Last season, Todd Frazier terrorized Tigers pitching by hitting four home runs. This would be a good season for any player against one particular team, but those four dingers came in a two-game stretch in interleague play. Now, after the Chicago White Sox struck a three-team deal with the Cincinnati Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, he's in the division.
Analysis: not good.
Adding Frazier solves a third base problem that has been a revolving door of suck since Tiger killer Joe Crede left the South Side in 2008, and provides another big bat in the middle of a lineup that ranked dead last in the American League in runs scored last year. Frazier is locked in to a very team-friendly two-year, $12 million contract, so there may still be room for Chicago to add payroll as well.
The bright side for other AL Central teams is that this trade cost the Sox three of their better prospects, sapping what little depth they had in the high minors. If one of Frazier, Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, or Brett Lawrie misses significant time next season, their lineup becomes awfully thin. The starting rotation is the same way, with a steep drop-off after third starter Carlos Rodon and little insurance behind potential fifth starter Erik Johnson. Minor leaguer Carson Fulmer may get the Rodon treatment, but he wasn't the same type of can't-miss prospect, and could hit a speed bump or two on his way to the majors.
This is an all-in move for Chicago, but one that was probably necessary given how their current roster is constructed. Their best players are all locked in to reasonable long-term deals, but relying on general manager Rick Hahn to rebuild the farm system will waste nearly all of those cost-controlled years. Gunning for the postseason now makes sense, but they need to add another piece or two before we can consider them a true threat in the Central.
Still...I don't like this.
★ ★ ★
The Cleveland Indians didn't make a big splash like the White Sox on Wednesday, instead choosing to sign a pair of role players that will fix one of their most glaring weaknesses. Last season, the Tribe hit just .249/.313/.389 against left-handed starters, and their 2014 numbers were "Josh Wilson batting with the bases loaded" bad.
To solve this, the Indians signed first baseman Mike Napoli and former Tigers outfielder Rajai Davis, both of whom have excellent career numbers against southpaws. Both veterans signed incentive-laden deals, but will cost the tribe just $16 million at most. Davis adds depth to a very left-handed outfield, one that may be without Michael Brantley for an extended period next year.
Napoli, on the other hand, adds some thump to a lineup that hit the third-fewest home runs in the AL last season. His numbers have declined in the past two seasons after winning a World Series in Boston in 2013, but he looked dangerous in a 35-game stretch with the Rangers last summer, hitting .295/.396/.513 in 91 plate appearances. He can DH against lefties or give Carlos Santana a day off at first base, and could evolve into a full-time player if everything clicks again.
★ ★ ★
Now that Johnny Cueto has signed a six-year deal with the San Francisco Giants, the Kansas City Royals' roster is looking much thinner than the one that steamrolled the rest of the division in 2015. Outfielder Alex Gordon is still on the market, but the Royals have only extended him a lowball contract offer thus far. They seem comfortable with using Jarrod Dyson as a full-time player, but that's a major drop-off from one of the best left fielders in baseball.
The pitching staff hasn't gotten better either, with Chris Young and Dillon Gee as the only additions. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera are probably the most fearsome one-two punch in baseball, but the rest of the pen thinned out when Greg Holland, Ryan Madson, and Franklin Morales reached free agency. There is still plenty of time left in the offseason, but that unit is nowhere near as formidable as it has been in the past few years.
While the core of this team is still intact, the loss of Cueto, Gordon, and Ben Zobrist -- not to mention the prospects it took to land Cueto and Zobrist -- puts a lot of pressure on players like Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer to maintain their 2015 production. The offense will need to score more runs and the starting pitching will need to log more innings, and even that may not be enough for another 95-win season. The Royals still look like the class of the AL Central, but the gap has closed significantly.