What each AL Central club could do next

December 18th, 2019

This year’s Winter Meetings were more active than those of the last few years. Stephen Strasburg enjoyed a record-setting contract for a few hours before Gerrit Cole swooped in and broke it with his hefty deal. Anthony Rendon joined in on the fun a day later, as the top free agents all started to find homes. But even with all the activity that went on in San Diego, things remained relatively quiet in the American League Central.

It wasn’t until three days after team executives departed Southern California that an AL Central team got in on the action. The Indians drew much attention with their blockbuster trade that sent two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the Rangers in exchange for and . Though Clase’s potential -- with his triple-digit cutter at just 21 years of age -- can be viewed as exciting, the overall return package for Kluber was largely received as underwhelming.

With the White Sox actively demonstrating their desire to compete in 2020 with their signing of and the Twins coming off of a 101-win season, the possibility for a heated division race is greater than it has been in recent years. Let’s take a look at what could be next for each AL Central team before the season arrives.

Indians: Infielder, outfielder

What’s next for the Tribe after this week’s blockbuster deal? The team now needs to take advantage of the financial flexibility it has after losing Kluber’s $17.5 million contract to bring in a second baseman or outfielder (or both). The No. 1 priority has to be finding an infielder who can help fill the gaping hole that’s left after the club didn’t pick up Jason Kipnis’ $16.5 million option. César Hernández seems to be on the Indians’ radar and the team may even have enough flexibility to land another outfielder who can provide some pop in the batting order. Will it be enough to sign a Corey Dickerson or Yasiel Puig? That remains to be seen. First, they’ll need an infielder. Then they could find a way to spend whatever is left.

Royals: Bullpen help

In terms of transactions, the Royals were pretty quiet at the Winter Meetings. But general manager Dayton Moore said he talked to more agents at the Meetings than he ever has, suggesting they’re definitely going to sign some free agents before and during Spring Training when costs are driven down. The Royals still seek as much bullpen help as they can get -- they had the American League’s second-worst bullpen (5.07 ERA) in 2019 -- and they are hoping for value-based additions for no more than $3 to $4 million per year. The Royals also are considering moving and (41 starts between them) to the bullpen to solidify matters, which would put them in the market for a free-agent starter or two, albeit with their limited budget in mind. Moore also mentioned the possibility of finding a versatile infielder to cover themselves in case shortstop (shoulder surgery) isn’t ready by Opening Day. And if there is a free-agent third baseman or two still around in late January or early February, the Royals could be interested as they have discussed taking advantage of third baseman ’s positional versatility -- he can play first base and in the outfield -- this season.

Tigers: Second baseman

With their top priority of a veteran catcher now filled, the Tigers are inclined to let the market play out on their other needs, with second base most likely next. They’ve kept an eye on the mid-tier of the market, but they don’t see enough of a difference between Yolmer Sanchez, Brian Dozier, César Hernández, Jason Kipnis and others to make a big move on any of them. A short-term deal would allow Niko Goodrum to focus on shortstop and buy time for Willi Castro to continue his development at Triple-A Toledo.

Twins: Starting pitching

The Twins’ biggest focus at the Winter Meetings was finding a starter. Although that didn’t pan out in their favor, they still need to find at least one more impact hurler to piece into the rotation. Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Rick Porcello and now Madison Bumgarner are all off the board, leaving Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel as the two remaining top options available. Minnesota could look to address their pitching needs through various trade opportunities, but the front-office personnel noted that the free-agent market may be the way they lean for the time being. Outside of starters, the Twins could add a position player or reliever, however the team is reportedly in agreement with to bring him back in 2020. All focus will come down to obtaining another starting pitcher to help put the club in the best position to win the AL Central for the second straight year.

White Sox: Starting pitching, bullpen help, bat

Starting pitching was the White Sox priority immediately after finalizing a four-year, $73 million free-agent deal with Yasmani Grandal before Thanksgiving. It remains the same weeks later after missing out on Zack Wheeler, despite Chicago offering more money than the Phillies. The White Sox are looking to add two veteran pitchers to supplement their young rotation core, but they also should add another right-handed bat and a reliever as they move toward 2020 contention within the American League Central.