There are some strange feelings floating around these parts after Dayton Moore's last three roster moves; people are starting to feel optimistic and excited about the Royals' chances of reaching the playoffs in 2014.
I don't want to dump a cold buck of ice water over our collective heads, but I would like to place the Royals moves in context with the rest of the division. It's wonderful that Kansas City has improved this winter, but they need to improve enough to not finish 3rd in the division.
We will start the series with the best team in the AL Central the past few seasons, the Detroit Tigers. There is still plenty of offseason left, but the Tigers projected roster already looks dramatically different from their Opening Day 25-man squad in 2013.
This is meant to be a quick glance at the Tigers roster; a more in-depth breakdown will come closer to the start of the season and after more projection systems have been released.
Key Additions - Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Joba Chamberlain, Joe Nathan, Robbie Ray
Key Losses - Prince Fielder, Doug Fister, Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante (!), Joaquin Benoit, Jose Veras, Brayan Pena
2B Ian Kinsler
CF Austin Jackson
1B Miguel Cabrera
DH Victor Martinez
RF Torii Hunter
C Alex Avila
LF Rajai Davis/Andy Dirks
3B Nick Castellanos
SS Jose Iglesias
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Anibal Sanchez
LHP Drew Smyly
RHP Rick Porcello
Top Bullpen Options:
RHP Joe Nathan
RHP Joba Chamberlain
RHP Bruce Rondon
LHP Ian Krol
Potential moves still left: Max Scherzer extension (or trade?), Ervin Santana signing, Dave Dombrowski black magic.
Analysis: The Tigers have had a fascinating offseason to observe, starting with the Fielder-Kinsler swap. Getting out of Fielder's contract should help Detroit in the future, but they may have taken a step back in 2014 by sending the slugger to Texas.
The Fister trade will almost definitely cost the Tigers a few wins next year. It feels like they should have shopped him more and received a better offer, or just held on to Fister to start season and tried trading again later. The team could have moved Porcello into the bullpen if they wanted Smyly starting next year, or waited until one of their starters hit the DL; the Tigers only used six starters last season, which is unlikely to happen again.
Despite the interesting decision making, the Tigers will still trot out a strong lineup anchored by Cabrera, winner of back-to-back AL MVP awards. Kinsler, Jackson, Martinez and Hunter should all provide average to above-average offense production.
Castellanos is an interesting wild card for Detroit. He is coming off a productive, but unspectacular season in Triple-A. The top prospect will shift back to third base, a position he played more frequently than left field in the minors. Castellanos is still very young at 22, and could spend more time in the minors if he struggles early. He should get every chance to prove himself, and could end up providing solid value for the league minimum.
Detroit's defense appears improved over last season. Cabrera had Betancourt-like range at third base by the end of last season; Castellanos should be much better almost by default. The Tigers will enjoy a full season of Igelsias' wizardry at short, while Kinsler has been a better defender at second than Infante during his career.
Their starting rotation is still the class of the division, even with the loss of Fister. Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez are arguably the top three starters in the AL Central (with apologies to Chris Sale and James Shields), which makes having the three of them pitch for the same team inconvenient for the rest of the Central. Porcello and Smyly both have the potential to pitch at an above-average level and can help the bullpen if they struggle in the rotation.
Benoit pitched well in the Tigers bullpen last year, but the team hopes that Nathan will be able to match his production. Chamberlain or Rondon will likely serve as the set-up man, but neither looked particularly impressive last season. Despite rumors to the contrary, the Tigers employed an acceptable bullpen in 2013, and it looks around average heading into next year.
While the gap may have closed between the Tigers and the Royals, Detroit still seems to be the better team heading into next season. There is still some time for GMDM to continue closing the gap, but right now the AL Central title still appears to go through Detroit.