The Tigers have had a quiet start to the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings, but that doesn't mean that their road to a fifth consecutive AL Central title went unchanged. Moves were made, rumors were started, and a couple of contenders emerged, all within the last 48 hours.
The Cleveland Indians struck first, trading minor leaguer Joe Wendle to the Oakland A's for left-handed slugger Brandon Moss. The deal looks quite one-sided on paper, and Let's Go Tribe's Jason Lukehart has already declared the move "a big win for the Tribe." Wendle, a sixth round pick in the 2012 draft, hit .253/.311/.414 in 370 plate appearances at Double-A Akron last season. The 24-year-old second baseman compares favorably to another second baseman who was recently traded: former Tigers prospect Devon Travis.
Before anyone gets up in arms about this deal and how it compares to what the Tigers did, let's look closer. The Indians traded their Devon Travis for two years of a power hitter with limited defensive ability coming off hip labrum surgery. The Tigers traded Devon Travis for five years of a former top 100 prospect who could potentially provide two wins per year with his glove alone.
Granted, that's a rosy outlook. But I'm wary of Moss' ability to come back from an injury of that nature, especially when he took so long to emerge as a legitimate power hitter in the first place. He's also exiting his prime years, while Gose has yet to enter his.
Unfortunately, this is not the only questionable deal that the A's discussed with an AL Central team this week. Later in the evening, the Chicago White Sox acquired A's starters Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. The deal was finalized yesterday, with the A's getting right-handed pitcher Chris Bassitt, infielder Marcus Semien, catcher Josh Phegley, and and prospect Rangel Ravelo.
After looking at Oakland's return on this deal, one thing is for sure: David Price and Rick Porcello should be Tigers in 2015. Samardzija put up 4.1 WAR in 2014 and has been worth 9.5 WAR over the past three seasons. He topped the 200 inning barrier in 2013 and 2014, and debunked the "can he pitch in the AL?" myth by allowing a 3.14 ERA and 3.30 FIP in 111 2/3 innings for the A's last year. He is quite good. The White Sox are also receiving a former top 100 prospect who has had injury problems, but is still just 23. There's still time, and he could move faster through their system if the Sox move him to the bullpen.
Meanwhile, Semien (and company) seems like a middling return, even if you are getting six years of club control from him in exchange for just one from Samardzija. Semien was a borderline top 100 prospect, but hasn't done much in two partial seasons at the MLB level. Then there's the Doug Fister clause to be considered: if Billy Beane pulls this deal off, he will have effectively traded Addison Russell -- possibly the best prospect in all of baseball -- for Marcus Semien and 110 innings of Jeff Samardzija.
The Sox weren't done, either. Shortly after trading for Samardzija, they signed free agent closer David Robertson to a four year, $46 million contract. The White Sox bullpen had the second worst ERA and worst FIP in the American League last season. Their save percentage was a paltry 63 percent, third-worst in the league and well below the league average. Robertson, on the other hand, has been one of the best relievers in baseball since his MLB debut in 2008. He has a career 2.81 ERA and 2.74 FIP in 393 1/3 innings.
The Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins did not make any big moves, but the Royals still stole their share of ink. The defending AL champions were at one point willing to listen to offers for either Greg Holland or Wade Davis, but GM Dayton Moore said that the team is "not in a hurry to break up our bullpen." Later on, another rumor surfaced that the Royals would not part with Holland, Davis, or setup man Kelvin Herrera.
One Royals trade rumor that still has yet to be refuted is their willingness to listen on offers for second baseman Omar Infante. The former Tigers two-sacker had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2014, hitting just .252/295/.337 in 575 plate appearances. He totaled just 0.5 WAR, his lowest figure since 2007.
As for the Twins? Well, they're still getting used to having Torii Hunter around again.