The Tigers reigned supreme in the AL Central once again in 2014. However, once the calendar flipped to October, the Royals blazed their way through the Postseason and to the World Series. Could the crown officially be passed in 2015?
Chicago White Sox
Free agents: Matt Lindstrom, Felipe Paulino
The White Sox took a step towards relevance once again in 2014, led by their dynamic duo of Jose Abreu and Chris Sale. Throw in other young talent like Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Marcus Semien, and Jose Quintana, and bah gawd, you’ve got the makings of a very interesting team in 2015. Of course, the White Sox still have their issues – Dayan Viciedo is remarkably inconsistent, the bullpen is largely a tire fire, the rotation is underwhelming (at best) behind Sale and Quintana. But hey, if prospect Erik Johnson and #3 overall pick Carlos Rodon can slide into the rotation, and a couple arms shine in the bullpen, maybe the White Sox can contend for .500.
I doubt they’ll do much of anything in free agency aside from some under the radar moves. A trade like last year’s Santiago for Eaton/Davidson masterstroke doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
Free agents: Jason Giambi
Needs: Bench? Bullpen? Someone to take ugly contracts?
Cleveland is in phenomenal shape heading into 2015. Their lone free agent is a soon-to-be 44-year old that got 70 plate appearances in 2014. Their rotation is headed by a Cy Young finalist, and their lineup is held together by an MVP finalist. 2/3 of their lineup is 28 or younger. All but two members of their entire pitching staff are under 30. This is a damn good team that doesn’t need to do a damn thing.
But if the Tribe does get busy this offseason, it’ll likely be in an attempt to shed themselves of the contracts of Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, and David Murphy, none of which are even *that* terrible compared to some of the more burdensome contracts across the league. Considering that the Indians aren’t even awash in arbitration-eligible players, the financial flexibility isn’t even a necessity for the team (though obviously, it wouldn’t hurt). Simply picking up some low risk, cheap bench and bullpen players will be the course for Cleveland this winter.
Free agents: Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Joel Hanrahan, Torii Hunter, Jim Johnson, Victor Martinez, Max Scherzer
Needs: Outfield, bullpen
In sharp contrast to the Indians, we have the Detroit Tigers. They’re paying $105 million to just seven players in 2015 – and that doesn’t include the hefty arbitration raises that David Price and Rick Porcello will receive. The Tigers also only have two outfielders under control next season that received as many as 200 plate appearances. Detroit also has a pair of elite players heading to free agency, Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez. Their bullpen loses two of its most-used relievers from 2014, and is still a complete and utter mess
So what are the Tigers going to do this offseason? They want to bring back Victor Martinez. They’ve considered bringing back Torii Hunter. I’d expect the Tigers to inquire on several other outfielders and DH types – the Alex Rios/Michael Morse/Nelson Cruz type of player. As for the bullpen, Detroit should try to bring in anyone with a pulse. It’s really that simple – sign three or four relievers to major league contracts, a few more to minor league contracts, and try to put together a competent bullpen. It can’t be that hard, can it?
Then there’s the Scherzer thing. I think that while the team would *like* to retain him, it might be a little difficult for them because of Scherzer’s price tag. Because of the Tigers’ rotation depth, they SHOULD be OK replacing him with an in-house option, but dumping some change on a Kyle Kendrick/Justin Masterson type could be a good enough course of action.
Kansas City Royals
Free agents: Nori Aoki, Billy Butler, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Luke Hochevar, Raul Ibanez, James Shields
Needs: Starting pitching, DH, bench
The defending AL champions are in a strange situation. Their “ace” is a free agent, but the team isn’t necessarily desperate to bring him back, though they would like to. The Royals would also like to bring back DH Billy Butler, but he too may be out of their price range. The same is true for Nori Aoki, a remarkable bargain at $1.5 million in 2014. It would take a hefty chunk of change to bring back that trio, and thus, the Royals are going to need to look in other directions.
Kansas City could conceivably only have to fill one of those holes with a free agent. Brandon Finnegan, a playoff hero for the club, worked in relief during his brief stint in the majors this year, but started in college and could possibly take over Shields’ spot in the rotation. Speedster Jarrod Dyson could easily take over for in the outfield for Aoki, much like he did in the late innings of playoff games. Kansas City could plug anyone in at DH and probably replicate Butler’s production (.271/.323/.379 with nine homers) from last season. With seven Royals players hitting arbitration for the first time this winter (and another four going for the second time), the club might not have a lot of money to retain their free agents, necessitating the use of in-house replacements.
Free agents: Jared Burton
Needs: Outfield. Bullpen? Bench?
The Ron Gardenhire era is over, and the Twins…are probably going to be pretty quiet this winter. Minnesota’s never been a big spender to begin with, but they already have $59 million tied up in just six players for 2015. Considering the team’s payroll was only $85 million in each of the last two seasons, going with a younger, cheaper team will probably be their approach once again. And given the strength of their farm system, that’s fine. Minnesota’s rotation is close to being locked in, with highly paid veterans Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco guaranteed spots, and Kyle Gibson, Tommy Milone, and Mike Pelfrey relatively safe, though Trevor May and Alex Meyer could compete for jobs.
However, the Twins have a pretty middling outfield lined up. Jordan Schafer has been a fourth or fifth outfielder for the last few years, and he’s not an answer. Aaron Hicks has struggled in his multiple stints in the majors. Oswaldo Arcia is young, but can’t field. The only player truly guaranteed a spot is Danny Santana, who had a great 2014. But with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano hopefully healthy and knocking on the door, I don’t think the Twins are going to rush to commit a lot of money to a veteran.