2021 MLB Offseason Grades: AL Central Edition
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
While many Major League Baseball teams had tighter budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the offseason was not without its big contracts, surprising trades and teams looking to make a push for a World Series title in 2021.
While the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams stockpiled star players in hopes of playoff runs, other clubs made solid acquisitions towards rebuilding or rebounding after a tough 2020 season.
This is the second installment of my offseason grades series, so let’s focus on the American League Central Division and each team’s biggest transactions.
Chicago White Sox: B+
Additions: OF Adam Eaton, SP Lance Lynn, RP Liam Hendriks, SP Carlos Rodon
You might have been expecting an A grade for the South Siders, but it’s only fair to be a little strict. The White Sox lost James McCann, Edwin Encarnacion, Alex Colome and Nomar Mazara, but Chicago got off to a hot start this offseason, acquiring starting pitcher Lance Lynn from the Rangers for Dane Dunning and Avery Weems. Lynn, who is coming off a strong 2020 campaign, will form a nice 1-2-3 in the Chicago rotation with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. Quickly after the Lynn trade, Chicago signed outfielder Adam Eaton, who had a few good years with the White Sox in the mid-2010s and is still expected to be a consistent bat for the Sox. Chicago’s biggest signing was for Liam Hendriks, possibly the best reliever in baseball, who was given a three-year $54 million deal to be the team’s new closer. The White Sox also re-signed Carlos Rodon, which gives them additional pitching depth. Jose Abreu, Luis Robert, Tim Anderson and Eloy Jimenez are some of the offensive pieces that make the White Sox the AL Central favorites, but they failed to acquire any bench depth which could hurt them in a 162-game season if any starters get injured. After making the playoffs for the first time since 2008, it’s time to see if the White Sox can repeat their 2020 success.
Cleveland Indians: F
Additions: SS Andres Gimenez, SS Amed Rosario, 2B Cesar Hernandez, OF Eddie Rosario, OF Ben Gamel, RP Heath Hembree, RP Oliver Perez
Cleveland is short of one superstar headed into 2021. They still have Jose Ramirez, who was the 2020 AL MVP runner-up, but the Indians dealt Francisco Lindor and longtime starter Carlos Carrasco to the Mets for Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario and prospects. Lindor is in the last year of his contract, and the Indians likely wouldn’t have the funds to re-sign him, but it still hurts Cleveland fans to see such one of the most talented players in franchise history dealt away. Rosario and Gimenez are good players, not Lindor-caliber, but talented shortstops nonetheless. Cleveland signed Eddie Rosario to man left field and serve as an impact bat after first baseman Carlos Santana departed for Kansas City in free agency. Cesar Hernandez, who had a successful debut season last year with Cleveland, was re-signed to play second base. He’s a consistent .270-.280 hitter and the defending AL Gold Glove winner at second. Cleveland made some minor bullpen moves in Hembree and Perez, but it’s the signing of Ben Gamel to a minor league contract that has a nice upside, given Cleveland’s question marks in the outfield. If Cleveland is to make the postseason this year, it will be on the backs of its pitching staff and reigning Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, but it seems much more believable that the Indians take another step backward in 2021 that could lead to an eventual rebuild.
Detroit Tigers: C-
Additions: SP Jose Urena, OF Robbie Grossman, SP Derek Holland, C Wilson Ramos, 2B Jonathan Schoop, INF/DH Renato Nunez, RF Nomar Mazara, SP Julio Teheran
It’s pretty obvious the Tigers are still in rebuild mode, but they made a few decent veteran signings that help both the club and the development of their prospects and other young talent. Detroit didn’t have any major contributors leave the team this offseason and were able to shed the contracts of Jordan Zimmermann, Ivan Nova and CJ Cron. The Tigers signed former Miami Marlin Jose Urena to join their rotation, which gives them a young arm that could find his early-career form again in Detroit. The Tigers doubled down on former Opening Day starters by offering former All-Star Julio Teheran a minor league deal. Teheran was nothing but durable during his tenure with the Braves but struggled with the Angels in 2020. Robbie Grossman, coming off a productive 2020 season with Oakland, signed a two-year $10 million deal to man left field in Detroit. 33-year-old catcher Wilson Ramos is in line to be one of the Tigers’ backstops in 2021 and has a wealth of knowledge and experience he can pass onto Grayson Greiner and Jake Rogers. Renato Nunez is an underrated signing who hit 31 home runs for the Orioles in 2019 as is the resigning of Jonathan Schoop at second base. All the Tigers can hope for is that their signings will be productive and beneficial to the development of young players like Casey Mize, Spencer Turnbull, Tarik Skubal and Willi Castro.
Kansas City Royals: B
Additions: OF Michael A. Taylor, SP Mike Minor, 1B Carlos Santana, RP Greg Holland, RP Wade Davis, 2B Hanser Alberto, OF Andrew Benintendi
This may be a high grade for the Royals, but their effort this offseason deserves appreciation. With lifetime Royal Alex Gordon finally hanging up the cleats after 14 years in the majors, The Royals added Michael A. Taylor into their outfield mix. Taylor was a mainstay on the Nationals bench for years and may finally have a chance to start in Kansas City. To further add to their outfield, the Royals traded with the Red Sox for Andrew Benintendi. Benintendi is only 26 but has suffered from declining stats since the 2019 season. There is still reason to hope that Benintendi has a bounce-back season for the Royals. Carlos Santana is a terrific move for the Royals at two years and $17.5 million. Santana batted .199 last season with Cleveland but still found his way on base at a .349 clip. He is excellent at drawing walks, is a year removed from being an All-Star starter and is a great fit to help teach new lessons to some of the Royals corner infielders. After he was released by the Orioles, Hanser Alberto was brought to Kansas City and could land himself the second baseman job on Opening Day. The rest of the offseason moves for the Royals were reunion deals, as they brought back relievers Greg Holland and Wade Davis, two key members of their World Series team in 2015. Mike Minor, whose career was rejuvenated when he pitched for Kansas City in 2017, signed a two-year deal. Going forward, Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler and Salvador Perez will try to lead the way for a Royals team that could be in better shape than expected to contend for an AL Central crown in the future.
Minnesota Twins: B
Additions: SS Andrelton Simmons, RP Hansel Robles, SP J.A. Happ, RP Shaun Anderson, DH Nelson Cruz, RP Alex Colome, SP Matt Shoemaker, CF Keon Broxton
Unfortunately, there will be no A grades to be found among AL Central teams. The Twins receive a B for their offseason, which was rather productive, but they do not appear to have built a team necessary to make it to the World Series and may not even be able to beat the rival White Sox. Jake Odorizzi, Trevor May, Marwin Gonzalez and Rich Hill all left Minnesota in free agency, but the Twins made their fans happy by re-signing the ageless wonder, Nelson Cruz, to DH another season for them. Even at 40, Cruz is good for 30-plus home runs in the middle of the Twins order. Andrelton Simmons came to an agreement with Minnesota on a one-year deal in what was the other major Twins addition. Simmons plays a gifted shortstop and should be an AL Gold Glove finalist. While his bat declined at the end of his Angels tenure, Simmons could regain his form in the Twin Cities. The move also allows the Twins to move Jorge Polanco into a utility role which helps bolster the bench while replacing the loss of Gonzalez. After Eddie Rosario was non-tendered, the Twins can finally start highly-touted prospect Alex Kirilloff in left field. The Twins bullpen looks promising with Hansel Robles, Shaun Anderson and former White Sox closer Alex Colome set to handle set-up and middle-relief duties. Minnesota addressed the back end of its rotation by adding J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker. It’s uncertain what Minnesota will be able to get out of each starter, but they are low-risk signings with decent upside. Hopefully, the new acquisitions help Minnesota win its third straight AL Central title and, more importantly, its first playoff series since 2002.