Off-Season Overview: AL Central
By: Max Greenfield
Minnesota won another division title but continued their playoff woes. Cleveland has more great pitching but had a poor offense and was filled with drama off the field. Chicago is on the come up, but will a new manager cost them more than help them? Both Detroit and Kansas City are rebuilding as the central division continues to be a weaker division in baseball.
Both central divisions were lucky in 2020, they only had to play each other! Unfortunately for the teams in the central, they did not play each other in the playoffs. The central region put 7 teams in the playoffs, they went a combined 2–14 in those games. The White Sox and Cardinals were the only teams to force the opening series to three games. The most heartbreaking of the teams was the Twins setting a playoff losing streak record. One day, the Twins will win again. The outlook of the off-season changed dramatically when several players options are being declined, how will that affect the AL Central?
The Twins put forward another great roster but once again, their postseason woes continue. It has gotten to the point where you start to wonder if the owner of the twins pissed off a witch or wizard and they put a curse on the franchise. That is not the point of this article though, but if someone wants to investigate this, please do. Minnesota’s big gun was 40-year-old Nelson Cruz who once again had another fantastic season at the plate. Minnesota’s big new bat Josh Donaldson struggled in the small sample this year, but Donaldson has been prone to prolonged struggles in the past. He should be fine for the Twins moving forward. Byron Buxton was an anomaly at the plate but still somehow produced despite drawing two walks on the year but when you hit 13 home runs, it helps.
The real strength of the Minnesota Twins was the pitching. Kenta Maeda was a Cy Young candidate, Rich Hill pitched will, and the Twins bullpen was great again. It is going to be a big key for the team moving forward is keeping the pitching staff together as much as they can. There are a few big pieces of the rotation and bullpen that will be on the market this winter. Sergio Romo, Trevor May, and much to Yankee fans displeasure, Tyler Clippard highlight several key relievers that could be heading to new destinations in 2021.
It is hard to point to where the Twins need to improve. If you think Mitch Garver’s 2019 was a fluke, then I could understand wanting to believe that the Twins should look to upgrade the catching spot. I do not believe it was a fluke, but it is still an area where they can look. The offense has few holes but perhaps some upgrades at shortstop could be looked at. Maybe the Twins would look into signing long time Twin killer, Didi Gregorius. Polanco and Gregorius are roughly the same player, but the Twins may not want to spend the dollars on offense outside of re-signing Nelson Cruz. Frankly, that may be the only offensive side of the ball move the Twins make.
On the pitching side, letting Rich Hill walk is probably the right move. He is over 40 years old and while he was good, it would be a surprise to see him pitch a full season on the mound. Masahiro Tanaka might fare well in the Twin cities. Tanaka still shows promise of being the pitcher he once was and with maybe a different look, he could find success. Re-signing their reliever core also seems to be the best possible move for the team. Though with a plethora of options available, the Twins will be able to be more selective in their search.
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Jose Ramirez homers (17) on a fly ball to right center field. Francisco Lindor scores. Cesar Hernandez scores. |…
Cleveland (Insert New Name Here)
Cleveland went through a bit of a rough patch this year. Manager Terry Francona missed most of the season due to covid concerns. Pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac violated covid protocols and were sent home by the team. The level of distrust between the players and the team ultimately helped motivate Cleveland to trade Mike Clevinger to San Diego this year rather than wait. Zach Plesac stayed in Cleveland and pitched well alongside the rest of the pitching staff that was led by Shane Bieber. Bieber tore through the central region all season. Leading MLB in almost every major pitching statistic. He will win the AL Cy Young and may even win the MVP. Carlos Carrasco seemed back to his usual ways after missing time last season with his cancer diagnosis. Cleveland’s problem was the offense.
Cleveland’s pitching staff had to limit runs because the offense could not score any. The team had 4 above-average hitters on the season and only one of them had a wRC+ above 120. Jose Ramirez led all of baseball in fWAR among position players and may also win the MVP. Francisco Lindor was fine on the defensive end, but a slow start hurt him. Add onto the fact that he has made it clear that he believes the team can pay him but won’t and is actively trying to roast the team on social media, though I don’t blame him, he is on the way out. Carlos Santana just could not pick up some hits, but his plate discipline continues to provide a great deal of value. His option was declined but he may be back.
The team that is hopefully undergoing a name change (a long overdue one I might add) shocked the baseball world early in the off-season when they declined closer Brad Hand’s 10-million-dollar option. Even more surprising was the fact that no team picked it up. A reunion with Hand seemed almost a guarantee but now he may feel spite from the team. Cleveland’s great pitching staff keeps them in contention, but the team is in desperate need of some offense. The problem is they may be trading their second-best player and in fact, I recommend doing it. Lindor is better than both his 2019 and 2020 numbers suggest. While the package will not be excellent because the team sat on their hands too much, it will still be worthwhile. If the team cannot move on from him, a fire sale may take place. Cleveland’s championship window is almost closed.
Cleveland needs outfield bats, a big-time guy like Springer is most definitely out of their price range. Jackie Bradley Jr. could patrol centerfield for the team. His great defense mixed with an average bat would be a big help. Bradley Jr. paired with Michael Brantley could also be an option. Brantley loves Cleveland and a return there is not out of the question. The big move they could make, with Cesar Hernandez a free agent, is trying to trade for Gio Urshela and move Jose Ramirez to 2nd base. A Yankees-Cleveland trade has been rumored for years around Francisco Lindor. Now I am not making a trade proposal here, but I think the Yankees have what Cleveland wants and Cleveland has what the Yankees want. This is the big move of the off-season to look out for.
Chicago White Sox
The future is bright on the south side. The team made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Admittedly, I was down on the White Sox more than most people but acknowledged that they had a bright future. The White Sox offense is powerful. Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, and Yasmani Grandal create a powerful core. Luis Robert shows flashes of brilliance at the plate, but his aggressive nature may hold his game back early in his career. Luckily for him, his teammate Tim Anderson has proven to be productive over the past season and change despite not drawing walks. There are a lot of things I like about the White Sox. The only thing holding them back is the pitching.
Lucas Giolito is the ace of the staff. Michael Kopech, who opted out of the season, is brimming with talent. Dallas Keuchel is an aging veteran but still can find a way to be good with his ability to work the corners and limit hard contact. Dane Dunning shows great promise and if Garret Crochet can improve the stuff he showed in his small sample, he can be a weapon. The White Sox pitching talent just needs time. The good news is they have it. The bad news is bad news for the entire organization. Tony La Russa is their new manager.
La Russa has not managed a team since the Cardinals and it seemed like that was it. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame and was serving in different front offices in an advisory role. La Russa deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He guided several teams to World Series titles and helped revolutionize the way teams use bullpens today in the postseason. There is no doubt in my mind that he was a very good manager. The keyword there is “was”. La Russa has not managed in almost a decade. He also does not have the best past on social justice. Just a reminder, he was on the wrong side of the argument with the “Colin Kaepernick debate” and has made some eye-catching comments in the past.
He is now being asked to manage a team that has the loudest and most passionate black player in the league, Tim Anderson. Anderson has already stated that La Russa still has yet to reach out to him. This is a relationship that already looks like it will go poorly. The clubhouse also includes Lucas Giolito who is very outspoken about social justice issues as well. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for success. So why did the White Sox do this? The GM and the rest of the front office were blindsided by the decision from owner Jerry Reinsdorf. It seems all the good work that the White Sox front office has done could be completely undone. For that, I feel bad for the front office. There are no immediate plans to improve the team and I think you have to roll the dice on La Russa to see what you have.
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Salvador Perez homers (7) on a fly ball to center field. | BaseballSavant.com
Kansas City Royals
It feels like a completely different world since the Kansas City Royals won the world series in 2015. The last remaining player from that team is Salvador Perez. Alex Gordon announced his retirement and now Perez is the last reminder of what was for the team. The Royals have stuck to their philosophy through and through. Try to get a couple of power bats in the middle of the lineup then fill the rest of it with speed and defense. Jorge Soler, Salvador Perez, and Hunter Dozier try to supply power. All were above average offensively, but Soler and Dozier struggled to get a lot of hits. Perez was the best offensive catcher in baseball on a rate basis but didn’t play enough. If the Royals can the type of production that Soler and Dozier are capable of, it could be all they need to make the offense go.
That is assuming that Adalberto Mondesi can build upon the latter half of 2020 and not the front half of 2020. Mondesi is a blur on the basepaths but he does not get on base enough and strikes out way too much. Mondesi needs to control the strike zone better. He is good enough with the glove that it can still make him a valuable player. Nicky Lopez needs to find something with the bat, but the glove is just as good as people hoped it was. McBroom was a slightly above average offensive player, but he will need to be much more than that to make it worth it first base. Franco was good enough for the Royals over at third for them to roll with him again in 2021.
The Royals golden boy, Whit Merrifield might have put his best days behind him. Merrifield is a solid defender at second base but probably a below-average defensive outfielder whose offensive peak is being slightly above average. Merrifield’s plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired and his value on the basepath has decreased each of the last three seasons. The Royals have control of him until the end of 2022 and then can pick up a team option. I’d say they should look to trade him because of his team-friendly contract but he wouldn’t return enough for it to be worth it. For now, it’s keeping him until he plays better so you can trade him then.
The Royals are in desperate need of some pitching. It feels like every well below average team is. The problem for the Royals is they aren’t the best at developing pitchers. But they do have Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch giving me a slight bit of hope for the future. For now, they need pitchers to eat inning and bullpen arms to do the same until they develop enough of their talent. Perhaps the biggest off-season acquisition the Royals could get would be going all-in Rapsodo, Edgetronic, and other pitching data development tools. If not, I would look into smaller deals for Mike Minor, Tommy Milone, and others of that variety.
Things are brewing in Detroit, just maybe not in 2020. There were a few bright spots for the team on the offensive side. Jeimer Candelario was a force at the plate and newcomer Willi Castro immediately contributed. Jacoby Jones still swings and misses a lot but found a way to be an above-average offensive player. Harold Castro and CJ Cron also provided good value at the plate. Unfortunately, the face of the franchise Miguel Cabrera is only getting older and his best years are behind him. He is under contract for so long that it will limit what the team can do both in free agency, and in the lineup.
Spencer Turnbull led what was a struggling Detroit pitching staff. Turnbull’s command could improve, and it is going to need to over a full season. Daniel Norris showed a small flash of what he is capable of. Jose Cisnero and Gregory Soto proved to be weapons, out of the bullpen and could be mainstays for the near future. Matt Boyd might have led the all-disappointment-pitching-staff. Boyd has big-time strike-out potential but there was a noticeable downtick in his stuff this year and he has an unwavering ability to give up the long ball. At a certain point, he has got to figure it out. Casey Mize made his debut and he still has some need for some seasoning. I like the Tigers’ future, and Mize is at the center of that.
That future is going to be led by AJ Hinch. Yes, the former Astros Manager. Yes, he is filled with controversy because of it. However, that was the best possible hire the team could make. In this day and age, managers are more about managing the clubhouse and being able to interpret data to make decisions. Hinch is good at both of those things. He also has experience taking a young team into the promised land. The Tigers are hoping to be in the same spot as Houston was. They could very well be. The Tigers recently revamped their analytic department and are expanding in player development areas involving tech. Having Hinch there is going to make the transition smoother on all accounts.
The Tigers should pursue some short-term pitching solutions. The money is not there for a long-term deal thanks to some big contract spending from previous GM’s. Unfortunately, Kevin Gausman has a QO attached to his name, but he would have been perfect for Detroit. Detroit might want to take a chance on Chris Archer. Archer is still beaming with potential and after not playing in 2020, may be able to take a shorter deal than originally thought. Garret Richards and Matt Shoemaker also come to mind as options. Re-signing CJ Cron also seems like a good move for the team. They could also Kurt Suzuki a call because a reunion with Austin Romine is not going to happen.