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2023 Cubs: Know your enemy, AL Central

More White Sox, plus the other clubs in a likely competitive division.

Tim Anderson’s return could be really important for the White Sox
Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

The Guardians cut their payroll to the bone and were supposed to not be very good, and instead won the division by 11 games.

The White Sox were supposed to be really good last year, but weren’t. Their big offseason move was to sign a pitcher who’s under investigation for domestic violence.

The Twins signed a big free agent before 2021 and hoped to contend, but didn’t. Then they brought back that guy after he opted out and two other teams passed.

The Tigers were some folks’ underrated pick to sneak into the playoffs in 2022. They lost 96 games.

The Royals haven’t had a winning season since they won the World Series in 2015.

So I guess you could call this the “go-figure” division. Let’s have a look!

Chicago White Sox

Key departures: José Abreu, Johnny Cueto, Adam Engel, Danny Mendick, A.J. Pollock, Vince Velasquez

Key arrivals: Andrew Benintendi, Mike Clevinger, manager Pedro Grifol

I am not one of those Cubs fans who reflexively hates the White Sox; if they do well (except when playing the Cubs) I think it’s good for the city of Chicago.

But there is just something about this team that doesn’t quite ring right, whether it comes from ownership or upper management or wherever. They seem to walk around with a chip on their shoulder all the time, whether justified or not, and that occasionally drags them down.

They made a smart move by hiring someone with absolutely no connection to the team to manage. Pedro Grifol has a good reputation and they need an outsider; whether he can help bring real change remains to be seen.

And then there’s Mike Clevinger. Granted that MLB cannot reveal things about an ongoing DV investigation while it’s underway, so the Sox could not have known about it, there were still enough red flags in Clevinger’s background (notably, his behavior during the COVID season) to steer clear. Beyond that, Clevinger has threatened to sue the Cubs’ flagship radio station for defamation (no, I am not making that up).

They should have just kept Cueto, and he’d have been a lot cheaper.

This team has talent and yes, they had a LOT of injuries in 2022. But I still don’t see more than a .500 ballclub here. Andrew Benintendi is a more expensive, lefthanded version of A.J. Pollock.

At Wrigley Field: August 15-16
At Guaranteed Rate Field: July 25-26

Cleveland Guardians

Key departures: Austin Hedges, Luke Maile, Bryan Shaw

Key arrivals: Josh Bell, Mike Zunino

This is a team that brought a lot of young players to the major leagues in 2022 and saw just about all of them succeed: Josh Naylor, Andres Gimenez, Steven Kwan, Triston McKenzie.

They’ve got perhaps the most underrated closer in baseball in Emmanuel Clase, and so what appears to be a relative lack of action this past offseason probably really isn’t an issue.

The Guardians muddled around .500 most of the year and as late as September 4, they were only four games over the break-even point and tied for first place. Then they went 24-6 the rest of the way, the best record in the major leagues over that span, and ran away with the AL Central. They’ve got a great manager in Terry Francona and are the likely division winner again.

The Cubs will host the Guardians in a three-game series at Wrigley Field June 30 and July 1-2. It will be the first time the Cubs will play the Guardians in regular-season games since Cleveland re-branded before the 2022 season.

Detroit Tigers

Key departures: Tucker Barnhart, Jeimer Candelario, Harold Castro, Willi Castro, Andrew Chafin, Drew Hutchison, Daniel Norris, Gregory Soto

Key arrivals: Matthew Boyd, Cesar Hernandez, Andrew Knapp, Michael Lorenzen, Nick Maton, Matt Vierling

Well. That is a lot of players coming and going, and well it should be for a 96-loss team that was thought to be better than that.

Matthew Boyd is a former Tiger who didn’t do as well as was hoped, had flexor tendon surgery (avoiding Tommy John) and then came back and made some decent relief appearances for the Mariners late last year. The Tigers are hoping putting the band back together might help.

Michael Lorenzen is probably an improvement over what Detroit had.

And there’s the Miguel Cabrera farewell tour this year, so that could be fun.

The Cubs will play a three-game series at Comerica Park August 21-22-23.

Kansas City Royals

Key departures: Adalberto Mondesi, Ryan O’Hearn, Gabe Speier, Michael A. Taylor

Key arrivals: Aroldis Chapman, Johan Camargo, Jordan Lyles, Mike Mayers, Nick Wittgren, Ryan Yarbrough

I... I just don’t know what to say about this team. I could do a “rearranging the deck chairs” joke but that’s not nice.

The epitome of what this team is doing is Jordan Lyles. He’s the guy you bring in to eat up innings on a bad team... you know, like old pal Rodrigo Lopez was for the Cubs about a decade ago. Lyles is one of only two pitchers in MLB history to throw at least as many career innings as he has (1,326⅓) with an ERA as high or higher than his (5.10). The other is Jose Lima (5.26).

I suppose it’ll be interesting to see if Aroldis Chapman has anything left. (NARRATOR: “He doesn’t.”)

Zack Greinke returns for what’s likely his last season. He’s 118 strikeouts short of 3,000, so there’s something for Royals fans to watch out for.

The Royals finished last in 2022, one game behind the Tigers. They’ll finish last again.

The Cubs will host the Royals in a three-game series at Wrigley Field August 18-19-20.

Minnesota Twins

Key departures: Chris Archer, Luis Arraez, Dylan Bundy, Jake Cave, Michael Fulmer, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Sanó, Gio Urshela

Key arrivals: Willi Castro, Joey Gallo, Pablo Lopez, Christian Vázquez

Listed in neither column above is Carlos Correa, who was one of the biggest stories of the offseason, opting out of his Twins deal, then apparently signing with the Giants, then the Mets, before concerns over his medicals nixed both those deals. He wound up back with Minnesota for a few more years and about the same AAV he’d have gotten if he hadn’t opted out.

The Twins contended for most of last year and were tied for first place, with Cleveland, on September 4. Then they went 10-20 the rest of the year, the worst record in the American League, and finished third, three games behind the White Sox.

I don’t know why but I have this sense that Joey Gallo, who was not a good fit in New York or Los Angeles, will be able to use the cozy dimensions of Target Field to his advantage. Watch for a big year from him.

The Cubs will visit Target Field for a three-game series against the Twins May 12-13-14.