Chasing Tigers, not much tinkering for most of AL Central
White Sox add LaRoche, Duke, but Tribe, Twins, Royals yet to make big offseason splash
The first few weeks of the Hot Stove season have been busy, but there is still plenty more action to come.
After re-signing the American League MVP runner-up and picking up club options on some complementary pieces, the Tigers are the AL Central team that everyone is looking at, as they must decide if they will spend big to bring back Max Scherzer in their quest to win their fifth straight division title. The rest of the division has remained relatively quiet thus far, save for the White Sox, who added a slugger and a key bullpen arm.
As we recover from our collective turkey coma, here's a look at where every team in the AL Central stands right now as the Winter Meetings slowly become visible above the horizon.
What the Indians have done: Aside from exercising their option on utilityman Mike Aviles, extending manager Terry Francona and celebrating the AL Cy Young Award efforts of Corey Kluber, it has been a predictably quiet offseason for the Indians in the early going. With the bulk of their big league roster established, the Tribe went into the winter looking primarily for opportunistic upgrades in the free-agent and trade markets -- the kind that generally take time to develop.
What the Indians need to address: The need for a productive right-handed bat is long established, but it's one the Indians will only be able to fill if they free up both a roster spot and finances. Maybe, in this offense-starved environment, they'll find a taker for what remains of the Nick Swisher contract ($30 million for 2015-16, with a $14 million vesting option for '17), but that's likely only doable in a swap of sunk costs, which might not be any more appealing. As good as the Indians feel about their young, controllable starting pitching, Francona would love to have a veteran starter on board to provide a better sense of stability. The Indians are also on the hunt for bullpen and bench depth. It's possible they could swing an impact trade by dangling, say, Lonnie Chisenhall (and only then if they address third base some other way) or one of their young arms (Trevor Bauer or Danny Salazar). General manager Chris Antonetti has certainly pulled off surprising swaps before, so stay tuned.
-- Anthony Castrovince
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
What the White Sox have done: The Sox agreed to terms on a three-year, $15 million deal with left-handed reliever Zach Duke and on a two-year, $25 million deal with first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche. The White Sox needed a veteran upgrade in relief to go with talented young arms such as Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb, and they had targeted a left-handed reliever in particular. The left-handed power bat of LaRoche fits nicely in between right-handed-hitting Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia in the middle of the order, as his adept defensive skills at first will provide Abreu with some needed breaks at DH. The White Sox also claimed left-handed-hitting outfielder J.B. Shuck off waivers.
What the White Sox need to address: Their work certainly is not finished. They are looking for a right-handed starter, who most likely will be a middle-of-the-rotation guy -- possibly even shorter-term-signing type of hurler -- and not a high-end free agent such as James Shields or Scherzer. They need another veteran reliever or two as well as an outfielder. The White Sox have been rumored to have interest in Melky Cabrera and would prefer a left-handed hitter such as the switching-hitting veteran. The team is satisfied with Conor Gillaspie at third and Tyler Flowers at catcher, but Chicago could look for depth at both positions.
-- Scott Merkin
What the Tigers have done: One of the top priorities for the Tigers this offseason was to re-sign Victor Martinez, who finished second in the balloting for the American League MVP Award. Detroit did just that by bringing back Martinez on a four-year, $68 million deal on Nov. 12. The Tigers also retained catcher Alex Avila by picking up his $5.4 million club option, while also picking up reliever Joakim Soria's $7 million option. Detroit also re-signed reliever Joel Hanrahan to a one-year, $1 million deal with incentives.
The Tigers added to their outfield depth by trading for Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose in exchange for second-base prospect Devon Travis. They also extended a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer to right-hander Max Scherzer, who rejected it. In a smaller move, they claimed right-hander Josh Zeid off waivers from the Astros.
What the Tigers need to address: The Tigers have four quality starters in Justin Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, but Scherzer is now a free agent. General manager Dave Dombrowski hasn't ruled out a return for Scherzer, but he said last week the chances to sign him to a long-term deal were better last spring. If Scherzer signs elsewhere, the Tigers will receive a compensation pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft. Detroit is looking to upgrade its bullpen after Tigers relievers combined to post the fourth-worst ERA in the Majors. The Tigers also said they don't plan on bringing back free-agent outfielder Torii Hunter, which could lead to Detroit adding another corner outfielder to the roster.
-- Rhett Bollinger
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
What the Royals have done: The Royals were busy on Friday, re-signing free-agent reliever Jason Frasor, which gave them leeway to trade fellow reliever Aaron Crow to the Marlins. The trade netted them left-hander Brian Flynn, who could compete for a spot in the rotation, and right-hander Reid Redman, a reliever likely headed for the Minors. Prior to that, the biggest events involved free agents leaving the nest. Longtime designated hitter Billy Butler's option wasn't picked up and he signed a three-year deal with the A's, and pitching staff leader Shields turned down his qualifying offer to test the market. There were deals that netted Minor Leaguers -- outfielder Reymond Fuentes from the Padres for pitcher Kyle Bartsch, catcher Santiago Nessy from the Blue Jays for pitcher Liam Hendriks and shortstop Ryan Jackson from the Dodgers for cash.
What the Royals need to address: The top priority is finding a solid, experienced starting pitcher to fill out the rotation. With Butler departing, there's a need for a right-handed bat with some pop that would fit into the middle of the order. Preferably that player could also fit into right field, where Nori Aoki's departure via free agency has left a gap. While the back end of the bullpen -- Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland -- had a phenomenal year, there's still a focus on firming up the middle. The return of Frasor will help and Flynn is a possibility, but Crow is gone and more depth is being sought.
-- Dick Kaegel
What the Twins have done: The Twins have been busy assembling a coaching staff since hiring Paul Molitor as manager in early November. They've hired Neil Allen as pitching coach, Eddie Guardado as bullpen coach, Joe Vavra as bench coach, Gene Glynn as third-base coach, Tom Brunansky as hitting coach and Rudy Hernandez as assistant hitting coach. Minnesota still needs to hire a first-base coach. The club has yet to sign a notable free agent, but has been in contact with a few free agents, including right-hander Justin Masterson and outfielder Hunter. The Twins are also waiting to hear if they won the bid on Korean left-hander Hyeon-Jong Yang, who won the equivalent of the Cy Young Award in the Korean Baseball Organization.
What the Twins need to address: The Twins have yet to upgrade a roster that lost 92 games this past season, and they will be focusing heavily on pitching yet again this offseason. They are expected to sign at least one starting pitcher to add to a rotation that finished with the worst ERA in the Majors. They're not likely to go after the top-tier starting pitchers, but are more likely to look at starters such as Brett Anderson, Jason Hammel, Brandon McCarthy and Masterson. The Twins are also in the market for an outfielder, but the free-agent crop is thin this year, which could lead to a trade for an outfielder who can play all three positions such as the Cardinals' Peter Bourjos. They're also still in the mix to bring back Hunter, who is fielding offers from several clubs, but might be more inclined to sign with a contender.
-- Rhett Bollinger