The model: Tigers
Sure, you scoff, the secret to an elite lineup is to put a Triple Crown winner in the middle of it. But that's the point — the Tigers recognized the value of transcendent hitters, actively sought one out and paid whatever price necessary — in the case of Miguel Cabrera, a $248 million price — to keep him. Attend a Tigers game and you understand why: The looming presence of such a threatening hitter affects opposing pitchers and makes the entire lineup more dangerous. Detroit has had success finding effective hitters to put around its star, from base-stealers to on-base specialists to supplementary sluggers. Victor Martinez, like Prince Fielder before him, has benefited from Cabrera's shadow; J.D. Martinez has developed into an all-around threat; and the Tigers led the league in on-base percentage. As a result, they also have scored more runs than any team in baseball over the past three seasons.
AL Central rankings
1. Tigers: Now they have added Yoenis Cespedes, who averages 24 homers a year, to the fifth spot in the lineup.
2. White Sox: They hope they have found their Cabrera in Jose Abreu, and adding Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera should put them among the top three in runs.
3. Twins: They learned the value of walks last year, posting the second-best OBP in the AL; counting on a bounce-back season from Mauer.
4. Royals: They went a different route, relying on speed (first in steals) and putting the ball in play (last in walks and strikeouts) to offset their lack of power.
5. Indians: Michael Brantley was a 20-HR, 20-SB star, but his teammates don't get on base enough for him to carry this lineup.