Tribe Benefitting from Offseason Direction of AL Central Rivals

It’s been a quiet start to the offseason for the Cleveland Indians, who benefitted from an extra month of baseball as the team played on the final day of the Major League Baseball season for the first time since 1997.

In the weeks that have proceeded a heartbreaking seventh game of the World Series for the Tribe, the team has made several minor additions to its returning roster. The Indians have added left-handed pitchers Tim Cooney and Edwin Escobar via waiver claims and drafted Hoby Milner in the Rule 5 draft from the Philadelphia Phillies. Minor additions involving the returns of Michael Martinez and Guillermo Quiroz to the organization and the inking of Erik Kratz and Daniel Robertson have been nothing more than depth moves at best.

While things on the northeast Ohio lakeshore have been relatively calm and reserved, the rumor mill has churned up some major connections between the Indians and some of the top free agent first baseman on the market. Meanwhile, several of the other teams in the American League Central Division have already made some moves that will have significant impacts on their 2017 seasons, while rumors regarding all teams in the division have flowed in the nearly six weeks since the final out of the postseason.

The biggest waves were made last Tuesday when the Chicago White Sox sent perennial Cy Young Award candidate Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox during the annual Winter Meetings. In return, the Red Sox dealt prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Victor Diaz, and Luis Alexander Basabe. The 27-year-old southpaw Sale is a five-time All-Star and has finished in the top six of the AL Cy Young voting in each of those last five seasons. Despite being a top pitcher in the game, the Indians have had success against him during his career, as Sale is just 5-7 with a 4.07 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 27 games against Cleveland. He will go from seeing the Indians three to four times a season to two at most.

The Sale trade appeared to be the first of many potential deals to be made from Guaranteed Rate Field by the White Sox prior to the start of next season, as the team looked to cut cost and get younger after a 78-84 season.

With their top pitcher dealt, the White Sox kept on dealing, sending outfifelder Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals the next day for former top prospect Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning. The versatile and cost-controlled Eaton is just 28 and had been a regular in the Sox outfield for the last three years, two of which he led the league in triples.

The two moves in the span of two days screamed “fire sale” and have led to plenty of speculation that the White Sox are not done shopping some of their tradable assets. Players on short contracts with big money pending, like third baseman Todd Frazier, outfielder Melky Cabrera, and reliever David Robertson, could find their way out of the Windy City before spring training comes. Other players like first baseman Jose Abreu and starter Jose Quintana could also draw interest, but the White Sox may be less inclined to move them and have at least been reported to have a high asking price on their 27-year-old first time All-Star left-hander Quintana.

The Royals, coming off of a disappointing defense of their World Series title with an 81-81 record in 2015, dealt one of the more important pieces of their vaunted bullpen when they moved closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs. The 31-year-old right-hander saved 27 of 30 games last season while going 2-1 with a 1.87 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He was an All-Star for the second time in his career, but appeared in just 45 games while dealing with injuries. The season before, he was 8-1 in 69 games with a 0.94 ERA and 0.79 WHIP as the Royals won their first world championship in 30 years. In his three seasons in Kansas City, he allowed just two combined runs to the Indians in 17 1/3 innings over 18 appearances.

Davis was entering the final year of his contract and will make $10 million as the closer for the reigning champion Cubs.

Coming back to Kansas City in the deal last Wednesday was young outfielder Jorge Soler. The 24-year-old Cuban outfielder wrapped up his third Major League season in 2016, hitting .238 with a .333 on-base percentage and .436 slugging with nine doubles, 12 homers, and 31 RBI in 86 games for the Cubs. It marked a drop in playing time for Soler after appearing in 101 games the season before. His inability to get on the field and contribute persisted into the postseason, when he appeared in just two games in the NLDS, four games in the NLCS, and two more in the World Series.

The Royals may not be done moving players either, especially those nearing the ends of their respective deals with the club. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson and left-hander Danny Duffy have reportedly been inquired about this offseason and if Kansas City finds itself out of the race early next year, potential free-agents-to-be like Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas could potentially relocate by the trade deadline to help retool the club for the future.

The Tigers were one of the more talked about teams in baseball in the days following the completion of the 2016 schedule as there was plenty of speculation that general manager Al Avila would look to make his older team younger with a more cost conscious mindset moving forward, focusing less often on making high-priced acquisitions. Detroit was frequently linked early on in the offseason to the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Ian Kinsler and Justin Verlander being just two possible names that were bantered about, but Kinsler was the far more likely of the two to be moved because the Tigers still intend to contend next season. Left-handed reliever Justin Wilson has garnered recent interest, as has shortstop Jose Iglesias, reliever Francisco Rodriguez, and outfielder J.D. Martinez.

After a last place finish in the AL Central in 2016, the Minnesota Twins have moved quietly into their offseason. While speculation linked the Dodgers and others to the Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier at one point in time, Minnesota would presumably need to be blown away to deal one of the biggest offensive weapons in their lineup. The club added free agent catcher Jason Castro from Houston on a three-year deal, but has otherwise steered clear of any big additions or subtractions to their otherwise young roster.

As the Indians look to figure out how to bolster their lineup for their defense of the American League Central crown and the AL pennant in 2017, the moves made by those around them within the division will undoubtedly play vital roles in Cleveland’s hopes of a return trip to the playoffs next fall.

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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