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American League Central forecast 2014

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera signs autographs

Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera signs autographs before a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves in Kissimmee, Fla., on Friday, March 21, 2014. Credit: AP / Carlos Osorio

1. DETROIT TIGERS

Manager: Brad Ausmus, first season (replaces Jim Leyland)

GM: Dave Dombrowski, 13th season

2013: First (93-69); lost to Boston in ALCS, 4-2

The transformation came fast and furious for the Tigers, mere days after they were eliminated in the ALCS by the eventual world champion Red Sox. First, it was the resignation of Jim Leyland, a beloved manager in Detroit but one who agreed the time was right to step aside. Enter Brad Ausmus, the brainy former catcher considered to be the next great manager. But that was only the beginning. Thinking about long-term financial flexibility, the Tigers shipped Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler, a move that could net them roughly $76 million in savings over the remaining years of that Fielder megadeal. Shedding Fielder will have an impact for this season, but Detroit figures it's covered on the offensive front, especially with such a strong rotation - and even after sending Doug Fister to the Nationals in December. The Tigers won't get to the World Series on autopilot, however. They've already lost shortstop Jose Iglesias for much of this season due to stress fractures in his shins, and during the last week of spring training, they acquired 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez to fill that void. Set-up man Bruce Rondon is gone for the year due to Tommy John surgery and Joe Nathan takes over as closer, but at age 39, there is a calculated risk involved. One other wrinkle to consider: the Tigers got in a bit of PR tussle with Max Scherzer (and his agent, Scott Boras) a week before Opening Day when negotiations fell apart on a new contract extension. That bears watching during the season, but it's tough to imagine Scherzer pitching any better than he did last year - even with a chip on his shoulder this time around. The bet here says Scherzer winds up getting his money to stay in Detroit - just like Verlander did. But with Boras running the show, it's going to leave a sizable dent in the Tigers' payroll.

2. CLEVELAND INDIANS

Manager: Terry Francona, second season, 92-70, .568

GM: Chris Antonetti, fourth season

2013: Second (92-70); lost wild-card to Tampa

Outlook: Indians went 21-6 in September and almost caught Tigers, but are they really that close to dethroning Detroit? Justin Masterson is the legit ace, but how will the rest of the rotation perform? Can Jason Giambi still be a factor?

3. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Manager: Ned Yost, fifth season, 284-329, .463

GM: Dayton Moore, ninth season

2013: Third (86-76)

Outlook: James Shields, heading into his walk year, leads a promising rotation and the Royals had the best bullpen ERA (2.55) in the American League last season. KC is hoping Norichika Aoki, acquired from the Brewers, can be a catalyst atop the order.

4. CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Manager: Robin Ventura, third season, 148-176, .457

GM: Rick Hahn, second season

2012: Fifth (63-99)

Outlook: In digging out from a 99-loss season, the White Sox signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu and also made a three-team trade that got them Adam Eaton, a centerfielder/leadoff man that should be a solid piece to the rebuild.

5. MINNESOTA TWINS

Manager: Ron Gardenhire, 13th season, 998-947, .513

GM: Terry Ryan, third season

2012: Fourth (66-96)

Outlook: Joe Mauer moves to first base after 10 years behind the plate, and the Twins bolstered their pitching staff by signing Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. And did we mention Mike Pelfrey is back?

LENNON'S BEST OF THE AL CENTRAL

Everyday lineup: Tigers

Player: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

Power hitter: Miguel Cabrera

Overall hitter: Miguel Cabrera

In the clutch: Miguel Cabrera

Baserunner: Jason Kipnis, Indians

Infielder: Alcides Escobar, Royals

Outfielder: Lorenzo Cain, Royals

Catcher: Salvador Perez, Royals

Starter: Justin Verlander, Tigers

Reliever: Kelvin Herrera, Royals

Closer: Greg Holland, Royals

Pitch: Chris Sale's slider (White Sox)

Manager: Terry Francona, Indians

GM: Dave Dombrowski, Tigers

Stadium: Target Field, Twins

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