We’re nearly halfway through what has been a vastly more active offseason than we saw in either of the past two winters. We’ve already checked in on what’s left to do for the five clubs in the NL East and the five in the AL West. Let’s turn the focus to the AL Central as we continue moving through the game’s six divisions…
Minnesota Twins [Offseason Outlook]
Baseball’s most-improved team from 2018 to 2019 entered the offseason in need of a rotation upgrade, and nothing has changed on that front. Several months after broadcasting an intent to pursue “impact” pitching, Minnesota’s rotation is led by a familiar trio: Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. Kyle Gibson has departed for the Rangers. Martin Perez signed with the Red Sox. The Twins’ rotation, at present, is thinner than it was for much of the 2019 season, and the top free agents are all off the board to other teams. The Twins will have to get creative in order to make good on that promise of adding an impact arm — particularly since few look to be clearly available on the trade market.
The other question facing the Twins is whether they’ll succeed in their ongoing pursuit of former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Third base isn’t a “need” for the Twins, but penciling in Donaldson at the hot corner and shifting Miguel Sano to first base deepens the lineup while simultaneously improving the infield defense. And the Twins still have ample funds to spend, even after signing Odorizzi, Pineda, Sergio Romo, Tyler Clippard and Alex Avila. If they miss out on Donaldson, too, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine could be all the more motivated to line up an impact trade.
Cleveland Indians [Offseason Outlook]
The Indians might already have succeeded in their primary goal, as ownership looks intent on further paring back payroll after spending at club-record level in the wake of 2016’s World Series run. Gone is Corey Kluber, and the fact that Cleveland moved him for what is widely regarded as a light return (rather than hanging onto him and exploring the midseason market) suggests that clearing his salary was a key piece of the deal.
The Indians reallocated a bit of the money earmarked for Kluber when they agreed to terms with Cesar Hernandez to serve as the new second baseman. But it’s been radio silence from the Cleveland front office otherwise, despite the team’s reported desire for an outfield upgrade. (Delino DeShields, acquired in the Kluber deal, does not fit that description.) It’s tough to see the Indians ponying up for one of Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, but they could still try to play for someone like Corey Dickerson or perhaps explore a Yasiel Puig reunion. The trade market may be the likelier path.
One would expect that the main narrative around the Indians would be “how can they return to the top of the division,” but it’s instead on whether they’ll trade anyone else after clearing Kluber’s salary. Francisco Lindor’s name is dominating the rumor mill in recent weeks, and even Mike Clevinger has seen his name pop up. A deal of either player might not be likely but could bring back some MLB-ready talent (while creating another enormous hole to fill). At this point, Cleveland could stand to add an outfielder, a bullpen arm or another starting pitcher, but it’s not clear how much they’re willing to spend to do so.
Chicago White Sox [Offseason Outlook]
Far and away the most active club in the division — if not in all of baseball — the White Sox have overhauled a roster that now includes Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Dallas Keuchel, Gio Gonzalez and Nomar Mazara (all after agreeing to an extension with Jose Abreu). You can debate the extent to which those moves have improved the roster, but there’s no denying that the South Siders will enter 2020 with a markedly better club (especially when considering the looming promotions of center fielder Luis Robert and second baseman Nick Madrigal).
Frankly, the heavy lifting is mostly complete for GM Rick Hahn and his staff — but don’t expect them to just sit back and wait for Opening Day. The Sox could still look to add a low-cost veteran in center or at second to bridge the gap to those aforementioned top prospects (and to serve as insurance, should they sustain an injury or struggle to adapt to the Majors). The team’s bench looks quite thin at the moment as well. In the bullpen, there’s little certainty beyond the top two names (Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer), so it’s only sensible to add a reliever or two to the fray as they look to build a deeper club capable of postseason contention. It’ll be worth keeping an eye out for some Spring Training extensions for younger players as well.
Kansas City Royals [Offseason Outlook]
The Royals have hired a new manager (Mike Matheny) and bought low on some former top prospects (Maikel Franco, Chance Adams). The signing of Franco and acquisition of Adams are both perfectly sensible moves for a rebuilding club to make, and a few more pickups along those lines wouldn’t be a surprise. But the Royals never figured to be aggressive in free agency this winter, as they’re clearly more focused on winning in 2021-22 than they are in 2020. There’s clearly room to add to the rotation or bullpen later in the offseason, should a good value present itself, but the Royals are also hopeful that several of their best pitching prospects will surface in the Majors in 2020.
Given the team’s current long-term approach, it’s surprising that the soon-to-turn-31 Whit Merrifield isn’t more available on the trade market. However, general manager Dayton Moore has steadfastly maintained that he expects Merrifield to be a part of the Royals’ next competitive club and has resisted all offers dating back to last offseason. The Royals locked Merrifield up to a very affordable extension last winter, and the club could conceivably explore long-term arrangements with the likes of Adalberto Mondesi or Jorge Soler this spring.
Detroit Tigers [Offseason Outlook]
Rebuilding or not, the Tigers opted to add some thump to their lineup earlier this month when they signed both C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop to matching one-year deals. Scooping up the Twins’ right-side infield tandem gives the Tigers some lineup depth and a pair of potential trade chips to flip this summer; a few other short-term moves along those lines could very well play out.
The pitching staff, in particular, looks ripe for short-term upgrades (both in the ’pen and in the rotation). A one-year flier on an Alex Wood or Jimmy Nelson type could pay dividends. Last year’s attempts at turning Tyson Ross and Matt Moore into coveted trade pieces didn’t pan out, but those results shouldn’t push the club away from trying what was a sound strategy once again.
The biggest question surrounding the Tigers is whether Matthew Boyd will be with the club to open the season. Boyd is widely known to be available and has drawn interest from plenty of clubs dating back to the July trade deadline. He’s controlled for another three seasons and emerged as one of the game’s premier strikeout pitchers in 2019, though home runs inflated his ERA. Some teams are surely hopeful, though, that if there’s a correction to last season’s juiced ball, Boyd can take another step forward and cement himself as a high-end rotation cog. There’s no urgency to trade him, but the Tigers will continue to explore the market to see if someone will overwhelm them.