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Matt Provenzano Previews the AL Central

First: Cleveland Indians

Man, look at those Indians. After being a good break away from a World Series win just a few months ago, they’re back, and probably better than ever. They’ve added Edwin Encarnacion, and they now have Andrew Miller for a full season. Combine that with postseason experience (for whatever that’s worth, but I’d say at least has the players hungry), Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, a now-health Carlos Carrasco, that’s the recipe for a winning ball club, one that I fully expect to see playing in October.

Second: Kansas City Royals

The Royals are the team projections forget, and I agree. There’s almost no way to project teams, for one, so the over-reliance on them, both in pro-and-against arguments, makes the whole discussion fruitless. But even from a purely analytical sense, this is a team built on defense and speed. Those are also impossible to measure and project in the public sphere, so we’re throwing darts. I’m taking the over on the Royals, and I think they still have enough pieces–Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez–that they can eclipse a team like the Tigers, a team slowly slipping into irrelevance.

Third: Detroit Tigers

Oh, sorry about that, Tigers fans. It’s true, though. After over a decade straight of contention or close to that, it’s going to become harder and harder for them to compete every year. For one, they have a decimated farm system (their top prospect is Matt Manning). For another, they have almost no salary flexibility. If they intend to stay under the luxury tax, which I assume, they would have to halt free agent spending for the foreseeable future. They have $138 million committed to 2018 before even considering arbitration. That doesn’t mean they’ll be unwatchable, obviously. Miguel Cabrera is still at a near-elite level, Justin Verlander has completely rebounded, and I think Justin Upton rebounds as well. It’s just that they don’t have enough depth to cover up the blemishes, namely a weak bullpen, a weak back-end of the rotation, no decent center fielder, and banking on a Victor Martinez resurgence. They’re not out, but its a tough hill for Tigers to climb.

Fourth: Minnesota Twins

There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The Twins–they’re bad. Their best pitcher is in fact Ervin Santana. Their entire rotation is probably worth ten wins at best. Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are probably good, but not as good as we all thought. They’re probably worth six wins together, and the original hope is that they’d both be stars. And outside of that, what talent is legitimately around? Tyler Jay is still a year off or so, so there’s that, as is Nick Gordon. But the farm system isn’t exactly a shining beacon of hope, and the organization just hasn’t been willing to escalate payroll to what the league is now spending as a whole. If anything, a general organizational direction would give fans some hope.

Fifth: Chicago White Sox

One could say they’re the worst team in the league, but put another way, they’re probably the team with the best long-term outlook of any club other than the Indians in this division. In trading Chris Sale they picked up uber-prospect Yoan Moncada (and Michael Kopech, another top 100-type); in trading Adam Eaton they got the best pitching prospect in baseball, Lucas Giolito. Jose Quintana is still young and elite, so they can still keep him, or flip him at the deadline for yet another elite prospect package. They also have Tim Anderson, who’s already rounding out as an above-average shortstop. They may be gruesome to watch for yet another year, but this is a team that is certainly on the rise. Moncada and Giolito together are must-watch television.

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Matt Provenzano is a recent graduate of Cornell University, where he studied Information Science and Law and Society. He has been a Staff Writer at SB Nation's Pinstripe Alley since 2013, and a baseball fan since 2002.

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