This is part one of a series where we will see how the current Indians depth chart compares against the other teams in the AL Central. The biggest emphasis will be placed on the changes between this and last year's rosters. We will start with the team that finished last in the AL Central in 2013, the Chicago White Sox.
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Both teams have lost starters during the offseason, but the Indians lost theirs (Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir) to free agency, while the White Sox had a choice as they traded Hector Santiago to the Nationals. Of those remaining, the White Sox easily win the battle of the aces with a young Chris Sale expected to vastly outperform the Indians' Justin Masterson. After that, however, the situation reverses. The Indians have Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar who are all young, but have been stable, while the White Sox only have John Danks and Jose Quintana for sure. Erik Johnson (5 career starts), Felipe Paulino (4.93 career ERA) and Andre Rienzo (10 career starts) are anything but known quantities and the Sox will need them to make up the final two spots of the rotation. The Indians only have this worry with their fifth spot as Josh Tomlin, Shaun Marcum and Trevor Bauer will be competing for final starter.
Both teams had above average bullpens in 2013 and both teams lost their closer during the off-season. Again, the Indians closer, Chris Perez, left for free agency, while Addison Reed was sent in a trade to the Diamondbacks. While the White Sox appear to be filling their whole internally, the Indians have since added new closer John Axford. As for the rest of the bullpen, the Indians still have Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski returning after excellent seasons while the White Sox have been forced to advance some of their underperforming players into more prominent positions. While it is possible that Donnie Veal and Ronald Belisario could have career years, chances are things will be rough in the late innings in the South side.
Here, the two teams have another thing in common. Both have been attempting to trade their short stops who have under performed during their career and both have been unsuccessful. The good thing for the Indians here is that Asdrubal Cabrera (while no Gold Glover) is a million times better defensively than his counter part, Alexei Ramirez. The rest of the infield and catching situation should be similar to 2013, but in the outfield there have been some shifting. The Indians lost defensive specialist Drew Stubbs, while the White Sox have replaced the statuesque Adam Dunn with Avasail Garcia and the error prone Alejandro De Aza with Adam Eaton (from Washington in exchange for Santiago). While these changes definitely improve Chicago defensively, the Indians still have Michael Bourn in center and Michael Brantley in left, who are far superior to Eaton and Dayan Viciedo.
While it is impossible to know for sure until he plays in the Major Leagues, the White Sox may have added the biggest bat in the Central this off-season in Cuban slugger, Jose Abreu. Abreu will replace Paul Konerko at first, although Konerko will remain on the roster, splitting time with Adam Dunn at DH. This essentially means that the White Sox have three first baseman who can out-hit the Indians' Nick Swisher. They also have a viable DH, while Cleveland is planning on using Carlos Santana in that role with Yan Gomes catching. In the outfield, the White Sox upgrades are even more obvious. Garcia (who actually came during the 2013 season) is superior to David Murphy (or Ryan Raburn) and Eaton is at least an improvement over De Aza. In left, Brantley still holds the advantage as an average hitter, but Viciedo is much more the power threat. Overall, the White Sox should have no problems at all hitting the long ball in 2014, while the Indians may struggle to hit anything at all. Both teams had team averages around .250 last season (below the league average of .256), so the difference in power in Chicago could be a deciding factor in which offense is more productive.
While both teams have made changes this off-season, the White Sox have made a concerted effort to increase their offense, while the Indians have pretty much sat still. Of course, these moves cost Chicago a lot of pitching talent, including their number two starter and closer, while the Indians have been working to revamp their bullpen and already had top internal options for the starting rotation. In the end, the Indians still are the better team, but it is very unlikely that the Indians will be able to finish 15 games above .500 in 2014 against their divisional foes. Look for a much more even record, with probably between two and five games difference.