New Decade, Who Dis? AL Central Preview – Romantic About Baseball
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New Decade, Who Dis? AL Central Preview

You could say that the 2019 season for the American League Central was, quite literally, the best of times, and the worst of times. The division managed to produce a 101 game winner in Minnesota, while at the same time producing the worst team in baseball, the Detroit Tigers. The overall quality of the division took a step forward in spite of having two 100 loss teams for the second straight season, from the very worst to, just kinda bad. The division shows teams in various phases of rebuilding, from the Tigers and Royals, who continue their search for the bottom, the Indians who might be forced to consider starting the process, and the White Sox, who may be positioned to make a move after several painful seasons. Things could get weird in 2020 for these teams, since while many experts were impressed by the Twins strong showing in 2019, there are just as many who think it may not be sustainable. Could the Indians right the ship and take back their crown? Are the White Sox the contender no one’s talking about? Could the Royals be a lot better than we think? Let’s find out…

Salary Committed – Per Spotrac’s 2020 estimates.
Offense – Using Fangraph’s OFF statistic
Starters – Using Fangraph’s total pitching WAR, and separated by starters
Relievers – same as starters, but for relievers
Defense – Using Fangraph’s DEF statistic.

The Minnesota Twins: Why Not?

By Andy Witchger – Miguel Sano – Minnesota Twins – Opening Day vs Seattle Mariners, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73391208
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: OFFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: DEFENSE
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Hyun-Jin Ryu

If there were a “comeback team of the year award” in baseball, the Twins would have won it unanimously. The team put up some prolific offensive numbers, including the most home runs in a single season by a team ever. With the usual great output from ageless veteran Nelson Cruz, and paired with breakouts from rookie Luis Arraez and veteran Max Kepler, the Twins established themselves as an offensive juggernaut, even if they don’t possess any of the “name brand” talent of a team like the Yankees or Astros. As a whole, the Twins were very much a defensive liability this past season, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of affordable or obvious solutions on the free agent market for them that take the form of an every day player. Instead, I think they will look to replenish their starting rotation, where lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu makes a lot of sense. MLBTR estimates a 3 year deal for the oft-injured southpaw, with an AAV somewhere around $18M per year. That sounds like a great option for a middle-market team with not a ton of money on the books going forward. It’s not unthinkable for them to add a more low-end innings eater option like a Julio Teheran as well, but Ryu, coming off a fantastic season where he threw 182.2 IP and posted a 179 ERA+ seems like the perfect option for the Twins to add to compliment Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi.

Cleveland Indians: The Least Exciting Contenders

By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA – Indians starter Corey Kluber delivers a pitch in ALDS Game 2., CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52514636
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: STARTERS
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: OFFENSE
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Corey Dickerson

If baseball teams were flavors of ice cream, the Indians would absolutely be the Vanilla. It’s a legit flavor, but incredibly unexciting. Cleveland has starting pitching in droves, from breakout stars like Shane Bieber, established vets like Corey Kluber, and high upside prospects like Adam Civale who stand to make significant contributions in 2020. There’s a pretty legitimate argument that the Indians should be combing the trade market rather than spend on a less than stellar free agent pool. They would have plenty of chips, from any of their starting rotation arms to star short stop Francisco Lindor to fill out their MLB roster and bolster their farm system. They did it last year, when the shipped volatile pitcher Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati for outfielder Yasiel Puig and also acquired young slugger Franmil Reyes from San Diego. Either way, Corey Dickerson could be a perfect fairly low cost fit as a power hitting DH option, given Jordan Luplow’s strong showing in left this past season. The Indians have benefitted from a poor level of competition over recent years, but after being displaced by the Twins last season, and the White Sox continuing to build towards contention, the Indians are going to have to make some moves, and soon.

Chicago White Sox: They’re Angry, and They Might be Good too.

By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – Tim Anderson, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58564217White Sox at Orioles 5/6/17
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: OFFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: DEFENSE
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Anthony Rendon

There’s a lot of tension on the south side of Chicago right now. The fans are sick of being bottom feeders in the American League. The players are sick of being ignored, the front office is sick of watching big name players slip through their fingers, and the fans are sick of losing. Could this actually be the year this team takes the next big step forward and release that tension? General Manager Rick Hahn has made it clear to fans that he plans on being aggressive this offseason, and after getting a publicly frustrating silver medal in the Manny Machado sweepstakes, I believe that the splash they hoped to make last year, will carry over to this year. Anthony Rendon is a player that makes sense for the White Sox, because of his plus glove at third base, powerful middle-of-the-order bat, but most importantly, his postseason experience. Chicago needs that “symbolic” signing to show that the rebuild is entering the rear view mirror, and a World Series champion who had a legit case for MVP of that series literally could not be more symbolic. Lucas Giolito’s breakout season and a promising farm system can give them enough cushion to sign a more reasonably priced pitcher, but I get the impression that Hahn understands that the fans need a big signing that can show legitimacy out on the field every day wearing black and white. Look for the Sox to go big this season.

Kansas City Royals: Have Arm? Come Pitch!

By Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA – Jorge Soler, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68976559
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: DEFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: STARTERS
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Rick Porcello

Last season, Royals starting pitchers completed 1,425 innings, good for second to last in all of baseball. This, in turn, taxed a pretty okay group of relief pitchers, and the tailspin on the mound continued for the rebuilding team. The team is still a ways off from contending, so while i’m very tempted to say Julio Teheran is actually the best fit from a baseball perspective, Rick Porcello would be a better logistical pickup, since he will most likely only need to command a one year deal, and could be a pretty decent shot to enter qualifying offer territory, which could also benefit the team with a compensation pick. The Royals offense was also pretty bad, but there’s some notable upside with Jorge Soler’s re emergence, hopefully a full season of the dynamic Alberto Mondesi, and continued development of players like Hunter Dozier. There’s not a lot to look forward to next season for Kansas City, but progress is a slow moving train, and one could argue that they’re moving down the right track.

Detroit Tigers: Uhhh…. I got Nothing.

By Ian D’Andrea from Philadelphia, PA – Gordon Beckham, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=83358532
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: OFFENSE
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: STARTERS
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Yasiel Puig

So, I don’t think i’m going to be breaking any news to say that the Tigers are like, really bad. After putting up a pitiful season that will be recorded as one of the worst of all time, one could make the argument that there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Well, I mean, sure, but how far up is the issue. The team is severely flawed in every aspect, and since they’ve declared themselves as a “rebuilding” club, there’s no reason to think that 2020 is going to be the turning of some corner either. This is why Yasiel Puig makes perfect sense on a short term, deal, something like a one year deal with some sort of vesting option, to set up a possible trade scenario. Puig is in need of a rebuild himself, after having a tumultuous season with the Reds and Indians where he posted a league average 100 OPS+, but made far more headlines from the bench than the batters box. He’s been a magnet for unintended attention throughout his career, and could probably stand to take a year (or, if he can produce, a half a year) in a market where few will be paying attention. That’s really all there is to say about the Tigers, who will muddle through another miserable season, hoping that one day, they’ll find their way back into contention. Ya know, someday….

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