Saturday, December 7, 2013
AL Central: Three questions for each team
By David Schoenfield
Before the winter meetings begin, let's look at the key issues facing each team in the AL Central.
What do they need? They've already been active, trading away Prince Fielder and Doug Fister and signing Joe Nathan, but everyone seems to think they have one big move left in them -- sign a free agent outfielder to play left field. Shin-Soo Choo is the best one remaining now that Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson are off the board.
Do you trust the bullpen depth? Not yet. They signed Nathan, but Drew Smyly is now in the rotation and Joaquin Benoit is a free agent. Hard-throwing Bruce Rondon will be expected to take a bigger role, but look for them to make another move here, maybe a lefty like Manny Parra or J.P. Howell.
How much better will the defense be? Much better. Some quick math. Fielder was minus-13 in Defensive Runs Saved in 2013; Cabrera was minus-3 when he last played there in 2011. Ian Kinsler was +11 in 2013 versus Omar Infante's minus-5. Jhonny Peralta and Jose Iglesias both rated at 0 DRS at shortstop, although most view Iglesias as the superior defender; let's say he's a +5 defender. Cabrera was minus-18 at third base; rookie Nick Castellanos isn't viewed as a great defender, so let's say he's minus-5 DRS. Overall, we're talking about potentially 40 runs better in infield defense. How happy are Max Scherzer and company right now?
What do they need? The lineup looks set so they need a starting pitcher to replace free agent Ubaldo Jimenez. Maybe Ubaldo Jimenez?
How's the bullpen shaping up? Replacing Chris Perez at closer with Cody Allen should be a minor step up, but they've also lost Joe Smith, their primary setup guy in recent seasons. The Indians' pen went 33-16 in 2013 but a 3.62 ERA in 2013 -- eighth in the AL -- so the win-loss record was a little bit misleading. A trade is more likely here than spending on a free agent.
Will they be shopping Asdrubal Cabrera? This is an interesting one. Top prospect Francisco Lindor reached Double-A last season and just turned 20 years old, but his glove may be big-league ready. Could that lead to a trade for Cabrera, in the final year of his contract? It seems like a long shot to bet on Lindor being rushed, but the Indians could play Mike Aviles at short until Lindor is possibly ready at midseason.
Kansas City Royals
What do they need? Offense. The Royals were 11th in the AL in runs scored in 2013, scoring 28 fewer runs than the year before. Considering it's likely the pitching will regress at least a little bit after leading the league in runs allowed, they need to find more punch to remain a playoff contender. They were rumored to be in on Beltran, but he's gone, leaving second base as the one position they can upgrade.
Who could they get? The Angels have been shopping Howie Kendrick. Nick Franklin of the Mariners is available now that they have Robinson Cano. Brandon Phillips was rumored at one point to be available, but Reds GM Walt Jocketty has now said a trade involving him is unlikely. They could a take a chance on Dan Uggla. Or just stick with Emilio Bonifacio.
Umm, how good is the rotation? Right now, it needs help. James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy and Wade Davis don't look like a playoff rotation to me, although hard-throwing Yordano Ventura showed potential big-time potential in three September starts. The Royals have excess bullpen arms but will likely use them to upgrade second base and hope Duffy and Ventura can stick in the rotation.
What do they need? The Twins already made their "big" splash by signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to help shore up the league's worst rotation. Otherwise, the Twins are primarily sitting tight and waiting for prospects like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to reach Minnesota.
Anybody they can or should be shopping? Josh Willingham is signed for $7 million for 2014, and he's superfluous for a rebuilding team. Unfortunately, the Twins should have traded him a year ago when he was coming off a 35-homer season. After hitting .208 with 14 home runs, he won't net much in return. But a team like the Orioles or Mariners that needs a left fielder or DH could take a chance.
Any chance the offense gets better? Only the Astros and White Sox scored fewer runs but don't look for anything but minor moves, such as signing a backup catcher (John Buck?). The outfield could use help, but the Twins will likely give Aaron Hicks another shot in center, give Oswaldo Arcia a full season in right, and hope Buxton tears up the minors and joins this group in 2015.
Chicago White Sox
What do they need? Just about everything.
No, seriously, will they do something? Well, they did sign Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu while also re-signing Paul Konerko. Adam Dunn is still here, but he's a 34-homer guy that would be difficult to trade. The "strength" of the team is a rotation that did have a 3.99 ERA (eighth in the AL), but there isn't depth there to trade from.
Would they trade Chris Sale? Can't see that happening; he's signed to a team-friendly contract through 2019 and is clearly the face of the franchise.