The majority of the roster that helped the Kansas City Royals win their first World Series championship since 1985 will return next season. But it won't be the same team.
Starting pitcher Johnny Cueto has taken his long braids and blazing fastball to the Giants. Alex Gordon, a brilliant defensive fielder and solid hitter, remains an unsigned free agent. All-Star closer Greg Holland is, too, but he might miss all of 2016 because of Tommy John elbow surgery anyway. Ryan Madson, another key part of last year's dominant bullpen, left to sign with Oakland.
While the Royals figure how to overcome key losses, AL Central Division rivals have made improvements hoping to knock the Royals off their throne. This offseason has been a busy one in the AL Central, with one-time All-Stars Jordan Zimmermann, Todd Frazier and Mike Napoli joining the division.
But the hopeful contenders will have to beat Kansas City, which doesn't figure to be easy. The bullpen remains imposing. But, just to make sure, the Royals brought back former All-Star closer Joakim Soria as a free agent. Still, they need corner outfielders, especially if they aren't going pony up to pay Gordon. General Manager Dayton Moore entered the holiday season with plenty of work left to do.
"It's not just getting the best guys. It's finding the right guys," manager New Yost said during the winter meetings earlier this month in Nashville. "Dayton has a knack at doing that."
At this time of year, every team believes it has added the right guys. Including the Twins.
Coming off an encouraging 83-79 record in manager Paul Molitor's first year, the Twins wanted to bolster the catching position, improve the offense and add bullpen depth. GM Terry Ryan swapped outfielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for promising catcher John Ryan Murphy. Then he signed Korean righthanded slugger Byung Ho Park. The Twins still are looking for a lefthanded reliever to bolster the bullpen, but Molitor said last week that Trevor May likely will open the season in the bullpen. That gives the Twins four solid-to-above-average relievers in May, Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen and Casey Fien.
With prospects Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton all making their debuts last season, Ryan feels his team has upside.
"We have come at this thing a bit more from within," Ryan said. "We're still working at it as well, just like everyone else in this thing has."
Other division teams, in fact, have made splashier moves.
White Sox bolster infield
The White Sox were expected to be one of the offseason winners last year. They landed righthander Jeff Samardzija, closer David Robertson and outfielder Melky Cabrera. Then they took the field and won 76 games.
Chicago set out to improve its offense and stabilize the infield this offseason and took big swings again. The White Sox dealt for Frazier, an All-Star third baseman this year, along with second baseman Brett Lawrie. Instant offense. They solidified their catching with Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. With a Chris Sale-led rotation, Chicago could bounce back in 2016.
"We're blessed right now with some special talent that's entering prime of its career, whether it's Chris Sale or Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon — he's probably a little before his peak but certainly on the rise," GM Rick Hahn said on a Chicago-area sports radio show. "Our goal and intent all along has been to maximize the window to win a championship while these players are on our roster."
Cleveland adds righty bats
Cleveland was involved in discussions for Frazier. In the end, the Indians resisted trading away some of their good young pitching for offense. Instead, they signed first baseman Napoli — a defensive upgrade over Carlos Santana — and outfielder Rajai Davis.
They don't appear to be splashy moves, but Cleveland lost 31 games to lefthanded starters last season. That was the second most in the American League. Napoli and Davis have hit well against lefties, so Cleveland believes its offense will be balanced. Santana will remain a big part of the offense, but at a new position.
"We value our young pitching so much, and I think rightfully so," manager Terry Francona said, "so that the goal would be to try to get more offense without sacrificing the pitching or the defense that really helped us the second part of the year."
Zimmermann a big boost
Few saw the Tigers finishing in last place before last season began, but Detroit skidded to 87 losses. David Price and Yoenis Cespedes were traded, and Dave Dombrowski — the man who built the team into a power — was let go and landed in Boston.
Owner Mike Ilitch delivered his latest speech about winning a title while he can still smell the roses — and the Tigers' offseason moves reflect that win-now mind-set.
Adding Zimmermann, a righthander, was one of the bigger transactions of the offseason, as he signed for five years and $110 million. The Detroit bullpen has — finally — been addressed with the additions of closer Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe and Justin Wilson. Former Twins starter Mike Pelfrey might have fallen into a nice situation there.
New Tigers GM Al Avila has not been timid in his first offseason in charge.
"Al, without question, has been extremely active," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's really kind of accomplished a good portion of what was our goal to accomplish coming out of our organizational meetings mid-October, which was pitching, pitching and more pitching. That doesn't mean we can't tweak something or fill a hole here or there offensively or from a position player standpoint."
Whether it's through tweaking or something more substantial, AL Central teams have made moves to position themselves for a run at the division title. And more moves are coming.
Watch out, Kansas City.