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AL Central offseason review: Big roster moves create opportunity for Tigers

The Indians have improved, but the Tigers have gained on other rivals by standing pat.

ALCS - Cleveland Indians v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Five Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The much rumored turbulent offseason for the Detroit Tigers has turned into their quietest winter in recent memory. A cactus in the Arizona desert had shown more movement than Tigers’ management this winter prior to this week’s trade for outfielder Mikie Mahtook.

But while the Tigers have stood pat, their division rivals have been busy. Fortunately for Detroit, most of those moves stand to help the Tigers return to the playoffs in 2017.

Cleveland Indians

Additions: 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion
Subtractions: 1B/DH Mike Napoli, OF Rajai Davis, OF Marlon Byrd, OF Coco Crisp

The Indians beat out the Tigers by eight games in 2016 en route to the World Series, where they went all the way to extra innings in Game 7. The Tribe posted a 14-4 record against Detroit, which accounted for their entire margin of victory in the AL Central. All other things equal, a 9-9 split would have given the Tigers the lead, forcing the teams to play that 19th game.

The Tribe made just one move, but it was the biggest acquisition of any AL Central team this winter. In early January, the Tribe signed the top hitter on the free agent market in Edward Encarcion to replace free agent Mike Napoli. Cleveland is also expecting the return of one of their best players, Michael Brantley, who missed the entire 2016 season.

In addition to Napoli, the Indians lost outfielders Rajai Davis, Marlon Byrd, and Coco Crisp to free agency. A healthy Brantley should more than atone for those losses.

Summary: The Indians return as favorites to win the division on the strength of a rotation that features Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. Performances from Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin will be key in 2017. Detroit has the better hitters, but Cleveland maintains a strong advantage defensively and on the bases.

Kansas City Royals

Additions: RHP Nate Karns, OF Jorge Soler, OF Peter O’Brien
Subtractions: RHP Wade Davis, OF Jarrod Dyson, DH Kendrys Morales, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Luke Hochevar, RHP Kris Medlen, LHP Daniel Stumpf

The Royals entered the 2016 season as defending World Series Champions, but after standing pat last offseason, they fell to .500 and finished in third place. They have lost more than they have gained this winter, but will try to get one more season out of the core group that took them all the way in 2015.

The Royals declined team options on pitchers Edinson Volquez, Luke Hochevar and Kris Medlen, as well as slugger Kendrys Morales. They exercised the options on closer Wade Davis and shortstop Alcides Escobar, then traded Davis to the Chicago Cubs to get outfielder Jorge Soler. They also dealt outfielder Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners for Nate Karns, and lost reliever Daniel Stumpf to the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft.

Summary: The dismantling of the 2015 World Champions’ roster has begun. All eyes will be on general manager Dayton Moore to see if the club begins a fire sale. Free agents after 2017 include Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, and Jason Vargas. For the moment, the Royals hope to get Vargas back healthy, and pair him with Karns and recently-extended starter Danny Duffy for a last hurrah in 2017.

Chicago White Sox

Additions: LHP Derek Holland, 2B Yoan Moncada, RHP Lucas Giolito, prospects
Subtractions: LHP Chris Sale, OF Adam Eaton, RHP Matt Albers, 1B Justin Morneau, RHP Daniel Webb, C Alex Avila, OF Austin Jackson

The White Sox posted their fourth consecutive losing season in 2016, finishing in fourth place, 16 12 games behind Cleveland. The Sox wasted no time in putting up the “Sale” sign this winter, and they began a full rebuild of their major league roster.

Their lone free agent signing was left-handed pitcher Derek Holland to a one-year contract for $6 million. Otherwise, their major additions have been the top prospects that they have acquired by selling off veteran players. First, perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale was dealt to Boston for three top prospects, including the number one overall prospect in MLB, Yoan Moncada. Next, they dealt outfielder Adam Eaton to Washington for two top pitching prospects including Lucas Giolito. The White Sox lost free agents Matt Albers, Justin Morneau, Daniel Webb, and former Tigers Alex Avila and Austin Jackson.

Summary: It’s hard to imagine the White Sox improving at all, let alone contending after removing Sale and Eaton from a 78-win team. The question is whether they will be able to find takers for pending free agents such as Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, or even starting pitcher Jose Quintana, who has two seasons of club control remaining. Now, it’s a matter of waiting for the newly acquired prospects to develop and help the major league club.

Minnesota Twins

Additions: none
Subtractions: C Kurt Suzuki, 3B Trevor Plouffe

The Twins lost 103 games in 2016, and haven’t done much to improve their roster over the winter. They have not made any significant additions to their roster, but acquired starting pitcher Hector Santiago for Ricky Nolasco in a post-waiver trade last August. They declined a team option on All-Star catcher Kurt Suzuki and outrighted third baseman Trevor Plouffe, rather than pay him in his fourth season of arbitration eligibility. Plouffe left as a free agent to the Oakland Athletics.

Summary: Minnesota’s veteran nucleus includes Joe Mauer, Ervin Santana, Phil Hughes, and Brian Dozier. Only Dozier has much surplus value in his contract. The Twins understandably have a high asking price for him, as they desperately need major league players from trades to compete any time soon. Top prospects Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler have reached the major leagues. Behind them, however, the Twins’ once highly ranked system fell completely out of the top 10 in midseason rankings released by Baseball America’s Jim Callis.