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July 2, 2012

What the Contenders Need

AL Central

by Jason Wojciechowski, Jeff Euston and Kevin Goldstein

With a little less than a month to go until the non-waiver trading deadline, talks between teams are heating up. In a seven-part series, several BP authors will be covering the needs, potential fits, and more for the contenders in each division, as well as a rundown of the top 10 player trade targets. Today, we take a look at the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

Playoff odds
Opening day: 57 percent
High: 86 percent (6/03)
Low: 40 percent (5/16)
Current: 75 percent

Payroll picture
Kenny Williams made the first move of the shopping season with his June 24 trade for Kevin Youkilis, a move made more attractive by Boston’s agreement to pay all but about $1 million of the third baseman’s salary this season.

The Sox scaled back for 2012 – cutting payroll by about $30 million, to $97 million – but Williams already has committed about $75 million to seven players for 2013. In November, he’ll have to make decisions on 2013 options for Jake Peavy ($22 million) and Gavin Floyd ($9.5 million). A.J. Pierzynski is the club’s only player due to become a free agent this winter. —Jeff Euston

General manager's track record
Kenny Williams became the general manager of the White Sox after the 2000 season, making him the fifth-longest-tenured GM around, but his list of mid-year team-strengthening acquisitions is not terribly long. If there's a theme, it's starting pitching: Freddy Garcia in June 2004, Jake Peavy in 2009, and Edwin Jackson in 2010. (Three totally make a trend.) Williams had also acquired the likes of Geoff Blum, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Mark Kotsay before grabbing Youkilis this season—past-prime hitters who fill a hole might also be considered a trend, but that's probably more a function of who is available for second-tier deals than anything else. Young arbitration-eligible hitters aren't typically sold for the likes of Brent Lillibridge, after all.

Williams has not—despite a potentially dangerous run of contending-but-not-powerhouse teams—made any Bagwell-Andersen trades. If he has a weakness, it's giving up young pitching: Dan Hudson for Edwin Jackson, Keith Foulke for Billy Koch, and Gio Gonzalez for Nick Swisher (with the last being easily the most defensible), though only the Jackson trade occurred in-season. In short, you'd probably lose your money if you bet on Williams making a disaster deal in the next two weeks.

Biggest positional needs
With Youkilis having already filled one major hole, the White Sox have three underperforming spots left on offense: left field, second base, and shortstop. In left, Dayan Viciedo isn't hitting (.265 TAv) and PECOTA doesn't think he's sitting on untapped resources. On the infield, Alexei Ramirez is having the worst season of his life, though this also makes him a candidate to bounce back to a respectable level, while Gordon Beckham is probably fit for the junk pile just as soon as Williams can find a decent replacement.

The back end of the rotation doesn't look great, either, but the White Sox might be able to count on John Danks and Phil Humber returning rather than having to purchase an upgrade on Dylan Axelrod.

Potential fits
We've talked about this before, but Jonny Gomes could be a left-field solution, and the Brewers might be willing to part with Corey Hart. Good luck finding an available second baseman, though, even one with the modest task of outhitting Beckham. Would the Phillies deal Chase Utley? —Jason Wojciechowski

Top trade chips
The White Sox entered the year with one of—if not the worst—farm system in baseball, but no system is so bad that it makes deals impossible. The Sox have received a nice bounce-back year from former first-round pick Jared Mitchell, who is still a strikeout machine but remains a premium athlete with excellent on-base skills. Brazilian righty Andre Rienzo has a plus fastball and is pitching well in his first exposure to Double-A, leaving some scouts to believe he has future relief possibilities. —Kevin Goldstein

Detroit Tigers

Playoff odds
Opening day: 55 percent
High: 76 percent (4/18)
Low: 13 percent (6/11)
Current: 26 percent

​Payroll picture
Dave Dombrowski took the game by surprise in January when he shelled out $214 million to sign Prince Fielder, who became the Tigers’ third player earning an annual salary of $20 million or more. Detroit’s $133 million Opening Day payroll easily outpaces their AL Central competitors (37 percent more than Chicago’s $97 million). But the spending has yet to translate into a winning formula.

Although Jose Valverde ($9 million) and Delmon Young ($6.75 million) will come off the books this fall, the Tigers don’t enjoy a lot of financial wiggle room. Detroit already has seven players signed for 2013 at a cost of about $85 million. Dombrowski also must prepare for a weighty arbitration caseload which includes possible hearings for Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Doug Fister.  —Jeff Euston

General manager's track record
There are a lot of ways to point out that Dave Dombrowski has been making trades for a long time. He traded for Mike Aldrete, who's now the bench coach for the Cardinals. He acquired age-24 Gary Sheffield. He picked up Ron Darling, who's now a broadcaster in New York. I'm going to stop this because, well, I'm running out of synonyms for "traded."

Looking at 2006 to 2010 (i.e. the time that the Tigers have been a relevant player on the trade market), Dombrowski's in-season deals have been non-blockbusters: He added Sean Casey in 2006, Kyle Farnsworth in 2008, Jarrod Washburn in 2009, and Jhonny Peralta in 2010. Last year, though, was a banner season for Dombrowski, in quantity if perhaps not in quality, as he acquired not only Wilson Betemit and Doug Fister, but also swung a waiver deal for Delmon Young. Dombrowski has, to his credit, not paid steep prices.

Biggest positional needs
Detroit has received nothing at the keystone and PECOTA doesn't see any light at the end of the tunnel. The lucky thing for the Tigers relative to the White Sox is that the standards are even lower. They can get better by acquiring pretty much any second baseman in the league. Alexi Casilla? Upgrade! Ryan Theriot? Upgrade! Chris Getz? Upgrade!

The corner outfield and DH spots are also troublesome. Andy Dirks has hit this year, but his return from the disabled list probably won't save the team, Delmon Young was terrible in the past, is terrible now, and will be terrible in the future, and Quintin Berry . . . well, Quintin Berry has a .303 TAv. I can't say anything nice about his future, so I won't say anything at all.

Potential fits
Is it a cop-out if I just refer you up to the White Sox section? The Tigers have the same needs (corner bopper, second baseman), so the same solutions are going to fit: Jonny Gomes, maybe Corey Hart, maybe inquire about Chase Utley. —Jason Wojciechowski

Top trade chips
The Tigers don't have an especially deep system, and third baseman Nick Castellanos isn't going anywhere, but they do have a pair of prospects generating some scouting buzz as we head toward the trade deadline. Repeating the year at Low-A West Michigan, Dominican outfielder Steven Moya has gone from a strikeout machine to a player finding some fluidity in his 6-foot-7 frame, and while he has some big holes in his swing, the ball really does make a different sound coming off his bat. Always one of the hardest throwers in the minors, wide-bodied righty Bruce Rendon has begun the throw strikes with his upper-90s heat that can touch triple digits, and he could fit in the back of a big-league bullpen by next year. —Kevin Goldstein

Cleveland Indians

Playoff odds
Opening day: 34 percent
High: 65 percent (5/24)
Low: 19 percent (6/29)
Current: 20 percent

Payroll picture
The Tribe bumped payroll by 32 percent this winter, from $49 million in 2011 to $65 million this season. But don’t expect a similar jump any time soon, as the three highest-paid players on the roster are likely to be free agents in four short months. Derek Lowe and Grady Sizemore will be free agents this winter, with Travis Hafner likely to join them if Cleveland declines the $13 million option on his contract for 2013.

The Indians will maintain control of Shin-Soo Choo for one more year before the Scott Boras client reaches free agency after the 2013 season. Cleveland could face as many as eight additional arbitration cases in February, including hearings for Justin Masterson, Chris Perez, and Joe Smith.

Even with April’s affordable multi-year extensions for Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana, Chris Antonetti has significant free payroll space going forward. No other players on the Cleveland roster are signed beyond 2012.  —Jeff Euston

General manager's track record
Chris Antonetti has been the general manager since just 2010, but his predecessor, Mark Shapiro, didn't leave the organization—he just moved upstairs to the president's office. (I guess it's more likely that he moved down the hall rather than upstairs, but "upstairs" is so much more evocative.) This kind of organizational continuity complicates the question of "track record," but whether we just look at the deals with Antonetti's name on the GM's door or whether we expand to include the Shapiro years, we don't find many major in-season acquisitions. Outside of the Ubaldo Jimenez deal last season, the signature Indians trades have been the sales of Casey Blake, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Ben Broussard, Eduardo Perez, and, going back, Bartolo Colon.

I would like to say that these deals, with emphasis on the Jimenez acquisition, say something about Cleveland being willing to make big splashes, not to shy away from big moves for fear they won't work out, but the same analytical instinct that kept me from believing in Quintin Berry's outburst prevents me from making such pronouncements. Or any pronouncements, really.

Biggest positional needs
Every team needs a first baseman. The Indians are a team. Casey Kotchman is the Indians' first baseman. The Indians need a first baseman. QED.

If Johnny Damon were a basketball player, he'd be that guy Paul Shirley wrote about in 2007, back before Johnny Damon went from "hey, this guy's pretty good, maybe he'll get 3,000 hits!" to "uh, what, please just go away Johnny." Damon would, if you don't want to click the link, be the old head, the guy who does things like eat garlic and not shower to make him harder to guard, who'd tangle your feet and then raise his hands like he didn't do anything wrong, who'd flop mercilessly. Damon, unfortunately for him, is not a basketball player. He's a baseball player. Eating garlic doesn't affect a pitcher standing over sixty feet away. This probably helps explain why he's got just a .243 TAv, the worst of his career.

Potential fits
I was about to suggest Jonny Gomes yet again (honestly, the A's should be able to get a king's ransom for the guy), but would the Indians really upgrade Johnny with Jonny? Is the "h" really weighing down Damon that much?

Depending on how much money the Astros are willing to pick up on the remainder of his contract, Carlos Lee could be an option at first. Would the Rockies trade Todd Helton? Bryan LaHair's pumpkin phase might be worth a shot. —Jason Wojciechowski

Top trade chips
To deal with the Indians, teams will be required to check their risk aversion at the door. They have precious little talent at the upper levels, but they do have tremendous depth further down the ladder, with a number of athletic, up-the-middle players. Outfielder Luigi Rodriguez has shown plus speed and gap power at Low-A Lake County, while shortstop Ronny Rodriguez is a plus defender with very real power who is often undone by a poor approach. —Kevin Goldstein

Jason Wojciechowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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