2012: 88-74 (44-32 after All-Star break)
Who’s gone: Jose Valverde, Delmon Young.
Who’s new: Torii Hunter, Brayan Pena.
Why they’ll contend: The defending AL champions spent the winter tinkering, not retooling, knowing DH Victor Martinez is coming back after missing 2012 with a knee injury. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer are still here. And they’ve added Hunter, who turns 37 in July but can still play.
Why they won’t: Detroit was willing to let Valverde leave as a free agent because it has a closer-in-waiting in Bruce Rondon, whose fastball has hit 102 miles per hour. But that’s a big job when a team is expected, not just hoping, to reach the postseason. Beyond that, there aren’t many questions.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2012: 72-90 (35-43 after All-Star break)
Who’s gone: Joakim Soria.
Who’s new: James Shields, Wade Davis, Ervin Santana, Miguel Tejada.
Why they’ll contend: They’re certainly going for it. They re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, acquired Ervin Santana and traded top prospects Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery to get Shields and Davis from Tampa Bay. KC’s bullpen quietly posted a 3.17 ERA last year. If first baseman Eric Hosmer bounces back from his sophomore slump and Santana rediscovers his 2011 form, the Royals will be tough.
Why they won’t: Jeff Francoeur became an anchor last year. Myers looked poised to replace him, and now he’s gone. The bench will be thin, unless Tejada somehow revitalizes himself after missing 2012. History also works against this club, with just one winning season (2003) since 1994.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2012: 85-77 (38-39 after All-Star break)
Who’s gone: A.J. Pierzynski, Kevin Youkilis, Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers, Philip Humber.
Who’s new: Jeff Keppinger, Matt Lindstrom.
Why they’ll contend: The White Sox didn’t add any big pieces this offseason, but they kept Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd from leaving via free agency. Chris Sale is one of the toughest lefties in baseball, and Jose Quintana quietly posted a 3.76 ERA last year. The pitching staff is talented and deep. Lindstrom adds to an already strong bullpen.
Why they won’t: With Pierzynski gone, the jury is out with Tyler Flowers at catcher. Keppinger replaces Youkilis at third base. Paul Konerko remains a force, but other hitters in the lineup are boom or bust, including Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham.
2012: 68-94 (24-53 after All-Star break)
Who’s gone: Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Roberto Hernandez, Jack Hannahan, Shelley Duncan.
Who’s new: Terry Francona (manager), Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Mike Aviles, Trevor Bauer, Scott Kazmir, Brett Myers, Bryan Shaw, Drew Stubbs.
Why they’ll contend: They reshuffled the deck after another brutal second half last year. It wasn’t former manager Manny Acta’s fault, but the Indians landed a proven winner in Francona. Ownership re-established its commitment by signing Swisher for $56 million and Bourn for $48 million. And the back end of the bullpen is solid, led by All-Star closer Chris Perez.
Why they won’t: The starting rotation has too many question marks. If Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson are on their game, look out. But that’s a big if, especially for Jimenez, who’s been a huge disappointment since 2010.
2012: 66-96 (30-47 after All-Star break)
Who’s gone: Scott Baker, Denard Span, Ben Revere, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps.
Who’s new: Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Correia.
Why they’ll contend: The last time the Twins entered a season with expectations this low was 2008, their first year without Johan Santana and Torii Hunter. Expected favorites Detroit and Cleveland flopped, and the Twins wound up losing a Game 163 tiebreaker to the White Sox 1-0. The Twins have had two straight seasons derailed by injuries, so better health would be a boost.
Why they won’t: Their pitching staff pales in comparison to Detroit’s and Chicago’s. Worley, Pelfrey and Correia might stabilize things after last year’s debacle, but they are not high-end talents. And the lineup has too many question marks — second base, third base, shortstop, center field, right field — to imagine it coming together at once.