With spring training only six weeks away, the AL Central could open up depending on moves made in the coming month.
With six weeks remaining until players report to spring training, many teams across the league have begun to hone in on their roster makeup for the coming season. But there still remains a host of free agents on the market that will almost certainly command contracts north of nine figures, including Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Alex Gordon. As such, many teams remain incomplete, and some are looking to find the missing artillery to make a postseason push when September rolls around.
In particular, given the events of the past season and the offseason, the AL Central is potentially the most difficult division to gauge in all of baseball. While the Royals are coming off of their first World Series title in three decades, they have lost an integral piece to their rotation, Edison Volquez who signed with the Giants, and have yet to re-sign Alex Gordon. Meanwhile, the Twins look poised to continue their shocking turnaround from last season as they welcome baseball’s top prospect, Byron Buxton, to the big leagues this coming season. Further, after having nearly every starting underperform last season, the White Sox have acquired Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier in an effort to plug the longtime holes they’ve had at second and third base. That being said, work remains to be done for not only the White Sox, but every team in the division.
Kansas City Royals
Need: Starting Pitching
While the Royals may very well have the best bullpen in the league, the starting rotation does not reciprocate that quality. After losing rental Johnny Cueto to the Giants this offseason, the Royals find themselves without a reliable 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. While Edison Volquez looks poised to be the ace of the rotation heading into next season, the Royals’ rotation appears unstable after Volquez and Yorando Ventura, who posted a 4.08 ERA last season. Behind these two, the rotation is shaky, as Kris Medlen, who will slot into the three slot, only made 15 starts last season, while No. 4 starter Jason Vargas is coming off of Tommy John surgery.
With that, the Royals must surely be looking for a solution on the free agent market, and there are a host of players remaining still. Specifically, in the next few weeks, look for the Royals to address their starting pitching hole by recruiting Yovani Gallardo or Doug Fister to deals in the 3-4 year range, or even find a short-term solution by targeting players such as Kyle Lohse.
Most analysts didn’t believe the Twins would be ready to contend by 2015, but their 83–79 record last season, only three games short of a Wild Card bid, proves otherwise. Having one of the league’s most deep farm systems has given the Twins the ammunition to contend for the long-term, and the squad doesn’t have any gaping holes to fill amongst the infield, bolstered by Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier, or in the outfield, led by young guns Max Kepler and Byron Buxton.
Despite this, the Twins could use some help in the bullpen. Last season, the bullpen’s 3.95 ERA ranked 21st in all of baseball, and its 6.85 K/9 ratio was dead last in the league. While Glen Perkins will be a formidable closer for the squad next season, bolstered by setup man Kevin Jepsen, the bullpen lacks the depth that would be necessary to contend in September and into October.
With that, the Twins should be expected to target a few arms in the coming weeks of free agency, including the likes of Tyler Clippard, who has posted a 2.67 ERA in 440 games over the past six seasons. Similarly, the Twins may target someone like Antonio Bastardo, who was one of the best pitchers against lefties in the league last season as he held left-handed batters to a .138 average in 66 appearances last season.
Need: Center Fielder
The Indians found themselves in the midst of the Wild Card chase in the American League through September last season, but their efforts were not enough as the squad finished with a 81–80 record on the season, and five games short of the Astros. When looking at the team’s statistics last season, much of the struggles can be pinned on the offensive side, as the squad’s starting rotation, led by Corey Kluber, had the 8th best ERA in baseball with a 3.68 ERA, while the offense only put up a total of 669 runs, which was good for 18th in baseball.
From here, the Indians should and will likely look towards shoring up their outfield this season, in particular the 8-spot in center. While Michael Bourn was a serviceable glove last season, his .238 AVG and 0 home runs leaves something to be desired on the offensive side. While the Indians are unlikely to break the bank to acquire any one of the Upton, Cespedes, or Gordon trio, they could potentially address their need through their rather deep farm system. Perhaps, the Indians could target Marcell Ozuna of the Marlins, who has been the target of trade rumors this offseason and would slot in nicely in Cleveland.
Chicago White Sox
Need: Corner Outfielder
Last season, the White Sox offseason was one of the worst in all of baseball as the team managed a .250 AVG (22nd in the league), .306 OBP (27th), 622 runs (28th), and 3.1 WAR (30th). A large reason for this lack of success was not only the underperformance of big free-agent signings Adam LaRoache and Melky Cabrera, but also the lack of an established right fielder to line up alongside Adam Eaton and Cabrera. Over the course of the season, the White Sox used nearly a half dozen players in right, including Avisail Garcia, who has failed to make an impression on the South Side after being acquired midseason two years ago.
To address this need, the White Sox have made some noise in the league as rumors have swirled around the team targeting the biggest bats left on the market, including Gordon, Cespedes, and Upton. While the Sox have historically been reluctant to make major offers (the largest in team history is the 5 yr/75M deal given the John Danks in 2011), they will likely have to open the checkbook to acquire any one of the three All-Star outfielders left on the market.
Need: Starting/Bullpen Pitching
The Tigers’ performance last season may have been one of the most disappointing in all of baseball. After entering the year with championship dreams, the team quickly fizzled out over the course of the year, en route to a 74–87 record and a last place finish in the AL Central. While the offense looks to be strong and steady next season, anchored by Miguel Cabrera, the same cannot be said for the pitching.
During the season, the Tigers also traded away the expiring contracts of David Price and Yoenis Cespedes, moves that may be pivotal to the future of the franchise as they acquired starting pitchers Daniel Norris from the Blue Jays, and Michael Fulmer from the Mets. However, these two will not be enough to aid a bullpen that held had a 4.38 ERA, or starting rotation that struggled throughout the season with a 4.78 ERA, both of which ranked 27th in all of baseball.
With this in mind, the Tigers will likely, and should, target players for both their rotation and bullpen this offseason. Like the Royals, the Tigers will look to acquire quality pitchers on rather short-term contracts, including the likes of Gallardo, Lohse, and potentially Ian Kennedy, who is only removed from a 2014 season where he posted a 3.63 ERA. Meanwhile, in the pen, the Tigers will look to acquire a set-up man for Francisco Rodriguez, someone along the lines of Clippard or Bastardo.
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