You could probably pick among the top three projected teams in five of six divisions in Major League Baseball and it wouldn't be a huge shock if any of those three won it. That's not the case in the AL Central. The Detroit Tigers are three-time Central champions and most likely will open as the biggest division favorites yet again this season at sportsbooks heading into spring training. They for sure will be the AL's biggest division betting favorites.
Even though the Tigers remain AL pennant favorites at +350 on BetOnline's baseball odds, they don't appear as formidable as past years. Detroit hadn't cared much about payroll for a while but made two offseason moves that can only be read as salary-driven: trading Prince Fielder to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler, and dealing starting pitcher Doug Fister to Washington for young players (a deal many experts panned Detroit for not getting enough in return). Yes, Fielder struggled in the past two postseasons, but he was terrific protection in the lineup for Miguel Cabrera. Now the two-time AL MVP Cabrera moves back to first base and the team's top prospect, Nick Castellanos, will man third. Don't be shocked if the Tigers trade for a veteran if Castellanos is overmatched. The team really wanted to get young lefty Drew Smyly a rotation spot so that apparently made Fister expendable. The Tigers' top three in the rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez is the best in the AL if not the majors. The bullpen was a disaster in the ALCS loss to Boston but now Joe Nathan is there to close.
Cleveland got hot down the stretch in 2013 to finish with 92 wins, its most since 2007, and a game behind Detroit in the division. The Tribe then lost the wild-card game to Tampa Bay. It's difficult to see the Indians winning that many again after adding nothing of substance this offseason and losing starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. It's still possible the team brings back Jimenez, and he was terrific the second half of last season. Ace Justin Masterson is going to have carry the load for the rotation again. John Axford looks like the new closer. The Indians are +1200 to win the pennant for those looking to back them with their MLB picks.
Kansas City continues to have the longest postseason drought in the majors, last reaching the playoffs in 1985. The franchise appears to be moving in the right direction after winning 86 games in 2013, the first time the team finished over .500 since 2003. James Shields was the ace the Royals were expecting when they traded top prospect Wil Myers to Tampa Bay. Ervin Santana pitched very well essentially off the scrap heap, but he remains a free agent. It's possible he returns on a one-year deal. K.C. needs him after a top three of Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and new addition Jason Vargas. The Royals also will have a new second baseman in Omar Infante and right fielder in Norichika Aoki, a potential steal from Milwaukee. Kansas City is +1500 on MLB odds to win the pennant.
The Twins remain in rebuilding mode as they won just 66 games last season, their third straight with no more than 66 after back-to-back Central titles in 2009-10. Minnesota did add starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to what was the majors' worst pitching staff last season. Joe Mauer will no longer catch and should be able to stay healthy at first base. The Twins are probably two years from being interesting as their farm system is one of the best in baseball, led by No. 1 overall prospect Byron Buxton. Minnesota is +5000 to win the pennant on baseball odds.
The White Sox tried to stay contenders a season too long. They led the Central for most of 2012 but collapsed at the end. Instead of going with a rebuild, the team tried to stay relevant in the race again in 2013 but won 63 games, the franchise's fewest since 1981. The Pale Hose traded the likes of Alex Rios and Jake Peavy during the season for prospects and did more wheeling and dealing this offseason in landing promising Arizona youngsters Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson in separate trades. Both should play every day, with Eaton leading off and in center and Davidson in third. GM Rick Hahn also gave $68 million to Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, and the early returns have been off the charts. Hahn would love to find takers for DH Adam Dunn and pitcher John Danks -- Chris Sale is untouchable -- but Hahn is off to a nice start remaking the franchise. The White Sox are +2500 to win the pennant on baseball odds.MLB free picks projected finish: Detroit, Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota.