Can the Indians Make Up the Difference for the Twins and White Sox Offseason Pickups?
Anyone who thinks the Minnesota Twins are going to sit on their laurels after winning the American Central Division in 2019 will probably be sadly mistaken.
The Twins seem determined to defend their title after signing one of the best free agents available in former MVP Josh Donaldson, ranked 5th best on MLBTradeRumors.com.
Minnesota scored the second most runs in the American League a year ago, and they just added another superior hitter to their lineup.
The Chicago White Sox have been very active in the free agent market this off-season, most notably signing Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, and southpaw Dallas Keuchel, leading many to believe it will be a three team race in the AL Central.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians have signed 2B Cesar Hernandez.
If you look at offense, the Twins scored 170 more runs than the Indians, and the Tribe scored 61 more than the Pale Hose.
Even adding Grandal and Encarnacion, that's a tough number to catch.
While it seems unreachable for the Indians to catch up to Minnesota in runs scored, one path to closing the gap would be a complete season by Jose Ramirez, and a better season from Francisco Lindor.
Ramirez wound up with a solid season in '19 (.255, 23 HR, 83 RBI, 806 OPS), but compared to his 2017 and 2018 campaigns (957 OPS in '17 and 939 in '18) it pales.
A return to those previous two years (he is only 27) would greatly improve the Cleveland attack.
On the other hand, the Indians can't expect the same season out of 34-year-old Carlos Santana, who had the best season of the year (911 OPS). By the same token, Minnesota's best hitter, Nelson Cruz, will be 39 in 2020.
Chicago's free agent hitters are 32 (Grandal) and 37 years old (Encarnacion), so neither should be expected to do better than a year ago. Where the Sox should gain is with three young, impact bats in Yoan Moncada (25), Eloy Jimenez (23), and Luis Robert (22).
The Indians' edge is in the pitching department, allowing almost .6 runs per game less than the Twins, and 1.11 less than Chicago.
Certainly, the continued development of Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac will be key to maintaining that edge, as well as a retooled bullpen.
It would seem the Indians still have the best pitching in the division. Minnesota replaced Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez with Homer Bailey and Rich Hill, and the White Sox figure to be better, but lowering by more than a full run?
Based on run differential, the difference between the Indians and Twins was only four games, Minnesota had the profile of a team winning 97 games (they won 101), while Cleveland should have won 93 contests, which they did.
So, the gap isn't as large as you think it is.
The White Sox won 69 games, so even with a roster upgrade and the further development of some very good looking young players, that's still an awful big number to make up.
We would think the White Sox will still be a factor in the race, but not quite ready to compete with the Twins and Indians.
That's why the Indians should still be looking to add a bat, particularly an outfielder. They shouldn't be thinking the way to go is unproven hitters like Greg Allen, Delino DeShields, Bradley Zimmer, and Daniel Johnson.
The Cleveland pitching gives it a solid chance to return to the post-season in 2020.