“Flyover Country” in the American League contains history’s greatest home-run squad (Minnesota, somehow), perhaps the league’s most exciting team….and then three teams not even trying. This is pretty much the norm in baseball these days, a division that has one or two teams fighting over actual prizes and then three in the corner, pocketing the hors d’oeuvres, finishing drinks other guests left behind, and then ducking out the side door during a toast.
The Twins golfed 307 Titleist baseballs over various walls last year, while amassing the second-highest slugging percentage as a team at .494. And they did that while only having one known slugger.
The White Sox have accrued the most desirable young corps of players anywhere, but it feels like the time to go from promise to tangible results is upon them, even in this Fun Size, MLB Cup-like season. They could win the division, or see a 60-game sprint stunt the development they still need.
Cleveland will hope its homegrown top-of-the-rotation talent and Francisco Lindor can overcome ownership’s cheapness and indifference that saw longtime ace Cory Kluber punted off to Texas and will soon grease Lindor’s exit.
And then there’s Maude, otherwise known as the Royals and Tigers. At least the former will give us the high comedy of Mike Matheny in a dugout again.
COVID Response: One of the better ones in baseball, as the Pale Hose paid all their employees full salary and benefits during the shutdown.
Yoan Moncada tested positive and only just joined “Summer Camp.”
“I never thought I had it before I tested positive. When I got the results, it was a little scary because I didn’t know how it would affect me, what kind of symptoms I would develop. But thank God I felt good for the most part,” — Moncada
Staying Away: Michael Kopech opted out. He would have been returning from a missed season due to Tommy John surgery and his role was unclear. At worst, he would have been a valuable bullpen weapon, given that he throws a fastball that opens up an Einstein-Rosen Bridge.
Oh, He’s Here Now?: Perhaps the biggest of a raft of new signings is Yasmani Grandal, who cashed in his one-year pillow contract with Milwaukee last year into $18.25 million for the next four on the Southside. He’ll improve a big weakness for the White Sox at catcher, which (outside of James McCann’s nuclear opening two months last year) was something of a black hole both offensively and defensively. Grandal is one of the game’s best pitch-framers. Edwin Encarnacion and his imaginary parrot signed up to take the DH role, and Nomar Mazara was acquired via trade to man right field. With Encarnacion and Grandal, and any growth from phenom Eloy Jimenez, the Sox offense could be very Barnum & Bailey.
Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel join the rotation, though both will depend on an infield that leans to the wooden-handed.
Where’d He Go?: No one of any note, as the only departures are the collection of unemployed rodeo clowns that filled out the back end of the rotation or bench last year.
What To Expect: Anything. With the cartoon nature of this season, the Sox offense could be enough to propel them past the Twins. Tim Anderson, Moncada, Jose Abreu, Grandal, Encarnacion, Jimenez already make for a truly scary lineup, add their newest shiny toy/tank in Luis Robert — he of the .634 SLG in 47 Triple-A games last year — and it’s hard to see how this team won’t score a barge-full of runs.
The rotation still has Lucas Giolito at the top, and Keuchel and Gonzalez at least provide a known floor. If kids Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez can find it, or Carlos Rodon finally harnesses his stuff and replaces Lopez, then the rotation can be a strength as well.
The amount of youth the Southside Nine are counting means there’s a ton of variance, but then so does the structure of the season itself. It’s a true shame we won’t get to see this outfit grow over the normal 162, but could be the most bang-for-buck in 60.
3 / 7
Covid Response: Decent enough, if graded on a curve with the rest of MLB. Paid full-time employees through the end of June fully. Laid off and furloughed all part-time employees and interns.
Delino Deshields Jr. was the only named player to test positive. He has returned to camp but is still listed on their IL.
Staying Away: Bench coach Brad Mills
Oh, He’s Here Now?: Ha, this is Cleveland, dummy! They don’t actually sign players! A flier on Domingo Santana constitutes pretty much the extent of their additions, as he’ll play right field and try and figure out just how in the ever-living fuck he put together an .875 OPS three years ago for the Brewers. Deshields, whenever cleared, might find some defensive replacement time in the outfield, because he might as well head to the plate with a pool noodle for all the good he’ll do there.
Where’d He Go?: In a vacuum, moving on from Corey Kluber after an injury-ravaged season and in the last guaranteed year of his deal might make some sense. But this is Cleveland, and everything they do smacks of frugalness, while most baseball media let them hide behind being in a “small market,” even though every MLB team is highly profitable. The fact that they only got a promising reliever and the glove-only Deshields for a two-time Cy Young winner says just about everything.
Yasiel Puig also moved on from a brief cameo after last year’s trade, though his signing with the Braves fell through after a positive COVID-19 test. Tyler Clippard defected within the division from Cleveland’s pen to Minnesota’s.
What To Expect: Cleveland still has a fearsome top of the rotation with Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger, and with some creativity they could take half of the starts while limiting their innings. Carlos Carrasco can join them if healthy, though he had a nasty habit of giving up fly balls that landed in someone’s beer in the distance last season. Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac were solid enough in part-time auditions last season. Then again, this season is just another part-time audition, so the rotation can’t be any worse than “very solid.”
The offense is very top-heavy through Lindor, Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez, and its overall effectiveness will be based on any revival from Domingo Santana and whether Franmil Reyes can make contact more than three times per week. Lindor’s status will hang over this team like a Chernobyl cloud, as he’s a season and a half from free agency and Cleveland ownership handing him the money he deserves is a fantasy on the level of a chupacabra. If Cleveland’s start doesn’t go right, the trade rumors may start to fly.
That said, they always fashion at least a useful pen, and with that rotation, one surprise on offense could see them be able to sprint with Minnesota and Chicago for whatever this season is.
4 / 7
Covid Response: Good, paid all their employees through the shutdown.
“I felt sickish but I didn’t think much of it, then for like five days, I would wake up in the middle of the night and get out of bed and I’d be dropping sweat off my fingertips, like down my forearms, off my fingertips. It was crazy and I was just like, ‘Holy crap,’ and I would get out of bed in the morning and I’d walk to my kitchen and make coffee and I literally felt like I was 75-80 years old, like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is crazy.’” — Daniel Norris, who has yet to be cleared to play after testing positive, on the effect of the virus
Staying Away: None
Oh, He’s Here Now?: A few names, but only brought in either to be seat-fillers because rules state you have to toss nine guys out there and/or with the hopes of trading them off at the deadline for futures. C.J. Cron, Cameron Maybin, Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine, and Ivan Nova are a collection of whosits and whatsits to do exactly that.
Where’d He Go?: The same type of whosits and whatsits exited that came in. Jordan Zimmerman will miss most of the season with a strained forearm, so add him to the list of the missing.
What To Expect: Losses. The Tigers are one of those rebuilding teams that could see this 60-game season delay their progress and put off them mattering again until 2023 or 2024 or beyond. Pitching prospects Casey Mize (first overall pick in 2018) and Matt Manning (Tigers’ first-round pick in 2016) could make appearances, and they’re just about the only ones you can identify that could appear this season and make a difference in the long run. Tarik Skubal and Isaac Paredes are others who might have also come up for air, but both are unavailable, with the latter testing positive for COVID-19. So in the meantime, the Tigers will be chum for the top of the division while they await the return of minor league baseball to keep developing the talent they have and will acquire.
5 / 7
Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals
Kansas City Royals
Covid Response: On the upper side of the scale. Executives took pay cuts to keep those lower on the food chain employed. Also paying 200 of their minor leaguers full-season salary (such as it is).
Royals have had a rash of positive tests, with Salvador Perez being among the first to test positive. Manager Mike Matheny said he had the virus a month before camps reopened. Three other players have tested positive so far.
Stepping Away: None.
Oh He’s Here Now?: Franchy Cordero do anything for you? No? Ok. Maikel Franco is also here to try and revive his career after becoming a smoldering crater in Philadelphia.
Where’d He Go?: Just the usual ballast thrown overboard for a rebuilding team. They’ll never speak of their time in Kansas City, and vice versa. What To Expect: Much like the Tigers, the Royals’ aims are years down the road. All their star prospects are below the major league level, and while top draft picks Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, and Jackson Kowar could come up for air briefly, that’s about the only thing to look forward to. The time of Daniel Duffy being a good starter you’ve never heard of has passed, and now he’s just some guy you’ve never heard of. Again, they look to be a collection of organs to be harvested.
6 / 7
COVID Response: Very good. Twins paid all their employees, including interns, through June 30th their full salary and benefits. They were also proactive in protecting some of their more vulnerable staff, barring coaches Bob McClure and Bill Evers from working with the team this season due to their age and health-risk.
They’ve had four players test positive so far, including Miguel Sano and underground hero Willians Astudillo (of course, he makes contact with everything!). The former is back in camp, however.
Stepping Away: Aside from the coaches, none so far.
Oh, He’s Here Now?: Lineup-wise, only one addition, but it’s a big one as Josh Donaldson will take over at 3rd. Because what this team needed was more homers. He’ll move Sano over to first, when he’s not fighting off his latest criminal accusation. In the rotation, the Twins added Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill from the Dodgers, and Hill will definitely help with the club’s yelling, sweating, belching, and farting quotient to show everyone in the stadium just how much it means to him! Can’t you see how much it means to Rich Hill?! Oh, it means so much!
Where’d He Go?: Kyle Gibson took the money in Texas, and Michael Pineda will miss the first 2/3rds of the season thanks to a PED suspension. Other than that, not much has left.
What To Expect: Power. While it still remains inexplicable how this team put up perhaps the most powerful offensive season in baseball history (the 307 they hit last year was an MLB record), other than the flubber in the baseball, adding Donaldson only assures that this team will keep hitting. Byron Buxton got hurt again before the season started, proving that there are some pillars of society that even a worldwide plague can’t dislodge. But it’s not considered serious, at least for now, and he’ll be back around Opening Day. Until a piano falls on him.
The rotation remains good to very good while lacking a true, fuck-you ace. Odorizzi and Berrios are a cut below that at least. Maeda’s heavy fly-ball ways might not play as well in Minneapolis as they did in Chavez Ravine. Homer Bailey put together 13 good starts for the A’s last year after a midseason trade, which is all the Twins will need. Like most teams, their pen could be anything over 60 games.
Between them and the White Sox, there will be a lot of runs. The Twins might have just a little more, which should set them up perfectly to get swept by the Yankees again. And that will restore a feeling of normalcy to us all.