American League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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I’m going division by division. This morning I went through the AL East. Now it’s time for the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

They’re buyers and should be, but they need to do it within reason.

They’ve already made one move to fill a hole by getting Kevin Youkilis essentially for nothing, they need a starting pitcher and some bullpen help.

Could they cobble together the prospects to get a Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Garza? Probably. Should they? Probably not. But GM Ken Williams is going to do what he’s going to do and won’t apologize nor backtrack. They’ve played this well up to this point with John Danks and Philip Humber injured.

I would tweak the bullpen with a Brandon League, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt or Francisco Rodriguez if he comes available; plus another lefty like Joe Thatcher. The best improvements to the club will be if Danks and Humber come back effectively and if Alexei Ramirez starts hitting. That’s more important than any acquisition they could make. A desperation trade would be counterproductive.

Cleveland Indians

They need a bat at first base, the outfield or at DH. I’d leave the pitching alone unless they can get Ryan Dempster at a reasonable price. Yes, Travis Hafner’s off the disabled list, but judging from history he’ll be back on it soon enough. Neither of their veteran acquisitions—Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman—have hit; they can forget about getting anything from Grady Sizemore.

They could use a lefty out of the bullpen and should make a move on the just released Brian Fuentes. For a bat, Carlos Quentin is out there. If the Cubs will pay his whole salary, they might want to take a look at Alfonso Soriano. At the very least he’d hit them some homers. Ty Wigginton would be a useful and cheap extra bat.

If they’re inclined, they could craft an offer for Justin Upton and wait to see if B.J. Upton comes available.

Detroit Tigers

The second they signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base, the Tigers were all-in to win now. They need a starting pitcher and while I wouldn’t trade Jacob Turner, that’s probably what’s going to have to happen to get one of the big names out there, Hamels, Greinke and Garza. I have a feeling that Placido Polanco is going to be playing second base for the Tigers before the end of July.

A lot will depend on how realistic it is to pin their needs for a bat on Victor Martinez getting back from knee surgery well before he was expected to.

The Tigers can still salvage their season and make the playoffs. There’s no dominant team in the AL Central.

Kansas City Royals

A couple of weeks ago I asked why they would be selling when they were only 5 games out of first place and had played well since a rancid start. Now they’re 9 ½ games out of first place and are said to be willing to move closer Jonathan Broxton but won’t give him away. They have players who have use like Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and Jose Mijares.

They should get what they can for Mijares and stay where they are, giving the young players a chance to right the ship. This can still be a positive season for the Royals.

Minnesota Twins

They need to sell some of the key pieces from their long run in dominating the division. That means Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano. I still think Morneau winds up in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Liriano is going to be in heavy demand for multiple teams as a starter or reliever. Matt Capps will wind up getting traded somewhere maybe as part of a Morneau to the Dodgers deal.

I would not trade Denard Span.

If Carl Pavano returns and shows himself healthy, he’ll get through waivers in August and teams will need a body with a functioning arm. I suppose Pavano qualifies in that respect. Sort of.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates—Zack Greinke

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Name: Zack Greinke—Milwaukee Brewers

Tale of the tape: Right-handed pitcher; 28-years-old (29 in October); 6’2”, 200 lbs.

Contract status: $13.5 million in 2012. Free agent after the season.

Would the Brewers trade him?

They’re not going to be able to sign him, but there’s a difference between would they trade him and will they trade him.

There’s an undertone that Greinke is definitely going to be traded because the Brewers are floundering and are unlikely to climb back into contention.

They’re 34-41 and in 4th place in the NL Central. But they’re 7 1/2 games out of first place behind the Reds and 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card lead.

The Reds are a good team but not so good that the Brewers should forget about a possible comeback in the division. There are two Wild Cards available and throwing in the towel before it’s absolutely necessary is a questionable decision.

If they fade out by the end of July with a double-digit deficit in the division and are 8 or so games out of the Wild Card and—more importantly—have not played well enough to justify holding out, they should trade Greinke.

Greinke is one of the top pitchers in baseball with a feel for pitching that is quite rare. He’s able to accelerate his fastball when he needs to and his control is impeccable with both his fastball and his off-speed stuff. He’s a pure ace in his prime and if he’s available teams would be remiss by not exploring his cost.

What would they want for him?

The new CBA has taken away the draft pick compensation for a team that acquires a pending free agent player at mid-season. Unless a club thinks that the player is the final piece of their puzzle and his acquisition will put them in a position to win the World Series, it may not be worth it to gut the system or even give up a top prospect to get the player.

The Brewers are not only losing Greinke after this season but Shaun Marcum is a free agent as well and Randy Wolf has a $10 million contract option for 2013 and is going to be 36 in August. Wolf’s pitched better than his record, but it won’t make sense to pick up the option if the Brewers are beginning a rebuild.

Their farm system is largely gutted. They need volume at the minor league level and pitching prospects. GM Doug Melvin is experienced and will dangle Greinke out there to maximize his value. They would get a couple of good prospects for Greinke. In retrospect the Brewers didn’t give up much to get Greinke so they’ll be able to recoup what they gave and get a bit more back after having the pitcher for a season-and-a-half.

Which teams would pursue him?

Greinke is a bad fit for either New York team and probably Philadelphia and Boston.

That won’t stop any of those teams from going after him and maybe he’ll surprise those who think he’s not mentally tough enough to handle the big stage.

Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman has said he doesn’t foresee pursuing anything of the high-end quality of Greinke, but the absence of Andy Pettitte and disabled list stint for CC Sabathia—no matter how short-term it supposedly is—has to give them pause for October and will force them to ask about Greinke.

The Orioles will be after him; the Tigers, White Sox, Indians and even the Royals might be involved.

The Royals are labeled as sellers with Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and even Billy Butler being mentioned, but they’re 5 games out of first place in the mediocre AL Central and are 31-25 after their atrocious 3-14 start. Why should they sell?

The Braves, Cardinals, Marlins, Dodgers and Diamondbacks are in this drama too.

What will happen?

The window for the Brewers was narrow. If they were going to win with this group it had to be in 2011. They lost in the NLCS; Prince Fielder departed as a free agent; they tried to patch it together to replace him and it hasn’t worked.

Now they have to start over again.

Given their injuries and as poorly as they’ve played up to now, I can’t imagine a miraculous comeback for this configuration. Greinke’s going to get traded and my guess is that he winds up with the Braves.

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