AL Central Review: The Cleveland Indians take over 1st place despite sweep by Tigers

Duane Burleson

The Tribe threatened to take a lead in the AL Central but the Tigers flexed some muscle in Cleveland to cut into the lead. Meanwhile troubles hit Kansas City and Minnesota with awful weeks by both clubs. This week we take a look at some extension candidates around the division.

After a milquetoast week in the AL Central that saw all the teams tread water, the week of May 17-23 was a week which went completely in the other direction. It saw two teams flip first and second place and two teams have excruciating stretches.

Only the Chicago White Sox had an even keel week. They went 3-3 to stay in fourth place. Otherwise we saw the Cleveland Indians take over first place as the Detroit Tigers had a rough weekend in Texas losing three out of four. The Tigers rebounded by marching into Cleveland however to get a two game mini-sweep. Both teams won on Thursday night to allow the Tribe to cling to a half-game lead in the Central.

It was in Minnesota and Kansas City where a full out swoon raged for both clubs. The Royals were above .500 all season despite very little power production from it's lineup However the bill came due for the paucity of power and the Royals limped to a 1-6 week and barely held onto third-place. A series loss to the woeful Houston Astros only stuck the knife in slightly deeper.

Meanwhile the Twins had been giving their fans some hope in the early weeks of the season by also sticking around the break even point and looking half-presentable. That screeched to an ignominious halt this week with a big, fat 0-fer. An 0-7 week sunk the Twins into fifth place and featured the Twins low-octane starting pitching getting scorched in Atlanta with a series of short outings by nearly every starter. Opening Day starter Vance Worley getting sent to the minors probably illustrated the Twins' pitching woes as well as anything could.

With the season still evolving for the short term of 2013 and the trade deadline still two months away, this week let's take a long view look at some players around the AL Central that might be in line for contract extensions. Should the club commit? Will the player take the sure thing or wait?

Cleveland Indians: 27-19 Overall, 5-2 on the week

Next Up: 3 at Boston, 4 with Cincinnati

Spotlight Player: Asdrubal Cabrera

Cabrera is set for free agency after the 2014 season (per B-R) and is known as a competent defensive shortstop who can provide plus-production when gauged against his peers at the position. Cabrera has posted an above average OPS+ in the three the last four seasons. Will the two-time All Star get an extension offer from the Tribe?

Francisco Lindor is a factor here. Lindor is a 19-year old in Advanced A-ball who the Indians drafted 8th overall two years ago. Ticketed as the shortstop of the future, one only need to look at the rapid rise of youngsters like Manny Machado, Didi Gregorius, Elvis Andrus, and Andrelton Simmons to get an idea that young middle infielders with great skill sets can rise rapidly and grab playing time. How quickly the Tribe projects Lindor's ascent in their system may play into any decision to hold onto Cabrera or deal him prior to free agency.

Let's speculate that Lindor is for real and arrives by 2015 at the latest. What would the Tribe do with Cabrera? Jason Kipnis looks entrenched at second base. Can Cabrera make the move to third base? Is he amenable to such a move?

Extending Cabrera's deal beyond 2014 would be locking him for his late-20s and early 30s. His prime years of production at the plate could be on tap in that time frame. Is he the bat you want at third base? Certainly his bat plays at SS without question. Personally I think he would fill the spot at the hot corner nicely.


Prediction: Lindor is the starting shortstop in Cleveland by mid-season of 2014 and Cabrera is dealt for an influx of pitching badly needed by the organization. An above average shortstop should have market value to add a power arm or two.

Detroit Tigers: 26-19 overall, 4-2 on the week

Next UP: 3 at home w/Minnesota, 4 with Pittsburgh

Spotlight Player: Omar Infante

The Tigers have plenty of players we could feature here. Young stars that many fans would love to see locked in for the long term. Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer, and even resurgent Jhonny Peralta. We covered Peralta recently and his spiking power production raises the already solid odds of his return we mentioned then. Cabrera will get tons of ink as the Godfather Offer probably gets prepared by the Tigers in due course. Scherzer and Jackson are Scott Boras clients. The knee jerk reaction is that Boras clients get to free agency. However we've seen Elvis Andrus and Carlos Gomez ink deals and Boras oversaw them. We'll just have to see how the Tigers approach those players.

However it's Omar Infante who is off to a hot start posting a batting average heavy line of .323/.351/.443 primarily out of the nine hole in the lineup. He has solidified a position that had been in flux even as the Tigers won the AL Central the last two seasons. Infante's glove work might be even more important than the hot stick he's swinging. The rest of the Tigers' infield is fairly stationary to be kind. At least with Infante he gives the infield crew a whiff of mobility and range. Certainly Infante is known for an occasional miscue that can be head-scratching but overall he is stabilizing the spot nicely.

Will the Tigers bite and give Infante job security past this season? I think they will. There are no prospects beating down the door that cannot be denied at the second sack. Hernan Perez is doing well at Double-A Erie and Eugenio Suarez has joined him there after conquering A ball. But neither projects, from this view, as a player you commit pre-season belief in without having a major league solution ready like perhaps Lindor would in Cleveland. Infante gives the Tigers that option. He'll be 32 next season. He is coming off a two-year deal.

Prediction: The Tigers ink Infante to another two year hitch and leave him at second base. If one of the youngsters can knock him off the perch by playing their way into the mix, it's a great issue to deal with.

Kansas City Royals: 21-23 overall, 1-6 for the week

Next Up: 3 at home w/Los Angeles Angels, 4 with St. Louis

Spotlight Player: James Shields

Do appearances matter? Do the Royals "have" to get Shields signed long term to appease anyone in particular? Assuming the Rays are able to locate Wil Myers from witness relocation and feature the young slugger soon along with Jake Odorizzi, who recently made his Rays' debut, the Royals will be on the clock to make sure they appear to be getting value from the big deal between the two clubs this past off-season. Will GM Dayton Moore, and more importantly owner David Glass, want the big "get" in the deal from the Royals perspective locked up beyond next season in order to show their critics and fans that the Royals are ready to step up.

Shields is signed through 2014 giving the Royals only so much time to convince Shields that Kansas City is where he should spend the remainder of his prime. The Royals gave up a large prize in Myers and solid supporting cast of prospects as well to acquire. They are gambling that they can contend while Shields is signed to be the leader of their rotation as they search for the post-season for the first time since 1985.

The big question appears to be will James Shields want to stay in Kansas City. Shields has pitched well in KC powder blue with little to show for it. The Royals are 3-7 in his 10 trips to the hill despite Shields carrying an ERA of 2.47 with solid peripheral numbers to match. But the Royals lineup has been unable to capitalize on Shields' solid work to produce wins in the early going. Odds are if Shields continues to pitch this well, some "W's" will follow for the club, however the trade hasn't given the Royals the immediate boost in the division that was hoped for to this point.


Will Shields opt to take the offer that the Royals are highly likely to proffer? He said all the right things in the media early on about being amenable to an extension. But those seem to be perfunctory comments made by most players. Will Shields look at the landscape in the KC organization and decide this is where he wants to settle in? He has been a very durable pitcher during his time in MLB. He may not feel the need to take the sure thing of an offer now to insure himself against any looming injury that could crush his market value in the off-season following 2014.

Will public perception among the KC fan base make signing Shields an absolute priority in Kansas City? Is "winning" the trade something that can only be achieved by winning on the field the next two seasons? Or will the Royals be able to salvage some good will by getting Shield in the fold long term in lieu of playoff games?

Prediction: The Royals make the big offer more than once. Shields signs it. I'll say 5-years/$80M or something in the Anibal Sanchez deal's range. The Royals have done good work locking in young stars like Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar to affordable deals. The Shields deal will be their "big ticket veteran" signing.

Chicago White Sox: 21-24 overall, 3-3 on the week

Next Up: 3 at home w/Miami, 4 with Chicago Cubs

Spotlight Player: Alex Rios

The White Sox locked up Chris Sale recently to a fairly team-friendly deal and really don't have a lot of other young stars that seem worthwhile to lock up now. Older sluggers Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko are holding spots but aren't the future of the club.

Alex Rios is perhaps a player that could get a short extension if we really squint hard and try to identify someone in line for one. But even this seems unlikely. Rios is 32 and having a very solid year (.306/.372/.555) to follow up his 125 OPS+ campaign last season. Rios has been fairly durable during his time in Chicago. The White Sox hold a $13M club option on Rios for 2015.


Prediction: Rios becomes trade fodder long before he becomes extension worthy. He has a cheap buyout on this 2015 option of $1 million, so he should have a trade market. The White Sox need to acquire young talent for their barren organization. Committing more years to a good but not great outfielder in his mid-30's doesn't seem like a savvy move. If they can get two young players of note from some club for Rios, they should pounce on that deal.


Minnesota Twins: 18-26 overall, 0-7 on the week

Next Up: 3 at Detroit, with Milwaukee

Spotlight Player: Justin Morneau

Wow ... you look up and down the roster of the Twins and you see kind of an ugly situation. There is a reason why you hear far more buzz about Twins prospects Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, and the recently called up Oswaldo Arcia...the MLB roster is bereft of young talent that would seem to be cornerstones for the next wave of contention in Minnesota.

Players like Pedro Florimon, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Parmelee, Brian Dozier, et al ... they all need to actually produce beyond their reputation to start to be worthy of any discussion of getting locked in for the long haul. Nobody in the Twins rotation looks to be critical to the future either. There are some nice bullpen pieces perhaps, but even Glen Perkins is under team control through 2016 and he's already 30. Long term deals for relievers aren't necessary anyhow.

With local icon Joe Mauer locked into a huge deal and Josh Willingham signed through 2014, that leaves venerable first baseman Justin Morneau as the the guy with an expiring deal. Will the Twins commit to their former MVP? Will they shop him at this year's deadline?

Morneau has been in decline since his injury issues really started to kick in during the 2010 season. He was mauling AL pitching that season to the tune of .345/.437/.618 before concussions derailed him. Since that time he has been in and out of the lineup and seen his power production really diminish. If you subscribe to positional values at all its hard to see how Morneau's powerless bat fits long term at first base given his age and injury history. But will the Twins show their guy some loyalty while they await for the young guys on the farm to start taking shape? The free agent market for Justin Morneau shouldn't be all that huge. Unless the Tampa Bay Rays make him their next first-base reclamation success, it's hard to see who would be pursuing Morneau all that hard.

Prediction: The Twins trade Morneau to some team that needs a lefty bat this summer for a "B" or "B-" prospect. However the Twins re-sign Morneau next off-season for a short and relatively cheap deal next season. He can be a familiar placeholder while the organization's next wave of hope takes shape in Double A.

More Roars:

Tigers 7, Twins 6: Comeback cats

Second guessing Jim Leyland

Tiger Beat Magazine gets a gritty reboot

Miguel Cabrera’s superlative year | And plate coverage

Friday’s links: Verlander and Jackson

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