Naughty or Nice? Offseason Christmas Grades – AL Central

This offseason has been truly rewarding, giving us endless trades, free agent signings, and even head-scratching non-tenders to analyze. Look back at the 2017 offseason which was about as boring as watching paint dry, this offseason has kept baseball fans on their toes, despite both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper still looking for their new employers. With that being said, let’s observe which teams make Santa’s “nice” list and who is relegated to the dreaded “naughty” list this Christmas.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox

It’s been an active offseason in Chicago’s south side. Avisail Garcia was non-tendered after a season in which despite hitting 19 home runs, only managed to put up an OPS+ of 96. He remains a promising player, but the White Sox deemed it was time to move in a new direction. The White Sox remain active in negotiations with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper; signing either of them would not only mean handing out the biggest free agent contract in Sox history, but also makes a strong statement on the culture and direction if this franchise. The club also acquired Alex Colome to fortify an improving bullpen and traded for Yonder Alonso to help give the team depth at both DH and first base. Nonetheless, the loss of catcher Omar Narvaez must be accounted for, whose OBP of .366 was among the league leaders for a catcher. The acquisition of Ivan Nova from the Pirates gives the team depth in the rotation in the short run with the potential of becoming a valuable trade chip if the White Sox fall out of contention by the trade deadline. The team has made underrated moves this offseason to position them well for success in 2019, and signing one of Machado or Harper would put this team in the conversation to compete for the AL Central title.

GRADE: B+

Cleveland Indians

The good news for the Indians is that the window to defend their AL Central title is wide open. The bad news is that payroll constraints have made the team restructure their roster without making the significant additions they need to contend for the World Series. The starting rotation may not only be the best in baseball, but may very well also be the deepest in baseball. However, the trade of catcher Yan Gomes leaves a significant dent in the lineup and figures to negatively impact the performance of the pitching staff next year. The bullpen lost Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, both of whom have yet to be replaced by the front office. The first base/designated hitter situation essentially involved swapping Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso for Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers, a move which saves the team approximately $12 million dollars next season for roughly similar levels of production. While this was a necessary move given the team’s financial situation, it doesn’t make them significantly better on the field. It’s still early and the Indians may very well still have the best team in the AL Central, but there’s a lot of holes in the bullpen and outfield that have yet to be filled, and until then, it’s hard to see any on field improvements heading into next year. Again, this team is a serious World Series contender, but their offseason has not improved the team’s chances of coming closer to breaking the longest championship drought in American sports.

GRADE: C-

Detroit Tigers

Last offseason, the rebuilding Tigers signed Mike Fiers to solidify their rotation and potentially turn himself into a trade chip at the trade deadline. The deal proved successful for both sides, with the Tigers receiving two prospects in return for Fiers who found himself pitching meaningful September baseball for the Oakland Athletics. The Tigers approach has been similar this offseason, signing both Tyson Ross and Matt Moore for a combined $8 million on one-year deals. While it’s unlikely that both of these starters will turn into the next Mike Fiers for the Tigers, it’s the appropriate approach to follow for a rebuilding team looking towards the future. The Tigers also moved on from longtime shortstop Jose Iglesias and signed Jordy Mercer. These players are nearly identical both offensively and defensively, although Mercer comes with far less negative baggage than Iglesias, which quite possibly was a deciding factor in signing Jordy Mercer. The Tigers won’t win in 2019, but they’ve done all they need to field a competitive team while signing players with potential trade value at the deadline and allowing the young guys on the roster to continue to develop.

GRADE: A

Kansas City Royals

There’s only one team in Major League Baseball that could’ve signed Billy Hamilton without receiving criticism from my part, and that’s the Royals. He’s a defense first, speedy outfielder who perfectly fits the Royals brand of baseball. Unfortunately for the team, this has been their only move of significance this offseason. However, the team did make a move which may not make headlines now, but can certainly look like yet another brilliant move by GM Dayton Moore. Last offseason, the Royals selected Brad Keller in the Rule 5 draft and he went on to post a 3.55 FIP in 140 innings while becoming a pillar in the Royals rotation behind Danny Duffy. This offseason, the Royals acquired 26 year old starting pitcher Chris Ellis from the Texas Rangers. It’s hard to classify him as a prospect, but there’s definitely intrigue and space in the Royals rotation for Ellis to succeed and become Brad Keller 2.0 for the Royals. The bullpen was atrocious in 2018 and the team has yet to address it; they don’t need a big time bullpen piece, but at least one or two veteran arms would do no harm. As is the case with most of the AL Central, very quiet offseason for the Royals and not much more to be expected as the team heads into Spring Training.

GRADE: C

Minnesota Twins

In stark contrast to the rest of the division, the Twins have spent significant money this offseason. Their most notable move actually came earlier today, when they signed slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $14 million contract. Since 2008, Cruz leads the Major Leagues in home runs and despite his age (38 on opening day), is an absolute bargain at $14 million for the Twins. This is the epitome of a virtually no-risk move with the potential of turning into a lucrative trade chip if the Twins are not in contention by July. The team also signed Jonathan Schoop to fill the void left by departed free agent Brian Dozier and acquired CJ Cron from the Rays to serve as the designated hitter/first baseman. These moves have created a logjam at 1B/DH, and Miguel Sano may be seeing his way out of Minnesota with these moves if the team doesn’t see him as a third baseman. I really think this an underrated team all around that could surprise in 2018, and the moves they have made this offseason suit them well for the 2019 season without mortgaging any of the team’s prospects or future finances.

Grade: B+

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