The offseason has been quiet thus far, both in terms of the overall scope of the league (with a few exceptions) and, more specifically, in the AL Central. But while the transactions those teams have made haven’t necessarily moved the needle yet, it’s worth taking stock of the state of those respective teams, moves they’ve made, and how their contention cycles line up with that of what we project the White Sox’s to be.
Despite the complete roster overhaul over the last year, the White Sox are pretty definitively ahead of two of their rivals both entering 2018 and in terms of future projections. The Tigers tanked the second half of the season, and the Royals’ magic ending culminated in the likely departures of Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas, all three of whom remain free agents.
The Indians remain the divisional front runners, even after downgrading at first base from Carlos Santana to Yonder Alonso (and maybe a platoon partner?), while the Twins have yet to parlay their surprising playoff appearance in 2017 into any meaningful offseason gains, and are simultaneously dealing with whatever fallout comes from the accusations against one of their presumed building blocks.
This is simplifying things a bit, so let’s go in reverse of the teams I just mentioned.
The Tigers are set up to be bad for a while. Miguel Cabrera (still owed $184M(!) over the next six(!) years is the last vestige of their most recent contention cycle, and even if he returns to even 50 percent of his MVP form (he’ll be 35 at the start of the season), he’s surrounded by a lot of bad and a farm system that’s going to take a lot more than the 2018 No. 1 pick to restock. The returns for Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler may have been underwhelming to some, but it was a necessary step and at least a start in building depth to a system that ranked among the five worst in baseball a year ago.
The Royals are kind of in limbo until we learn the fate of the aforementioned three free agents. Kansas City isn’t expected to retain any of their services, which makes sense considering they were even worse than their 80-82 record a year ago indicated. Like Detroit, their farm system is in need of an overhaul. But hey, they got a ring out of it, right?
The Indians are likely still in fine shape even with the departure of Santana, and are the kings of the division for the foreseeable future. Their entire core is locked up for at least the next two seasons, and the fact that none of them are under the age of 30 with the exception of the 25-year-old Jose Ramirez and 24-year-old Francisco Lindor, they will obviously be very well motivated to do everything in their power to snap the longest World Series drought in the league before the likes of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Andrew Miller, and Edwin Encarnacion begin showing noticeable decline.
The Twins are the wild card (no pun intended) of the bunch and the toughest team to project both for 2018 and beyond. In Sano, Byron Buxton, and Jose Berrios, they have three talented former top prospects about to enter their presumed primes who have also shown obvious flaws in their game. Their pitching staff is currently Berrios, 35-year-old Ervin Santana, and, uh … Adalberto Mejia? The reason Minnesota is hard to predict, of course, is that they’re the team with the most obvious places to upgrade, including that rotation. The Twins’ front office has shown a willingness to spend money AT TIMES, and with Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, and a number of pitchers and position players still hanging out in free agency looking for whatever the hell they’re looking for, the opportunity to upgrade is there. If they’re able to spend wisely and their youngsters take a step forward, the Twins could be dangerous, but the IF in that sentence is a big one.
It’s easy to nitpick teams in the middle of a slow and still incomplete offseason, of course. And none of this is to say the White Sox are the team best set up for sustained success when they look to contend again. If projecting the future were as simple as looking at farm system rankings, you’d see major publications correctly predicting World Series champions four years from now. OK, bad example. But while many things need to go right for the White Sox to fully transform from middle-of-the-road purgatory to rebuilders to hopefully one day contenders, their main competitors are traipsing differently-shaped but tricky paths themselves.
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