2023-24 Offseason Preview: AL Central

Will the Twins playoff breakthrough lead to continued success in 2024?

The World Series is over and the winter meetings are coming up, which means big trades and even bigger free-agent signings. Front offices have already been churning through the data and making plans that will impact the product each team puts on the field. Here at Pitcher List, we take a look at each division as teams get ready for the 2024 season.

The AL Central tends to be a rather pedestrian division, with only three 100-win teams since the division was created in 1994. Typically, 90 wins gives teams a chance at the division crown, but in 2023, none of the teams even got there; in fact, there was only one team that won more games than it lost.

That was the Minnesota Twins and the magic number to win the division was 87 wins. It was a breakthrough season for Minnesota as they went on to win a playoff series for the first time since 2002.

The only other AL Central team you could argue had a successful season was the Detroit Tigers. They finished a surprising 78-84, an improvement from their 66-96 record in 2022. The Guardians fell to third place with a 76-86 record after winning 92 games and the division title in 2022. They will be led in 2024 with a rookie manager after legendary manager Terry Francona retired.

The bottom fell completely out for the other two AL Central teams, the White Sox and Royals, who went 61-101 and 56-106 respectively. The White Sox cleaned house and will be resetting prior to next season. The Royals have some bright young pieces in their lineup, but need to bolster their pitching to improve.

Going into 2024, the Twins will be the favorite to repeat but if the Tigers continue to improve they could emerge as a surprise team next season. The Guardians could also rebound and will look to get back to the top of the division.


Chicago White Sox


2023 record: 61-101 (fourth place, 26 games behind)

Overview: It would be an understatement to say that things did not go as planned on the South Side of Chicago. Despite again having a quality roster and aspirations for competing for the division title, the White Sox continued their downward slide losing 20 more games than they did in 2022. There was on-field drama (Tim Anderson’s fight with José Ramírez) and off-field drama (questions about the team’s culture were raised by Keynan Middleton on his way out of town). This led to the departure of long-time team President Ken Williams and General Manager Rick Hahn, who were fired in late August.

The White Sox were among the league worst in both team batting average (.238, 25th in the MLB) and team ERA (4.87, 26th in the MLB) in 2023, and will look to turn things around with a fresh start in 2024.

Free agents: SS Tim Anderson, RP Liam Hendriks, SP Mike Clevinger, 2B/SS Elvis Andrus, RP Bryan Shaw, SP José Ureña

Position player outlook: The White Sox do have some talent in their lineup, namely center fielder Luis Robert Jr. Robert was a first-time All-Star and finished the year with a line of .264/.315/.542 and hit 38 home runs with 80 RBI, and 20 steals. He was also able to mostly stay on the field and played in a career-high 145 games. He is looking at a big year in 2024. Joining Robert in the outfield are veteran Andrew Benintendi and Oscar Colás. Colas made the Opening Day roster in his rookie season but bounced between Triple-A and the majors. He finished the year with a .216 average.

The infield is anchored by first baseman Andrew Vaughn and third baseman Yoán MoncadaVaughn had career-highs in home runs and RBI in his third season, with 21 home runs and 80 RBI. While Moncada doesn’t look to be the caliber of player he was in 2019 (.315/.367/.548, 25 HR, and 79 RBI), he still has decent power and can contribute if he can stay healthy. The White Sox will be looking to fill 2B as veteran Elvis Andrus is a free agent. They will also need to find a new shortstop in 2024 as Tim Anderson hits free agency, as the club declined Anderson’s team option. Anderson struggled mightily in 2023 but leaves the White Sox after a successful eight-year run that includes four seasons with .300+ AVG, two All-Star berths, and a battling title.

Starting rotation outlook: Dylan Cease will be back as the number one starter atop the rotation in 2024. Cease had an uneven 2023 season, finishing with a 7-9 record and a 4.58 ERA. He had four starts with 10+ strikeouts, but also four starts where he surrendered seven+ earned runs. Cease will look to return to his 2022 form when he had a 14-8 record with a 2.20 ERA. The Sox will need to fill the hole left by number two starter Mike Clevinger. Clevinger declined his option and is now a free agent after a season during which he was 9-9 with a 3.77 ERA. Lucas Giolito left in midseason, so that leaves Michael Kopech as the most likely on-roster candidate to step up. Kopech struggled to a 5-12 record but has good stuff and has shown flashes in the past. Touki Toussaint rounds out the rotation. Chicago will likely need to hit free agency to strengthen their starting rotation.

Bullpen outlook: The bullpen is another area of need for Chicago. The White Sox had 10 different players earn saves last season, but tied for last in the league with only 29 saves. Kendall Graveman led the way with eight, followed by RHP Gregory Santos with five. The main setup arm was Aaron Bummer, who went 5-5 with a 6.79 ERA but was recently shipped to Atlanta. Chicago also picked up former Yankees top prospect Deivi García off waivers in August. He looked good during September with a 2.89 ERA in six appearances.


Cleveland Guardians


2023 record: 76-86 (third place, 11 games behind)

Overview: Before the season, it seemed Cleveland would be in the mix for the division title in 2023. At the All-Star break, the Guardians were on track and in contention as they sat with a .500 record (45-45). However, over the course of the second half, the team stumbled to a 31-41 record in the second half, which equaled a third-place finish.

They weren’t particularly bad at any aspect of the game, with a team ERA of 3.99 (10th in the MLB) and a team batting average of .250 (13th overall).  The team’s fielding percentage of .986 also placed them in the middle of the pack, at 15th overall.

There is definitely talent on the roster but the biggest question going into 2024 will be first-year manager Stephen Vogt. The former catcher retired at the end of the 2022 season and spent 2023 as a bullpen and quality control coach with the Mariners. He was considered a great teammate during his playing days but does not have any managerial experience.

Free agents: C Cam Gallagher, OF/1B Kole Calhoun, SP Lucas Giolito, RP Reynaldo López

Position player outlook: The brothers Naylor are two of the best offensive players currently playing for the Guardians.

Josh Naylor covers first base for the team and put up great numbers in his second full big league season. Naylor hit 17 home runs and 97 RBI while slashing .308/.354/.489 in 121 games last season. He raised his average by more than 50 points from 2022. The other brother, catcher Bo Naylor, played in one game in May before being called up for good in mid-June. He hit 11 home runs and 32 RBI in 67 games and should take over the position full-time in 2024.

The leader of the infield is still third baseman José Ramírez. Ramirez was named in his fifth All-Star game last season and finished the year with 24 home runs, 80 RBI, and 28 steals. The 31-year-old will be going into his 12th season with the Guardians but shows no signs of slowing down.

The outfield is an area where Cleveland could use some reinforcements in the offseason. The trio of Steven Kwan, Myles Straw, and Will Brennan got the majority of the starts in 2023, and while all possess some speed on the basepaths, they are all light hitters in the power department. Kwan hit five home runs and 54 RBI which nearly replicated the HR and RBI numbers from 2022 (six and 52) but OPS+ dropped from 124 to 100. Kwan’s batting average was also down from .298 to .268 and his OBP fell from .373 to .340.

The Guardians were hoping to count on right fielder Oscar Gonzalez after a strong first impression in the majors in 2022 (.296 with 11 HR and 43 RBI in 91 games) but he slumped at the plate and spent most of the season in Triple-A. If he can regain his 2022 form, he’ll take his starting spot back over.

Starting rotation outlook: This could be an area of strength for Cleveland as they have some young arms with talent. One of those arms is AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Tanner Bibee. Bibee’s impressive debut included a 10-4 record with a 2.98 ERA and 1.18 WHIP and 141 strikeouts in 142 IP. He takes over as the ace of the Cleveland rotation unless Shane Bieber reverts to the pitcher who went a combined 28-13 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Bieber went 6-6 with a 3.80 ERA last season.

LHP Logan Allen was another rookie who saw action in 2023. He went 7-8 with a 3.61 ERA and will need to lower his WHIP of 1.40 to take the next step. RHP Gavin Williams also made his big league debut last season and looks to become a rotation mainstay in 2024. He went 3-5 in 16 starts while compiling a 3.29 ERA.

Bullpen outlook: Closer Emmanuel Clase once again led the majors in saves last season with 44, but didn’t otherwise didn’t match his spectacular 2022 season. Clase’s ERA rose from 1.36 to 3.22 and his WHIP also jumped from 0.73 to 1.16. He will likely even out between these two extremes next season and continue to be one of baseball’s top closers. It will still need to be determined if Clase’s save opportunities remain at the same level under new manager Stephen Vogt. Trevor Stephan, and Eli Morgan were the most frequently used setup arms last season, but each had a pedestrian ERA above 4.00.


Detroit Tigers


2023 record: 78-84 (second place, 9 games behind)

Overview: The Tigers were the surprise of the division last season with a 12-game improvement over 2022 and a second-place finish. They did this despite a team batting average of .236, which was 27th overall. Detroit was better on the pitching front, with a team ERA of 4.24, good for 17th in the league last season.

The big storyline of the offseason is that franchise icon Miguel Cabrera is now officially retired after a storied career. Cabrera concludes his Hall-of-Fame career with a career slashline of .306/.382/.518 and 511 home runs. The 12-time All-Star was a two-time MVP and won four batting titles.

With Cabrera’s retirement, the Tigers turn the page and will need some younger players to step up. Detroit has already made some noise in free agency, signing Kenta Maeda away from the Twins. Will they be able to continue to improve in 2024 or will they regress to the mean?

Free agents: RP José Cisnero, SP Matthew Boyd, SP Eduardo Rodriguez, SP Spencer Turnbull, OF Austin Meadows

Position player outlook: One of those aforementioned young players who needs to continue to improve is first baseman Spencer Torkelson. Torkelson showed signs of improvement in 2023, hitting 31 home runs and 94 RBI. Torkelson still only managed a .231/.313/.446 slashline at the plate but made positive strides last season.

Jake Rogers was second on the team in home runs last season (21) which should lead to him getting the chance to start behind the plate. Javier Báez will need to turn it around this season to maintain his playing time at shortstop. Baez hit only .222 with nine home runs and 59 RBI in 136 games last season. Baez turns 31 soon and is not the player he was during his earlier years with the Cubs.

Top prospect Colt Keith is also waiting in the wings and is expected to make his debut in 2024. He can play second or third base. The Tigers also have a number of young players in the outfield who they’ll look to for stability in 2024.

Centerfielder Riley Greene hit .288 with 11 home runs and 37 RBI before missing time with an elbow injury. He underwent Tommy John surgery but is expected to be ready when the regular season begins.  Parker Meadows showed promise after his August call-up and could potentially move Greene out of the CF spot into LF or RF. Zach McKinstry, Kerry Carpenter, and Matt Vierling all played in rightfield last season and can also play some infield so the outfield logjam will have to work its way out.

Starting rotation outlook: The ink is still drying on Kenta Maeda’s two-year deal that brought him over from the Twins. Maeda will slot in as the number two starter behind Tarik Skubal. The righthanded Maeda went 6-8 with a 4.23 ERA last season after returning from Tommy John surgery but pitched well in the second half with 13 starts of three earned runs or less. With Eduardo Rodriguez leaving in free agency, Skubal takes over as the ace of the rotation. He was excellent last season going 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. He racked up 102 strikeouts in 80.1 innings pitched.

Behind Skubal and Maeda are Matt Manning and Reese OlsonOlson went 5-7 in his rookie season, posting a 3.99 ERA. He was called up in June and seemed to figure things out as the season progressed. He finished strong with a 4-1 record and a 1.44 ERA in the month of September.

Bullpen outlook: Alex Lange and Jason Foley were both effective relief arms for the Tigers last season. Lange served as the primary closer and compiled 26 saves with a 3.68 ERA. Foley was the secondary closer and locked down seven saves on a 2.61 ERA.

After going 3-6 as a starting pitcher in 2022, Beau Brieske shifted to the bullpen in 2023 and seems to have carved out a home in relief. He pitched in setup duty and showed the ability for multi-inning outings, posting eight appearances of two or more innings. Brieske finished the year with a 2-3 record and a 3.60 ERA in 35 IP.


Kansas City Royals


2023 record: 56-106 (fifth place, 31 games behind)

Overview: Since making back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015 and winning the 2015 title, the Royals have not had a winning season since. They did go 81-81 in 2016 but have struggled to a losing season every year since and have racked up three seasons of sixty or less wins. Let’s just say it has not been a good time to be a Kansas City Royals fan.

The team signed franchise icon Zack Greinke last offseason for some potential fan goodwill, but he cratered out with a 2-15 record with a 5.06 ERA. It was his worst winning percentage in a single season and his ERA was the second worst mark of his career. Greinke is likely to retire and will leave the game with a career record of 225-156 with a 3.49 ERA.

However, another franchise icon, Salvador Perez, is still around for 2024. The ageless Perez (still just 33 years old) made his eighth All-Star game last season and hit .255 with 23 home runs and 80 RBI for the season. The other players leading the Royals lineup are budding superstar Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie PasquantinoIf Witt and Pasquantino continue to flourish and the team’s starting pitching can be adequate, the Royals should post a better record in 2024. The team was indeed better in the second half of last season, with a 30-41 record after the break.

Free agents: SP Zach Greinke, SP/RP Brad Keller, 3B Matt Duffy, RP Josh Staumont

Position player outlook: Last season, the aforementioned Witt increased his numbers from his strong rookie debut. In 2023, Witt hit 30 home runs and 96 RBI (compared to 20 and 80 in 2022) and slashed .276/.319/.495 (up from .254/.294/.428). After the All-Star break, Witt was especially effective hitting .301/.343/.563. He also used his speed to steal 49 bases and led the majors with 11 triples.

Witt is in line for a massive contract extension and could be the face of the franchise for the next decade. He sounds like he wants to stay in Kansas City, which is a very good thing for Royals fans.

On the defensive side, after playing 55 games at 3B in his rookie season, Witt shifted exclusively to SS last season.  Maikel Garcia took over at third and hit .272 with 23 steals during his first full season in the majors.

Pasquantino debuted in 2022 with Witt and hit .295/.383/.450 in 72 games. Unfortunately, he missed most of last season after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He will enter the 2024 season healthy and back in the starting lineup at first base for Kansas City.

MJ Melendez came up through the minor league system as a catcher but was shifted primarily to the outfield last season. Melendez played 126 games in the outfield in 2023 compared to only 10 games at catcher. He does have some power and hit 16 home runs and 56 RBI last season.

Starting rotation outlook: The highlight of the 2023 Royals was the acquisition of Cole Ragans in a deal with the Texas Rangers for Aroldis Chapman. Ragans had been pitching in the Texas bullpen but moved into the Royals rotation and made an immediate impact, winning the AL Pitcher of the Month Award for August. Ragans went 3-3 with a 1.72 ERA during the month and had four games of nine or more strikeouts. The Royals rotation drops off considerably after Ragans, but newly acquired righthander Kyle Wright has the most potential to be a solid contributor. The only problem is Wright recently had shoulder surgery and will miss the 2024 season. He did have a 21-5 record in 2022 and struggled in 2023 with a 6.97 ERA.

Brady Singer slots in as the number two starter and has the most potential to be a solid contributor. In 2022, he was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA but struggled to an 8-11 record last season as his ERA rose to 5.52. Jordan Lyles and Daniel Lynch are the other established staters who will contribute to the rotation. Lyles went 6-17 with an ugly 6.28 ERA last season. Lynch was actually better in 2023 compared to 2022. He was 4-13 with a 5.13 ERA but improved his ERA to a mark of 4.64 in 2023.

Bullpen outlook: Scott Barlow had 13 saves and was the team’s primary closer but he was shipped out to the Guardians. James McArthur will be in the mix in the bullpen for 2024 but saved just four games last season.

However, the Royals just also acquired Nick Anderson from Atlanta in the deal that brought them Wright, and he steps in as probably the best relief arm on the roster.


Minnesota Twins


2023 record: 87-75 (first place, 9 games ahead)

Overview: The Twins rebounded from their third-place finish in 2022 to take the division crown, which was manager Rocco Baldelli’s third AL Central title in his five years at the helm.

Minnesota went into the playoffs and a funny thing happened as they defeated the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Series. Even winning one game was a momentous occasion for the franchise. With their Game 1 win in that series, they broke a 19-year postseason losing streak during which they had lost 18 straight games, the most playoff losses in a row in MLB history. With their second win against the Jays, they swept the series and won their first playoff series since 2002.

The difference this time around was being able to rely on strong starting pitching. With Pablo López and Sonny Gray at the top of the rotation, the Twins led the majors in strikeouts and quality starts during the regular season. They were also among the top-10 in team ERA (3.87, 6th overall), WHIP (1.20, 4th overall), and OBA (.236, 6th overall).

Free agents: 1B/2B/3B Donovan Solano, SP Sonny Gray, OF Michael A. Taylor, SP Dallas Keuchel, 1B Joey Gallo, SP Kenta Maeda, SP Tyler Mahle, RP Emilio Pagán

Position player outlook: After his infamous free agency saga last offseason, Carlos Correa ultimately returned to Minnesota for a second season. He once again played excellent defense, leading all American League shortstops in fielding percentage (.987). However, Correa’s batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging all dipped to career lows. His batting average of .230 was especially atrocious, dropping more than 60 points from 2022. Correa did redeem himself in the postseason raising his average above .400.

An offensive highlight for the Twins was third baseman Royce Lewis. Despite playing in only 58 games, he was third on the team in RBI (52) and hit 15 home runs while maintaining a .309 average and an OPS of .921. Lewis amazingly hit four grand slams in an 18-game span and was named the AL Rookie of the Month for September.

During September, Lewis hit six home runs and knocked in 23 RBI with a slash line of .313/.410/.612. Once the playoffs started, he continued his barrage with four home runs in six games. While some of this success will be impossible to duplicate, the former top prospect has appeared to have turned a corner and is budding into an offensive force. Lewis has already battled back from two ACL tears so the question will be if he can stay on the field in 2024.

Another rookie who could be a mainstay in 2024 and into the future is second baseman Edouard Julien. Julien broke out to the tune of 16 home runs and 37 RBI in 109 games played. He hit .263 with an OBP of .381. His emergence could lead the Twins to move longtime second baseman Jorge Polanco. First base is a question mark for the Twins as the Joey Gallo experiment is likely over. Gallo is a free agent after an abysmal year during which he hit only .177.

In the outfield, RF Max Kepler emerged from a number of down seasons with his best showing at the plate since 2019. Kepler hit .260, a career-high, and added 24 home runs and 66 RBI. Kepler is also one of the best defensive right fielders in the game, with a career fielding percentage of .991 –  good for top-10 all-time at the position.

It remains to be seen if Byron Buxton will be able to play center field next season. Buxton had right knee surgery in October and would like to return to the outfield after solely being a DH in 2023. He played in 85 games and hit .207 with 17 home runs. Buxton has played in only 670 career games in his nine years in the league, an average of 74 games a year.

Starting rotation outlook: The Twins will look to fill at least two rotation spots going into 2024. They have already lost Kenta Maeda to the division rival Tigers. Maeda signed a two-year $24-million deal with Detroit and ace Sonny Gray has signed with St. Louis. Gray did not always see eye-to-eye with Baldelli and his in-game management. The 34-year-old righthander fetched a lucrative three-year, $75 million deal with the Cardinals after finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. Gray went 8-8 with a 2.79 ERA and surrendered only eight home runs on the year, leading baseball with a rate of 0.4 HR/9 innings.

Pablo López will lead the rotation and went 13-7 in his first season with Minnesota. He was a first-time All-Star after coming over from Miami last offseason. Behind Lopez, Joe Ryan slots in as the number two starter. Ryan went 11-10 with a 4.51 ERA in his third big league season. Ryan was much better in the first half as he went 8-6 with a 3.70 ERA but struggled to a 3-4 record with a 6.09 ERA in the second half. The current options on the roster behind Ryan include Bailey Ober and Louie Varland

Bullpen outlook: Flamethrower Jhoan Duran leads the bullpen after locking down 27 saves in 2023 while maintaining a 2.45 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. If Duran was ever fully unleashed as a traditional closer, he would be among the league leaders in saves. Emilio Pagán and Griffin Jax had served as the main setup arms, although Pagán has now signed with the Reds.

Nate Kosher

Nate Kosher is based in the Twin Cities and is a staff writer for Pitcher List. He grew up watching low-budget Twins teams at the Metrodome before eventually converting to the Arizona Diamondbacks (the power of teal and purple in the 1990s). His goal is to someday visit all 30 MLB ballparks and he believes Barry Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame. You can read more of Nate's writing in his newsletter, The Relief Pickle.

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