The AL Central has played out as expected, more or less. Cleveland is running away with the division. The Twins have disappointed after achieving a shocking playoff berth. The White Sox, Tigers, and Royals are all terrible.
The only surprise in the AL Central is the order of the standings. The Tigers have been better than I thought they would be, but they are on pace for one fewer win than their preseason projections, per FanGraphs. The Royals were expected to be bad, but they have been absolutely atrocious.
Cleveland is the only playoff team in this division, so I will focus mostly on them. Of course, the other teams in the division should be looking to trade away some of their players.
As I mentioned when I wrote up the Kelvin Herrera trade, most playoff teams have strong bullpens. Cleveland is not one of those teams. They have one of the worst bullpens in baseball the year after having one of the best. They had a 3.22 RA9 last year versus a 5.44 RA9 this year! They lost Bryan Shaw to the Rockies in free agency, but he has struggled mightily there anyway. Andrew Miller has not been the same guy and he has struggled with injuries. At least Cody Allen is the same guy he was last year. His 3.25 RA9 is almost identical to last year’s. At least Oliver Pérez has been outstanding, albeit in only 11. IP.
A couple of obvious choices for Cleveland are Kyle Barraclough and Brad Hand. It might be tough because those relievers have multiple years left on their cheap contracts, and Cleveland’s farm system is not great. Then again, recent history has shown that teams are willing to part with their star relievers for less. Blake Treinen and/or Lou Trivino would be great too, but the Athletics have been surprisingly good, so they might not want to part with them. With how badly Cleveland’s bullpen has been struggling, there are plenty of relievers they could get that would improve their bullpen without giving up much.
Cleveland could also use help at second base, but as Craig Edwards recently wrote at FanGraphs in an article on Whit Merrifield, this winter will be full of free agent second basemen. Why trade valuable prospects when you can just spend money? I understand that Cleveland has not won a World Series in 70 years, but they will still have their core intact. I would rather have valuable prospects such as Francisco Mejía and Triston McKenzie upgrade the team themselves.
Center field has been a black hole for Cleveland. Unfortunately, there is not much out there that would be available. With how Brandon Nimmo is playing, it would probably cost too much to get him, and I am skeptical of his center field play. Leonys Martín would be a great option if here were not currently on the DL. Billy Hamilton would be an interesting acquisition, but he would do nothing to help the offense. If the team believes that Bradley Zimmer can return to the team in August, then Hamilton might not be worth it.
I have seen some people float around the idea of Manny Machado to Cleveland. He could play third, and the spectacular José Ramírez could move to second. Again, he might cost Mejía or McKenzie and he would be just a rental.
The Royals should aggressively be shopping Mike Moustakas and the aforementioned Merrifield. They might not get much for Moustakas since he would just be a rental, but they could get a nice return for Merrifield. It probably would not be too big of a haul because of Merrifield’s age and lack of a track record hitting for a 120 wRC+.
José Abreu is an obvious option to trade away for the White Sox. His offense is down this year, and maybe it is nothing, but he is 31 years old. His first base defense is declining, too. He is better suited at DH.
I believe Avisaíl García would be a better trade option than Abreu if it were not for his injury struggles. He just hit the DL again. He is younger and he might be a better hitter than Abreu, and as with Abreu, he is under contract through 2019. However, that 1.4 BB% is terrifying, and it is causing a sub-.300 OBP.
Nicholas Castellanos is getting some trade buzz, and it is not surprising. He is hitting .306/.359/.523, though it is highly questionable that he can sustain that. The good news is that the projections systems are very bullish on him. He would be more than just a rental, but he gives so much back on defense. His best position might be DH, which would limit the return on him. His value is likely never going to be higher than it is now, though.
On the pitching side for the Tigers, Michael Fulmer is a good trade candidate, though he should have been traded last year. A midrotation starter whose rookie contract does not expire until after 2022 could fetch a nice return.
Jordan Zimmermann has shown some improvement after his poor first two seasons in Detroit, but he is owed around $62 million through the end of 2020. The Tigers might be able to get a decent return if they are willing to eat the rest of the salary. If that is what it takes, they should absolutely do it.
The Tigers should be eager to trade away Joe Jiménez. His 3.73 RA9 is much higher than his ERA, but he does have a 2.70 DRA, which is likely due to his great strikeout and walk rates. As with Castellanos, his value will likely never bey higher than it is now.
As for the Twins, they are not good enough to buy, but probably not bad enough to sell. They might bounce back next year, especially since the AL Central will likely still be really uncompetitive.
The Twins do have a few players in a contract year. Brian Dozier is underperforming, and as I mentioned before, this winter’s market for free agent second basemen might preclude teams from trading for them now. Eduardo Escobar is having a career year at the plate, hitting .275/.330/.523, but he will likely regress, and he is probably not a shortstop anymore. Last but certainly not least, we have Joe Mauer, who will not be going anywhere. Nobody is going to want a first baseman with so little power. Even if he were a more enticing trade target, I can’t imagine that the Twins would part with one of their best players ever for anything short of a Godfather offer.
For the AL Central, it does not look like there is much in the way of potential blockbuster deals. That being said, the rebuilding teams have some vital trades to make.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.