Most baseball pundits thought the 2017 AL Pennant winner would come from the AL Central division; namely, the Cleveland Indians. However, the Indians’ streak without a championship was extended to 69 years once the surprising Yankees took them apart in the Division Series. And then, the Houston Astros reigned supreme and the rest of baseball will now retool and reset for next year.
The Indians are still the favorites in the AL Central, but what will they and the other teams in the division do during this year’s Hot Stove season? Here’s a look:
AL Central Hot Stove
Jose Abreu (TR) is one of the few valuable commodities the White Sox have left after having dealt Jose Quintana, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and Melky Cabrera this year. Abreu made $10.825M this past season and is entering his second foray into arbitration. Based on his .906 OPS, 33 HR, 102 RBI (fourth straight year) and career-highs in hits (189) and runs scored (95), the 30-year old first baseman will get a considerable increase even if he loses his arbitration case. Additionally, Abreu struck out just 119 times in 675 plate appearances. There aren’t many power hitters whose strikeout totals are that low in today’s game. The White Sox will build around Yoan Moncada; now they have to decide if Abreu should remain one of the pieces of their new puzzle.
James Shields (TR) was once a pretty good pitcher… but not anymore. However, he is a wealthy one. Shields was acquired by the White Sox in June 2016 after one-plus seasons with the Padres. The White Sox picked up $27M of the $58M owed to Shields after the silly four-year, $75M free agent contract San Diego gave him prior to the 2015 season. Shields is set to earn $21M in the final year of his deal. The White Sox are going to have to eat whatever portion of that money is owed by them and find a way to move him out pronto.
It’s going to be a longer, colder than usual winter in Cleveland this offseason. The Indians had an excellent chance at returning to the World Series after losing in seven games to the Chicago Cubs in 2016. But the city has seen a lot of heartbreak when it comes to its sports teams, and this Fall was no different. After falling to the Yankees in a five-game ALDS, the Indians are going to have to make some serious decisions prior to Spring Training 2018.
Carlos Santana (FA) began his career as a catcher, moved to third base, and then to first base with time at DH as well. Santana started the season miserably, but thanks to a strong second half, finished with a .818 OPS-23 HR-79 RBI year. That came on the heels of the 2016 campaign, when he produced career-bests of 34 home runs, 97 RBI, and a .865 OPS.
Santana received MLB’s $17.4M qualifying offer from the Indians for next year, but he will most assuredly turn it down in favor of a long-term deal. The feeling here is that he and the Indians will work something out.
Jay Bruce (FA) had a much different experience between the 2016 and 2017 trade deadlines. After being acquired by the New York Mets in 2016, Bruce struggled for the remainder of the year. With a good first half under his belt in 2017, the Mets swung him over to the Indians at the deadline. Bruce immediately went on a tear. Though he struggled in September, the 30-year old finished the season with a .254/.324/.508 slash line. In addition, he slugged a career-high 36 home runs and topped 100 RBI (101) for the second time in his career. An outfielder of Bruce’s caliber is in high demand and he will find plenty of takers willing to sign him for a medium-to-long-term contract. The Yankees and Blue Jays are just two of those teams.
The Tigers began dismantling their team this past season when it became clear they couldn’t compete in the long-term. Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson (Does anyone see a trend here?), J.D. Martinez, and Alex Avila were traded at either the non-waiver or waiver deadlines and the team is not finished making moves yet. Or at least they shouldn’t be.
Miguel Cabrera (TR) is one of the most feared batsmen of all time. He can hit for power and average and has won two Triple Crowns. But is the “Miggy” that regularly inhabits the Tigers’ #24 uniform the same player that smacked 38 HR and posted a .956 OPS in 2016, or the guy who had a .728 OPS, hit 16 HR and was limited to 130 games in 2017? It’s a tough question to answer.
What we do know is that Cabrera is guaranteed $184M from 2018 thru 2023 (there are vesting options of $30M based on the 2023 and 2024 seasons) and will turn 35 early next season. At the moment, Cabrera’s value is far from its peak, so no deal could be made before the 2018 season is underway. Cabrera has to prove he’s healthy, has no distractions (he was recently hit with a paternity suit) and can still drive the ball. Once that is established, just how much money is Detroit willing to eat? The more they can absorb, the better prospects they’ll get in return. (When will owners ever learn about handing out these type of contracts? Probably never.)
Victor Martinez (TR) has one year and $18M remaining on his contract. Similar to Cabrera, “V-Mart” had a solid 2016 season (28 HR, 86 RBI, .826 OPS) but fell well below expectations in 2017. Due in part to an irregular heartbeat (Atrial Fibrillation), Martinez appeared in only 107 games, the first time since 2008 that his games played dipped below 100 in a season. Martinez said he will be in top shape by the time Spring Training rolls around. At worst, he retires and the Tigers pay out $18M without any return. At best, Martinez has a solid year and the Tigers deal him at the trade deadline for some future prospects.
Finally, the Tigers must find a way to correct pitcher Jordan Zimmermann‘s (TR) problems or rid themselves of part of the $74M he’s owed over the next three seasons. Zimmerman starred for the Nationals but he’s been a complete flop in his two seasons in the Motor City. New pitching coach Chris Bosio has his hands full with this one.
Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas (FA) all received rousing standing ovations when they were pulled out of the final two Royals’ home games early. It is possible that the Royals may not retain the services of any of these three free agents. Each member of this trio received $17.4M qualifying offers from the club, but all three are expected to turn the offers down.
The 27-year old Hosmer has been a mainstay at first base since he broke in with KC in 2011. In fact, he played in all 162 games this past season. After being a decent hitter, Hosmer came into his own the past two seasons. He added power to his game with back-to-back 25 home runs seasons and posted career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage in his walk-year.
He also had his highest salary ($12.25M) and will be looking for multiple years and multiple millions going forward. With Hosmer, you also get defense… he captured his fourth Gold Glove Award on Tuesday. He has the best odds of the three to remain in KC.
Lorenzo Cain and the word potential marched hand-in-hand for a number of years until the Royals outfielder began to consistently show the abilities he was thought to possess. That included being named the 2014 ALCS MVP after the Royals reached their first World Series since 1985 and a third-place finish (and All-Star appearance) in the AL MVP voting in 2015.
The Royals were hit with a number of injuries in 2016, including Cain, who was limited to 106 games. In his contract year, he put up very solid numbers – .300/.363/.440 – 15 HR, 49 RBI, 26 SB (in 28 attempts), 175 hits, and 86 runs scored – but in my opinion, those are not the type of numbers that should earn a player a five-year, $75M or higher contract (Though a contract that averages $15M per year is probably considered a bargain these days). Cain will get his money somewhere, but it’s doubtful it will be in KC. And whoever signs him should pencil him into the leadoff spot. The majority of Cain’s at-bats were in the 3-hole in the lineup, while the rest were in the #2 slot.
Mike Moustakas blew out his knee in 2016 and missed all but 16 games. He made a magnificent return in 2017 with a career-high 38 home runs, 85 RBI, and a .835 OPS. However, his first half was better than his second half and he did not hit well at home. On the bright side, the lefty-hitting Moustakas slugged .476 against left-handed pitchers and struck out only 94 times in 598 plate appearances.
Moustakas never hit more than 22 home runs before last season, and you should figure somewhere between that number and 38 is where his true power lies. The odds of KC resigning him are not good, especially with Hunter Dozier waiting in the wings (Dozier might have been already breathing down Moustakas’ neck if not for the oblique strain and broken wrist that allowed him to play just 33 games last year). The Mets and Giants would certainly be interested in Moustakas to fill their needs for a third baseman.
Brian Dozier (TR) has been, by far, the Twins’ best hitter for the last two seasons. During that span, he averaged 38 home runs, 96 RBI, 74 walks, .349 OPS, .522 slugging percentage, and a .871 OPS. He also added his first career Gold Glove Award in 2017.
Dozier will earn $9M in 2018, the final year of his current contract. There were rumors before this past season and at times during the year that the Twins were willing to listen to offers on him. Then the Twins unexpectedly competed and succeeded in earning a postseason spot as the second wild card, and things died down.
The trade rumors will likely begin again, and if the Twins are not in the pennant race in 2018, Dozier is guaranteed to be traded. If he’s hitting anything like he has the last two seasons, the Twins will get back some major prospects.
Kyle Gibson (TR) can’t be part of the Twins rotation going forward if they expect to be competitive. In his four full seasons in the Major Leagues, Gibson has managed to compile only one sub-4.00 ERA. In his last two seasons, he’s posted identical 5.07 ERAs and WHIPs above 1.500. In both seasons, he also walked 3.4 batters / 9 IP and had War numbers of 0.6 and 0.2.
Gibson, who earned $2.9M in 2017, is under team control through 2019. That might be the best thing the Twins have going for them in any trade scenario. That, and one of the most overused words in sports – potential.
So, there you have it for the AL Central. Next week check back for a Hot Stove look at the AL West.