AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Manager: Brad Ausmus (first season).
2013: 93-69, first place, lost to Boston in ALCS.
He’s Here: RHP Joba Chamberlain, OF Rajai Davis, 2B Ian Kinsler, LHP Ian Krol, INF Steve Lombardozzi, RHP Joe Nathan.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Jim Leyland, RHP Joaquin Benoit, 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Doug Fister, 2B Omar Infante, C Brayan Pena, SS Jhonny Peralta, RHP Jose Veras.
On Deck: The Tigers have never made the postseason four straight years, but they look like favorites to do just that after winning a third consecutive AL Central title in 2013. Of course, this team already looks a good bit different from last season’s. Leyland stepped down following Detroit’s playoff loss to Boston and was replaced by Ausmus, who takes over a star-studded roster that still includes the winners of the last three AL MVP Awards (Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander) and two of the last three Cy Young Awards (Max Scherzer and Verlander). Cabrera was hobbled down the stretch last season but is expected to be ready for spring training after offseason surgery. Verlander has also been on the mend after core muscle repair surgery in January, and his progress will be a major story during spring training as he tries to get ready for the start of the season. The Tigers traded Fielder for Kinsler and signed Nathan to replace Benoit. They also traded Fister, opening a spot in the rotation for LHP Drew Smyly, who was impressive in relief last year. Detroit might not hit as many homers, but the Tigers should be improved defensively. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be any better overall than last season — they might not have to be to win another division championship.
Manager: Terry Francona (second season).
2013: 92-70, second place, lost wild-card game to Tampa Bay.
He’s Here: RHP John Axford, OF David Murphy, LHP Josh Outman, RHP Shaun Marcum, OF Jeff Francoeur, OF Nyjer Morgan, RHP David Aardsma, RHP Kyle Davies.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Chris Perez, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP Joe Smith, LHP Scott Kazmir, OF Drew Stubbs, RHP Matt Albers, LHP Rich Hill, OF Jason Kubel, C Lou Marson.
On Deck: Francona’s arrival — along with the signings of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi as free agents — propelled the Indians into the postseason for the first time since 2007. They lost the one-game playoff to Tampa Bay, but a small sampling of October has the club craving more in 2014. To get back, Cleveland must remodel its bullpen from front to back. Axford, who had 46 saves for Milwaukee in 2011, must rebound from two rough seasons. The emergence of catcher Yan Gomes (Indians were 49-30 when he started) could move Carlos Santana to third. The Indians are counting on young pitchers Danny Salazar, Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber to step up and round out their rotation. Jimenez remains unsigned and could resurface in Cleveland. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was dangled as trade bait during the offseason and must shake off an inconsistent 2013 because the Indians have prospect Francisco Lindor waiting in the wings.
Kansas City Royals
Manager: Ned Yost (fifth season).
2013: 86-76, third place.
He’s Here: LHP Jason Vargas, 2B Omar Infante, RF Norichika Aoki, 3B Danny Valencia, C Ramon Hernandez, RHP Jon Rauch, RHP Brad Penny.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Ervin Santana, LHP Will Smith, 2B Chris Getz, RF David Lough, C George Kottaras, 3B Irving Falu, RHP Felipe Paulino, RHP Luis Mendoza, 3B Jamey Carroll.
On Deck: The Royals will have a record payroll of more than $90 million this season, but the money was well spent. They upgraded at second base with Infante and right field with Aoki, and signed Vargas to help solidify the rotation. The biggest race in camp remains among their starting pitchers, though. Flame-throwing RHP Yordano Ventura, injury plagued LHP Danny Duffy and fast-rising RHP Kyle Zimmer will be trying to secure one of two spots up for grabs. RHPs Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar are also in the race. Meanwhile, 3B Mike Moustakas must prove a miserable last season (.233/.287/.364) was an aberration. Valencia and versatile INF Emilio Bonifacio are waiting in the wings in the former No. 2 overall draft pick struggles again.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (13th season).
2013: 66-96, fourth place.
He’s Here: RHP Ricky Nolasco, RHP Phil Hughes, C Kurt Suzuki, OF Jason Kubel, RHP Matt Guerrier, SS Jason Bartlett.
He’s Outta Here: C Ryan Doumit, RHP Josh Roenicke, RHP Andrew Albers, LHP Pedro Hernandez, OF Clete Thomas, OF Wilkin Ramirez, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP P.J. Walters.
On Deck: The Twins averaged 97 losses over the last three seasons, but general manager Terry Ryan took the blame. This winter, he gave Gardenhire a new two-year contract and aggressively tried to upgrade the starting pitching. Joe Mauer’s move to first base ought to keep him on the field more, which should help a lagging lineup. So would a bounce-back season from Josh Willingham, who dropped from a .260 batting average, 35 homers and 110 RBIs in 2012 to .208, 14 and 48 while dealing with knee trouble. Despite Minnesota’s hitting deficiencies, starting pitching is where Ryan had to start. With free agents Nolasco, Hughes and Mike Pelfrey (who was re-signed after a rough year following reconstructive elbow surgery) to go with holdover Kevin Correia, the Twins will pay their top four starters $31 million, a franchise-high. Twins starters last season had the worst collective ERA in the majors (5.26), almost a half-run higher than the next-closest team. As for Ryan, he’ll miss at least the start of spring training for treatment of cancer recently found in his neck.
Chicago White Sox
Manager: Robin Ventura (third season).
2013: 63-99, fifth place.
He’s Here: 1B Jose Abreu, OF Adam Eaton, LHP Scott Downs, LHP Eric Surkamp, RHP Ronald Belisario.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Addison Reed, INF Brent Morel.
On Deck: The White Sox made a pitch for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka and came up short. Even so, they believe they can turn things around rather quickly after last season’s collapse. One reason for that — their pitching. Tanaka and Chris Sale might have been a dominant tandem at the top of the rotation, but the White Sox believe they have enough arms with Jose Quintana, John Danks and Erik Johnson in the mix. The big question is, can they generate enough offense? They signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 million deal, hoping he could boost an offense that scored the fewest runs in the American League and hit only 148 homers. They will also have a full year with OF Avisail García after acquiring him from Detroit in the midseason deal that sent Jake Peavy to Boston. And they’re committed to Ventura as their manager after he agreed to a multiyear contract extension.