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AL Central preview: Indians shake off Series collapse by getting better, deeper

2017 MLB preview: AL Central

The Indians should get a boost just by having starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco, above, and Danny Salazar healthy. Both were limited during the run to the World Series. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)
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Projected to finish first: Cleveland Indians
2016: 94-67, lost World Series to Cubs
Significant additions: DH Edwin Encarnacion, RP Boone Logan, OF Austin Jackson
Significant losses: 1B Mike Napoli, OF Coco Crisp, OF Rajai Davis, RP Jeff Manship
Clubhouse catalyst: SS Francisco Lindor
The season is a success if: they get another crack at a World Series clincher, after dropping Games 5, 6 and 7 last fall. Few teams were better than the Indians in 2016, and no one bettered themselves more for 2017. In reality, their “additions” should include not only Encarnacion, the AL’s top run-producer in 2016, but also top SPs Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, who were injured and (mostly) unavailable last fall. This is now a deeper lineup, a deeper rotation and — with the signing of Logan — an even deeper bullpen than the brilliant one that carried the Indians to the AL pennant a year ago. No, Andrew Miller won’t be pitching two or three innings every other game all season, but if the Indians return to the postseason, watch out.

2. Detroit Tigers
2016: 86-75
Significant additions: C Alex Avila, IF Omar Infante, OF Mikie Mahtook
Significant losses: OF Cameron Maybin, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Clubhouse catalyst: DH Victor Martinez
The season is a success if: some semblance of an organizational direction comes into view. After finishing just shy of a playoff berth in 2016 with an expensive, veteran-laden team, the Tigers were rumored to be embarking on a major tear down. But not only did they hang on to 1B Miguel Cabrera, SP Justin Verlander, 2B Ian Kinsler and RF J.D. Martinez in hopes of making another run, they did almost nothing to bolster the roster — a curious, middle-ground strategy that could backfire if the Tigers get off to a slow start. There’s enough talent here to contend, but with a lineup that averages 30.2 years of age and a rotation that averages 29.2, the Tigers can’t put off their day of reckoning forever.

3. Kansas City Royals
2016: 81-81
Significant additions: RF Jorge Soler, DH Brandon Moss, SP Jason Hammel, SP Nathan Karns, RP Travis Wood
Significant losses: RP Wade Davis, SP Edinson Volquez, DH Kendrys Morales, OF Jarrod Dyson, SP/RP Dillon Gee, RP Luke Hochevar
Clubhouse catalyst: 1B Eric Hosmer
The season is a success if: the Yordano Ventura tragedy doesn’t completely overwhelm them. When Ventura died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic in January, the sport lost a huge personality and a blossoming star, but the Royals lost a teammate and a building block. That is irreplaceable. From a manpower standpoint, the Royals will be counting on Hammel, who pitched well for the Cubs last year, but never got a sniff of action in the playoffs, to carry some of that load. Meantime, the departures of Morales and Davis have left the lineup and bullpen, respectively, diminished. All told, the Royals’ hopes of returning to their 2014-15 glory days appear slim.

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4. Minnesota Twins
2016: 59-103
Significant additions: C Jason Castro, RP Matt Belisle, RP Craig Breslow
Significant losses: 3B Trevor Plouffe, C Kurt Suzuki, SP Tommy Milone
Clubhouse catalyst: 1B Joe Mauer
The season is a success if: the new front office sets the franchise on a defined course. After winning 83 games in 2015, the Twins bottomed out at 59 last season, leading to a makeover in the front office. The obvious move would have been to trade coveted 2B Brian Dozier, but instead the Twins held on to him (for now, at least), in hopes of seeing what a young core built around CF Byron Buxton, 3B Miguel Sano and SP Jose Berrios can do. But there is a transition here that is going to have to happen sooner or later, and a trade of Dozier, whether during the season or after, remains a logical step in that direction.

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5. Chicago White Sox
2016: 78-84
Significant additions: DH Cody Asche, C Geovany Soto, CF Peter Bourjos, SP Derek Holland
Significant losses: SP Chris Sale, CF Adam Eaton, OF Austin Jackson, DH Justin Morneau, RP Matt Albers
Clubhouse catalyst: 3B Todd Frazier
The season is a success if: the earth doesn’t turn into a giant ice ball hurtling through space, because their season is already a success. Nothing that happens on the field in 2017 is likely to be as impactful for the White Sox franchise as the decision over the winter to embrace a rebuild — and the masterful execution of that plan. With the trades of Sale and Eaton, the team got seven prospects, including blue-chip pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopeck, and infielder Yoan Moncada. The White Sox’ record could get ugly this year — and trades of RP David Robertson, SP Jose Quintana and others could follow — but in taking the farm system from 23rd to fifth (per Baseball America), GM Rick Hahn already deserves applause.

Coming soon: NL Central (later Tuesday), AL and NL West (Weds.)

More baseball:

AL East preview: It’s World Series or bust for the Red Sox

NL East: Mets will need a healthy rotation to hold off Nats

Fancy Stats: Kershaw is a unicorn; Nats have two thoroughbreds

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