A Mostly Quiet Offseason For the A.L. Central Division … So Far
Craig Gifford | On 06, Dec 2014
Major League Baseball free agents have been flying off the shelves at a pretty fast pace – specifically guys who can hit. Several trades have even gone down since the league’s offseason began the day after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. While things have been somewhat quiet in Cleveland, the same can be said about the rest of the American League Central Division.
The Indians, with 85 wins, finished five games behind division winner Detroit and four games behind Wild Card and eventual American League Champion Kansas City. Of the Central’s top three teams, the Tribe is actually standing in the best spot, right now.
Cleveland has lost none of its top contributors from this past season. Meanwhile, the Tigers lost the aging, but still productive Torii Hunter to the Twins – Hunter’s original team. The Royals lost one of its sparkplugs in Billy Butler.
The carnage may not yet be over for the two squads the Indians are chasing. Detroit still has 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer as a free agent and seeking a megadeal. Signs point to him going elsewhere and weakening the strength of Detroit’s squad. The Tigers biggest move this hot stope season, so far, has been keeping Victor Martinez with a four-year deal.
Meanwhile, the low-spending Royals are poised to lose ace James Shields unless they come up with money rarely spent in Kansas City.
Cleveland has its core locked up and is merely working on figuring out who to lock up long-term. The Tribe is more able to focus on a free agent and trade plan for players outside the organization. At the moment, the gap between the Indians and division’s top two has narrowed a little bit.
At the bottom of the division, it is actually the White Sox who made the biggest splash. Chicago inked first baseman Adam LaRoche to a two-year, $25 million deal. LaRoche, at 35, still has power, but is not a great contact hitter as 26 home runs and .269 batting average would attest. He will be an upgrade over the departed Adam Dunn, who Chicago traded this past season and then retired.
Chigago also inked solid reliever Zach Duke to a deal. However, the Windy City squad will be hard-pressed to be a threat in the Central without serious upgrades to the rotation behind Chris Sale and the lineup beyond LaRoche and 2014 Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu.
As for the Twins, adding Hunter will help but will not likely drastically change the fortunes of 70-win ball club. It will also be interesting to see how they do under rookie manager Paul Molitor, after years of solid coaching from fired manager Ron Gardenhire.
With MLB entering month number two of its offseason, it is the Tribe that is currently in the best shape of all the AL Central clubs. The Indians are still better on paper than the Twins or Sox while being closer to K.C. and Detroit.
Yes, teams like the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Mariners have made splash moves to get better for 2015. However, the Indians are not chasing them.
Thanks to budget restraints and lack of salary cap in the sport, the Indians focus is more on winning the division than trying to financially compete with big-spending, larger-market teams in A.L. West and East Divisions.
Right now, the Tribe is keeping up with the Jones’ in terms of the A.L. Central. That is good enough for the moment.
The Indians, of course, do know they can not stand pat. The Tigers and Royals are sure to do something. Detroit owner Mike Ilitch has deep pockets and a burning desire to bring a winner to the Motor City. The Royals are experiencing the positive financial effects and good feelings that a World Series appearance will always bring.
Signs indicate to Cleveland not just taking it easy this winter. Beyond keeping Mike Aviles and giving starter Shaun Marcum a minor league deal, more could still be to come. Trades have been discussed. With an everyday lineup fully under contract for 2015, a trade is probably the only way the offense will be upgraded, beyond better health and bounce-back campaigns. It is also a known that the Tribe would like to upgrade its pitching staff. Little has happened on the pitching market to this point and may not for a little while.
Certainly things are quiet right now for the Indians. However, the same can be said for the rest of the division with which the Tribe is competing. If things stay quiet into mid-February when pitchers and catchers report to spring training, that would be a problem. It would also be shocking, as Cleveland’s front office knows that it might be closer to getting to the top of the division than it has been in a while.
The A.L. Central will make offseason noise, eventually, and so too should the Indians.
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images