Big boost: Thanks in part to the acquisition of Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox now trail only the Twins in fWAR among its offensive roster. (@WhiteSox)
It’s been quite the interesting offseason in the AL Central.
The White Sox have added a number of solid veterans to its young core, while also granting extensions for veteran slugger José Abreu and phenom outfielder Luis Robert. The Twins added Josh Donaldson to its already potent offense while adding rotation depth in the forms of Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill. Cleveland, in the meantime, has basically maintained their status quo with the exception of trading pricey hurler Corey Kluber for reliever Emmanuel Clase and Delino DeShields Jr. as they hope to maintain their success by simply staying healthy.
Of course, based on last season, there’s quite a bit of separation among the three teams: The Twins are coming off a 101-61 season, Cleveland a 93-69 record, and the White Sox a 72-89 mark. But as there should unquestionably be some better bunching at the top this season (PECOTA projects 93, 86 and 82 wins, respectively), we’re ramping up to the start of Cactus League play with three looks at the Big 3 ball clubs, on offense, pitching and intangibles.
Projected 2020 stats are per Steamer, and players’ ages listed in parentheses are as of Opening Day.
Eddie Rosario, LF (27) .284/.320/.499, 30 HR, 86 RBI, 5 SB, 2.4 fWAR
Byron Buxton, CF (26) .262/.317/.461, 20 HR, 73 RBI, 23 SB, 3.2 fWAR
Max Kepler, RF (28) .260/.343/.490, 30 HR, 93 RBI, 6 SB, 3.7 fWAR
Marwin Gonzalez (31) .269/.334/.444, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1 SB, 0.8 fWAR
Jake Cave (27) .256/.315/.423, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 0.1 fWAR
Miguel Sano, 1B (26) .246/.337/.519, 37 HR, 97 RBI, 1 SB, 2.3 fWAR
Luis Arraez, 2B (22) .312/.369/.415, 6 HR, 57 RBI, 6 SB, 2.5 fWAR
Jorge Polanco, SS (26) .281/.344/.453, 19 HR, 82 RBI, 7 SB, 2.9 fWAR
Josh Donaldson, 3B (34) .267/.379/.527, 36 HR, 103 RBI, 4 SB, 5.3 fWAR
Ehire Adrianza (30) .256/.317/.389, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 1 SB, 0.2 fWAR
Mitch Garver (29) .254/.333/.464, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 1 SB, 1.9 fWAR
Alex Avila (33) .214/.342/.379, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 1.1 fWAR
Nelson Cruz (39) .282/.363/.547, 40 HR, 114 RBI, 1 SB, 2.9 fWAR
Certainly, some regression is expected after nearly everyone on Minnesota’s roster enjoyed career years offensively in 2019. The above numbers reflect this, especially when looking at Garver’s anticipated drop-off from last year’s .273/.365/.630 slash line with 31 homers. Even so, this is an extremely dangerous offense and arguably the best in the American League. With the acquisition of Donaldson, third catcher and contact maestro Willians Austudillo will likely begin in the minors, but should still receive some playing time if an injury occurs.The only weakness to this offense may be the ability to manufacture runs if they’re not hitting bombs, as the only player who’s projected to steal in double digits is the oft-injured Buxton. The above roster above posted an aggregate 3.5 defensive bWAR last year, spearheaded by Donaldson (1.7) and Buxton (1.3, despite missing 75 games); the defense’s Achilles heel last year was Rosario (-1.1).
Domingo Santana, LF (24) .248/.345/.441, 15 HR, 49 RBI, 5 SB, 0.4 fWAR
Oscar Mercado, CF (25) .256/.313/.402, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 15 SB, 1.0 fWAR
Greg Allen, RF (27) .246/.310/.362, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 7 SB, -0.1 fWAR
Jordan Luplow (26) .250/.333/.449, 11 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB, 0.7 fWAR
Delino DeShields Jr. (27) .231/.313/.338, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 9 SB, 0.2 fWAR
Carlos Santana, 1B (33) .260/.375/.482, 29 HR, 93 RBI, 3 SB, 2.7 fWAR
Cesar Hernandez, 2B (29) .277/.355/.399, 11 HR, 56 RBI, 9 SB, 2.0 fWAR
Francisco Lindor, SS (26) .289/.354/.531, 35 HR, 95 RBI, 22 SB, 6.0 fWAR
José Ramírez, 3B (27) .277/.362/.523, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 23 SB, 5.1 fWAR|
Christian Arroyo (24) .247/.301/.395, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 1 SB, 0.1 fWAR
Roberto Perez (31) .219/.303/.399, 14 HR, 43 RBI, 1 SB, 2.2 fWAR
Sandy Leon (31) .217/.278/.346, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 0.5 fWAR
Franmil Reyes (24) .260/.329/.517, 36 HR, 93 RBI, 1 SB, 1.5 fWAR
There’s still some uncertainty in this lineup, particularly in the outfield. Jake Bauers is not expected by FanGraphs to make the Opening Day roster thanks to the recent signing of Domingo Santana, but he still has a shot to beat out either Allen or DeShields in spring training. When Reyes does spend some time in the outfield this year, he and Santana could be the modern-day defensive equivalent of Greg Luzinski and Dave Kingman at the corners. If the Indians get off to a rocky start, expect trade talks regarding Lindor to intensify. Offensively, the strength of this team is clearly the infield with Lindor, Ramírez and Santana. Defensively, this roster posted an aggregate 6.3 defensive bWAR last year, led by Perez (2.6) and Lindor (1.7); the weakest defensive player in 2019 on this year’s roster was easily Domingo Santana, with a -1.9 mark. This team is loaded with switch-hitters and platoon possibilities, so Cleveland could definitely post match-up difficulties to opposing pitchers. With several guys capable of double-digit steals, the Indians should be able to manufacture runs when the offense isn’t entirely clicking.
Chicago White Sox
Eloy Jiménez, LF (24) .279/.329/.520, 33 HR, 95 RBI, 1 SB, 2.7 fWAR
Luis Robert, CF (22) .273/.317/.488, 26 HR, 83 RBI, 23 SB, 2.9 fWAR
Nomar Mazara, RF (24) .255/.318./.467, 25 HR, 77 RBI, 3 SB, 1.4 fWAR
Leury García (29) .261/.300/.374, 8 HR, 39 RBI, 10 SB, 0.4 fWAR
Adam Engel (28) .221/.281/.352, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB, 0.0 fWAR
José Abreu, 1B (33) .275/.332/.497, 32 HR, 101 RBI, 3 SB, 1.8 fWAR
Nick Madrigal, 2B (23) .287/.337/.392, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 19 SB, 1.5 fWAR
Tim Anderson, SS (26) .275/.308/.441, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 17 SB, 2.0 fWAR
Yoán Moncada, 3B (24) .267/.340/.475, 27 HR, 86 RBI, 12 SB, 4.0 fWAR
Danny Mendick (26) .243/.310/.376, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 2 SB, 0.2 fWAR
Yasmani Grandal (31) .239/.358/.459, 25 HR, 73 RBI, 3 SB, 5.0 fWAR
James McCann (29) .238/.297/.390, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 1 SB, 0.3 fWAR
Edwin Encarnación (37) .246/.346/.499, 35 HR, 92 RBI, 2 SB, 1.9 fWAR
Because of their high BABIP last year, Steamer expects Anderson’s and Moncada’s batting averages to drop significantly in 2020. And because of the volatility of rookies and youngsters, it’s hard to project guys like Robert and Madrigal will fare when they make it to the big show. Thus, there’s a great degree of variance between upsides and floors for the White Sox overall. The numbers seem respectable for Robert but a little down for Madrigal; of these three teams, the White Sox are the only team to expect to have two rookies earn regular playing time. The defense posted an aggregate of -0.6 defensive bWAR, despite the additions of Madrigal, Robert and Grandal. Unsurprisingly, the biggest culprits are Jiménez and Abreu, but the White Sox’s defensive value should still be higher in 2020 providing that Anderson commits fewer errors and Moncada continues his improvement at the hot corner. As a side note, while FanGraphs expects García to begin the Opening Day roster as the team’s second baseman, I have Madrigal listed as the starter as there’s a chance he’s given an extension and/or enjoys a solid spring.
As the numbers above reflect a combination of offense and defense, the Twins clearly have the best combined non-pitching roster among these three teams, at 29.3 fWAR. If Minnesota’s hitters avoid their expected regression offensively, that number could easily climb another five points or more. The White Sox actually rank behind the Twins at 24.1 fWAR despite their unproven youth, thanks in part to its dynamic catching tandem of Grandal and McCann. Interestingly, Minnesota’s acquisition of Donaldson essentially makes up the projected fWAR difference between the White Sox and Twins — at least offensively. Cleveland has the weakest roster offensively of the three teams, despite having an excellent infield on paper. That team is hampered by its lack of outfield thump, as the combined 2.2 fWAR in that area brings their expected total to 22.3 (despite having the best defensive numbers and two of the best players in the division). For the White Sox to rank second in the division offensively isn’t a slap in the face, as the Twins are arguably the best offense in the American League, if not all of baseball.