The AL Central race tends to last a while. We have seen extra games played to determine the divisional champ each of the past two seasons. This year, the race is as close as ever. The White Sox lead the Tigers by half a game and the Twins by 3.5 games. One or two major trades could shape the pennant race, so let's consider one deal that each contender could realistically make to gain some traction and win the Central:
- The White Sox could acquire Adam Dunn – This is nothing new, since the White Sox realize Dunn would help them. He has 22 homers and a .959 OPS; current DH Mark Kotsay has six homers and a .709 OPS. Nats GM Mike Rizzo has made it clear that Dunn would cost a lot in terms of prospects, partly because Dunn projects to be a Type A free agent (which means his team can obtain picks in the 2011 draft by offering arbitration). One positive for the White Sox: Dunn may be losing interest in signing an extension that would keep him in D.C.
- The Tigers could acquire Dan Haren – The back of the Tigers' rotation is thin. Haren's 4.36 ERA isn't astounding, but his strikeout and walk numbers are strong (8.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9). It doesn't take a sabermetrician to notice that batters are hitting 42 points higher than usual against Haren, so he may have been unlucky so far this year. He's not cheap, though. About $3.6MM remains on his contract this season and nearly $33MM remains overall. The Tigers won't be paying Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson eight-figure salaries next season, so they may be able to absorb the hit.
- The Tigers could consider shortstops (like Haren's teammate Stephen Drew), but given Ramon Santiago's strong play and the state of the team's rotation, the Tigers' biggest need may be on the mound.
- The Twins could acquire Ted Lilly – Like the Tigers, the Twins could use pitching. Unlike the Tigers, they have already committed $72MM to next year's team and would have difficulty taking on Haren's contract. Ted Lilly, who makes $12MM this season before becoming a free agent, would be a major upgrade over Nick Blackburn. Lilly has a 4.08 ERA and 6.0 K/9, while Blackburn has a 6.40 ERA with just 3.2 K/9. Lilly projects to be a Type A free agent after the season, so the Twins could obtain draft picks in 2011 if they acquire him now. Like Dunn and Haren, he would be difficult to obtain.