Up to this point, I have solely focused attention on what the Indians have been doing, but that leaves unaddressed what the other teams in the AL Central have been doing, particularly the Minnesota Twins, the one team that I think could dethrone the Indians. There’s still an obvious gap between the two teams, but there’s enough potential on the Minnesota roster that you could see the possibilities on them making large improvements if a couple major things go right for them.
With that in mind, I’ve put together projected Opening Day rosters for the Twins and Indians to compare them.
The Indians’ roster looks as it stands this morning, as well as a zoomed-in version of just the 25-man roster.
There has been a lot of uncertainty with this roster. The outfield and bullpen have essentially had open tryouts, and injuries to both Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis means that neither of them will be in the lineup this Thursday in Minnesota. This comes after a winter that saw the Indians prioritize cutting payroll over improving the roster for reasons gone into previously. But even after all of this, the Indians still seem by a significant margin the best team in the AL Central. The projections I used (Steamer for position players, ZiPS for pitchers) are 49.5 wins above replacement, which is just one win shy of their actual totals from last year.
Here is what the Twins are projected to do using the same ZiPS/Steamer combination. Some of the minor roles have changed since I did this exercise, but not enough to change the totals significantly.
Even after all the subtracting this past offseason, and even with question marks all over the roster, the Indians still project to win 10 more games than the Twins, their closest competition. If the starting rotation stays healthy, and the Indians can cobble together a functional (as in above replacement) bullpen and corner outfield, they’re still in good shape to win the AL Central again.
Which is one reason why I think the Indians prioritized the medium-term over the short-term this offseason. The gap between themselves and the rest of the AL Central wasn’t the only factor, as I don’t see this front office ever going completely for broke (too many institutional memories of 2002-03) or thinking for a short while like a large-market organization, but it did make those difficult decisions easier.
The caveats that need to be made: projections are not foolproof, as they are forecasting human beings that can get hurt or better or worse in ways completely independent of their age or previous results. I can easily imagine situations in which the Indians and Twins win totals are reversed. Breakout seasons for Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios could quickly halve that 10-win gap, for instance.
With that being said, it’s time to enjoy some baseball. Happy New Year!