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It looks like the American League Wild Card race will be more competitive in 2024

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Photo credit:The Associated Press
Veronica Chung
2 months ago
A few months ago, no one in the baseball industry thought much of the American League Central, and understandably so.
The AL Central only had one team that recorded a winning record last year, with the remaining four teams falling under 0.500. It also doesn’t help that the division never spent much money during the offseason or trade deadline for years. However, the 2023 offseason had other storylines in store for a somewhat sluggish division.
It all started when the Tigers traded for outfielder Mark Canha from the Milwaukee Brewers. Then, the team signed starting pitcher Kenta Maeda, who signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Detroit Tigers in late November to kick off the hot stove for the AL Central. Not long after, the Tigers also brought back left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin on a one-year deal worth $4.25 million with a $6.5 million club option for 2025. Just when the stove looked like it was cooling off, Detroit also didn’t hesitate to add Jack Flaherty to a one-year, $14 million contract to fortify the pitching rotation. 
It was clear that the Tigers were going all in this time around in a weaker division. With young position players like Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson on the rise, adding veteran players throughout the roster could propel the team to the next level. In a relatively listless division, going all in was the right move, especially for a burgeoning team like the Tigers. 
But the Tigers weren’t alone in pushing in all their chips this offseason. When the Tigers started solidifying their rosters, the Kansas City Royals also entered the free market to strengthen their roster. The Royals signalled their intentions to seriously compete when they signed relief pitcher Will Smith to a $5 million, one-year contract. In the team’s most significant move, the Royals also signed pitcher Seth Lugo to a two-year deal with a player option for the 2026 season and signed starting pitching Michael Wacha to a two-year, $32 million contract. The Royals certainly knew their pitching was their greatest undoing and were ready to become more competitive again in a softer division.
With Cleveland Guardians and Minnesota Twins holding back in the offseason market due to their TV contract uncertainty and the Chicago White Sox working to find its true identity, it gave the Tigers and Royals more reason to shoot for the stars. In a way, both teams being a part of a much less competitive division helps their case to compete for a division leader. When three out of five teams are actively exercising a payroll restraint, it cracks open a window of opportunity for the remaining teams to become more aggressive in fielding more competent rosters. 
The Tigers and Royals’ spending spree also indicates that the playoff race in 2024 could become more fiercely competitive than before. In 2023, any AL Central team competing for the Wild Card spots was out of the question unless the teams could secure the division leader spot. Hence, when the Twins solidified their position as a division leader, no other teams in the Central could flip the script as they struggled to win more than 70 games. But now that at least two more teams in the league are motivated to find their winning ways again, the playoff race could intensify next season with more teams trying to prove their competitiveness. 
The teams from the American League East and West have dominated the league’s playoff picture for the past few years while most of the AL Central took a backseat other than its division leaders. To be perfectly clear, it was simply harder for Central teams to compete with East or West teams who were willing to spend exorbitantly to maintain their contention windows. 
But despite their inherent disadvantages, the Central teams like the Tigers and Royals are not using their division-wide dysfunction to their advantage. They are also banking on the fact that getting into the playoff race is the key factor that will help them control their fates. Both teams fully understand that getting to the dance itself matters the most when it comes to making a deep and successful run. The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies have proved this point recently and even the Kansas City Royals themselves demonstrated that nine years ago. In short, the Tigers and Royals finally realized that they could create even more chaos in the playoff race by throwing their hats in the ring.
The offseason transactions have only just begun and more teams have more to prove than ever. The New York Yankees are tasked with becoming the evil empire again while the Boston Red Sox are looking to bounce back from their disappointing season. The Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers will continue to find ways to win more games than ever despite some uncertainty around their budgets and, in some cases, revenues. 
The Tigers and Royals entering this mayhem will certainly wreak more havoc as teams try to prove their worth. The 2023 offseason is showing that simply maintaining the status quo won’t reward teams with a ticket to the playoffs any longer. Teams will need to put their best foot forward to get a glimpse of the playoffs and the Blue Jays are no exception. So, buckle up for more upsets – the 2024 season is shaping up to be an absolute pandemonium, at least on paper.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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