The cliché line among national sportswriters this offseason is that the Tigers only won the AL Central by one game over the Cleveland Indians in 2013. While this is, in fact, a statement of fact, the connotation comes off somewhere between "the Tigers weren't that great," "the rest of the AL Central is catching up," and "I needed another line so I wrote this."
We're not here to argue over whether the Indians are currently as hot on the Tigers' heels as last season's standings suggest (though I'm sure the comments will turn to that at some point). Instead, this is a simple update of what else has been going down around the AL Central while Kurt, Al, and Patrick covered every aspect you could ever think of after the unexpected blockbuster trade that happened on Wednesday evening.
In case you spent the last week on the moon and this is the first piece of news you're reading, Prince Fielder got traded to the Texas Rangers. Some people liked it, others hated it, and Twitter wars were waged. The end.
This post's purpose is to keep you abreast of the other stuff happening around the AL Central. Brace yourselves, people. The division is getting crazy.
Indians sign David Murphy
The Cleveland Indians inked outfielder David Murphy to a two year, $12 million contract. This part is interesting, but we'll get to that in a second. The best part about this deal is that nobody knew about it until someone at his daughter's daycare spilled the beans.
As for the signing? I think it will be an underrated move by the time the deal is up. It gives the Indians the luxury to dangle Drew Stubbs or Michael Bourn over the heads of teams hungry for a center fielder and maintains their excellent versatility. Murphy can play either corner spot and his platoon splits are a perfect fit opposite Ryan Raburn, should the Tribe succeed in offloading either Stubbs or Bourn. Murphy has put up an OPS of at least .785 in four of his six full big league seasons while playing adequate defense.
The Tribe also signed Mike Zagurski to a minor league contract. Zagurski, a rather portly fellow, pitched against the Tigers last season to great amusement among Tigers fans. I hope he makes the team because his name is much easier to spell than 'Rzepczynski.'
Joe Mauer to play first base
This was a move that everyone saw coming, but I don't think it will result in the massive downgrade in value that everyone else assumes is imminent. For one, he's going to play more games. Mauer has never played more than 146 games in a season, and that was in 2012 when he only caught 74 games. At first, Mauer is pretty much a lock to play 150 games or more.
Additionally, Mauer's bat plays better at first base than people realize. In 2013, Mauer had an .880 OPS, .383 wOBA, and 144 wRC+. All three of those figures would have ranked sixth among MLB first basemen, and third in the American League. Even if you don't consider the possibility of a slight uptick in production when he's not getting battered and bruised behind the plate everyday, you're essentially looking at the Joey Votto of the American League. Neither guy hits for as much power as old sportswriters would like, but both are exceptional hitters.
Also, consider the long-term impact of this move. How many more elite years behind the plate did Mauer have left in the tank? Yes, Joe Mauer the catcher is elite. The elitest of the elite. Easily a top five catcher of all-time, and probably a top-three if we crunch the numbers (and ignore games played). But will Elite Joe Mauer make it to the end of his contract in 2018 as a catcher? Probably not. Elite Joe Mauer the first baseman has a much better shot. Plus, the long-term focus meshes better with the franchise's current rebuilding process.
Royals sign Jason Vargas
The words "major baseball announcement" might get you banned at Royals Review from now on. On Friday, the Royals announced that they agreed to a four year contract with left-handed pitcher Jason Vargas. The deal is for a relatively cheap $32 million, but four years to a guy with a career 4.30 ERA seems like a big risk.
If we ignore the length of the contract, the Royals could have done worse than Vargas. As a pitcher that relies on a high percentage of fly ball outs, Kauffman Stadium will be a safe haven for him. Both Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie have found success there in recent years -- though Guthrie did fall apart down the stretch in 2013 -- and their outfield defense is beyond excellent. He will eat innings and pitch well enough to keep them in games, especially if their offense can finally catch up.
But four years? Yeesh.
White Sox sign all the first basemen
Ok, so they only signed one so far, but they already have Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko is going to get a contract at some point. But the important part: the White Sox signed Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to a six year, $68 million contract. It seems like a lot of money, but after the $10 million signing bonus the Sox will actually be paying him a shade under $10 million per season. That's a lot of money if he busts, but it could turn into a bargain if he's anything like current Cuban sensations Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig.
The Sox also picked up Matt Lindstrom's option despite the fact that he doesn't know how to spell "Lidstrom" properly. He is making just $2.2 million less than Nick Lidstrom made in his last season with the Red Wings.