(*) PT TOMORROW: AL Central - Potential Polanco deal could open up at-bats

Minnesota Twins

Edouard Julien (2B, MIN) had a nice debut in 2023, when he recorded a .263/.381/.459 line with 16 HR in 408 PA. As shown by his 62% ct%, there are some holes in his swing, and he's unlikely to deliver a BA repeat if he doesn't make more contact. A 38% h% helped drive Julien's BA, and neither that mark nor his 31% HR/F look sustainable.

Julien will probably take a step back in his production on a per plate appearance basis but could still provide solid value if he gets regular playing time. As it stands now, he could see a fair amount of action at the DH spot, where he made 23 appearances last season, as well as some time at first and second, but a trade could potentially make his path to everyday at-bats a little more clear. 

Last season, Jorge Polanco (2B, MIN) saw some time at third base after returning from injury, and he could see some action there again if Royce Lewis (3B, MIN) is sidelined or needs a rest. But with Polanco, Lewis, and Alex Kirilloff (1B, MIN) all healthy, there is a bit of a logjam in the infield. Rumors of a Polanco trade have been swirling in recent weeks, and such a move could help sort things out and also free up some money to potentially add pitching. 

One other player who could benefit from a Polanco deal is Kyle Farmer (3B, MIN). He continued to be useful in a utility role in 2023, when he played 40-plus games at three different spots (2B/SS/3B). The 33-year-old hit .256 with 11 HR across 369 PA, so while he clearly lacks upside, a respectable BA and multi-positional eligibility give him some deep league appeal, especially if Polanco is dealt.


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Chicago White Sox

The team took a big step back for the second year in a row, finishing with an ugly 61-101 record that was the fourth-worst mark in all of baseball. The bullpen ranked in the bottom five in both ERA and BB% in 2023, so that is an area that will surely need to be addressed prior to Opening Day. 

Gregory Santos (RHP, CHW) recorded a 3.39 ERA in 2023 and tallied five saves during the second half of the season before being shut down in September with elbow inflammation. According to beat writer Scott Merkin, Santos has had positive medical reports and is aiming to be ready for the start of the season, though he may not be at 100 percent when spring training begins. 

If healthy, Santos looks like the leading candidate for saves as things stand now. Both Bryan Shaw, who collected four saves in 2023, and Liam Hendriks are free agents, and the team has no other obvious in-house candidates to handle 9th-inning duties. 

With the team unlikely to contend in 2024 and perhaps even looking to sell players such as Dylan Cease (RHP, CHW), it seems unlikely the team will spend big money on a reliever. Look for them to make a low-cost addition or two prior to the start of the season. but Santos and his post-400 Draft Champions ADP looks like a nice gamble, albeit one with a floor of zero IP should the elbow issue linger.

 

Cleveland Guardians

It has been a quiet off-season in Cleveland to this point. It remains to be seen if they are involved in any major trades such as a Shane Bieber (RHP, CLE) deal, but some moves will surely go down leading up to the season.

One position that could be addressed in the coming weeks is shortstop. Brayan Rocchio (SS, CLE) and Gabriel Arias (SS, CLE) are the likeliest in-house candidates to hold down the position, though neither project to be above average hitters.

Rocchio struggled during his brief time in the majors in 2023, when he slashed .247/.279/.321 with no homers or steals across 86 PA. He had a solid year at Triple-A, though, where he hit .280 with an 86% ct% and 25 SB in 537 PA. Rocchio's minor league track record suggests he'll cut down on the strikeouts and he could be a sneaky speed source if he earns a regular role.

As for Arias, he struggled as well in his first extended look in the bigs, as he put up a .210/.275/.352 line in 345 PA. Over the past two seasons at Triple-A, he has registered a .768 OPS, 26 HR, and 10 SB over 806 PA. Arias made double-digit appearances at four different positions for the Guardians in 2023 and could again fill a utility role if he doesn't lock down shortstop.

José Tena (SS, CLE) is another player who could work his way into the mix at some point this season. He saw some big-league action late in 2023 but failed to impress, with a .584 OPS and 58% ct% in his small sample. Tena has accumulated less than 100 PA at the Triple-A level, and will likely need more seasoning before getting an extended look in the majors.

 

Detroit Tigers

The team made one addition to the rotation in signing free agent Kenta Maeda (RHP, DET), but there's a good chance they'll add another starting pitcher before all is said and done. Maeda and Tarik Skubal (LHP, DET) give the team a couple of solid arms at the top of the rotation, but both have a lengthy injury history and can't be counted on take the mound 30-plus times.

As it stands now, the last three spots are probably held by Matt Manning (RHP, DET), Reese Olson (RHP, DET), and Casey Mize (RHP, DET), all of whom have some questions of their own. Manning recorded a solid 3.07 ERA across his final 11 starts but a peek under the hood shows he wasn't exactly deserving of such a strong mark. During that time the 25-year-old posted a 4.72 xERA and 16% K% while averaging just 75 pitches per start.

Mize, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, hasn't pitched since April of 2022. He has been throwing bullpen sessions and is expected to be ready for spring training, but adding another starter could allow him to be eased back in, or would at least give them some much-needed insurance.

The organization does have some help on the way in the upper minors, including Jackson Jobe (RHP, DET), Wilmer Flores (RHP, DET), and Ty Madden (RHP, DET), who ranked as their top three pitching prospects heading into last year. But the trio has combined for just one start at Triple-A so don't expect any of them to open the season in Detroit. 

 

Kansas City Royals

The team didn't get much out of a starting rotation that ranked bottom four in both ERA and K% during the 2023 season. Cole Ragans (LHP, KC) showed some promising signs late last season and is locked into a spot, while Brady Singer (RHP, KC) is a good bet to rebound and remain in the rotation as well.

Jordan Lyles (RHP, KC) is still signed on for one more season and will likely open the season in the rotation, but after he posted a 6.28 ERA across 31 starts a season ago, his hold on a starting spot is probably fairly tenuous. Daniel Lynch (LHP, KC) is currently penciled in as well but he's far from a sure thing after posting a 5.36 xERA and 15% K% over his nine starts a season ago. 

There aren't any obvious candidates knocking at the door to the majors either, as hurlers such as Alec Marsh (RHP, KC) and Jon Heasley (RHP, KC) have failed to produce, and others such as Chandler Champlain (RHP, KC) and Jonathan Bowlan (RHP, KC) are in need of more minor league seasoning. 

As for the bullpen, James McArthur (RHP, KC) locked down four saves over the final month of the 2023 season reeled off 12 straight scoreless appearances to close out the season, with a stellar 19:0 K:BB during that time. However, he's unproven and has a history of control issues so he can't be counted on to have a firm grasp on the closer role heading into spring, especially with Will Smith (LHP KC) now with the team. Smith posted a 6.26 ERA across 30 second half appearances last season, but closed out 22 games, and his experience probably gives him the upper hand on the role.

Carlos Hernández (RHP, KC)  could also factor into the mix, though he registered a pedestrian 5.27 ERA and 4.50 xERA a season ago, and has a double-digit BB% in each of the past three seasons. A more intriguing name is Nick Anderson (RHP, KC), who was acquired in a November trade with Atlanta. He has a lengthy injury history but had a 3.06 ERA when a shoulder strain ended his 2023 season in July, albeit with a 26% K% that was well down from 2019-20 levels. 

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