The Indians’ acquisition of Brandon Moss kicked off a rather busy week for the AL Central (although it’s nothing compared to the week the Dodgers had). So what did the Indians’ Central foes do this week? (Or even so far this offseason)
Detroit Tigers – The Tigers keep claiming that they’re not going to get involved in the Max Scherzer sweepstakes, but I think I’ll believe that when I see it. This is a team that has shown very little hesitancy when it comes to forking over money to keep (or obtain) some of the top talent available during the offseason. They already resigned Victor Martinez to a four-year, $68 million deal earlier this offseason. The Tigers also traded starter Rick Porcello to the Boston Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes (RHP Alex Wilson and LHP Gabe Speier are also heading to Detroit). Since Torii Hunter opted to return to Minnesota on a one-year deal, Cespedes will likely fill his spot in the outfield. Detroit already filled the whole created by the Porcello departure (and perhaps even a Scherzer departure) by trading for Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon. Greene was involved in a three-team deal with the Yankees and Diamondbacks last week; shortstop Didi Gregorious went to the Yankees (remember, he was originally involved in the Trevor Bauer deal), while LHP Robbie Ray and infield prospect Domingo Leyba went from Detroit to Arizona. The Tigers sent the Reds two prospects for Simon – shortstop Eugenio Suarez and pitcher Jonathan Crawford.
So what does all of this mean? It was obviously a busy week or two for the Tigers; and who knows if they’re done yet or not. They still haven’t made any moves to stabilize their shaky bullpen. Even though it’s only December, they maintain they’re not planning to make any significant bullpen additions. Obviously retaining MVP finalist Martinez is a big deal, even if the last year or two of that deal may be a bit of a burden. From an Indians fan’s perspective, it’s nice to see Porcello leave the Central. He has solid career numbers against the Indians, and had a 0.00 ERA against them in 2014, and a 1.82 ERA against them in 2013. On the flip side, Cespedes is a lifetime .300/.337/.500 hitter against the Tribe. That lineup will still be a force to be reckoned with, even if J.D. Martinez returns to earth a bit. The wild card will be that rotation, if Scherzer doesn’t return. Was Justin Verlander’s 2014 season just a fluke, or has he started to decline from his dominant years? Will the highly underrated Anibal Sanchez return to form, or will he still battle with injuries? Will the two new additions, Greene and Simon, do well in the AL Central? They can’t clobber their way to victory in every game, so they need to get a strong performance from their starters.
Kansas City Royals – The Royals have had a relatively quiet offseason so far. They let 1B/DH Billy Butler walk, as he signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Oakland Athletics. It doesn’t sound as if they’ll be able to retain James Shields, or that they’re making an attempt to keep free agent Nori Aoki. They had interest in a reunion with Ervin Santana before he signed with the Twins. They’re supposedly shopping second baseman Omar Infante and are listening to offers on their lights-out trio of relievers, Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera just because they may not have the money to keep all three (who are due raises in arbitration). Just today they signed Kendrys Morales to a two-year, $17 million deal, who as Ryan pointed out last week, is not a very appealing option.
So what does all of this mean? It’s still early in the offseason, but the Royals have not yet addressed all of the holes they have. Yordano Ventura is likely ready to slide into the “ace” role with the team, but they’re still down a top-flight pitcher. Aoki’s offensive performance wasn’t absurd, but he was consistent and played very solid defense. With Butler’s struggles the past year and a half, Morales probably isn’t really an upgrade or a downgrade at this point. The real question will be if they hold onto all three of those relievers, and if not, who they’re able to acquire for one of them. With those three at the back end of the bullpen again this year, as dominant as they were in 2014, will end a lot of games pretty early.
Chicago White Sox – In 2014, the White Sox statistically had one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball; and that was with Cy Young candidate Chris Sale in the rotation helping their overall numbers. The bullpen was dismal, except they did find some success with Jake Petricka in the closer role later in the season. The White Sox took big steps to improve their pitching staff this week, with the acquisition of Jeff Samardzija and the signing of David Robertson for four years, $46 million. Samardzija, another victim of the Athletics’ offseason fire sale, went to Chicago with minor leaguer Michael Ynoa for Marcus Semien, Chris Bassit, Josh Phegley, and Rangel Ravelo. You may remember Phegley and Semien from last year; both were mediocre at the major league level in 2014. The White Sox are also discussing sending Dayan Viciedo to the Mariners for a bullpen arm.
So what does all of this mean? The White Sox likely overpaid for Robertson, but he will bring a lot of stability to that bullpen. The fact that Samardzija only has one year left either means that the White Sox are going all-out to contend in 2015, or they plan to extend Samardzija beyond that point. With Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu at first base, the White Sox have an elite hitter to serve as the center of their offense. Without Semien, Gordon Beckham, Alejandro De Aza, and potentially Viciedo, it’s an offense that is likely to look fairly different in 2015. Is this enough to put the White Sox in contention? It’s tough to say, but they’ve definitely done a lot to improve the weakest points of their team from 2014.
Minnesota Twins – The Twins just signed Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55 million deal today. One of the weakest areas for the Twins over the past few years have been their starting pitching; their bullpen is decent, but they’ve had problems with starters. This is despite the fact that they went out last season and signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in an attempt to improve their rotation. Hughes was a very pleasant surprise for them, but he still wasn’t enough to keep them out of the basement of the AL Central with a 70-92 record.
So what does all of this mean? Ervin Santana will definitely help improve the Twins’ rotation, but will it finally be enough to get them out of the AL Central basement? While you don’t want to see any of the better pitchers end up in the Central, I’d rather have Santana end up with the Twins instead of the Royals. Santana would step right into the hole filled by a Shields departure; the Twins are probably more than just one starter away from contention.
Even though it’s still relatively early in the offseason, so far all of the AL Central teams have made significant additions or improvements, outside of the Royals. It’s tough to see whether or not these moves will have a major impact, but they certainly look pretty good so far.
– Justin Masterson signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox for $9.5 million and additional incentives. That seems like it’s quite an overpay, but it could end up as a bargain if Masterson is healthy and able to bounce back. However, with that short wall in left field at Fenway, and Masterson’s problems with left-handed hitters, I would feel less than enthusiastic about this signing if I were a Red Sox fan.
– The Chicago Cubs won the Jon Lester sweepstakes, as he’ll head there on a six-year, $155 million deal. I would like to see him fly into his introductory press conference on a hoverboard, while yelling “Back to the Future II, losers!” Huey Lewis will be playing in the background. (I am anxiously awaiting the new double-tie fashion as well).