In the second of a six-part series — you can see the AL East here — I’ll be highlighting each team’s most notable free agents and how it could fill the resulting void on the roster. A player’s rank on our recently released Top 50 Free Agents list, along with Kiley McDaniel’s contract estimates from that exercise, are listed where relevant. In some cases, the team already has a capable replacement ready to step in. In others, it’s clear the team will either attempt to re-sign their player or look to the trade or free agent markets for help. The remaining cases are somewhere in between, with in-house candidates who might be the answer, but aren’t such obvious everyday players to keep the team from shopping around for better options.
Here’s a look at the American League Central.
Chicago White Sox | Depth Chart | Payroll
Jose Abreu, 1B/DH
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 44
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 1 year, $11M
Andrew Vaughn, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 amateur draft and the White Sox’s first baseman of the future, isn’t likely to need much time down on the farm. But it’s rare that any prospect, even one as advanced at the plate as the 21-year-old Vaughn, doesn’t spend at least one full season in the minors. Therefore, the White Sox will require a stopgap at first base in 2020 and have already taken a necessary step to keeping Abreu around for at least one more season.
The 32-year-old was tendered a qualifying offer, which will hurt his value if he wants to test the free agent waters. He could just settle for the one-year, $17.8 million contract or work out a long-term deal that would ensure he’s around to mentor the next wave of prospects, which could include Vaughn, second baseman Nick Madrigal, and outfielders Luis Robert and Luis Alexander Basabe, all who could arrive during the next two seasons.
Ivan Nova, SP
With the emergence of Lucas Giolito as a legitimate staff ace and the anticipated return of Michael Kopech — he’ll be just over 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery on Opening Day — the future of the White Sox rotation appears bright. But there is still a need for a veteran who can eat innings and mentor the team’s young starting pitchers. The 32-year-old Nova, who made 34 starts in his 10th major league season, isn’t a bad option for that role. But with the White Sox seemingly in position to add significant salary to their payroll this offseason, they could potentially set their sights much higher.
Total WAR: 3.9
Cleveland Indians | Depth Chart | Payroll
Yasiel Puig, OF
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 18
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 3 years, $39M
Puig made an immediate impact in Cleveland after being acquired from the Reds at the trade deadline. He had 20 hits in his first 54 at-bats, including two homers, five doubles, and one triple, as the Indians were able to pull ahead of the Twins by mid-August to sit atop the division for the first time since late April. But as Puig slowed down — he had an 89 wRC+ with no homers in the team’s final 35 games — the Indians also slowly faded out of contention.
There is room for Puig in the Indians’ outfield, especially with Tyler Naquin expected to begin the season on the injured list as he recovers from knee surgery. But without the playoff run and a stronger finish to his two-month stint, there doesn’t appear to be the kind of momentum that would result in a big enough offer to keep the 28-year-old in Cleveland for 2020 and beyond. Instead, the Indians will likely turn to several in-house candidates to compete for time at the corner outfield spots, including Greg Allen, Jake Bauers, Daniel Johnson, Jordan Luplow, and Bradley Zimmer.
Jason Kipnis, 2B
After three consecutive subpar seasons, it seems likely that Kipnis, who starred during the team’s 2016 World Series appearance (9-for-31, 2 HR), will play elsewhere in 2020. The 32-year-old still has the name recognition and a strong enough resume to command a major league deal on the free agent market.
If the Indians stay in-house for Kipnis’ replacement, Christian Arroyo and Yu Chang would be the leading candidates. Both are former top prospects who have played second base, third base, and shortstop in the minors and have yet to have been given the opportunity for regular playing time in the majors. Jose Ramirez can play second or third base, so the team has some flexibility when it comes to their defensive alignment.
Total WAR: 1.7
Detroit Tigers | Depth Chart | Payroll
Jordy Mercer, INF
After spending a majority of the first half of the season on the injured list, Mercer finally settled in as the Tigers’ starting shortstop in early July. And, as expected, he was a steady contributor to a young team going nowhere in 2019. When the Tigers decided it was time to hand the reins over to rookie Willi Castro in late August, Mercer took the opportunity to show off his versatility. Over his final 20 games, he had 21 hits in 67 at-bats while making starts at all four infield spots.
The Tigers will head into the offseason not knowing whether the 22-year-old Castro, who was 23-for-100 with six walks and 34 strikeouts during his first stint in the majors, is ready to be their starting shortstop in 2020. It could be that the 33-year-old Mercer is a perfect fit as someone who can be the starter, if necessary, or continue in a utility role.
One look at the Tigers’ list of impressive pitching prospects in the upper minors, many of who could debut in 2020, and it’s hard to find the need to add much more starting pitching during the offseason. They say you can never have enough pitching, but in this case, help appears to already be on the way. A lot of it.
If there is one pitcher who could make sense to bring back, however, it would be Moore, who threw 10 scoreless innings in two starts before being shut down with a season-ending knee injury. It’s possible that his work with pitching coach Rick Anderson had him on his way to a big season. The only way to find out is to re-sign him for 2020.
Total WAR: 1.1
Kansas City Royals | Depth Chart | Payroll
Alex Gordon, OF
Despite struggling at the plate over the course of the last four years, Gordon’s 13-season tenure with the Royals has been an overall success. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Gordon was a three-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove winner, and an important part of both the AL Championship team in 2014 and the World Champions in 2015.
There isn’t an abundance of outfield talent ready to step in for the club, so expect at least one outfield addition this offseason. Whit Merrifield could spend a majority of his time in the outfield while Bubba Starling and Brett Phillips, who have yet to establish themselves as major leaguers, will be in the mix for playing time at the other two spots. Prospect Khalil Lee, who had a 112 wRC+ and 53 stolen bases in Double-A last season, will likely begin the season in Triple-A and is probably another year away from contributing.
Total WAR: 1.3
Minnesota Twins | Depth Chart | Payroll
Kyle Gibson, SP
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 15
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 3 years, $45M
Jake Odorizzi, SP
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 17
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 3 years, $39M
Michael Pineda, SP
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 20
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 1 year, $16M
Martin Perez, SP
At the moment, Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer are penciled in as the No. 2 and No. 3 starters in the Twins’ rotation. But in all likelihood, those two will come to spring training competing for just one or two open spots as the Twins are likely to prioritize their starting rotation this offseason, which currently stands to lose four of their top pitchers to free agency. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they brought back Gibson or Odorizzi, or both, while also pursuing the top pitchers on the free agent market.
Jason Castro, C
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 34
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 2 years, $12M
Still good enough to be the primary catcher on many teams, Castro would likely have to take a backseat in Minnesota after Mitch Garver’s breakout season. That would also likely come with a lesser paycheck, which is why he’ll probably end up elsewhere. Willians Astudillo would be in line as Garver’s backup, although there are a few left-handed hitting options on the free agent market who could better complement Garver, including Alex Avila, Stephen Vogt, and Chris Herrmann, who played with Minnesota from 2012-2015.
Jonathan Schoop, 2B
FanGraphs Top 50 Free Agent Ranking: 38
Kiley McDaniel’s contract projection: 1 year, $7M
Schoop, who rebounded from a poor 2018 campaign with a 100 wRC+ and 23 homers and should find a starting job for next season, is likely a one-and-done with the Twins. They’ll probably turn to Luis Arraez, who had a 125 wRC+ in 366 plate appearances, as their starting second baseman.
While the 22-year-old Arraez made starts at four different positions as a rookie, the Twins already have a few others, including Astudillo, Ehire Adrianza, and Marwin Gonzalez, who can play all over the diamond. Arraez’s position versatility likely won’t be as much of a factor again until prospects Nick Gordon or Royce Lewis force their way to the majors.
Sergio Romo, RP
The 36-year-old Romo is still a good fit on most teams, especially as a setup man for left-handed closer Taylor Rogers. But with Tyler Duffey and Trevor May more than capable of bridging the gap to the 9th inning and hard-throwing Brusdar Graterol also a potential option for a late-inning relief role, the Twins will likely focus their offseason attention on areas of bigger need.
Total WAR: 14.9