As the Winter Meetings draw to a close it seems like an ideal time to take a look at how the landscape of the Tigers division has changed. Since the Tigers will face each division rival team 19 times during the regular season, the trades and signings made within the AL Central will impact Detroit more than others made across the league. With that in mind it seems like an ideal time to rundown the big moves made by the AL Central teams, and by the Tigers themselves, to see how they might shape the bigger picture in 2017. Will the Indians still prove unbeatable? Will the move of Chris Sale to the Red Sox prove the undoing of the White Sox? Could this be the year the Twins lead the pack?
Come, let’s warm ourselves by the hot stove while we review how things played out for the Central in this year’s winter meetings.
Chicago White Sox
Of all the teams to make a splash this December in DC, the Chicago White Sox have perhaps caused the most ripples. Rumors of Chris Sale being a potential trade target were swirling around before the winter meetings were even under way. He was ultimately traded to the Red Sox—-who hopefully don’t have tremendously ugly throwback uniforms—for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and two other prospects. This in and of itself would have seemed like a substantial move for the White Sox, especially following a drop in Sale’s velocity last season and his general prickly behavior in the clubhouse, but the White Sox weren’t done yet.
The White Sox also moved Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals and got Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo Lopez in return. It would appear that the White Sox are motivated to go in the direction of their Chicago brethren, the Cubs, and rebuild through youth.
The Sox may not be contender next year, but by the 2018 or 2019 season they could be a terrifying force to behold.
White Sox started this week with a 26th-28th ranked farm system. Leaving DC with a top five system.— JJ Cooper (@jjcoop36) December 7, 2016
For next season, with the Tigers hoping to compete for one more year, this now means the White Sox are down an ace pitcher and base-stealing outfielder who knew how to take walks. And with Sale and Eaton gone, there’s little motivation not to deal Jose Quintana and Jose Abreu as well. Things look good for the Tigers against Chicago next year.
Surprisingly, after coming so close to contention in 2016, the Indians didn’t make any major moves at the winter meetings. Earlier this offseason they picked up Carlos Santana’s club option, because duh. But they’re also poised to lose Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, and Coco Crisp in free agency. While there are whispers that the Indians are among the teams interested in signing former Blue Jays’ slugger Edwin Encarnacion, nothing solid has come of this yet. Given that the Tigers’ extreme difficulties against the Indians last season were most likely an anomaly, and the team hasn’t made any moves to improve itself, expect the Tigers to split the difference at about .500 with the Indians next year.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals had made it clear they were willing to deal both closer Wade Davis and center fielder Lorenzo Cain. The Chicago Cubs went in for half of the offer, snagging Davis in a direct trade for outfielder Jorge Soler. This will neatly solve the Cubs loss of closer Aroldis Chapman, while giving the Royals are able to lock down a young outfielder who they can keep under club control for the next four seasons. If the Royals deal Cain, as well they will lose a Gold Glove calibre center fielder, and that kind of move would be a sign that they’re more focused on the future rather than making another World Series push in 2017.
A smart bet for the Royals might be to re-sign former closer Greg Holland, who has expressed a willingness to play outside the established constraints of the final innings. He could help keep the team competitive while they look to add youth and long-term development players in the meantime. As it stands the Royals will likely be only as difficult as usual, and the Tigers can send them a thank you fruit basket for helping move Wade Davis to an entirely different league.
While the Twins didn’t make any magic happen at the winter meetings, there are significant rumors swirling that they’re looking to move Brian Dozier, and the teams they’ve been linked to in trade talks are names like the Yankees and the Dodgers. Whether this will pan out into anything remains to be seen, but it would be a smart move for the Twins to look at adding some depth to their already promising young farm, and potentially looking to compete in a few years. Going into the postseason their farm system was ranked 14th out of 30. If they’re able to fetch some decent prospects for Dozier it could bode very well for them as long-range plan.
Dozier, who has been with the franchise for five years, is still a young player at 29 years old. He’s projected to earn $15 million over the next two years with the Twins, which could prove to be a bargain for another team, given his all-star second baseman status and .246/.320/.442 average. The market right now is thin for second basemen, which the Twins are counting on. As for what this means for the Tigers next season: the Twins won’t be much of a concern.
Last season the Tigers came within a scant few games of clinching a Wild Card spot. They ended the year with an 86-75 record trailing eight games back from Cleveland. Of course the Indians would go on to dominate the postseason, making their season long trouncing of the Tigers hurt ever so slightly less (and watching them lose in game seven feel just a little sweeter). With competitors experiencing free-agent losses and making trade moves that are more focused on the long-game rather than immediate contention, the Tigers find themelves in a very good position to exceed their win total and, at least, earn themselves a wild card spot. If they stay healthy and fill the small holes in their roster, there’s no reason to think that Detroit won’t contend in 2017.