By Sean McAdam
Over the last five seasons, four of the five teams in the A.L. Central have reached the post-season at least once, with three different teams winning the division title.
That demonstrates the parity the Central boasts, with three teams -- Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago -- viewed as potential contenders and a fourth -- Kansas City -- in possession of the best collection of prospects in the game.
Two teams added impact bats in the off-season, with the White Sox signing DH Adam Dunn and the Tiges landing catcherDH Victor Martinez.
The White Sox boast the best starting rotation and should be considered the favorites.
(IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
Chicago White Sox
ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: Someone must emerge as Bobby Jenks' replacement in the closer role. Jenks was inconsistent for much of last season, but the White Sox will need someone to lock down the late innings if they're going to contend. Among the candidates: power lefty Matt Thornton or Chris Sale, drafted only last June.
ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: Carlos Quentin and Gordon Beckham can't be as inconsistent as last year. If Quentin, who knocked in 100 runs in five months in 2008, or Beckham, a 2009 Rookie of the Year contender, rebound, the White Sox will have the division's best lineup to go along with the best rotation.
BIGGEST ADDITION: DH Adam Dunn
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: RHP Bobby Jenks
ROOKIE TO WATCH: LHP Chris Sale
ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: The stars of the future must continue to develop. While dealing off established stars before they hit free agency (CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Martinez), the Indians have collected promising pieces in return. Now, it's time for for the likes of infielder Matt LaPorta, catcher Carlos Santana and outfielder Michael Brantley.
ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, limited by injuries in recent seasons, can't be hurt again. While the Indians wait for prospects to develop, the Tribe need some veterans to carry the present load.
BIGGEST ADDITION: OF Austin Kearns
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: INF Andy Marte
ROOKIE TO WATCH: OF Michael Brantley
ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: The double-play duo of Carlos Guillen and shortstop Jhonny Peralta must show range and contribute offensively. They're both 35 and their best seasons are probabl behind them. But if they can make plays and contribute some offense, the Tigers might be a factor.
ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: Young starters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello can't be as inconsistent as they were last year. Justin Verlander is the staff ace, but Scherzer and Porcello need to reach double figures in wins to give the staff depth.
BIGGEST ADDITION: CDH Victor Martinez
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: RHP Jeremy Bonderman
ROOKIE TO WATCH: LHP Andy Oliver
Kansas City Royals
ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: Someone must emerge in a starting rotation
which lost both Zack Greinke (trade) and Gil Meche (retirement) in the off-season.
Former first-round pick Luke Hochevar is probably he best bet.
ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: The Royals must resist the temptation to rush their prospects before they're ready. Bringing up the likes of can't-miss prospects like Mike Moustakas and first baseman Eric Hosmer before they're ready would only set the franchise back further.
BIGGEST ADDITION: SS Alcides Escobar
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: RHP Zack Greinke
ROOKIE TO WATCH: LHP Tim Collins
ONE THING THAT HAS TO HAPPEN: The Twins must rebuild their bullpen, which suffered major losses in free agency. No fewer than five relievers -- Jesse Crain, Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Ron Mahay -- bolted. On the plus side: closer Joe Nathan is expected back after missing all of last year with Tommy John surgery.
ONE THING THAT CAN'T HAPPEN: The Twins can't put too much pressure on Francisco Liriano. Other starters -- Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing -- must help take the load off Liriano, who spent several seasons coming back arm surgery before regaining his dominance.
BIGGEST ADDITION: IF Tsuyoshi Nishoika
BIGGEST SUBTRACTION: SS J.J. Hardy
ROOKIE TO WATCH: RHP Kyle Gibson