Who’s In, Who’s Out: AL Central

 It’s been an eventful last several months for the teams in the American League Central division as a couple stars have packed their bags. The juggernaut that is the Detroit Tigers franchise looks poised to continue their dominance of the division despite plenty of roster turnover.

The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals look like they both have taken steps back on paper this winter, but will still provide some competition.

Let’s take a look at what each club gained and lost over the winter, starting with the defending division champion.

Detroit Tigers | 2013: 93-69

It’s a great time to be a Tiger fan as the club has managed three consecutive ALCS appearances, including a trip to the World Series in 2012. The club averaged 4.91 runs per game in 2013, good for second in the league, and their .283/.346/.434 batting line placed them within the top two clubs in the league for each category. Tiger pitchers combined to post a 3.61 ERA that was good for ninth in baseball as well.

Who’s In

Ian Krol, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Acquired with 2B/OF Steve Lombardozzi, and LHP Robbie Ray via trade with Washington Nationals for RHP Doug Fister
Steve Lombardozzi, 2B/OF — -0.7 fWAR
Joe Nathan, RP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed two-year, $20 million deal
Joba Chamberlain, RP — -0.6 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.5 million deal
Rajai Davis, OF — 1.2 fWAR | Signed two-year, $10 million deal
Ian Kinsler, 2B — 2.5 fWAR| Acquired via trade with Texas Rangers for Prince Fielder and $30 million cash.

Who’s Out

Omar Infante, 2B — 3.1 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Kansas City Royals
Jhonny Peralta, SS — 3.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with St. Louis Cardinals
Joaquin Benoit, RP — 1.6 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with San Diego Padres
Ramon Santiago, 2B/SS — 0.2 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract with Cincinnati Reds
Brayan Pena, C — 0.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Cincinnati Reds
Jose Veras, RP — 0.7 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Chicago Cubs
Doug Fister, SP — 4.6 fWAR
Prince Fielder, 1B/DH — 2.2 fWAR

2014

In many ways it’ll be a new era of Tigers baseball this year now that former major league catcher Brad Ausmus has taken over as manager for Jim Leyland who retired after the 2013 campaign. The more surprising moves, however, were the dealings of Fielder and Fister. Many have lauding Detroit for getting all but $30 million of Fielder’s salary off the books, and acquiring their new second baseman, Kinsler, who will replace the departed Infante. The Fister trade on the other hand, has come under plenty of criticism since the return for the starter is thought to be considerably light.

With Fister out of the fold, the Tigers plan on inserting lefty Drew Smyly into the rotation after an impressive campaign in the bullpen last year. Smyly will join aces Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez in a rotation that will remain one of the best in baseball again this year. Both Nathan and Chamberlain will help shore up a bullpen that was quite average in 2013.

The AL MVP in 2012 and 2013, Miguel Cabrera, shifts from the hot corner to first where there’ll be less stress on his body and hypothetically he’ll be able to focus more on just hitting. The injury bug has already bit the Tigers as outfielder Andy Dirks will miss several months with a back injury, and young shortstop Jose Iglesies will also be out for an indefinite period of time with a shin injury. It’s been rumored the club could sign free agent Stephen Drew to fill in at shortstop, but the only thing we know for certain is that once again, Detroit will be one of the top teams in the American League.

Cleveland Indians | 2013: 92-70

The first campaign under the Terry Francona regime was a successful one for Cleveland who managed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Led by the fifth best offence in the league at 4.6 runs per game, the Indians snagged a Wild Card spot, but would lose to the Tampa Bay Rays in the one game playoff. The team ERA of 3.82 was only slightly above average and will be tough to repeat with the departure of some key pitchers.

Who’s In

Aaron Harang, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract
David Aardsma, RP — -0.7 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract
Nyjer Morgan, OF — 0.2 fWAR (2012) | Signed minor-league contract
Scott Atchison, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract
Jeff Francoeur, OF — -1.3 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract
John Axford, RP — -0.5 fWAR | Signed one-year, $4.5 million deal
Josh Outman, RP — 0.7 fWAR | Acquired via trade with Colorado Rockies in exchange for OF Drew Stubbs
Shaun Marcum, SP — 1.2 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract
David Murphy, OF — 0.4 fWAR | Signed two-year, $12 million deal
Colt Hynes, RP — -0.3 fWAR | Acquired via trade with San Diego Padres for cash considerations

Who’s Out

Joe Smith, RP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Los Angeles Angels
Matt Albers, RP — 0.3 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Houston Astros
Kelly Shoppach, C — 0.2 fWAR
Scott Kazmir, SP — 2.5 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Oakland Athletics
Rich Hill, RP — 0.1 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract with Boston Red Sox
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP — 3.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Baltimore Orioles
Drew Stubbs, OF — 0.8 fWAR
Lou Marson, C — 0.0 fWAR
Jason Kubel, OF/DH — -1.7 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract with Minnesota Twins
Chris Perez, RP — -0.9 fWAR | Signed free-agent contract with Los Angeles Dodgers

2014

It was a fairly quiet offseason for the Indians who can boast the signings of Murphy and Axford as their most significant additions. The departures of Kazmir and Jimenez via free agency could hurt the pitching staff in a big way, but the trio of Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, and Corey Kluber are plenty capable atop the rotation. Zach McAllister could play a key role in the back of the rotation as he enters his third year in the bigs.

After a breakout campaign from catcher Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana will shift to first base regularly and will see some time at third base as well this year. Jason Kipnis has quickly transformed into one of the top second baseman in the game today and will again play a pivotal role in the Indians’ offence. Last winter’s big splashes, outfielder Michael Bourn and first baseman Nick Swisher, remain in the fold and will also be counted to play key in the upcoming year.

It’s possible that minor league pickups like Marcum and Harang could be of some value to the club, though health issues have constantly plagued Marcum who only just threw his first live batting practice of the spring this past week.

All in all, the Indians will be hard pressed to repeat their 92 win performance of 2013, but it’s entirely within the realm of possibility. Especially if a couple more of their young players can breakout in the upcoming campaign.

Kansas City Royals | 2013: 86-76

The playoff drought continued in Kansas City, although the club did post their best win total since 1989. The Royals offence was close to the league average marks while their 112 home run total was the third lowest in the majors. It was the pitching staff that helped carry the team as their combined 3.45 ERA was the sixth lowest in all of baseball. 

Who’s In

Jason Vargas, SP — 1.5 fWAR | Signed four-year, $32 million deal
Carlos Peguero, OF — 0.1 fWAR | Acquired via trade with the Seattle Mariners in exchange for cash considerations
Jon Rauch, RP — 0.2 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract
Omar Infante, 2B — 3.1 fWAR | Signed four-year, $30.25 million deal
Norichika Aoki, OF — 1.7 fWAR | Acquired via trade with Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for LHP Will Smith

Who’s Out

Ervin Santana, SP — 3.0 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Atlanta Braves
Carlos Pena, 1B/DH — -0.5 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract with Los Angeles Angels
Miguel Tejada, SS — 0.4 fWAR
Emilio Bonafacio, 2B/OF — 0.6 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract with Chicago Cubs
David Lough, OF — 2.4 fWAR | Traded to Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 3B Danny Valencia
Chris Getz, 2B — -0.1 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract with Toronto Blue Jays
Will Smith, RP — 0.5 fWAR
Luis Mendoza, SP — 0.4 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Nippon Ham Fighters (JPL)
George Kottaras, C — 0.7 fWAR | Traded to Chicago Cubs in exchange for cash considerations
Jamey Carroll, 2B/3B — -0.9 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract with Washington Nationals

2014

One year ago the Royals made their biggest splash in recent memory when they traded a package headlined by Wil Myers to the Rays for ace James Shields. Present day, a Rookie of the Year title for Myers and no playoff spot the Royals later, Shields is one year away from free agency and the club still doesn’t resemble a playoff contender quite yet. With Santana leaving town via free agency, the club was willing to guarantee a fourth year to Vargas who’ll join Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, and Bruce Chen in the rotation. Top prospect Yordano Ventura figures to see plenty of time in the major league rotation as well this year.

Infante was also signed to a four-year deal and he’ll join Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez in the middle of the batting order. The outfield was strengthened by the addition of Aoki who joins Gordon and Lorenzo Cain. First baseman Eric Hosmer had a solid 3.1 fWAR in 2013 and his ability to build off of his breakout season could be a big part of any Royals success in 2014.

It doesn’t sound as though Kansas City was interested in dealing Shields over the winter so they’re prepared to potentially lose him for a draft pick at season’s since it seems unlikely he’ll re-sign, or they may look to move him at the deadline. The Royals have a very tough path to the playoffs, but another record above .500 is possible for the club in 2014.

Minnesota Twins | 2013: 66-96

The Twins are well on their way through the rebuilding process after they put together their third consecutive 90+ loss season. It’s no surprise that Minnesota was near the bottom of the league in both pitching and hitting in 2013. Their team ERA of 4.55 was second to only the Houston Astros as the worst in the league, while their 3.79 runs per game was the sixth worst in the league.

Who’s In

Ricky Nolasco, SP — 3.0 fWAR | Signed four-year, $49 million deal
Phil Hughes, SP — 1.3 fWAR | Signed three-year, $24 million deal
Jason Kubel, OF/DH — -1.7 fWAR | Signed $2 million, minor-league contract
Kurt Suzuki, C — 0.4 fWAR | Signed one-year, $2.75 million deal
Jason Bartlett, SS — -0.5 fWAR (2012) | Signed minor-league contract
Matt Guerrier, RP — 0.0 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract

Who’s Out

Andrew Albers, SP — 0.9 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Hanwha Eagles (KBO)
Ryan Doumit, C — 0.1 fWAR | Traded to Atlanta Braves in exchange for LHP Sean Gilmartin

2014

The Twins entered free agency with the goal of shoring up their rotation and you could say that they were successful in that endeavour. Mike Pelfrey was re-signed to a two-year deal, and free agents Hughes and Nolasco agreed to three and four-year contracts respectively. There were also several rumors linking the Twins with Matt Garza and other pitchers as well, which show just how active the Twins were in the free agent pitching market. In his first campaign with Minnesota last year, Kevin Correia put up a decent 1.3 fWAR and will look to improve on that in either the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation this year.

Former batting champ Joe Mauer will officially make the move from catcher to first base in 2014 in an attempt to minimize the risk of injury since the 31-year old missed the final six weeks of the 2013 season after incurring a concussion. With five years and $115 million left on his contract, both parties wanted to ensure the righty would be healthy enough to be productive throughout the remainder of the deal. Josh Willingham and Brian Dozier represent the other big bats in the lineup for the Twins.

The only upside to having a terrible record for several years in a row is the amount of high draft picks that start to accumulate. Although he’s yet to play a game above Double-A, Byron Buxton has quickly become regarded as one of the very best prospects in baseball and could even see big league action before year’s end. Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer are two other names that you’ll become familiar with quickly as they make their ascent through the minor leagues.

The future is starting to look bright in Minnesota, and 2014 should be a step forward in the right direction.

Chicago White Sox | 2013: 63-99

Recently it’s been an up and down several years for the White Sox who had the third worst record in baseball last year. Their pitching staff combined for a 4.00 ERA which was just above the league average, but their 598 runs scored were the second fewest in the league. The good news is that the rotation is still relatively young and poised for greater success in the next year and down the road.

Who’s In

Matt Davidson, 3B — 0.2 fWAR | Acquired via trade with Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for RHP Addison Reed
Ronald Belisaario, RP — 0.0 fWAR | Signed one-year, $3 million deal
Adam Eaton, OF — -0.5 fWAR | Acquired in a three team deal with Arizona Diamondbacks who received OF Brandon Jacobs, and with Los Angeles Angels who received LHP Hector Santiago
Felipe Paulino, SP — 0.9 fWAR (2012) | Signed one-year, $1.75 million deal
David Purcey, RP — -0.1 fWAR | Signed minor-league contract
Jose Abreu, 1B | Signed six-year, $68 million deal

Who’s Out

Gavin Floyd, SP — 0.2 fWAR | Signed free-agent deal with Atlanta Braves
Hector Santiago, SP — 1.5 fWAR
Addison Reed, RP — 1.7 fWAR

2014

The White Sox biggest splash by far this winter was Abreu, a Cuban defector, and the scouting report on him is simple: he can flat out hit. Most projection systems like the slugger for around 30 home runs in 2014 and Steamer projects a .269/.353/.535 line for him as well. The 27-year old looks like he’ll be below average defensively and average on the base paths, but it was no secret that most of his value lies in the batters box.

Youngsters Eaton and Davidson were brought in through seperate trades and could fill key rolls in center field and at third base respectively. All three players mentioned fit general manager Rick Hahn’s plan of putting a team together that can be competitive in the long term as opposed to simply relying on short term fixes. Outfielder Avisail Garcia was also acquired in a mid-season trade with the Tigers and Red Sox and the 22-year old fits in with the club’s long term plans as well.

On the pitching side of things, the White Sox received a second straight season of dominance from Chris Sale who has quietly become the franchise’s ace starter. Jose Quintana and Erik Johnson also figure to play key roles in the rotation, and the 24-year Quintana could be poised for a breakout season after posting a 3.7 fWAR in 2013.

It’ll probably be another long year in the Windy City, but White Sox fans have plenty of reason to be excited for what the future will hold.

*All player WAR’s shown are via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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