The Detroit Tigers were able to hold on to their lead in the AL Central during the week of June 14-20 even though they dropped a rare home series to the Baltimore Orioles. The O's came into Comerica Park and were able to show that their power displays are not limited to the band box of Orioles Park in Baltimore. The Tigers bounced off the mat in walk-off style however with late heroics by Jhonny Peralta as he belted a two-run dinger against the Red Sox for the win.
Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals were jockeying back and forth for the silver medal position in the division. The Royals have been on an amazing run prevention roll where it has been hard for any club to score more than 3 runs against their pitching and defense combination. The Tribe has started to slowly emerge from their 20+ game string of inept play to get back on more of an even keel.
On the south side of Chicago...well, it's getting ugly. A three games to one series loss at the hand of the Astros begs a legit question. Are the White Sox in the worst long term shape of any organization in the American League?
The first trade deadline is starting to come into view. This week in the AL Central Review let's take a first snapshot look at who is buying and who is selling around the division with a peek at what they have to offer.
Detroit Tigers (40-31 overall, 4-3 on the week)
Next UP: 3 at home w/Boston, 3 at home w/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Synopsis of the Week: The Tigers continued to get great pitching in Minnesota while winning a road series but the power and defense of the Orioles were too tall an order for the Tigers spotty offense to overcome.
Buyers or Sellers: Buyers
Needs: Catcher, Bullpen, Offensive Power
The Tigers bullpen woes have been chronicled to death. The need is apparent and it's a safe bet that GM Dave Dombrowski will address the issue. The new Wildcard format may make fewer clubs look to sell however and the market for relief help could be crowded with buyers. How aggressive will Dombrowski be and what will he be willing to offer up? Dombrowski doesn't sit idle too often and he is not afraid to pull the trigger by putting his better prospects into play.
The Tigers will be linked to every reliever that hits the rumor mill for the next month. Get used to it. The big name will be Jonathon Papelbon should he hit the market. The asking price will be high. Will it make sense? Is it the best move? The first inclination seems to be that the cost in money and prospects will be too high and even someone not afraid to play for high stakes like Dombrowski may not go "all in" for that hand.
The bet here is that the Tigers are going to let Joaquin Benoit tackle the ninth-inning and look to add set-up relief help instead of paying a premium for a "Proven Closer".
Cleveland Indians (36-35 overall, 4-2 for the week)
Next UP: 3 at home w/Minnesota, 3 on the road @Baltimore
Synopsis of the Week: The Tribe defended their home turf well by winning two series. They held down the surprisingly punchless Washington offense in inter-league action over the weekend and then became the first team to get 4+ runs in back-to-back games against the Royals in nearly a month.
Buyer or Sellers: Soft Buyers
Needs: Starting Pitching, a replacement for Drew Stubbs, more Starting Pitching
The next three weeks will determine where the Tribe points their ship. Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez aren't holding up their end of the bargain. Cleveland should be looking to add some rotation depth to back up Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, and Corey Kluber (and this in only if you believe this threesome is ready to go the distance). Perhaps they'll fully commit to Trevor Bauer to fill one spot. Otherwise the problem is two fold. The market for starting pitching doesn't look all that enticing this season and the Tribe doesn't exactly have the marquee farm system to get any real gems if you assume to top prospect Francisco Lindor is untouchable. Can the Tribe market Dorssys Paulino and Tyler Naquin to get the arms they need? Do they believe in this current club enough to even bother? If they do, who do they target? Will Bud Norris or Lucas Harrell move the needle in the Tribe's favor?
Kansas City Royals (34-36 overall, 3-3 on the week)
Next UP: 3 at home w/Chicago White Sox, 2 at home w/Atlanta, 1 at Minnesota
Synopsis of the Week: The Royals took their show on the road after Jose Valverde coughed up a game in KC. This propelled to the Royals to head into Tampa and their pitching show continued as they took two of three from the Rays. After winning the opener in Cleveland however, the Tribe was able to rally for two wins with some questionable Royals base-running at the heart of the losses.
Buyers or Sellers: Buyers (should be "committed buyers")
Needs: Right-field Offense, Third-base Offense, Second-base Offense...did we mention "offense"?
The Royals made the James Shields Deal with the idea of competing sooner rather than later. Things looked bleak a couple of weeks ago. However Billy Butler's magic sauce has been the elixir evidently. The Royals have moved back into position where they can at least squint and dream a little about contending this year. The thought here is that they shouldn't play it half-way. If you're going to move a top prospect like Wil Myers to make your play last off-season, you need to back it up at the trade deadline during the season.
Giancarlo Stanton. They should make the Godfather Offer...assuming they have the pieces for a Godfather Offer. While the Royals have promoted some of their top prospects and spun off more in the Tampa trade, they still have some coveted pieces. Yordano Ventura is a fire-breathing triple-digit arm. Adalberto Mondesi is a name many think will be a household name in due course. Jorge Bonifacio, Bubba Starling (yes, I know his number stink but there is still hope), and Kyle Zimmer. Some combination of these players should start a conversation with the Marlins to get the slugging Stanton in play.
If Stanton actually never does get put on the market by the Marlins during this season then the Royals should be looking to "win" the deadline by getting the best bat to play rightfield or third-base that they can acquire. This club looks to have the defense, the starting pitching, and the bullpen to at least compete for a wildcard spot if not the AL Central. The offense needs a boost. GM Dayton Moore needs to step up and be a major player.
Minnesota Twins (33-36 overall, 4-2 on the week)
Next UP: 3 at Cleveland, 2 at Miami, 1 at home w/Kansas City
Synopsis of the Week: The Twins were able to grab one game against the Tigers as Samuel Deduno continued to pitch well and followed up the Tigers series by scoring 22 runs in a 3-game sweep of the increasingly dreadful White Sox.
Buyers or Sellers: Sellers
What they have to market: Bullpen arms, aging hitters
The Twins are in pretty good shape when you look at them from an "organizational" view. They have a deep looking crew of bats on the rise in their system. There is a good chance that the name "Byron Buxton" will be the #1 prospect in baseball at some point. Miguel Sano is one of the best power bats in the minors. Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario are on the rise as well. The future looks bright. (yes, we know..."prospects are suspects"...but they have a lot of depth brewing. They can't all tank.)
But the current club is flawed and even though .500 is within view at the moment, it just seems pretty questionable that the Twins can get themselves even into the fringe of the Wildcard hunt and stay there. They should sell and keep preparing for their future by trying to add any live arm they can to their stable.
Bullpen pieces are there to put on the market. Glen Perkins is the type of pitcher who could step into the bullpen for any contender and upgrade it. Whether its the ninth inning for a club like the Tigers or the 8th inning for a team with an established Closer, Perkins has shutdown stuff to quash rallies in any situation. The Twins control Perkins through 2016 (if they exercise an option for that season) and you can make the argument that he could still be in Minnesota when they are ready to contend again. However he is also 30 and with relievers the end can come fast. If a club would pay a pretty price for Perkins, it seems the local St. Paul product should be wearing a new uniform in August.
The Twins also have spare parts to shop for bullpens around baseball. Several clubs would probably find Jared Burton, Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, and Anthony Swarzak somewhat useful when trying to piece together a bullpen to head in September and October. If any of these guys can bring back a useful part for the Twins future that's a move that seem to make sense.
Offensively many observers believe Justin Morneau will be on the move. The issue, however, is how in demand is a powerless first-baseman? Morneau is basically the good version of Casey Kotchman these days. He can field his position, he hits for a solid average and a decent OBP. But not many clubs are looking to expend anything valuable to pick up a 1B or DH that slugs under .400. If some club will give up a somewhat interesting arm for Morneau, the Twins should seize upon it. Will "loyalty" for their long time star and former MVP come into play? The Twins may feel Morneau is part of the family. It won't be too shocking to see him signed to a one-year deal for next season.
Clubs in search of power may look into Josh Willingham. Willingham's batting average is quite low this year but he is still posting a very solid OBP and still possesses a threat to provide a power binge for any buyer. Willingham's "down" year overall may worry some clubs however since he's still signed through next season for $7M.
Chicago White Sox (29-41 overall, 1-6 on the week)
Next UP: 3 at Kansas City, 2 at home w/New York Mets
Synopsis of the Week: Well...they made Houston's pitching staff look good. They made the Twins offense look very potent. It's not looking good overall...a lot of "Sad Hawk" is in the forecast.
Buyers or Sellers: Remember in "Trading Places" when Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche were yelling "Sell!! SELL!!" when the orange report was released? Yeah...it should be like that in Chicago.
What they have to market: Whatever isn't nailed down...whatever anyone wants.
There should be no Sacred Cows in White Sox land. I'm sure they won't move Chris Sale but if there was one guy who could bring a haul of players, it would be probably be him.
But, assuming the White Sox aren't that desperate, you have to look at a suddenly hot Gordon Beckham. Beckham is hitting .320 in 85 at-bats and that probably can't be trusted as the new normal for him. He might tempt some club who has a need at second-base and wants to see if Beckham's hot stretch is real. If that team is out there, the Sox should give them the chance. Beckham was supposed to be a franchise cornerstone when he chosen in the Top 10 of his draft class, but he has been a continual disappointment. Cashing in on a hot streak might be the best use of Beckham right now.
Jessie Crain is getting a lot of internet buzz right now as a player that will be in demand. Crain has been dominant this season and is currently riding a franchise record of 28 consecutive scoreless appearances. Crain has 43 strike outs in just over 32 innings this year and owns a rather insane 0.55 ERA. The roll he is on right now could change the outlook of just about any bullpen if he can sustain anything close to his current level.
Addison Reed, Matt Lindstrom, and Matt Thornton should all have "For Sale" signs on them and any bat, including, Alex Rios should be available for discussion. The White Sox have a paucity of talent in their minor league system and given the rather bleak look of their 25-man roster overall, it seems a rebuild is in the offing. Will the Sox admit to this and do it now? Or will be in denial a bit longer and miss the chance to sell assets like Crain and Beckham when they're hot and possibly valuable?