Elegy for 2021: Recapping the AL Central, Team by Team

After a one-year hiatus due to the oddity and non-celebratory feeling of a season truncated by a raging pandemic, we’re bringing back the Elegy series in a streamlined format for a 2021 wrapup. Think of this as a quick winter preview for each team, discussing the questions that faced each team ahead of the year, how they were answered, and what’s next. Do you like or hate the new format? Let me know in the comments below!

Chicago White Sox (93–69)

The Big Question
Did the White Sox miss out by not acquiring another bat? I wouldn’t say they had a lackadaisical offseason, considering they made two massive upgrades to their pitching staff in Lance Lynn and Liam Hendriks. But they didn’t show a similar vigor in adding to the offense. Chicago didn’t struggle to score in 2020, finishing second in the AL in runs scored, but right field and designated hitter were notorious weak spots. And while there was talk about swiping Nelson Cruz out from under the Twins’ noses, the White Sox settled for signing wayward son Adam Eaton to a one-year deal and counting on top prospect Andrew Vaughn to be ready for the majors. Both were considerable risks: Eaton was coming off the worst season of his career, and Vaughn had yet to play above A-ball, where a lot of his value came from walks.

How It Went
That part of the plan didn’t quite work out. Vaughn did a respectable job picking up the outfield on the fly and even briefly cosplayed as a second baseman and a third baseman. But while he showed a solid eye at the plate, as in A-ball, not a lot of power came out of it; he struggled to a .613 OPS in the second half, and righties dominated him with breaking stuff all season. In the end, Vaughn would have been better served at Triple-A, which already would have been a big leap; the White Sox didn’t get anything from him they couldn’t have gotten from any other random fourth outfielder on a one-year deal. Eaton, meanwhile, was terrible, saw his playing time diminish, and was released midseason.

In the end, though, it didn’t actually matter! Neither Cleveland nor Minnesota proved up to the task of contention, and the White Sox were blessed with Yermín Mercedes having the best two months of his life in April and May, giving the team a surprise reinforcement at a time when the division was still in doubt. Even injuries to Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert couldn’t completely stop the team in its tracks. By the time Chicago acquired Craig Kimbrel at the deadline, the AL Central race was long over for all intents and purposes.

What’s Next?
Carlos Rodón is a free agent, but with Lynn extended for two years and Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease still in the fold, the White Sox could roll with Michael Kopech and Dallas Keuchel to round out the starting five and expend resources elsewhere. The fundamental problem in right field didn’t go away, where they ended up getting a .227/.297/.374 line out of the position overall. They might be content to use Vaughn here next year, but I’d rather they be more ambitious and let him get time in Triple-A to learn how to leverage his pitch recognition abilities into professional power and escape the Ben Grieve Trap.

Player Projection Spotlight: Luis Robert
Robert’s solid projection is hardly surprising to, well, anybody at this point, but after the disappointingly quick exit for Chicago, I felt a little fan service is in order. While the raw WAR isn’t quite as exciting as the qualitative stats, remember that ZiPS is being conservative given that he’s a young player coming off a major injury. This type of conservatism works out more often than you would think; players suffering significant injuries have considerable injury risks that tend to abate only over time. Fernando Tatis Jr. projections were kind of in the same bucket. Of the top players Robert is compared to, only Roberto Kelly truly had a disappointing career, but I think Robert has more raw talent to work with.

2022 ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Luis Robert (Preliminary)
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .327 .379 .637 443 76 145 32 6 31 95 32 29 171 6.2
80% .309 .358 .585 446 73 138 29 5 28 86 29 20 152 5.1
70% .298 .346 .555 447 69 133 27 5 26 82 28 18 141 4.4
60% .291 .340 .528 447 68 130 26 4 24 78 28 16 133 3.9
50% .283 .331 .509 448 67 127 24 4 23 75 27 15 126 3.5
40% .276 .323 .488 449 66 124 23 3 22 72 26 14 118 3.0
30% .269 .315 .471 450 64 121 22 3 21 68 25 12 112 2.6
20% .257 .302 .441 451 61 116 20 3 19 65 24 11 101 2.0
10% .243 .286 .404 453 58 110 18 2 17 59 22 8 87 1.1

Cleveland Soon-to-be-Guardians (80–82)

The Big Question
Was there a life after their stars? Cleveland played perfectly solid .583 ball in 2020 but traded Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in the offseason for two players who were more sort-of-win-now types, Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez. The AL Central didn’t look to be the strongest division by any stretch of the imagination, leaving the hope that the two remaining stars, José Ramírez and Shane Bieber, could lift a group of average-ish talent elsewhere to somewhere around 90 wins and a division crown. ZiPS wasn’t particularly bullish on this plan, rather presciently projecting a 79–83 season (just one win off reality) and a 1-in-10 shot at making the playoffs, mostly as the second wild card.

How It Went
Ramírez’s huge 2020 comeback season was no fluke, and he was again a legitimate contender for the AL MVP award. (OK, a legitimate contender for second place in the AL MVP race because Shohei Ohtani exists.) Bieber did his part as well before shoulder pain shut him down for three months. Cleveland saw something in Cal Quantrill that the Padres never did, and when given a shot at starting in early summer, he went with it, posting a 2.27 ERA and a still-respectable 4.15 FIP in 16 outings from July onward. Unfortunately, once you got past Franmil Reyes, the offense was notably unimpressive, and the bullpen was extremely weak most times you weren’t facing Emmanuel Clase. Cleveland did just enough to hang on to second place, albeit miles behind Chicago (and barely ahead of Detroit).

What’s Next?
With Ramírez, Cleveland has fallen into the same trap that the Royals did with Whit Merrifield: a popular star who is a big part of the franchise, but one who is likely far more valuable for what he can bring back in a trade than what he will actually do for the team. If the franchise wanted to build around him, that’s one thing, but there was again little indication of wanting to do more than tinker around the edges rather than use him as a foundation.

Cleveland is now down to only two more years of Ramírez, and Bieber is already halfway through his team-controlled years. The outfield last finished in the top half of MLB in wRC+ all the way back in 2016 and seems to be built simply based on whoever already happens to be in training camp. This team isn’t equipped to win now, and while the farm system is a good one with intriguing youngsters like George Valera and Nolan Jones who are getting closer to the majors, it’s always risky to bank on prospects and nothing more. Cleveland needs to pick a direction beyond simply existing.

Player Projection Spotlight: Cal Quantrill
Quantrill interests me, because if Cleveland is going to see long-term success, they’re going to need to find a lot more Quantrills. ZiPS isn’t buying the sub-three ERA, but it does see him being a dependable mid-rotation starter. If his changeup can develop into a real swing-and-miss pitch, he can be a lot more. The slider, which really borders on the edge of being a cutter, is an effective pitch, but it’s not a real punchout pitch.

ZiPS Projection – Cal Quantrill (Preliminary)
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 11 9 0 4.14 28 28 156.7 155 72 22 48 133 110 2.9
2023 11 9 0 4.12 27 27 148.7 147 68 21 45 126 110 2.8
2024 11 9 0 4.16 27 27 149.3 148 69 21 45 128 109 2.8
2025 9 7 0 4.12 23 23 129.0 128 59 18 39 110 110 2.4

Detroit Tigers (77-85)

The Big Question
The rebuilding Tigers possess a lot of fascinating young starting pitching. In our preseason Top 100 prospects, three of the top 32 came from Detroit: Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, and Casey Mize. That top trio wasn’t just highly regarded, but also close to the majors, having already survived the low minors gauntlet. ZiPS, meanwhile, liked Joey Wentz and Alex Faedo to be useful back-of-the-rotation starters, giving the team impressive young depth here. Coupled with holdovers Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd, Detroit looked to have figured out the pitching side of the equation.

Scoring runs was another story. Struggling to develop offensive talent for a shocking number of years, Detroit did a lot to remedy the situation by adding Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene to the farm system in back-to-back drafts. But could the Tigers find enough hitting to build around these two when they eventually got to the majors? And, more importantly, could they find runs from players who would still likely be on the roster in a year or two?

How It Went
Nobody will confuse the 2021 Tigers with the Astros, but with one notable exception, they did get some solid performances from hitters that are part of the team’s future. Akil Baddoo didn’t keep up his early-season pace and probably should be used sparingly against lefties, but he did establish himself as a real talent if deployed correctly and was more than credible in center field. Jeimer Candelario solidified his 2020 gains even if he didn’t quite match that output and led the league in doubles. Jake Rogers showed real offensive improvement in a season eventually cut short by Tommy John surgery. The big disappointment was that Willi Castro didn’t build on his surprising success in 2020.

The pitching was about as expected, and with the offense improving, the Tigers roared back from a tough April, going 69–66 from May through the end of the year. For a team projected at 70 wins, that’s a solid campaign and a real sea change from losing 114 games the last time Detroit played a full season. Torkelson and Greene both terrorized minor league pitchers, so another offensive improvement is imminent.

What’s Next?
The big questions for the Tigers now are when do they spend money, and how much? In an offseason likely to be marred by CBA negotiations, there will be potential for an aggressive team to take advantage of the expected conservatism of other franchises, and with Torkelson and Greene possibly arriving in ’22, the Tigers may just be some depth, a free-agent hitter, and a reliever or two away from being an 85-win team with upside. The foundation for a top team does exist now.

That said, there are still problems to be worked out. From a baseball standpoint, the most notable one may be the franchise player from Detroit’s salad days, Miguel Cabrera. The Angels bungled Albert Pujols‘ decline years, content to start seasons with one of the worst starters in baseball written into the middle of the lineup in magic marker. The Tigers would be smart to learn from their mistake.

What’s also still unclear is just how much the Tigers are willing to spend in free agency. Mike Ilitch invested a lot of dough into the roster as an octogenarian who wanted to get a World Series trophy in the time he had. Christopher Ilitch has already hinted that the Tigers will be active, but it remains to be seen just how much. Could this team go after Carlos Correa? Corey Seager? Robbie Ray or Kevin Gausman? If the wallet is opened, the White Sox may be worrying about the Old English D more than they expected.

Player Projection Spotlight: Akil Baddoo
I expected ZiPS to be more skeptical about Baddoo than it is. Rather than project him to regress, it’s expecting him to consolidate his gains, something which would be good news for the Tigers. A shocking number of really excellent players are high on his comp list at a similar age, such as Bernie Williams, Grady Sizemore, and Willie Davis. That’s probably his upside, but even a lesser outcome is a pretty nice return on investment on a Rule 5 player.

2022 ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Akil Baddoo (Preliminary)
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .307 .383 .586 440 75 135 30 12 23 85 56 32 155 4.9
80% .290 .365 .529 442 72 128 26 10 20 77 54 27 137 3.8
70% .279 .353 .505 444 69 124 25 9 19 72 52 23 127 3.2
60% .271 .343 .480 446 69 121 23 8 18 68 50 21 118 2.6
50% .266 .337 .454 447 68 119 22 7 16 65 49 20 110 2.1
40% .259 .329 .440 448 66 116 21 6 16 62 48 19 105 1.8
30% .251 .317 .421 451 64 113 20 6 15 60 45 17 96 1.3
20% .241 .305 .389 453 63 109 18 5 13 55 43 15 85 0.5
10% .230 .291 .373 456 61 105 18 4 13 52 40 13 77 0.0

Kansas City Royals (74–88)

The Big Question
Given the cynical nature of the offseason and coming off a year where many organizations didn’t treat their lowest-paid players or workers terribly well, Kansas City was a breath of fresh air. Not only did the franchise look after its personnel during the height of the pandemic, but it also gave more than lip service to the product on the field, signing Mike Minor, Carlos Santana, and Michael A. Taylor, acquiring Andrew Benintendi, and taking fliers on old Royals like Wade Davis, Jarrod Dyson, and Ervin Santana. Was that enough to drift toward contention in the AL Central? ZiPS was skeptical, predicting a 77–85 record, but projections have a large enough error range that a playoff-relevant Royals team wasn’t implausible. Plus, team president Dayton Moore would likely add players if the team was halfway decent midseason, and fate enjoys finding reasons to get Royals fans angry with me on Twitter.

How It Went
For about a month, it looked like things were working out, with a May Day high-water mark of 16–9 and only one other AL Central team above the .500 mark. There were warning signs, however: the offense was still lagging, ranking 24th in wRC+ through the end of April, and the team was largely hanging onto first thanks to an interesting but probably overachieving rotation. Jakob Junis, Brady Singer, and Danny Duffy basically had to spend a month pitching like Cy Young contenders to keep Kansas City above the waterline.

Things fell apart quickly for the Royals in May. An 11-game losing streak knocked them back to third, and they only barely got above .500 again in June before the pitching collapsed, resulting in an 8–29 run that served as the coup de grâce. The pitching largely righted itself in the season’s closing chapters, but it was far too little, far too late as the team had little offense outside of Salvador Perez crushing homer after homer, practically becoming a human infomercial for Tommy John surgery.

What’s Next?
The problem with the Royals’ approach going into 2021 was that if it didn’t actually work out, they might find themselves in no better situation for 2022. The good news is that while the season itself didn’t have much good fortune, they got some very positive developments on the farm, with Bobby Witt Jr. looking like a monster and Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez likely shooting up prospect lists (they certainly did in ZiPS!).

Some of the team’s offensive problems may take care of themselves in this regard, but the challenge ahead is in building a lineup around these players beyond just filling out the card with familiar names. Merrifield is still valuable when playing his natural position of second base, but Hunter Dozier’s 2019 breakout has stalled, Jorge Soler is gone, and neither Benintendi or Ryan O’Hearn look to be real long-term solutions. If Kansas City is rarely going to trade players near the top of their game, it will have to invest more in free agency and the top-tier variety of player rather than an endless parade of one-year stopgaps.

Player Projection Spotlight: Bobby Witt Jr.
The Royals teased starting Witt in the majors after a hot spring; not only did he not start with the Royals, but he also didn’t finish with the parent club either. ZiPS translates his minor league line at around an .800 OPS for the season — a pretty sweet result for a player who had yet to play above Rookie ball. It would have been fun to see him, but I think Kansas City handled him better than the White Sox did Vaughn. Now, if he doesn’t start 2022 with the team, I’m calling shenanigans.

2022 ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Bobby Witt Jr. (Preliminary)
Percentile BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ WAR
90% .298 .357 .554 507 90 151 36 8 26 100 46 39 144 5.4
80% .287 .344 .509 509 87 146 33 7 22 91 44 31 129 4.4
70% .278 .333 .491 511 85 142 32 7 21 86 42 27 121 3.9
60% .273 .326 .466 513 83 140 30 6 19 82 40 24 113 3.4
50% .268 .321 .453 514 81 138 29 6 18 79 39 21 108 3.0
40% .264 .315 .435 515 80 136 27 5 17 76 38 19 102 2.6
30% .257 .306 .420 517 78 133 26 5 16 73 36 17 96 2.1
20% .249 .297 .392 518 76 129 24 4 14 67 35 14 86 1.5
10% .240 .286 .365 520 74 125 23 3 12 62 33 11 77 0.8

Minnesota Twins (73–89)

The Big Question
Would 2021 be the year that both Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó finally stayed healthy? That question has been asked since 2015, invariably with some version of “no” in response. But if they managed, it could have been the topper for a team that had been frustrated by playoff incompetence but still possessed a solid core. The time-impervious Cruz was back; they’d hopefully get a full year of Josh Donaldson; and a rotation of Kenta Maeda, José Berríos, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, and others looked more than adequate. Most of the protagonists from 2019’s 101-win finish and 2020’s AL Central title were returning for another sequel. And after Jiménez went down in late March, ZiPS pegged the Twins as the division’s best team at 91 wins.

How It Went
Oof.

Minnesota’s 2021 season was basically a physical manifestation of the sound you’d make immediately after trying to start a fistfight with Stipe Miocic. Buxton played his best baseball ever but missed significant time, first with a hip injury, then with a broken hand. He needed just 61 games to hit 19 homers, but those injuries may be the only reason he’s currently on Minnesota’s roster rather than participating in postseason baseball with the Twins or someone else. Sanó got off to a miserable start, literally going five-for-April, but came back from a hamstring injury to hit .235/.312/.489 the rest of the way, a more typical line from him.

Nothing much else worked for the Twins. Matt Shoemaker and Randy Dobnak were disasters, the bullpen was shallow, and except for Berríos, the team’s good starting pitchers missed time due to injury. Alex Kirilloff, a breakout hitter preseason pick, suffered through pre-existing wrist problems that eventually required surgery. Trevor Larnach put up an OPS in the mid-.800s in his first month in the majors but struggled to hit anything that wasn’t a fastball, something pitchers discovered very quickly.

What’s Next?
Unfortunately for the Twins, they didn’t do a lot either to help them retool for one more run in 2022 or learn things that would help them excel later. They got good value for Berríos in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson from Toronto and two live arms from Tampa Bay for a Cruz rental, but the former would be extremely helpful to have around if they’re going for the quick retool route. And if they’re going for a long rebuild, it’s hard to justify hanging onto players like Donaldson and Maeda, who will miss most if not all of next year after blowing out his elbow.

The real danger is if the Twins try to take a middle road, not trading any veterans but eschewing any big payroll additions and hoping for a bounceback to do the heavy lifting. The White Sox have a deeper roster, and I think the Tigers will too after 2022; the Twins will have to commit fully to one direction or another. And while the Royals are happy to float in that space between rebuilding and top-tier contention, they managed to win a World Series; if not for that, they’d be only known as the team with the third-fewest wins in baseball since hiring Moore.

Player Projection Spotlight: Joe Ryan
Ryan may be the least sexy name of the players I’m providing an early projection for, but I think he’s significant because he’s one of the players the Twins will likely need whether they go the retool or the rebuild route. He’s on the old side for a prospect, but he’s extraordinarily polished for a young pitcher without a whole lot of professional experience, and the Twins already trusted him enough to throw him into the rotation at the end of the season. Some added velocity would be nice, but Minnesota tends to be patient about this type of pitcher. It’s certainly a massive improvement from last year’s ZiPS projection for Ryan, which featured an ERA approaching six!

ZiPS Projection – Joe Ryan (Preliminary)
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2022 7 6 0 4.10 27 25 123.0 103 56 21 31 148 108 2.0
2023 7 6 0 4.12 27 25 122.3 102 56 22 30 149 108 2.0
2024 7 6 0 4.08 26 24 121.3 99 55 22 30 151 109 2.0
2025 7 5 0 4.05 24 22 111.0 91 50 20 27 138 109 1.9
2026 6 5 0 4.09 23 21 105.7 86 48 19 26 133 108 1.8

Next up: the NL Central!





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Of all the teams previewed here, the Cleveland soon-to-be-Guardians is the one that is most baffling to me. I know that their goal is to not be terrible and to occasionally have periods of contention but there are better ways to be a roughly .500 team than having one position player star and a bunch of major lineup holes. They’ve probably already missed the chance to get a Julio Rodriguez-type prospect back for Ramirez but they’d be much better off searching for competent, 2-win position players to surround their current competent 2-win guys (Rosario, Straw, Reyes) and trading Ramirez for some top talent. Yes, Ramirez helps keep the team good enough at the bottom line but it’s really tough to watch a lineup this bad anyway.

g4
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g4

Cleveland is weird because they stockpiled the hardest thing to amass: good-to-great cost-controlled pitching. Coming off a decent COVID year, I can’t really blame them for going for it one last time with Bieber, Ramirez and a bullpen that appeared to be much better than it was. But, they are somehow incapable or unwilling to solidify the easiest roster spots to fill. Platoon bats generally don’t cost a fortune in terms of AAV or years, so an extra $20M in payroll might have went a long way in 2021.

But now? I agree with you Bone that trading Ramirez can wait no longer. Farm system is good but a year away. Flush 2022 and use the time to load up for 2023.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

What if the Mets traded JD Davis, Jeff McNeil (or, alternately, ate all of Cano’s contract and he waived the no-trade, less likely), Mark Vientos, and Ronny Mauricio for Ramirez? They’d have a capable second baseman and first baseman, could let Nolan Jones play his natural spot at 3B, and would have a couple of other interesting bats coming up. Heck, if they aren’t crazy about Vientos or Mauricio they could rope them in a 3-team deal for a different FV50+ prospect instead. Teams are willing to be more patient with stuff like that when a talent like Ramirez is on the line. I’m going to guess that the Mets, Dodgers (if Seager leaves), Brewers, and Blue Jays (if Semien leaves), are all going to be looking for a third baseman. I suppose it’s possible that teams will trade for Josh Donaldson or Matt Chapman instead, or sign Escobar or Kyle Seager…but there should be enough demand to get two major league caliber position players and two FV50-ish prospects. I think they’d be better off in the long run and no worse off in the short run.

g4
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g4

I think Cleveland should jump at that offer. Especially since McNeil and Davis cost only $5M total in 2022.

steveo
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steveo

Doubt it. McNeil was awful this year and JD Davis isn’t a 3B. Vientos also might not be a 3B. Mauricio struggled in high A, though he was young for his level. I think they can do better.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

Yeah, Cleveland isn’t crazy about trading for guys that are late 20s or older (Davis and McNeil). They tend to prefer guys who are in their early 20s (Naylor. Reyes, Rosario, Gimenez, Bauers).

On top of that, looks like all 4 of those players need to be added to the 40 man roster. Which could be an issue. Also not sure why they’d want yet another SS prospect.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

Baseball Reference shows Cleveland as having used the youngest position players and the youngest pitchers in all of baseball last year. And while some of the young pitchers stepped up (Clase, Quantrill, McKenzie) basically none of the young hitters did. Which leaves Cleveland about at the same point as they began the season. Good starting pitching and bullpen but question marks up and down the lineup. They have a bunch of decisions coming up what with their Rule 5 crunch so it’ll be interesting to see who they hold on to and who they decide to jettison.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I think they mostly handled the Rule 5 crunch for this offseason, helped along by Aaron Brach being unspeakably bad, and 2022 may be a little too far away for them to worry about it. The guys that are exposed to the Rule 5 are :
-Brayan Rocchio (a no doubt add)
-George Valera (a must add)
-Cody Morris (no doubt add, might compete for a rotation spot)
-Tyler Freeman (a no doubt add, might be ready to compete at 2B in 2022)
-Joey Cantillo (a no doubt add)
-Bryan Lavastida (a probable add, an offensive minded catcher)
-Richard Palacios (who performed well although a bit old for the level and might fit at second base or left field)
-Adam Scott (a 5th starter guy maybe)
-Jose Tena (a guy who might be able to cover shortstop but with a low OBP)
-Konnor Pilkington (a lefty nibbler starter type)
-Jose Fermin (a low end utility infielder)
-Jhonkensy Noel (an R/R 1B with K problems)
-Andres Melendez (a catcher in A ball)

That’s not that bad; that’s six must adds, and two maybes in Palacios and Scott, but Palacios and Scott are advanced enough that they could conceivably compete in 2022 and/or serve as upper level depth. They’ve got some real fringe types that are easy cuts; Daniel Johnson and Ernie Clement are probably goners, Josh Naylor, Oscar Mercado, and Yu Chang are pretty fringy, and there are something like 8 relievers they’re protecting in AAA, probably only half of whom are keepers. They could probably also jettison Bobby Bradley if they found a real first baseman, and Harold Ramirez if they found a real left fielder. I think it’s doable, as long as you’re willing to cut bait on post-prospects.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

The problem is that who do you replace all those PAs with? The guys you listed accounted for 1,593 PAs. And you left off Bradley Zimmer who had another 348. I mean, someone has to play for them, even if they are fringy type guys. And they’ll need some depth as well.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I think Palacios probably gets 400 or so PAs for them. He’s ready for a shot at second base or left field. Maybe he gives you more. Straw gives you another 350 or so, and Owen Miller / Tyler Freeman / Gimenez / Arias probably combine for about 700-750 PAs (300 more than Miller and Gimenez had last year). Of the 1600 or so PAs, that’s at least 1000.

I doubt they cut all of Chang, Mercado, and Naylor, so whichever one is left probably picks up some extra PAs in the outfield, about 350 more than they did last year. If they hang on to Ramirez (which I don’t really agree with but they will probably do) then Nolan Jones probably becomes the right fielder, and you could potentially get as much as 600 PAs out of him. I don’t think they cut Zimmer–they seem to like him, and he can back up Straw in CF too. If you jettison Harold Ramirez and find an actual everyday guy in the corner outfield then I think you can get another 200+ or so from that.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

But that’s a big part of the problem. You’re talking about a bunch of guys who have repeatedly failed to post a wRC+ above 100. Or guys that are 100% unproven. Hard to see how the offense improves under those circumstances. A lot of these guys, you have to accept that they are who they are (Zimmer, Mercado, Harold Ramirez, Chang). Straw is good against righties but horrible against lefties. Hard to know what to expect from Miller and Gimenez after last year. Sure they’re young and could improve but there’s no guarantee that happens. Same with Naylor who will be out for a while. Arias is mostly a defensive first SS. Jones had a so-so year in AAA so doubt he’ll get rushed. Freeman had a major injury and there are concerns about his future.

As a Cleveland fan, it’s very depressing to write all of that but I’m also a realist. Although Jose is my favorite player, I’m all for trading him. Will probably mean being worse in the short run but I think Cleveland should be looking 3+ years in the future.

fjtorres
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fjtorres

Chang hasn’t gotten an extrended trial but his power seems to be coming along. He’s at least a utility. Maybe a supersub.
The rest look like platoon guys (Ramirez, Mercado) or half season players (Zimmer).
Not full season regulars but useful as role players and fallbacks.a
They need regulars but having a couple of spear carriers around can be useful.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

Chang’s OBP is terrible and given his minor league stats, there’s little reason to believe it will improve much. And yes, you need some spear catchers but you can’t run out a lineup of 75%+ of that and expect to be competitive.

As for trading Jose, what are the alternatives? There’s a very good chance that you’re going to waste his last couple of years so I think it’s best to maximize what you get in a trade. And then wait for the next generation of position players: Jones. Freeman, Arias, Valera, Rocchio, etc.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

A couple years ago Eric noted that Chang has a real problem with the spin on his batted balls and it’s not clear whether that sort of a problem is fixable. He’s useful in the sense that he can play a bunch of positions and you don’t worry you’re hurting his development by sticking him at the end of the bench, which they might feel about Owen Miller, Arias, Freeman, etc. He’s not someone you want to worry about losing, though.

fjtorres
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fjtorres

And how is the box going to look if they trade Jose Ramirez?
(They’ve alr eady ticked off a good chunk of tbe fan base with the name thing.)

The trade might make sense if the farm were barren or they didn’t have competitive pitching but they do. Catchers are hard to find in FA but good/not great OF are always out there. The owner’s been too cheap to pay but for ’22 he has to bite the bullet. The pieces will be out there and the money will have to show up after extorting the city and state for refurbishing the ballpark.
The business case isn’t there.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

“They’ve probably already missed the chance to get a Julio Rodriguez-type prospect back for Ramirez”

Not sure that’s true. Ramirez has about $60-80 million in excess value, depending on how much WAR you project him to get the next couple of years and how you value WAR. Looking at the most recent Fangraphs Prospect Valuation (Nov. 2018), the lower end of that range should get you a top-10 prospect. The higher end gets you a top 10 prospect + a 50 FV prospect. I think the bigger issue is that lots of teams don’t like to trade away top-10 prospects.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I think you probably need to be trading a player with more than 2 years of control to get a prospect like that, although it’s theoretically possible with someone as good as Ramirez (and whose contract is so small for his production). The only guy I can think of like that who got traded was Moncada in the Sale deal. Kopech, Gleyber Torres, and Eloy Jimenez I don’t think were quite on that level, although they were close and Kopech and Eloy became top 10 prospects probably a few months after getting traded and all of them except Torres got traded for top pitchers with cheap contracts that ran for something like 3-4 years. Guys like Patino and Giolito got traded after some iffy performances…before that, we have…Dansby Swanson? Who was also traded for a pitcher with multiple years of control and everyone hated the deal for the D-Back immediately…and Wil Myers, roughly the same situation…yeah, this was always going to a stretch and now it’s even harder.

Left of Centerfield
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Left of Centerfield

Maybe. But I think the other issue is finding a team to match up with. You need to find a team that has a chance of contending , that needs a third baseman, and has a top 10 prospect that fits what Cleveland needs. Plus, they’d probably want to trade him outside of the division. So right off the bat (looking at 60 grade prospects), you can cross Bobby Witt, Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Grayson Rodriguez, Corbin Carroll, and likely Brennen Davis off the list.

So that leaves:
CJ Abrams (2B, AA, SD)
Francisco Alvarez (C, A+, Mets)
Julio Rodriguez (RF, AA, SEA)
Noelvi Marte (SS, A+, SEA)
Marco Luciano (SS, A+, SFG)
Vidal Bruján (2B, ML, Rays)

Julio Rodriquez is probably the best fit based on position and timeline and SEA needs a third baseman assuming they don’t pick up Seager’s option. And I could see the Rays leaping at the chance to get a low-cost star that could put them over the top (they could flip Wendle for something of value). Though I’m not sure 2B is the best fit for what Cleveland needs. Cleveland and SD have a recent history of making big trades but SD already has Machado. The Giants need a 3B but does Cleveland want yet another SS prospect? Mets also need a 3B and Cleveland doesn’t have a lot of catcher prospects, particularly with Naylor’s struggles.

So there are a few options but not many.

montreal
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montreal

Good points. Cleveland needs to trade Ramirez and rebuild. I feel for them because Andre Gimenez was a good move, but unfortunately he looks a lot less valuable now. Ahmed Rosario also disappointed but just because they didn’t hit a home run with the Lindor deal does not mean they won’t with Ramirez. As for Minnesota, they have no hope of contending and should start the rebuild.