So near and yet so far, the Tigers reflected on a losing World Series appearance in 2012 and a losing American League Championship Series in 2013 and had to work out whether a small tweak or two would be enough to keep them in with a shot, or if a bold move was needed to get over the hump and win a World Series.
They’ve taken the latter approach. Veteran manager Jim Leyland has retired and in his place Detroit have chosen a new direction with rookie manager Brad Ausmus. That was a brave move, as was the decision to trade away first baseman Prince Fielder just two years into his blockbuster nine-year contract. Fielder has joined the Texas Rangers with Ian Kinsler – typically a second baseman, although he may move to the outfield in Detroit – going the other way.
Pitcher Doug Fister has also departed in a trade with the Washington Nationals, which wasn’t a surprise in itself considering Detroit have some excellent options already for their starting rotation, although the meagre return (primarily utility man Steve Lombardozzi) did leave many scratching their heads. Omar Infante (Royals) and Jhonny Peralta (Cardinals) have also found new teams as free agents.
As for incomings, Joe Nathan will fill the void as the team’s closer with Joba Chamberlain and Ian Krol also being added to the relief corps, whilst Rajai Davis should provide a speedy option from the bench.
The Indians were one of the surprise teams of 2013, not just in making the playoffs but also in the way they went out over the previous offseason and added leading free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. The pair represented something of a splurge for the cash-strapped team and so they are making more modest investments this time around, primarily in the form of ex-Rangers outfielder David Murphy and reliever John Axford.
Cleveland’s rise to a playoff appearance once greatly helped by the pitching performances of Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, both of whom are free agents this offseason. Kazmir has already found a new club in the Oakland A’s, but Jimenez is still on the market and there does seem to be some hope that a deal could be agreed for him to return to the Indians. Meanwhile right-handed reliever Joe Smith has left the club as a free agent and signed with the Los Angeles Angels.
Kansas City Royals
The Royals made a splash a year ago by trading top prospect Wil Myers for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields has just one more left on his contract before he becomes a free agent and whilst the team did jump from 72 wins in 2012 to 86 in 2013, that wasn’t a big enough leap to earn the postseason appearance that the team arguably needs to feel like trading such a talented young player as Myers was worth it.
So far this offseason, the Royals have added former Angels’ starting pitcher Jason Vargas and ex-Tiger Omar Infante on four-year contracts and also pulled off what could turn out to be a nifty trade by acquiring outfielder Norichika Aoki for pitcher Will Smith. They were close to bringing back Carlos Beltran to KC nine and half years after they traded him to the Astros, before the Yankees jumped in at the last moment and beat their bid. Pitcher Ervin Santana had a good season for the Royals last year and, as with Jimenez and Cleveland, the fact that he hasn’t yet found a match on the free agent market leaves open the possibility that he could still rejoin the team.
Joe Mauer will not be catching in Minnesota in 2014 but that doesn’t mean the hometown hero has been taken away from the Twins. The 2009 AL MVP winner is ditching the ‘tools of ignorance’ and will give his body a rest while playing first base instead from this season onwards. Kurt Suzuki has been brought in to provide some experience at the catching position whilst prospect Josmil Pinto continues to develop (probably starting the season at Triple-A and earning a promotion mid-season). The Twins’ roster planning will also be mindful of the impending promotion of the exciting third baseman Miguel Sano.
The main development, aside from Mauer changing gloves, has come in the form of three free agent additions to the starting rotation. Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey have been brought in to revamp the pitching staff and it’s rumoured that they may also be joined by Bronson Arroyo in the near future.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox suffered a dreadful 99-loss season in 2013 and one offseason isn’t going to be enough to turn that around. In fact, the south-siders have been open about cutting payroll in 2014 and trying to inject some young talent back into the organization.
However, they have made a couple of promising signings that could provide reason for cheer in the coming season. The most notable came in beating off a lot of competition to win the signature of Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. The 6-year, $68m contract is the most lucrative signed by an international free agent so far and reflects the fact that he is not merely someone with potential, but a 26-year-old slugger heading into what should be the prime of his career,
The White Sox joined with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the L.A. Angels to complete a three-team trade that resulted in Chicago gaining all-action outfielder Adam Eaton. He’ll join a White Sox lineup that will once again, and quite probably for the last year, feature Paul Konerko. The Chicago favourite had considered retirement but was tempted back for another season, albeit on the basis that he’ll be used as a part-time player.