KC Royals: Power ranking AL Central teams ahead of spring training

The AL Central remains the weakest division in baseball. After a massive offseason from the Royals, can they enter the division crown race? Let's look at the power rankings.

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2. Cleveland Guardians

These are not the Cleveland Guardians of old. Ideastream Public Media reporter Terry Pluto put the hurdles of the 2024 squad best in January.

"The Guardians, for the third year, will be the youngest team in Major League Baseball, at least as the roster is right now," Pluto said. They'll be one of the lower-paid ones. [Stephen Vogt] is replacing, whom I would say is the best manager in Cleveland baseball history, and that's Terry Francona, a guy that in 11 years here, (has) three manager of the year titles, six trips to the playoffs, you know, all that stuff."

It's hard to argue with Pluto's analysis. Francona, a future Hall of Famer, is no longer managing Cleveland and guiding the team through the recent roster changes. Although Cleveland has had a reputation for frequent transactions in recent years, Francona's teams have consistently produced wins regardless. Vogt will have to learn to do the same on the fly after Cleveland stumbled in 2023 with a 76-86 record.

Picking against Cleveland has backfired several times in recent years, and they have the track record to be in the divisional race. They still field an extremely productive lineup, led by José Ramírez and Andrés Giménez. There are also several high-power prospects waiting in the wings, like Bo Naylor and Brayan Rocchio. Add them to a young but stellar rotation led by Triston McKenzie and Shane Bieber, there is plenty of talent in Cleveland.

The Guardians have perhaps the strongest pitching staff in the division unless they choose to trade away Bieber or Emmanuel Clase. Even if that happens, they still have a lineup with a lot of potential and a well-stocked farm system. Although Cleveland is going through a transitional phase, they should still have the ability to win in 2024.