One Free Agent Target for each AL Central Team
The American League Central is viewed as one of the least competitive divisions in MLB. The Minnesota Twins are currently the top team but they won just 87 games to win the division in 2023 thanks to a strong pitching staff. The Cleveland Guardians are a pitching factory but have struggled to produce a competitive offense. The Chicago White Sox have some talent but that talent potential has degraded along with the team’s performance. The Detroit Tigers are beginning to see the prospects develop but pitching remains in question. Lastly, the Kansas City Royals are also all in on the youth movement but could use more help on both sides of the ball. There are needs for everyone, so here are free agents for each team to pursue.
Minnesota Twins: Rhys Hoskins
The Twins have shown in the past their ability to post strong offensive numbers but 2023 felt like a step back. Injuries continue to plague key players like Byron Buxton and Royce Lewis, while they have had some great pitching. There is plenty of work to be done as they look to reduce payroll and adjust the roster, but finding a boost in the lineup could be helpful.
First baseman Alex Kirilloff turned in a decent .270/.348/.445 batting line with 11 home runs in 319 plate appearances in 2023, but he also had multiple shoulder-related injury stints before ultimately undergoing surgery at season’s end. Joey Gallo and Donovan Solano both spent time at first base but a right-handed bat like Rhys Hoskins could prove beneficial. Hoskins lost the 2023 season due to an ACL injury last March but should be ready to go for 2024, or at least early in 2024. Hoskins can supply some solid enough defense at first base while contributing plenty of offensive numbers. He is a career .243 hitter but has regularly contributed 20-30 home runs and shown a great ability to draw walks. If the Twins are looking for a power bat to slot in at DH and first base, Hoskins may just be the match they are looking for, especially on prove-it year for Hoskins.
Cleveland Guardians: Whit Merrifield
The Guardians are always going to have pitching. One way or another there always seems to be a quality starter coming through the system to join the rotation or join the bullpen. Yet, their offense is somewhat lacking when compared to the rest of the league. The team had the fewest home runs, and were in the bottom half of the league in wRC+. It’s a younger team that focuses on contact more than power. Still, there is a way to boost their offense just a bit while bringing in another veteran to help lead the youngsters.
For years the Guardians watched Whit Merrifield have good years with the Royals, why not see what he can do for your team? In 2023 with the Toronto Blue Jays, Merrifield batted .272/.318/.382 with 11 home runs in 145 games. Some could consider it a somewhat disappointing year, but Merrifield still performed at a level that has been consistent with his career. He fits the type of mold that the Guardians like, a player who makes contact, doesn’t strike out too much, and is capable of drawing walks. He enters his age 35 season and would be a nice compliment alongside José Ramírez as the older veterans on the team. Now, the Guardians already have a second baseman in Andrés Giménez, but there is a possibility he gets moved to shortstop for 2024, giving them room to add Merrifield at second base or shuffle into the DH spot if necessary. Either way, Merrifield could be a helpful piece for a young Cleveland team.
Chicago White Sox: Paul DeJong
Following the 2023 season, the White Sox chose to buy out Tim Anderson’s option and lose him to free agency. As they begin a transition and/or reassessment of their roster and system, a new shortstop seems to be the focus heading into 2024. Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that general manager Chris Getz is looking for a veteran shortstop with strong defensive skills looking for a short-term deal. Luckily for him, the market is full of that type of player, giving him plenty of options should he go after them.
Paul DeJong is well-regarded for his glove work at the shortstop position. Over the course of his career, he has recorded 41 defensive runs saved, including a 24 DRS in 2019. In some ways 2023 was not as good as other years defensively, but he still had nine outs above average and slightly below average range metrics. Unfortunately, his offensive output has continued to diminish over his career. In his career, he has slashed .229/.299/.417 with a 26.7% strikeout rate and 35.3% ground ball rate. Some stats may point to some unlucky events, but one thing that DeJong still has up his sleeve is an ability to hit for power. He belted 14 home runs in 2023 in time spent with three different teams and has hit 10+ home runs in every season he has played at least 100 games. DeJong presents a current upgrade for the White Sox over Anderson and he is a perfect candidate for a short two-year pact.
Detroit Tigers: Kyle Gibson
The Tigers were dealt a pitching blow when Eduardo Rodriguez chose to opt out of his contract, leaving the team with the possibility that his time in the Motor City is over. The team has been busy piecing together some position players but their rotation is left a little shaky in the wake of the decisions. Tarik Skubal looked better when he returned from flexor surgery, but the rest of the rotation has a brief track record at the MLB level. Reese Olson and Sawyer Gipson-Long showed promise as rookies while Matt Manning pitched to a 3.58 ERA but was limited to 15 starts by separate foot fractures. Casey Mize missed the entire 2023 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. They need help, perhaps even established pitching help on a budget.
Kyle Gibson was a workhorse for the Baltimore Orioles in 2023. He made 33 starts, tossing 192 innings and recording a 4.73 ERA. He surrendered nearly 200 hits but also recorded 157 strikeouts to just 55 walks and allowed 23 home runs. He’s nowhere near the caliber of Rodriguez, but 2024 may be a year that the Tigers bring in Gibson to eat some innings and be a steady veteran in the rotation while the younger players get caught up to the speed. It’s the same type of situation with Baltimore where he played the veteran role and still won 15 games while a younger core beings to develop. At 36 years old, Gibson could be a helpful one-year piece to give the Tigers some breathing room to continue to figure out what they want to do.
Kansas City Royals: Alex Wood
The Royals are young with a heavy focus on their position players. Unfortunately, they have had a rough time developing pitchers, specifically in the starting pitching department. Cole Ragans was plucked from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline and did tremendous work following the trade, but the rest of the rotation needs work. Brady Singer and Jordan Lyles are still around for 2024, and it remains to be seen if Zack Greinke retires or chooses to return. All three of those pitchers ate some innings, but they weren’t very good in 2023.
If the Royals want to add another veteran starter on a budget, someone like Alex Wood fits the bill. In three seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Wood pitched in a total of 81 games, including 64 starts, and posted a 4.41 ERA in 367 innings. He had a strong year in 2021 with an ERA under four but was hit a bit harder in 2022 and 2023. By the end of 2023, Wood was being favored out of the bullpen by the Giants putting his viability as a long-term starter in question going forward. He’s a sinker-slider type of pitcher who isn’t going to light up the radar gun, but he has proven ability to be an effective starter. If the Royals need another veteran to eat some innings while still being effective, then, by all means, bring Wood in. If he does well, then they can follow the same practice of trading him away for a Ragans type again.