no takers.

How was last season for you as a fan? What has been the general vibe around your team during the offseason, and how do you feel about the upcoming season?

Last season was fan-murdering. Aside from Palka, maybe Reynaldo, Fry, there was nothing at all to cheer for. (That’s right, I just listed a rookie left-handed reliever as the No. 3 thing to cheer for last season.) Since I’ve been a fan, and for those counting, I started rooting at the time both I and the White Sox were in short pants, 2018 was the only 100-loss season. This rebuild stuff is crap, man. So, last year was MISERY.

General vibe this offseason has been bemusement, I suppose. We went from like a AAAA team to suddenly being in the catbird seat for Machado and/or Harper. What fresh hell is that about? But, the White Sox are sorta zagging while so many others are zigging, so, well, maybe it’ll work out for a couple years, before the strike.

How do I feel about 2019? Depressed. Obviously, scoring Machado would brighten things considerably. But there were other moves that could have been made … paying Yasmani Grandal real bux to come and shepherd our young, fragile staff foremost among them. We’re Michael Kopech-free all season (TJS), which is a bummer. Apparently, our baby Frank Thomas (Eloy) needs to work on his defense, or something.

I mean, without some breaks, we could go back-to-back with 100-loss seasons, and that is gonna suuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Who do you think will win the division, and why?

Pfft. No one? Can they just give it to the Rays, or whatever 90-something win team that gets frozen out? Cleveland, I guess. They still have some players. Maybe Minny gets that young rookie manager mojo (Robin Ventura did it here, didn’t Molly do it in Minnesota? etc.) and wins, like, 86 games, which should be enough for the division, yeah? I’m rooting for you, Minny. I’m tired of Cleveland, sorry.

What other question should we have asked you but didn’t?

You asked too many as it is. I suspect my 100-loss compadres in the division will say same.

But this is a good one, for those who gnash teeth over announcing crews: What will it be like without Hawk Harrelson? My answer: A better broadcast. Grew up with Hawk, Hawk & Wimpy is my favorite announcing team of all time, but strangely, while Wimpy (nearly the same age) is still fresh, fun, curious in his broadcasts (subbing on some Sox games), Hawk went from mere homer (not a problem) to curmudgeonly-homer (awful). Even some of his relatively few farewell broadcasts last season were real bummers. It picked up at the end — AJ and Paulie subbing in as color men for a game were a lot of fun, and brought out the best in Hawk — but was a hard listen from the get-go.

That’s a crappy ending. So, because I’m a nice guy, so I’m gonna thank you for putting Daniel Palka on waivers last year. Sure, he’s gonna be, like, riding a Harley and selling sigs and selfies on the side of the road in three, four years, but damn he was clutch last season, and more fun than any White Sox player has been in a long time. So, thanks for Swaggy P.


Detroit Tigers: Rob Rogacki, Manager, Bless You Boys

What players and/or storylines should we be watching on your team this spring?

The story that most national pundits will focus on this spring is one that followed the Tigers all winter. Will Nicholas Castellanos be traded before Opening Day? The Tigers have been floating Castellanos in trade talks for the last year (if not longer), but have not gotten any offers to their liking. It doesn’t seem likely that Castellanos will be moved before Opening Day, and it will be interesting to see how Castellanos responds to playing another year for a rebuilding club.

But if you ask Tigers fans which player they are watching, most will say that they are keeping close tabs on Daniel Norris. The promising lefthander is now in his mid-20s, and has only shown flashes of his potential, mostly during a strong second half in 2016. He will once again be competing for a spot in the starting rotation this spring, but has yet to take that next step as a big league starter.

What is one more player personnel move you would like to see your team make before spring training ends?

The Tigers have holes at both second base and catcher, but the latter is the more pressing issue. Former third round pick Grayson Greiner is the de facto starter heading into the year, with John Hicks serving as his backup. Most Tigers fans are fine with Greiner getting the lion’s share of playing time; he isn’t projected to be anything more than a career backup, but with the team expected to finish at the bottom of the AL Central, it’s worth giving him the reins to see what he is made of.

Hicks is a different story. He isn’t a great defender, and served as the team’s first baseman or designated hitter for long stretches in 2018. Worse yet, he is coming off offseason groin surgery; while it seems that he is healthy and ready to go, it makes more sense for the Tigers to add another backstop in free agency (anyone have Martin Maldonado’s number?) and plug Hicks into the 1B/DH role he spent most of his time in last year.

What’s changed over the offseason for your team? What is new and good, what is new and bad, and what is just plain different?

Many Tigers fans are frustrated with the team’s approach this offseason, in part because there isn’t really anything new to speak of. Sure, they signed Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, and Jordy Mercer to fill the holes left by departing free agents, but those names don’t really jump off the page. Ross and Moore will battle for a spot in the rotation, while Mercer will play his usual dependable, low-ceiling game at short.

If anything, the most exciting development will be Christin Stewart taking over as the team’s primary left fielder. Stewart has been labeled more of a DH type throughout his rise up the minor league ranks, but the Tigers are committed to playing him in left field for the time being. Stewart did his part to generate excitement last September, when he hit well in a handful of at-bats. He may have his gaffes in the field, but he could be one of the team’s most exciting hitters in 2019.

How was last season for you as a fan? What has been the general vibe around your team during the offseason, and how do you feel about the upcoming season?

Last season was rough for Tigers fans. The team was bad for a second consecutive season, and the team did little to change that outlook for 2019. This is life for a rebuilding club, something that Tigers fans were all too familiar with in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Call us spoiled — we deserve it after the last decade or so — but many fans were hoping for a bit more spending from the team this offseason. Instead, they will probably finish with 90-plus losses for the third consecutive year, and pick up another top 10 draft pick heading into 2020.

Who do you think will win the division, and why?

Is this a trick question? It’s the Indians, right?

What other question should we have asked you but didn’t?

Sadly, no. The Tigers are in the least sexy part of their rebuild — after the top-end talent is gone, but before the top prospects arrive. They will bring up a few players here and there that Tigers fans will cheer about, but few (aside from Stewart, maybe) will generate any national buzz. The team may surprise, as any MLB club is capable of, but there’s a reason they have some of the longest World Series odds of any team in baseball.


Kansas City Royals: Max Rieper, Manager, Royals Review

What players and/or storylines should we be watching on your team this spring?

The player to keep an eye on with the Royals is Adalberto Mondesi. He has been their top prospect for some time, but initially struggled when he first came up. Last year the club brought him up mid-season and he responded with a fantastic second half, smacking 12 home runs and finishing eighth in baseball in steals with 32. He also brings great defense and was worth 3.2 WAR in essentially half a season. He is really the only player in the organization with elite upside and could be an MVP candidate if it all comes together for him. He fits well into the new team identity of being elite on the basepaths. The Royals could very well have the top three leaders in stolen bases this year between Mondesi, last year’s stolen base champ Whit Merrifield, and new centerfielder Billy Hamilton. And all three might be slower than pinch-runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore, who the club brought back on a major league deal. Stolen bases have fallen out of fashion, but the Royals are going to try to bring them back.

Other storylines will include how the farm system improves, what the Royals do with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, and whether Ned Yost decides to retire at the end of the year.

What is one more player personnel move you would like to see your team make before spring training ends?

The team is probably about done, although it never hurts to bring in more pitchers. They added a few relievers at the outset of camp like Brad Boxberger, Jake Diekman, and Drew Storen. They have two young pitchers battling for the final rotation spot in Jorge Lopez and Heath Fillmyer, but it wouldn’t totally surprise me to see them add another veteran to the mix. There is also the potential that starter Ian Kennedy moves to the bullpen, which could open up another rotation spot.

What’s changed over the offseason for your team? What is new and good, what is new and bad, and what is just plain different?

The team is coming off a dismal 104-loss season, but they finished strong, winning 20 of their final 34 games, mostly due to playing a younger lineup. So you will see a much younger lineup out there, with Mondesi at shortstop instead of Alcides Escobar, slugger Ryan O’Hearn at first instead of Lucas Duda, Hunter Dozier at third instead of Mike Moustakas, and either Brett Phillips, Brian Goodwin, or Jorge Bonifacio in right field instead of Jon Jay. While last year they were playing with a lot of “stop gap” players, this year the team will try to sort out which players will actually be part of the next good Royals team.

How was last season for you as a fan? What has been the general vibe around your team during the offseason, and how do you feel about the upcoming season?

Last year was rough, but not totally unexpected considering how the farm system had hollowed out. Years of poor drafts had left the Royals without any players to replace the core of the team that won a championship. But because of the way the team played down the stretch, relying on younger players, there is a lot more optimism out of the fan base than you might typically see after a 104-loss season. Royals fans are just looking for progress, primarily from the younger players, while still realizing that the team will likely be battling the Tigers for the cellar in the Central.

Who do you think will win the division, and why?

The Indians still look like the team to beat, even if they didn’t have a very impressive offseason. Their pitching is very hard to beat and they seem to do a great job of getting talent from their farm system to replace losses. The Twins could make a run at them, but I was a bit surprised they didn’t make more of a splash in free agency to supplement the roster. A good offseason could have made them the favorites in my mind.


Cleveland: Matt Schlichting, Editor, Let’s Go Tribe

What players and/or storylines should we be watching on your team this spring?

No one really knows who the starting outfielders will be on Opening Day. Leonys Martin feels like a safe bet for CF. Tyler Naquin, Jordan Luplow, and Greg Allen will all compete for the additional spots, while Jake Bauers and Jason Kipnis are also on the outfield depth chart. Oscar Mercado, whom the Indians acquired from the Cardinals late last season, is also a guy to keep an eye on. Still, they’ve fallen so far from Belle-Lofton-Ramirez. Or even Ben Francisco, Shin-Soo Choo, and the Rapidly Deteriorating Body of Grady Sizemore.

Also, Danny Salazar and Cody Anderson are attempting to return from 12-plus month injured list stints. Will they be able to contribute?

What is one more player personnel move you would like to see your team make before spring training ends?

Trade Trevor Bauer for an impact bat in the outfield. Anybody, really, but preferably younger, under-control players. There is a massively talented group of players around A-ball in the system but few top prospects that fill obvious roster needs right now. A couple of good outfielders to help keep this core in contention while the next ascends would be ideal.

What’s changed over the offseason for your team? What is new and good, what is new and bad, and what is just plain different?

Michael Brantley, Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Yan Gomes, and Lonnie Chisenhall are all gone. For the last three-plus seasons each of those guys (Miller to a lesser extent) were mainstays on Cleveland’s roster. I’m not too big on hand-wavy clubhouse chemistry ramblings, but also consider that Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, and Yandy Diaz are all gone — each of whom was presumed to be a 2019 starter around the end of the World Series last year — and you start to wonder about it some.

One good thing about this exodus without much of a return is that the young outfielders are being given a chance to prove themselves. Terry Francona loves to take guys like Ryan Raburn, Melky Cabrera, and Rajai Davis and plug them into lineups over the promising young prospects. This leads to varying levels of mediocrity in the outfield.

How was last season for you as a fan? What has been the general vibe around your team during the offseason, and how do you feel about the upcoming season?

I don’t think there are too many Indians fans that enjoyed last season. Winning the division for a third straight season? Fun. Watching Bauer build a Cy Young case and Shane Bieber emerge from the minors? Nice subplots. The left side of the infield? Divine.

Other than that the games largely felt meaningless and boring because everyone knew the Indians would win the division. It was difficult to feel like any games mattered until the ALDS, and the result of that made the whole season look like an elaborate scheme to ensure that Francisco Lindor never signs an extension.

Who do you think will win the division, and why?

The Indians will ultimately win based solely on the strength and depth of its starting pitching and the rebuild phase the rest of the division appears to be stuck in.

What other question should we have asked you but didn’t?

What will be the biggest regret of the Indians offseason? The answer, obviously, is trading Yandy Diaz to Tampa. He will probably be hitting .407 with 35 HRs at the All-Star break.


Minnesota Twins: TJ Gorsegner, Managing Editor, Twinkie Town

What players and/or storylines should we be watching on your team this spring?

The two big ones are Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Both are coming off of injury-marred seasons, and both are very, very important to the future of the Twins. If they can get fast start, the Twins could be a very surprising team this season. If not, well, they could be surprising in a bad way. Buxton, in a way, has more to prove. His defense is absolutely phenomenal, but his bat, if it doesn’t improve, will be a massive limitation. Meanwhile, Sano has shown potential with the bat, and is better in the field than most think, but his health, attitude, and consistency are the bigger questions.

What is one more player personnel move you would like to see your team make before spring training ends?

Hmm ... Craig Kimbrel is still available, and that move just makes so much sense. The Twins absolutely need more pitching to compete. They do have the makings of a decent rotation with a couple things breaking right, but the bullpen is relying on a lot of inexperienced pitchers. They do have Addison Reed returning from injury, and signed Blake Parker, but outside of that, they have a bunch of relative nobodies. The rotation could use an upgrade, and if Dallas Keuchel would take a three-year deal, I’d be all for that, but he wants too many years from the sound of things.

What’s changed over the offseason for your team? What is new and good, what is new and bad, and what is just plain different?

A lot has changed, actually, The two biggest moves are Joe Mauer retiring, and Rocco Baldelli taking over as manager. Mauer has been the face of the franchise for an entire generation of Twins fans, he was born-and-raised in Minnesota, and had a career that certainly warrants Hall of Fame consideration. Not having him around will be a huge adjustment. On a hopefully more positive note, Baldelli takes over from Paul Molitor as manager. While I liked Molitor a lot personally, he was hired by a previous administration, and the team struggled last season. There have been some questions raised about Molly’s ability to connect to younger players, and while he seemed open to them, he was not known as an “advanced stats” guy. Baldelli, meanwhile, addresses all three of those concerns, and has already gone out of his way to build a relationship with both Sano and Buxton.

How was last season for you as a fan? What has been the general vibe around your team during the offseason, and how do you feel about the upcoming season?

Last season was a roller coaster. After a rough first few weeks, the Twins were in contention into June before fading away. There an optimist’s case to be made that injuries and suspensions were certainly part of the issue, and the team underperformed its true talent level. Overall, fans have been cautiously optimistic this offseason. No one thinks this is is an unstoppable juggernaut, but with a few breaks, this team could sneak into the playoffs, and build the foundation for being truly competitive the next few years. I’m excited to see what happens this year.

Who do you think will win the division, and why?

Obviously Cleveland is, and should be, the favorite. They look more beatable than usual though, and I could see Minnesota and/or Chicago both having an opportunity to make a statement. Cleveland will win the division, but it will be closer than people think. Maybe a game or two separating first and second place.

What other question should we have asked you but didn’t?

What’s the deal with Willians Astudillo? Let’s be honest, that is the thing that most people care about with the Twins this year. Astudillo is probably the third man on our catcher depth chart, and could sneak onto the end of the MLB bench due to his versatility. There is also a chance that he could outright claim the second catcher job. Let’s hope so, because he is tons of fun to watch!


A huge thank you, as always to Brett, Rob, Max, and Matt for taking the time to participate in this exercise.