MLB winter meetings 2018: What you need to know about the Indians, White Sox and the AL Central
What do the Indians, Twins, White Sox, Tigers, and Royals need to get done in Vegas?
The 2018 winter meetings will take place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas from Monday, Dec. 10, through Thursday, Dec. 13. Officially, the winter meetings are about off-the-field business, especially on the minor-league side. Unofficially, the winter meetings are all about trades and free-agent signings and hot-stove rumors. Put all 30 general managers in one place -- plus agents! -- and deals inevitably get done.
Without fail, the winter meetings constitute the busiest days of the offseason, and this year's edition will likely be no exception, what with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sitting in free agency. Those two 26-year-old generational free agents will dominate the headlines, yes, but there will be plenty more going on.
So with the 2018 Winter Meetings right around the corner, this is as good a time as any to survey the lay of the land. We're in the midst of taking stock of all 30 MLB teams, their needs, and top storylines heading into the Winter Meetings. (Here are our previews for the , and .) Up this time is the American League Central ...
Needs: First and foremost, Chicago needs rotation help. Reynaldo Lopez and Carlos Rodon make for a workable front end, but Rodon has a spotty health history. Elsewhere, Lucas Giolito, Dylan Covey, and Manny Banuelos don't inspire a great deal of confidence. There are some prospects who'll be ready soon, but the greatest of these -- Michael Kopech -- will likely miss all of the 2019 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. So GM Rick Hahn needs to be targeting known quantities to install at the front end, whether via free agency or trade. Third base and center field also stand out as needs. A.J. Pollock would be a good get on the latter front.
Approach: Buyer. The Sox are emerging from what looks like a very successful rebuild. Now they're likely to pivot toward contention. A number of valuable pieces are in place, and there's an internal willingness to spend big on free agents. While the Sox can't be considered frontrunners to sign Harper or Machado, they'll be active in pursuit of one or both of them. Machado is probably the better roster fit. As noted above, they have some clear needs, but right now they're working with a projected payroll that's in the low nine figures. As such, they can afford to be very aggressive on the free agent market. Doing so makes a great deal of sense not only for those roster holes but also in terms of lighting a fire under a fan base that's growing weary after six straight losing seasons.
Needs: Much will flow from which path the Indians choose (see immediately below), but insofar as 2019 is concerned they need outfield help and bullpen reinforcements. The outfield will be a particular soft spot given that Lonnie Chisenhall has already inked with the Pirates and Michael Brantley is almost certainly headed elsewhere, too. The challenge will be filling those holes while also negotiating a payroll that's pretty high by organizational standards thanks to a number of long-term commitments and arbitration-eligible talents on the roster.
Approach: Buyer and seller? Playing in what once again figures to be MLB's weakest division may allow the Indians to proceed with one foot on the win-now side of the line and the other in the "add long-term assets" side. Very likely they'll tap into their rotation depth and seek to get back an outfielder who helps them in 2019 and beyond. If the rumors are any guide, then the Tribe is willing to part with ace and two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who comes with three more years of team control assuming his two club options are exercised. Even though Yan Gomes has already been dealt and at least one starter is on the block (and Andrew Miller is likely headed elsewhere), don't expect a full sell-off. This division's still too winnable.
Needs: The Tigers are still in the midst of a rebuild that's very much been a mixed bag thus far. They don't figure to be realistic contenders, so they should be looking to add young, controllable talent however they can. The problem is that they have very little that would net them a big return in trade. In the service of that rebuild, they should be looking to trade names like Michael Fulmer, Shane Greene, and Nick Castellanos -- maybe Niko Goodrum, as well.
Approach: Buyer with an eye toward being a seller. Even after inking Matt Moore, they could use some rotation help, and a shortstop is also on the list. Ideally, the Tigers will dip into the middle class of free agents, especially the pitchers, in the hopes of getting some strong first-half performances. That in turn might allow them to flip some of those veterans leading up to the deadline. Given that those trade candidates named above seem more like in-season fodder (and none is particularly compelling), the Tigers may have one of the quietest offseasons of any team.
Needs: Can you squint and find a contending roster here thanks in large measure to the weakness of the division? Probably not, which is to be expected with a 104-loss team. On the other hand, given that the Royals don't seem inclined to trade Salvador Perez or Whit Merrifield, they're not really likely to bolster the farm system via the trade route. On top of all that, ownership supposedly wants to cut payroll (which GM Dayton Moore has already done, to an extent). As such the Royals may provide us with an uncommonly dull winter. They have some needs -- outfield depth, middle relief, third base -- but no real ways to address them in a notable way.
Approach: Hold steady. The guess here is that the Royals will look for some bargains on the free agent market -- meaning, mostly, players who get frozen out in the early months of the offseason -- and hope for better results. That's a reasonable hope, but it probably won't mean relevance, even in the AL Central.
Needs: If the Twins are going to bounce back and make the postseason for the second time in three years, then they'll need to fill some holes. In particular, they should be players for any of the starting pitchers and notable relievers left on the market. And, yes, the Twins have the payroll flexibility to get something done on multiple fronts. They've also got some notable prospects in the upper rungs who can help out starting early in the 2019 season.
Approach: Buyer. Expect them to target pitching on the market, and they could be players in the J.T. Realmuto trade sweepstakes. Much depends on whether Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano author comeback seasons, of course, but the Twins have every incentive to behave like contenders this winter. That's especially the case given that Cleveland may wind up with a marginally weaker roster. Mix those incentives with that aforementioned room in the budget, and the Twins could be a surprise splash team of the offseason.
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