This is part three of a series where we will see how the current Indians depth chart compares against the other teams in the AL Central. Moving on, we'll see how the Tribe stack up against the first legitimate play-off contender, the Kansas City Royals.
|CLE vs KC||10-9|
The Royals and Indians were two of the most evenly matched teams in the Majors in 2013 and for good reason. The two clubs have built their teams in the same manner, are in the same market size and are in a similar stage in the rebuilding process. Even in this off-season, many of the moves made by the two teams are on a parallel thought path, but we will note below anything that may change last season's even results.
In general, the Royals will be returning the same rotation as in 2013 with the exception of the exchange of Ervin Santana for Justin Vargas. While this will be downgrade, the Royals rotation was definitely a plus and they will be bringing back ace, James Shields and former Indian Jeremy Guthrie. The Indians, on the other hand, are losing 2/5ths of their regular starters from last season. Those remaining have a large range of possible outcomes, especially considering rookie starter Danny Salazar. In whole, the Royals rotation has much more experience and is completely established without need of a Spring Training competition. While this could go either way, the Royals were the best pitching team in the American League, so even without Santana, it is hard to imagine them regressing to the point past the Indians.
Advantage: Kansas City
The Royals will also be bringing back their superstar closer Greg Holland, who was possibly the best closer in the AL Central in 2013. In addition, they have an incredibly strong pen around him including Tim Collins (who was notably not strong against the Indians), Luke Hochevar and Aaron Crow. Just like in the starting rotation, the Indians will not be bringing back two of their most used relievers next season. Also, just like the starting rotation, solid veterans are generally worth more than unproven rookies, like C.C. Lee, or even proven young players like Cody Allen. In the end, both the Indians rotation and bullpen could outplay the Royals, but for now, it certainly doesn't look like it.
Advantage: Kansas City
The Indians and Royals defense were very similar in 2013, despite the fact that the Royals were given the edge when it came to selecting the Gold Glove winners. While three Royals won the award, two Indians, Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley, deserved equal contention. While most of both teams defenses will remain the same, the Royals are exchanging a few starters for an offensive improvement. In right field, both the Indians and Royals are trading top level defense (Drew Stubbs and David Lough) for a little more strength (David Murphy and Norichika Aoki). In the infield, more playing time for Gomes will lead to a generally improved Indians offense while the Royals replacing the revolving door at second with aged veteran Omar Infante will definitely hurt theirs.
The Indians and Royals were very similar offensively in 2013, but a decided advantage in power on the Indians side gave them the edge. While the early source of that power for the Tribe, Mark Reynolds, will not be back, the one year older version of Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall should be a bigger improvement on the offense than any individual addition would be. The Royals should be able to expect the same type of advancement from their starters, like Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon although the team is still looking to trade last year's RBI leader Billy Butler. This is essentially the exact opposite of the starting pitching situation where there is a good chance the Royals top hitters could have career years and bring Kansas City to the top, but for right now, the Indians hitters have proven more and have higher pre-season expectations.
The Royals and Indians are incredibly close matched teams in ever facet. In 2013, only a late season surge by Cleveland pushed the two teams apart after they had been competing for the Wild Card for two months. What makes the match-up even more interesting is that the two teams have been built in similar fashion, using draft picks and trades instead of signing expensive free agents. The Indians with Kipnis and Brantley match up directly with Gordon and Hosmer. They have had their struggles in the same position as well with both top prospects Moustakas and Chisenhall having issues during their first few seasons. While the Tigers are always going to be the favorites in the Central as long as they continue spending hundreds of millions, these two teams are the real teams to watch in the division. In 2013, they finished 10-9 against each other, but if they had played 50 games, there is no reason to think they wouldn't have went 25-25. With minimal changes on either side, things look to be very similar in 2014.