On Tuesday, we previewed the teams in the AL East. Now, the writers at M-SABR are offering our insight into the teams in the AL Central, and what may be in store for them this offseason. Listed in alphabetical order, here are our previews for them.
Chicago White Sox
By Conor Stemme
2017 Record: 67-95 (4th in AL Central)
2017 Payroll: $94,889,688 (26th in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
The White Sox are a team in full rebuild mode. 2018 will not be a good year for them as most of the team that struggled in 2017 is still around. Young players like Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez hope to have good seasons and demonstrate the future of the team. The Sox had the fifth youngest team in baseball last year, which is a good sign for a team preparing for the future. However, the White Sox still have some older players like Jose Abreu, James Shields, and Geovany Soto, all over 30 years old. These players will help the team win some games this year, but most will not be around for the long haul. Much like last season, this year is all about finding playing time for the guys who will hopefully be future cornerstones of the franchise. In the meantime, 2018 will be another hard year for White Sox fans.
The White Sox will not compete this year, so the team needs as many young players and prospects they can get. The biggest problems for the future are catcher, first base, and pitching. The franchise has Zack Collins who was drafted in 2016, but he has only played 12 games in AA. Collins may be the catcher of the future, but having another option would never hurt. First base is also an issue. Jose Abreu is 30 years old now and the White Sox have no solid backup option. The White Sox starting rotation is built for the future with Carlos Rodon (24), Reynaldo Lopez (23), Lucas Giolito (23), and Carson Fulmer (23). These pitchers may not be the greatest now, but they all have a few years to grow. The White Sox do have a few pitching prospects, including Michael Kopech who can throw over 100 MPH. Acquired in the Chris Sale trade last offseason, Kopech had an 11.7 K/9 in AA in 119 innings pitched. Kopech is a great starting pitcher to replace James Shields. The bullpen is an area of concern. The incumbent closer is Juan Minaya, who had a 4.53 ERA in 40 games this past season. Clearly, Sox pen needs help this year and in the future.
The White Sox will not make many free agent signings and will trade players away this offseason. Specifically, he team need to trade away their last remaining older players. These players include Jose Abreu, James Shields, and even Avisail Garcia. Abreu and Garcia had good seasons last year and could fetch a hefty price during the offseason. Abreu, while being a fan favorite, has arbitration in 2018 and 2019 and will be a free agent in 2020. The White Sox could get a great return as the free agent market is weak this offseason. Abreu should be traded for young players at either first base or outfield if Garcia is traded as well. Though he is only 26, Garcia had a great season last year and could be traded to a contender. Garcia will not have as much trade value as Jose, but he could help the White Sox get some pitching help or another outfielder. James Shields is now 35 and has 2018 and a 2019 option left on his contract. The White Sox will probably not get anything for him, but they should jump at any offer they get. Shields was worth a lowly -0.2 WAR, and he is to be paid $21 million in 2018. Having his contract off the books will be a huge benefit for the team.
By Zane Harding
2017 Record: 102-60 (1st in AL Central, lost ALDS)
2017 Payroll: $139,165,884 (18th in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
Cleveland was a force to be reckoned with in 2017. Despite a shocking early postseason exit to the New York Yankees, the Indians posted the highest Pythagorean W/L record in baseball this past season with a staggering 108-54 mark. First and foremost, let’s talk about the young core of Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. These two are 24 and 23, respectively, and posted a combined 12.4 rWAR. That’s staggering and extremely unfortunate for any team expecting to win the AL Central in the next, I don’t know, four years (not that anybody has plans to, even the Twins are light years away from the Indians at this point). Where this team really excels, however, is its pitching. Corey Kluber had the best season of any pitcher this past year, posting incredible numbers across the board as he walked only 1.6 per nine, allowed less than one homerun per nine, struck out 11.7 per nine, and posted a WHIP of 0.87. Kluber alone could make a league-average rotation great, but then you factor in Carlos Carrasco, another ace. Man. The Indians have Kluber through his 35-year-old season and Carrasco through his 33-year-old season. All in all, the Cleveland Indians have a window to compete at least through 2020, assuming the remainder of the rotation continues to produce.
This team had an insane run differential this past season, and it will return Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, and its other starters. Josh Tomlin struggled greatly in 2017, posting a 4.98 ERA, but Danny Salazar might be able to bounce back and produce. Because of this, the Indians might not necessarily need a new starter (though they could theoretically pursue one if they want to go for a mega-rotation). Pitching isn’t the issue with this team, so really, hitting is the main place the Indians could improve. Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley, and Jay Bruce are all hitting the free agent market this offseason, while Jason Kipnis and Yan Gomes struggled at the plate throughout the year. There isn’t a massive wealth of talent at catcher or second base out there, but the Indians have minor holes there.
The Indians need to bring Carlos Santana and his massive OBP back to the Tribe. That shouldn’t cost too much, perhaps 3 years/$50 million, but besides Santana, the frugal Indians will likely not pursue too many other free agents. That should be okay. If only Zack Cozart had any experience at 3B (though that hasn’t stopped teams before).
By Matthew Kikkert
2017 Record: 64-98 (5th in AL Central)
2017 Payroll: $198,716,174 (5th in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
It does not take an expert to realize that for a team with the fifth highest payroll in the league and the worst record, it was a complete disaster of a season. After trading away multiple key pieces of the organization in Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, JD Martinez, and others, it is now clear the Tigers are in a complete rebuild. Next June, the Tigers will select first in the MLB draft, but it may still be multiple years before they are able to contend again. This translates into another long season where they will contend for the #1 pick in the 2019 draft as well. The lone star attraction left on the team beside up-and-coming prospects is future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera, who should continue being able to sell some tickets for the upcoming season.
The current team needs plenty of outfield help, and unloading JD Martinez for three infielders did not help this cause. The three current outfielders, Mikie Mahtook, Jacoby Jones, and converted infielder Nicholas Castellanos, combined for just a 2.6 fWAR in 2017, whereas the average outfield WAR was approximately double this amount. Unfortunately, under the new Tigers strategy, they will ultimately need to develop this from the inside, and this offseason they will only be looking to sign temporary veteran players at league minimum until the young prospects are ready. Secondly, pitching is a big weak spot for this team. Currently, not only is the bullpen in distress, but now also the starting rotation is well below average. The Tigers had the third worst starting rotation ERA at 5.20 and the worst bullpen ERA at 5.63, which combined to the worst overall ERA at 5.36. Once again, the 2018 Tigers will be looking to keep costs low by signing cheap veteran players, so do not expect any headline moves addressing the pitching staff.
Continuing on with the complete rebuild, it would be in the best interest of the Tigers to trade Ian Kinsler, unloading his 2018 salary of $11 million and adding additional young talent before he becomes a free agent next offseason. This may not happen this winter if a quiet market develops, but expect Kinsler to be dealt by the July deadline for sure. As far as starting pitching is concerned, Chris Tillman is a common name currently associated with the Detroit Tigers, but this may be a splurge, given his approximate value of $10 million per season. Other veteran pitching options could potentially be Matt Garza, Ricky Nolasco, or even Doug Fister, who could all eat innings for the team. In the outfield, Curtis Granderson and Austin Jackson have been linked to the team as possible candidates for veteran outfield leadership. If Granderson is signed, this could also be a way for the club to bring fans to the ballpark, given his history with the team and the fanbase’s love for him.
All in all, by coming into the season with such low expectations for the Tigers, the only way they can go is up.
Kansas City Royals
By Duncan Wallis
2017 Record: 80-82 (3rd in AL Central)
2017 Payroll: $143,997,700 (13th in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the end of a 30-year-long Royal title drought. Yet, now, as we look towards the Kansas City offseason, we see the final pieces of that team slipping through GM Dayton Moore’s fingers. The Royals have thirteen free agents this year. Here’s the list: Melky Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas, Mike Moustakas, Mike Minor, Alcides Escobar, Trevor Cahill, Seth Maness, Peter Moylan, Brayan Pena, Clay Mortenson, and Ramon Castro. Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas all received qualifying offers of a one-year, $17.4 million-dollar deal, but none of them took it. All three will look for the multi-year paydays they deserve. The Royals will have to get creative in 2018 if they want to contend with the aging veterans they have. However, it’s much more likely that Dayton Moore realizes that this Royal era is over, and he needs a fresh start.
The Royals have needs pretty much across the board. Specifically, they need help at third base, first base, shortstop, centerfield, and starting pitcher. They need to do something to replace the myriad of players departing.
If the Royals were trying to revamp in this year’s offseason (they aren’t), then I’d suggest taking a hard look at some smaller ticket free agents with big upside. Chris Tillman was utterly terrible last season, but look at him before that. His ERA was 3.82 from 2012-2016, and he is only 29. Look at Lucas Duda or Yonder Alonso to fill the hole left at 1B by Hosmer. They should try to re-sign Escobar as he’s the only truly viable option at short besides Zack Cozart, who has been streaky. Obviously, if they can afford it, re-sign Moustakas. If not, take a look at Eduardo Nunez who has been flying under the radar bouncing between teams. As far as centerfield goes, good luck finding a free agent who can fill that hole besides Cain, himself. They could end up using their aging veterans with large contracts like Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, Jason Hammel, and even Alex Gordon to trade for a solid hitting centerfielder or hope that a prospect can fill that hole next year.
By Jack Gioffre
2017 Record: 85-77 (2nd in AL Central, lost Wild Card Game)
2017 Payroll: $146,380,109 (19th in MLB)
Coming off a 2017 that no one—apart from Twins believers—saw coming, Minnesota looks to prove that their successful season was no fluke. Filled with young talent and aging veterans, AL Manager of the Year Paul Molitor will be faced with the challenge of balancing these players. The Twins’ main issue is pitching: particularly middle relief and back-end starters. Ervin Santana enjoyed a resurgent season in which he went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA and threw more than 200 innings. However, his FIP was more than a run higher, sitting at 4.46, indicating that he benefitted from the Twins’ stellar defense. Behind him was Jose Berrios, who finally broke through despite inconsistent results. Berrios pitched to a 2.41 ERA at home this season with a 9.22 K/9. Translating that success to his starts on the road will prove vital for Minnesota in 2018. The Twins’ lineup is led by sluggers Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier, as well as improving outfielders Byron Buxton and Max Kepler. Sano and Dozier were among the best hitters in the league last year, mashing a combined 62 home runs. Buxton, after a largely disappointing 2016 in which he came alive in September, struggled early in 2017 as well yet finished strong to salvage the season. Buxton’s superb defensive work was recognized in 2017, earning him both Gold Glove and Platinum Glove honors. If the Twins can get results from the back of their rotation and from their inconsistent young players, they could push for the playoffs again.
The Twins are in desperate need of pitchers, both starters and relievers. Their ERA+ of 96 was 11th in the AL, and their bullpen was worth -4.2 wins above average—only the Tigers were worse among American League teams. And this is despite Ervin Santana overperforming his true talent. 7 pitchers started at least 9 games for Minnesota, and only Santana and Berrios had ERAs below 4.50.
Try for either Shohei Ohtani (if available) or a lower-tier starter such as Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb. The Twins currently have the third-largest signing-pool bonus funds available (behind the Rangers and Yankees). This will allow them to offer a relatively large amount for the star two-way player, who is only eligible to sign a minor league contract. This leaves the signing bonus as the major piece of money and a very enticing piece for Ohtani. To solve their bullpen issue, a good player to add would be Addison Reed. Reed has been a staple of effective bullpens for years and comes with high strikeout ability.
Be sure to stay tuned for our AL West previews, coming later this week!