Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Week That Was: American League Central

This continues a division-by-division look at last week's transactions in baseball. See the National League East entry for ground rules.

Traded for: RP Dan Jennings, SP Jeff Samardzija, RP Michael Ynoa
Free agents signed: OF Melky Cabrera, RP David Robertson
2015 Impact: The White Sox were 73-89 last season. That's not good. Only Boston, Houston, Minnesota, and Texas were worse. And now, they've got to be considered in contention in the not-all-that-great AL Central. What's somewhat amazing to me is that the White Sox don't have much a farm system, yet they were able to pull off prospects-for-players deals. Jennings is a lefty reliever with a 2.43 career ERA who's actually been better against right-handed hitters (.711 OPS) than lefties (.757), and Ynoa struck out 64 batters in 45.2 innings in A ball last season, but the key pickup is clearly Samardzija, who compiled a 2.99 ERA in 2014 in 33 starts split between the Cubs and Athletics. Jennings and former Yankees closer Robertson should help stabilize a bullpen that was second-to-last in the league in ERA and tied for third-most blown saves. Cabrera adds a good bat, with the caveats that he's 30 and last played more than 140 games in 2011.

2016+ Impact: The White Sox didn't give up a lot in these trades. If they can extend Samardzija, they win long-term as well as short-term. If they don't, the free agents they signed still probably tip the balance their way.

Traded for: 1B-OF Brandon Moss
Traded away: 2B Joe Wendle
Free agents signed: Nobody

2015 Impact: Yet another perplexing deal by the A's, who also traded Samardzija to the White Sox. Moss was an All-Star last year but he fell apart in the second half of the season (.173 batting average, .274 slugging percentage) due to a hip injury. He won't become a free agent until 2017. Wendle had a .725 OPS at AA this season, a little better than league average, but he's not young (24) and is blocked in Cleveland by Jason Kipnis. Assuming Moss's hip's OK, the Indians should be a better team in 2015 . . .

2016+ Impact: . . . and at least through 2016, after which Moss could walk.


Traded for: OF Yoenis Cespedes, SP Shane Green, SP Alfredo Simon, SP Gabe Speier, RP Alex Wilson
Traded away: SP Jonathon Crawford, IF Domingo Leyba, SP Rick Porcello, SP Robbie Ray, SS Eugenio Suarez
Free agents signed: Nobody

2015 Impact: Like the White Sox, the TIgers were able to add major league talent for a bunch of youngsters from one of baseball's weaker farm system, with the exception of Porcello, who's good. They filled a hole in the outfield with Cespedes (who will be a free agent after this season) and they hope that Green and Simon (who'll also be a free agent at the end of 2015) can take Porcello's place. That's likely a tall order, but the Tigers still have Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and David Price in the rotation. They'll be better this year, I think, but not by a lot.

2016+ Impact: Assuming Cespedes plays elsewhere in 2016, this trade works against the Tigers long-term unless one of the pitchers the Tigers acquired blossoms into a strong starter. 

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: DH Kendrys Morales

2015 Impact: The Royals needed a DH, having lost Billy Butler to free agency, and they got Morales relatively cheaply (two years, $17 million). The thing is, he really stunk last year. His .218/.274/.338 slash line was that of a bad middle infielder, not a guy who's supposed to drive in runs. He's 31 and the Royals are hoping there's still gas in his tank. He was pretty decent the year before (.277/.336/.449 with 23 homers) in Seattle.

2016+ Impact: If Morales hits like a DH, the Royals will be fine for at least a couple years at the position.

Traded for: Nobody
Traded away: Nobody
Free agents signed: Torii Hunter, Ervin Santana

2015 Impact: I already discussed the Hunter signing, sort of. He'll be OK if the Twins don't expect him to be the way he was when he played for the team in 1999-2007. As for Santana, I've never been a big fan of his, because he's been basically a league-average pitcher (ERA, adjusted for home park, 1% worse than the league average, to be precise) for his career. He's started at least 30 games per year for five straight seasons, so he's durable. One hopeful sign: the percentage of batters he struck out has risen from 17% in 2012 to 22% in 2014. The Twins pitching staff is notoriously unable to throw pitches that miss bats, so Santana could help.

2016+ Impact: Hunter seems set to retire after 2015, so if the Twins are going to benefif longer term, Santana's got to be decent.

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