AL Central: White Sox and Indians Ready for Run at Division Title

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In one dizzying day at the MLB winter meetings, the AL Central got a lot tougher. For the White Sox, a trade for Jeff Samardzija and the signing of David Robertson got the team a No. 2 starter and lockdown closer. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s deal for Brandon Moss brought the Tribe a legitimate power bat to bolster the team’s chances next season. It looks like the AL Central will be a four-team race in 2015.

Headline acquisitions

David Robertson proved he can handle closing on a big stage without issue in 2014, and Chicago inked the right-hander to a four-year deal worth $46 million, ESPN reports. While the price is high for any reliever, Robertson was the best closer on the market after he recorded 39 saves with a 3.08 ERA (and replaced Mariano Rivera to boot). His 13.34 strikeouts per 9 innings was fifth in the American League in 2014. Jeff Samardzija split his own brilliant season (2.99 ERA) between the Cubs and the A’s and projects as the N0. 2 man in the rotation behind Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. The White Sox sent Marcus Semien, Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley, and Rangel Ravelo to the A’s.

With Jose Quintana in the No. 3 spot in the rotation and Robertson at the back end of the bullpen, the White Sox established a high-quality pitching staff overnight. Cleveland’s addition of Brandon Moss gives the Indians another slugging left-handed bat to add to the mix. After the disappointing season for Nick Swisher in 2014, Moss (25 HR, 81 RBI in 2014) should provide the thump Cleveland needs to win more ballgames. Cleveland parted with minor leaguer Joey Wendle to get Moss.

As constructed before the Moss acquisition, Cleveland won 85 games and fought for a playoff spot until the final week of the 2014 season. The Indians lost out to the Royals, who went on a magical run to the World Series after making the Wild Card game with 89 wins. Next year, things will be different in the AL Central.

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New face of the AL Central

There is no telling how the Tigers will respond to losing Max Scherzer, the club’s best pitcher in 2014, but the aging core of Detroit’s club may see its championship window closing beyond 2015. Without a bounce-back season from Justin Verlander and a strong contribution from newly acquired Shane Greene, Detroit may struggle to duplicate its 90-win season. Kansas City is likely to lose James Shields, its own best pitcher in 2014, to free agency.

The White Sox ended up in fourth place (12 games behind Cleveland) in 2014, but there is good reason to expect a much stronger performance ahead. As for the two playoff teams in the Central, the biggest news this offseason has been the subtractions from their starting rotations. (Detroit did resign 35-year-old Victor Martinez to a four-year deal worth $68 million.) David Price will join Verlander and Rick Porcello in fronting the Tigers’ rotation, but duels between Price and Sale — not to mention Price and Corey Kluber — will make for must-see MLB TV in 2015. In the No. 2 spot, Chicago now has the advantage with Jeff Samardzija taking the mound.

With their pitching overhaul, the White Sox have put the division on notice while Cleveland also has emerged an improved team. All signs point to a four-team race in the AL Central, which should be the league’s most competitive division in 2015.

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