With free agency underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?
Here’s a look at the AL Central, where the teams at the top could be in a state of flux and the ones at the bottom aren’t going anywhere.
Minnesota Twins: Are the free-agent starters a problem or an opportunity?
2019 record: 101-61
2020 World Series odds: 30-1
The Twins kind of came from nowhere to record the franchise’s first 100-win season since 1965, and only its second ever. Then came four straight losses to the Yankees in the division series that suggested execs Derek Falvey, Thad Levine & Co. have plenty of work to do. That’s not to suggest Minnesota isn’t well positioned. Twelve of last season’s top 15 performers by bWAR are either under contract for next season or are otherwise under team control. There isn’t a money-suck among the bunch. Rookies and soon-to-be rookies Luis Arraez, Nick Gordon, Stephen Gonsalves and Brusdar Graterol are positioned to help in the near term, with top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff not far behind them.
The Twins have two areas of concern. First, there is statistical regression. Yes, that’s boring, but it has to be accounted for — a number of Minnesota’s key performers last season outstripped their projections by a good amount. So as a group, regression has to be built into expectations. And along more pure baseball lines, there is the starting rotation. As in: The Twins enter the offseason without one.
Jose Berrios is a fine building block for next year’s group. But the other four members of last season’s stable rotation — Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, Martin Perez and Kyle Gibson — are free agents. (This assumes that Odorizzi turns down Minnesota’s qualifying offer.) The Twins have the funds to throw a fair bit of money at this issue, so expect them to do so. Two bedrock starters and some depth to augment internal options seem like the top items on the winter to-do list. Well, that and figuring out how to repeat last season’s record-breaking power display by the offense. — Bradford Doolittle
2019 record: 93-69
2020 World Series odds: 14-1
The Indians’ run of three straight division titles ended even as they improved from 91 to 93 wins — despite Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco combining for just 19 starts and Trevor Bauer getting traded at the deadline. Still, a big cloud hangs over the organization: What to do with their superstar shortstop? Lindor has two seasons of team control remaining until free agency but is eventually looking at a $300 million-plus contract the Indians won’t be willing to shell out. They could keep him and try to win the Central, a realistic option if Kluber comes back healthy and Carrasco is at full recovery after his leukemia scare. Or they could trade him now to extract maximum value in return.
The Indians could essentially follow both paths in one megadeal: trade Lindor yet still contend by getting a major-league-ready shortstop in return plus other help. One possibility is a deal involving Corey Seager of the Dodgers. The Indians will also be seeking outfield help after their outfielders hit just .253/.318/.417 in 2019, ranking 23rd in the majors in OPS. Also, Jason Kipnis is a free agent, although Christian Arroyo, the former Giants top prospect acquired from the Rays, might be given a chance at second base. — David Schoenfield
Chicago White Sox: Will the White Sox get serious in the free-agent market?
2019 record: 72-89
2020 World Series odds: 75-1
The White Sox are getting close to being pretty good. With the right moves, they might be headed toward becoming more than good. After an anticlimactic offseason last winter, it’s time for GM Rick Hahn and his staff to sound the bell that the South Side rebuild has transitioned to the next phase.
With not a single veteran on the books for as much as $10 million, the timing will never be better for the White Sox to lock down the top couple of spots of their roster with in-their-prime stars. Chicago can and should match any offers for the Gerrit Coles, Anthony Rendons and Stephen Strasburgs of the world, and if it takes an opt-out here or an extra year there to close the deal, so be it. White Sox fans have been very patient.
Of course, you don’t spend just to spend, and if the White Sox have to accept defeat and hope for a big swing or two next winter, that happens. There would still be plenty of fairly easy upgrades that could be made this offseason to a maturing roster that lacked depth in 2019. First, a big-hitting corner outfielder is a must. Their production in right field last season (.565 OPS, six homers) was almost impossibly bad. Legit options for DH are near the top of the list. And while the Sox will have a promising rotation with or without Cole or Strasburg, they need to max out on bullpen depth, which already has a pretty solid back end.
Things are about to get good on the South Side, but with a modicum of aggressiveness, things could get better than good. — Doolittle
Kansas City Royals: Will the Royals do anything at all this winter?
2019 record: 59-103
2020 World Series odds: 1,000-1
Let’s assume that the Royals simply don’t want to part with Whit Merrifield, no matter how much you think they should. Whether or not that’s the case, Kansas City has a pretty clean payroll situation. Closer Ian Kennedy ($14 million in 2020) would probably have more trade value at next summer’s deadline, even though he’s entering a walk year, simply because his 2019 season probably isn’t enough proof of concept to entice a taker for the entirety of his salary. Dealing Danny Duffy now, after a poor 2019 season, would be selling very low. So there aren’t really any flip-type deals to be made — if they’re holding on to Merrifield.
Well, clearly the Royals aren’t positioned to get splashy in the free-agent market. They have a roster full of maybe/could-be types whom they need to get more concrete information on in 2020. They have a few prospects who could start to bubble up to the majors next season as well. You don’t want to block anyone’s opportunity at this point.
So, should GM Dayton Moore and his staff stock up on Bermuda shorts and head for the Caribbean after next month’s winter meetings? Well, not quite. There is one area in which the Royals should be stocking up on buy-low types through the free-agent market: the bullpen. Last season’s relief staff was mostly disastrous, Kennedy’s emergence and a solid turn from Scott Barlow notwithstanding. Veteran relievers have value to rebuilding teams by providing stability and by becoming deadline trade fodder. The Royals should sign about five of ’em. — Doolittle
Detroit Tigers: Will playing the long game — the verrrrry long game — pay off?
2019 record: 47-114
2020 World Series odds: 1,000-1
The most generous thing you can say about the Tigers is that they weren’t relegated — but only because that’s impossible. Piling a 114-loss season on top of back-to-back 98-loss campaigns might seem ugly, but worse yet, they also saw little progress made by players in their first or second seasons. Now that they’re in full tank mode, there’s no reason for the Tigers to do much more than avoid free-agent investments while waiting to see whatever improvements come organically with the talent on hand — and get what they can by trading what few MLB-useful players they have left.
And the Tigers do have something to work with, if GM Al Avila is looking to add more prospects to the Kitties’ larder. His best commodities to shop around are in the rotation — the three years of club control they have with lefty Matthew Boyd in particular, but also fellow southpaw Daniel Norris. Detroit’s rotation can already anticipate a remix at some point during 2020; top prospect Casey Mize should earn a call-up at some point, and Michael Fulmer should rejoin the rotation in the second half once he’s recovered from Tommy John surgery. With those reinforcements on the horizon, Avila can entertain offers for Boyd and Norris at all points between now and next summer’s trade deadline, waiting for the best offer. It isn’t as if the Tigers are in a hurry; they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. — Christina Kahrl