Baseball’s labor negotiations have wandered into the fire swamp, and both sides need to avoid the lightning sand, the fire spurts and any R.O.U.S. confrontations to find their way to a CBA agreement before the season is supposed to start, because missing games would be inconceivable. And, yeah, we know what that word means.
But just because it’s going to be a while until the two sides hammer out some sort of resolution, that doesn’t mean we have to stop discussing what might/should happen when the sport eventually resumes.
Because when it does, and teams are allowed to sign free agents and make trades again, you’re going to see a flurry of activity. It will probably be a lot of fun, honestly, to see free agents ink contracts and to see teams make trade after trade. After all, what else are front office types going to do during the lockout other than plan their back-in-the-saddle strategy?
So we’re taking a division-by-division look at what’s on the docket for all 30 teams. Today, it’s the AL Central.
Chicago White Sox
Pre-lockout recap: Kendall Graveman is an excellent addition to the bullpen, and keeping Leury Garcia around with a three-year deal is a wonderful safety net to have. They exercised the option on Craig Kimbrel, even though most people expect the Sox to trade him after he faltered as Liam Hendriks’ setup man last year.
The very first thing to do: Who’s going to play second base for Tony La Russa’s club? They traded Nick Madrigal for Kimbrel, and his replacement, Cesar Hernandez, signed with the Nationals in November. Garcia will see plenty of starts there, but his value is as a versatile player who sees regular starts and at-bats all over the diamond. So … trade for Jean Segura? As others have pointed out, a 1-for-1 swap of Kimbrel for Segura makes a lot of sense for both teams (Philly could definitely use Kimbrel in that bullpen). Trade for Tony Kemp? The A’s are willing to move pretty much anyone.
Also on the list: Is Michael Kopech a 30-start guy in 2022? Probably not, considering he threw just under 70 innings in 2021. So bringing in another rotation option or two makes a lot of sense, if nothing else for depth. Carlos Rodon would make fans happy, but that might be a bit surprising at this point.
Pre-lockout recap: *crickets*
The very first thing to do: It’s the annual “who are they going to trade” watch, pretty much. All eyes on Jose Ramirez this time around.
Also on the list: See which bounce-back candidates might be interested in a one-year-with-a-team-option-for-2023 deal.
Pre-lockout recap: The Tigers spent most of the season saying two things: “We are on the verge of being a good team and we are going to spend the offseason getting better.” They’ve done exactly that so far, moving quickly to add Eduardo Rodriguez to the rotation, Javier Baez to the lineup at shortstop and veteran Tucker Barnhart behind the plate.
The very first thing to do: The Tigers have a stable of young rotation options — led by Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning — but adding another veteran (or two) to that mix seems like a smart plan.
Also on the list: A lot depends on what they think about the chances of Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson contributing early in the season. If they’re going to slow-play their elite prospects, maybe adding an established outfielder (Joc Pederson?) and/or an established second baseman (so Jonathan Schoop can move to first, with Miguel Cabrera going full-time DH) is a good idea.
Kansas City Royals
Pre-lockout recap: Not much here. Only notable acquisition was signing Taylor Clarke, who was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks after posting a 4.99 ERA in 171 1/3 innings over the past three seasons.
The very first thing to do: They’d like to move 1B/DH Carlos Santana and his $10.5 million salary, but with a 78 OPS+ and .319 on-base percentage last year, heading into his Age 36 season, that’s going to be difficult.
Also on the list: Probably most importantly this spring, the Royals will want to use spring training to see if Bobby Witt, Jr. is ready to make the big leagues, and if he’s a viable option at third base. Pitching, of course, also needs attention. Nicky Lopez was a bright spot at shortstop in 2021.
Pre-lockout recap: The Twins answered the puzzling Byron Buxton question — keep him or let him leave as a free agent next year? — with an incentive-laden extension that will be a boon to the club if he stays healthy and not catastrophic if he doesn’t. They also took a flyer on a Dylan Bundy bounce-back.
The very first thing to do: The Twins have to address their rotation, with at least one established starter who isn’t trying to rebuild his career after a 6.06 ERA last year (Bundy). Probably need at least two.
Also on the list: If they can move veteran third baseman Josh Donaldson, they should make that happen. Adding to the bullpen would be smart, too.