Fortune Will Favor The Bold In The Newly Tough AL Central.

Arguably the biggest remaining free agent in MLB this offseason just came off the board. Josh Donaldson, slugging third baseman and former American League MVP, signed tonight with the Minnesota Twins, inking a four year deal with at least $92 million guaranteed. The signing confirmed the fact that one of baseball’s toughest divisions in 2020 will be one that in 2019 was considered one of the weakest- with two teams already established powerhouses, and a third stocked with young, rising talent that made aggressive moves to better the team this offseason.

Last year, the American League Central was considered a joke, with two of its teams providing a virtual walkover to any opponents they faced. The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals both lost over 100 games, with the Tigers in particular “boasting” a pitiful 47–114 record, the major leagues’ worst. While both teams will likely compete for the cellar again next year, the next worst team in the division may well turn its record around completely.

The Chicago White Sox finished 2019 with a record of 72–89, another disappointing tally for a franchise that has not made the postseason since 2008. However, signs of hope began to emerge. Young pitcher Lucas Giolito finally made good on the promise that had once had him ranked as baseball’s top prospect, earning an All Star selection and finishing sixth in Cy Young Award voting. Shortstop Tim Anderson led the American League in batting average, and third baseman Yoan Moncada posted nearly six Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in just over 130 games, according to baseball statistics website Fangraphs. However, these building blocks for the future would need to be enhanced with acquistions from outside, which many fans and media members doubted owner Jerry Reinsdorf would be willing to commit to.

Fortunately for White Sox fans, Reinsdorf and general manager Rick Hahn exceeded their expectations. The team has made several acquistions in free agency, starting with signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four year, $72 million contract, the largest in franchise history. Grandal is a two time all star considered to not only be one of the game’s best hitting catchers, but is also one of the best defenders behind the dish as well, and is renowned for his ability to call games and work with pitchers. On the pitching side, the Sox bolstered their pitching rotation by adding dependable starters Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez to provide stability behind Giolito. The offense gets one further added boost by adding veteran slugger Edwin Incarnation, who has hit thirty home runs in each of the past eight seasons.

Furthermore, the next wave of Chicago’s youth movement is set to add to the team. Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech made his major league debut in 2018, but subsequently missed all of last year with Tommy John surgery; he will be healthy to start the year in 2020. Prospect Dylan Cease made his major league debut last year and will hopefully mature and improve under the tutelage of his newly acquired catcher and rotation mates.

On the position player side, the White Sox signed superstar outfield prospect Luis Robert to an early contract extension before he even makes the majors, the upside of this move being that he will likely start for the team on Opening Day. And second base is due to be taken over by Nick Madrigal, who in 2018 was the team’s draft pick at fourth overall out of Oregon State. Even with all these additions a division title is a tall order for the South Siders. However, anything less than a serious wild card challenge will be a major disappointment.

Disappointment from fans of the Cleveland Indians is very understandable given what happened this offseason. The team had a strong 93 win season last year, but failed to make the postseason, and ownership has been only looking to cut costs for the most part so far this offfseason. The most painful cost-cutting move was trading starting pitcher Corey Kluber, who missed most of 2019 with injury.

The trade return for Kluber from the Texas Rangers was underwhelming, with the returns being light-hitting outfielder Delino Deshields Jr, and pitcher Emmanuel Clase, who projects as a reliever (albeit a potentially very good one, bolstering a nearly 100 mph cut fastball). The team has contemplated a full rebuild by discussing trades of superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and ace pitcher Mike Clevinger. Although that now seems less likely, it would not be surprising at all for the team to reverse course on that by midseason if they get off to an underwhelming start.

Finally, we come to the defending division champions and winners of the Donaldson sweepstakes, the Minnesota Twins. The Twins set a record in 2019 for most home runs by a team in a single season, earning the fan nickname “the Bomba squad.” Coming off of a winning season that ended in playoff disappointment, fans hoped the team would spend to take them to the next level. And with Donaldson acquired, their fans’ hopes are realized. Having hit thirty seven home runs last year, he could very well help the Twins break their own home run record, and his defense at the hot corner will be an upgrade over Miguel Sano, who will move to first base. The Twins also retained key starters Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda, and added veteran free agents Homer Bailey and Rich Hill, who will shore up the back end of their rotation.

Looking at how the offseason has played out in the AL Central so far, two teams have made bold moves to improve their team, and another has not. The White Sox and Twins have made multiple moves to either improve on areas of weakness or, in the case of the Twins, make a strength of theirs even greater. They also did it without sacrificing the long term future excessively i.e. trading top prospects. The Indians, meanwhile, simply repeated what they did last offseason- cut payroll and hope that the (admittedly strong) core that is left could make up the difference. While on paper they still project to be better than the White Sox and behind the Twins, my instinct tells me that the two bolder teams will be rewarded and make up the top two slots in the AL Central next season.