It’s probably not too far-fetched to call the American League Central the most competitive division in MLB this season.
Sure, the Kansas City Royals have fallen back from the rest of the division, but from first place to fourth the teams are separated by a measly four games. Even the Detroit Tigers — believed by many to be still in the throes of a rebuild — are at .500 more than halfway through the truncated MLB season.
The trade deadline came and passed at 3 p.m. CT without much fanfare — at least for four of the teams in the division. The Cleveland Indians turned some heads by dealing one of their aces in Mike Clevinger, but otherwise, it was a quiet deadline across the rest of the division.
That includes the Minnesota Twins, who didn’t make a move — big or small — prior to the final whistle Monday afternoon.
Let’s look at the implications of the moves made in terms of how they’ll affect the Twins, who have 25 games left in the season and open a pivotal three-game set with the White Sox at Target Field on Monday evening.
Players out: none
Players in: none
Implications: It’s not necessarily a popular stance, but the Twins didn’t do anything because they’re expecting quite a few guys back in the days to come. Not adding a catcher probably bodes well for Mitch Garver‘s return in the near future, or perhaps the team’s confidence in Ryan Jeffers and Alex Avila to weather the storm in the medium term if it isn’t an imminent return.
Not adding an infielder almost certainly suggests Josh Donaldson will return soon. The same is true with Byron Buxton and not adding an outfielder, as these two players returning will allow Marwin Gonzalez to return to his role as a roving backup between infield and outfield.
Pitching-wise, the Twins also get Michael Pineda off the restricted/suspended list on Tuesday and should have Jake Odorizzi and possibly Homer Bailey, Cody Stashak and Zack Littell in the not-too-distant future as well.
In the end, any addition would have likely created a roster crunch on what is definitely the most talented 28-man roster in the division. If (most) everyone comes back healthy and the Twins win 35-38 games and the division, this will all be a faded memory.
If the tailspin the team is currently in continues, there will be a ton of finger-pointing back toward Aug. 31 and the team’s inability and/or unwillingness to make additions.
However, the Twins still come into Monday with 94.2 percent odds of making the playoffs according to Fangraphs. In fact, Fangraphs sees the Twins as one of seven likely shoo-ins for the playoffs, with the Tigers (20.9 percent) and Toronto Blue Jays (79.3 percent) duking it out for the final spot.
Again, if the tailspin continues, things can change in a hurry. But if the Twins hold their own against the White Sox and hold serve at home against the Tigers this weekend, things can look up in a relative hurry.
Players out: SP Mike Clevinger, OF Greg Allen, PTBNL
Implications: Cleveland also designated outfielder Domingo Santana for assignment to make room on their roster.
Frankly, this doesn’t change a ton for the Indians, who will install Naylor as their starting left fielder immediately. Naylor — whose brother Bo is a catching prospect in Cleveland’s system — has seen a couple cups of coffee with the San Diego Padres, hitting a respectable .253/.315/.405 in 112 games. He won’t immediately solve Cleveland’s offensive woes in the outfield, but he was Baseball America’s No. 99 prospect heading into last season and is only 23. He’s a good get.
As far as players out, Clevinger is the big name here. He wasn’t pitching particularly well before his COVID-related disciplinary demotion, but he shut down the Twins last Wednesday and should start a game in the very near future for the Padres, who were already baseball’s most fascinating team and have become immeasurably more so in the last 48 hours or so.
But this doesn’t signify Cleveland giving up on the 2020 season — not by a long shot. The Indians will simply re-install Clevinger’s COVID co-conspirator Zach Plesac to their rotation. Plesac pitched fairly well in 2019 and very, very well in three starts this year, giving him a fairly good shot of matching Clevinger production-wise the rest of the way. If Cleveland is going to miss Clevinger, at least in my mind, it’ll be in 2021 and moving forward.
Quantrill is also a good get for the Indians. He’s pitched very well in relief for San Diego this season — 2.60 ERA in 10 appearances (one start) with 18 strikeouts and five unintentional walks in 17.1 innings — but the smart money is on Cleveland moving him back to the rotation at some time in the future. He won’t turn 26 until next February, and didn’t embarrass himself in 18 starts with the Padres as a rookie. Plus, it’s Cleveland — they seem to grow good starters out of thin air.
As far as the rest of the return, the Indians went with quantity over quality. Hedges is a tremendous defensive catcher who hasn’t hit at all in the big leagues (.616 OPS in 1,339 plate appearances). Arias is a 50-grade prospect according to MLB Pipeline who immediately becomes the Indians’ No. 5 prospect. Cantillo also got a 50 grade from MLB Pipeline and is Cleveland’s No. 15 prospect, while Miller slots in 19th as a 45-grade prospect.
Arias was listed as San Diego’s No. 9 prospect prior to the trade, while both Cantillo and Miller were outside the top 10.
This isn’t a bad cadre of players to acquire by any means, but to not get CJ Abrams, Luis Patino, Luis Campusano, Adrian Morejon or Michel Baez is a bit surprising in a deal for a player the caliber of Clevinger.
Chicago White Sox
Players out: OF Jarrod Dyson
Players in: PTBNL
Implications: Just reading between the lines, but this has not been popular among White Sox fans. Adding a starting pitcher would have given the Sox a formidable top three in their rotation with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel. The bullpen has been fairly good (4.07 ERA, 10th in MLB) but not spotless by any means, and could have maybe used a little help.
Adding Dyson gives the Sox a speed element they sorely lacked, as only the Twins have fewer stolen bases (seven) this year than the White Sox (nine) in the AL. Still, Dyson offers almost nothing with the bat and is potentially a good defender, but also 36 and as a result liable to see his play slip at any time, potentially.
The offense for the White Sox has been absolutely brilliant — 121 wRC+ ranks second behind only the Padres — but right field has been a black hole with Nomar Mazara out there. He’ll continue ceding time to Adam Engel as long as he’s hitting fairly well (99 OPS+), but that’s a spot where White Sox fans would have liked to see improvement.
Still, this is a team poised to make some noise in October. Fangraphs has them at 98.1 percent to make the playoffs, and right now they’re tied for first with the Indians.
If their pitching holds up, they’re as good as anyone in this division.
Players out: OF Cameron Maybin
Players in: IF Zack Short
Implications: The reality here is the Tigers are still building for the future, and while their start has been a pleasant surprise, it’s probably not super sustainable. Their offense has been okay (99 wRC+), their starters have been awful (6.78 ERA) and their bullpen hasn’t been very inspiring either (4.40 ERA).
Odds are, they’ll fizzle down the stretch, but they’ve shown enough to think they could be turning the corner in the next year or two. Maybin will most likely be a fourth outfielder down the stretch for the Chicago Cubs, while Short is a 25-year-old who has played a lot of shortstop in the minors and has some pop. He’s hit .241/.377/.405 in the minors, though making contact is in question here. He hit .235/.363/.404 across three levels last season, but struck out 72 times in 259 plate appearances — including a 31.3 percent clip at Triple-A.
Kansas City Royals
Implications: The Royals haven’t seen .500 since they were 2-2, and came into Monday with playoff odds sitting at 2.9 percent. They’ve made some progress by bringing up Brady Singer, but they still have work to do and thus sold off two of their most interesting assets in what’s still a transitional year. It’s a little surprising they didn’t move Danny Duffy, though maybe they weren’t willing to pick up any of his 2021 salary ($15.5 million). The same can be said of Whit Merrifield, though the asking price was rumored to be crazy high.
Olivares has had a tough go of it in 13 games with the Padres this season (42 OPS+), but he’s showed some speed (103 steals in 469 games) and power (52 homers, 93 doubles) in the minors and if nothing else is a lotto ticket in Kansas City’s outfield. Fox is also a lotto ticket, as he was Baseball Prospectus’ No. 79 prospect before enduring a tough 2019 season between Double- and Triple-A, where he hit just .221/.331/.327.
Still, he’s just 23 and was acquired for Phillips, who has seen time in parts of four big-league seasons and has hit just .205/.282/.344. Phillips is a phenomenal defensive outfielder but it remains unclear if he’ll ever make enough contact (35.2 percent strikeout rate in MLB) to make a difference offensively. If he can hit even .250, he could be an asset (9.2 percent walk rate in MLB).