Continuing on with our six-part series covering a trade deadline need for every MLB team, we will take a look inside the American League Central Division.
There is little doubt that the AL Central is the weakest division in baseball as it includes two of the very worst teams in baseball in the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox. The Minnesota Twins are enduring a terribly disappointing campaign while the rebuilding Detroit Tigers have fallen back thanks to a recent tailspin.
All of this has left the Cleveland Indians with a comfortable double-digit lead in the Central. That said, there are still needs across the board here despite the fact four of the five teams in the division are set to sell.
Let’s take a look at the biggest trade deadline need for teams to accomplish as well as a possible solution for every club in the AL Central.
One Trade Deadline Need for Every AL Central Team
Kansas City Royals
- Record: 25-61 | GB: 23.5
Biggest Need: Capitalize on Wide Open 3B Market
The Royals questionably moved one of the top relievers on the market in Kelvin Herrera for an underwhelming return in the middle of June. Why Herrera was moved before a full landscape of needs had been determined across the league can only be explained by Dayton Moore and the Royals front office, but I’d like to see them do better in a deal involving third baseman and fan favorite Mike Moustakas.
With the Manny Machado sweepstakes heating up, there seem to be more and more suitors looking for help on the left side of the infield. For teams that are looking at Machado as a third baseman, and eventually, miss out on him, Moustakas is the next best option.
He’s a middle of the lineup bat with power to spare. Moustakas has clubbed 16 homers and knocked in 53 runs for a brutal Royals’ offense while sitting with a powerful .214 ISO on the season. He’s been worth 1.5 WAR to the Royals this season and makes any team who gets him instantly more dangerous at the plate.
Unlike with Herrera, the Royals need to wait for the entire trade landscape to take place. The last thing you want to do is trade your most valuable trade piece before teams around the league have a chance to identify their needs, or even better for a seller, their injury replacements. If a contender loses a third baseman over the next three and a half weeks, a big need, and a big opportunity, opens up for the Royals in terms of prospect capital coming back the other way. For a team with the second-fewest wins in baseball, they must be diligent with their rebuild.
Chicago White Sox
- Record: 30-55 | GB: 17.5
Biggest Need: Continue to Stock the Cupboard
The White Sox have done well in many recent trade deadlines to bring in a lot of high-end prospects to their system.
That said, the returns haven’t been great, but it’s still early. There is no reason to hold onto pricey veterans at this point, and with pitching certainly not an area of strength for this team, the White Sox should shop some of their position players in order to improve an already-strong farm system.
Solution: Shop Jose Abreu
Abreu is one of the lone veteran bats left on this White Sox team, and he’s approaching the age where a lot of players begin the decline phase in his early thirties. That said, Abreu is still a productive bat and certainly one that can benefit a club come playoff time.
There is also the fact that Abreu is a free agent after next season, and is, therefore, a one and a half year player for any suitor as opposed to a pure rental. There is also an increase in salary awaiting the Cuban as he’s making $13M this year before heading into his final year of arbitration this offseason.
It’s very unlikely that the rebuilding White Sox will want to ink Abreu to any medium or long-term deal in the $15M+ annual range, no matter how much his veteran leadership means to their youthful roster. Therefore, I think now could be the time the White Sox could offer his services to teams in need of some thump in their lineup at either first base or designated hitter.
The Yankees and Rockies strike me as a couple of teams who could use a first baseman for now and next season, if their respective first baggers in Greg Bird and Ian Desmond don’t pick up their production.
- Record: 35-48 | GB: 12.0
Biggest Need: Trade Brian Dozier
This is a tough one as Dozier is slumping this season, but there is little doubt in my mind that the Twins need to ship Dozier at this deadline before they lose him for nothing at the end of the season.
Dozier’s production over the past few seasons will net him a nice raise on his $9M 2018 salary despite being on the open market at the age of 32. Dozier’s clubbed 76 home runs over the last two seasons while he’s also stolen 34 bases in that time as well. The problem is, he is hitting just .220 with an OPS a hair over .700 at the moment.
On the positive side, he remains a strong defender and we’ve seen him go on a second-half tear before, so it’s not like his value is completely tarnished to opposing clubs.
Solution: Engage the Division Leaders
Interestingly, most of the current division leaders across the league have needs at second base. The Red Sox have Eduardo Nunez there while they wait on Dustin Pedroia, who may not return in 2017. The Indians are getting very little from Jason Kipnis. The Brewers’ Jonathan Villar isn’t the same player that stole 60 bases and hit for power in 2016. The Diamondbacks could shift Ketel Marte to shortstop and open up a spot for Dozier.
I believe the Red Sox and Indians are the best bet here. The Red Sox could nab Dozier and use Nunez in a utility/pinch running role down the stretch to deepen their bench while the Indians could shift Kipnis to the outfield or use him as a left-handed bench bat.
Either way, the Twins need to make sure they get something for Dozier before it’s too late.
- Record: 38-50 | GB: 11.5
Biggest Need: Position Prospects
The Tigers gave the Indians some mild headaches until their recent series when Cleveland blew them right out of the water. Since then, it’s been a downward spiral for a Tigers team that is in the first year of a rebuild and certainly weren’t thought of as contenders in 2018.
Detroit has done well to draft high-end pitching in recent years, something that should bear fruit perhaps late in 2019 when some of the young power arms are ready for a promotion. That said, the Tigers lack quality position players in their system, something that will need to be addressed at some point during their rebuild.
Solution: Take Offers on Michael Fulmer
The Tigers’ young right-hander and 2016 AL Rookie of the Year has been bandied about in rumors since the offseason. I’m not saying Detroit needs to deal Fulmer as he’s under team control for four more years after this one, but that’s exactly why teams would ante up some quality prospects that could solve the Tigers’ need for more high-upside position players in their system.
Trading your best young pitcher seems contradictory when you are rebuilding, but by the time the Tigers could again be playoff contenders, Fulmer will be very close, or at, free agency. With a handful of very promising pitchers ready to contribute within a couple of years, perhaps the best move for GM Al Avila is to nab some position prospects in a deal for his prized young right-hander.
- Record: 47-37 | GB: —
Biggest Need: Bullpen Help
I mentioned above that the Indians have a need at second base, and while that’s true, their biggest need is in the bullpen. If the price on Dozier or someone like Ian Kinsler is right, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind an upgrade at the keystone. However, the Indians’ offense is one the best in the league while their bullpen has been one of the worst.
Terry Francona has seen his ‘pen pitch to the tune of a 5.01 ERA this season, the third-worst mark in baseball. For good measure, their 4.55 FIP is also the third-worst mark in baseball. Bryan Shaw departed via free agency which didn’t help, but Andrew Miller has been hurt and surprisingly hittable while closer Cody Allen has been fine, but not great, with a 3.38 ERA and a 3.79 FIP. This is not a championship-caliber bullpen, to put it lightly.
Solution: Empty the Cupboard
The Indians came within one win of the World Series in 2016 and were a contender once again last season. They should march into the playoffs with relative ease again this year given the AL Central situation in 2018. That said, contending windows don’t last forever and nothing is guaranteed for next season.
Therefore, the best solution here is for the Indians to use whatever prospects they need to in order to shore up their most glaring need this season and take a full-on run at a World Series championship. Relievers like Brad Hand, Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Shane Greene, Kyle Barraclough, Drew Steckenrider and many more are quite available and ripe for the taking. The Indians need to land at least two impact arms for their bullpen at the deadline and should use whatever prospect capital they have at their disposal in order to do so.