We know what's seemingly going on with the Cleveland Guardians, but what about their divisional rivals? What are they up to? Is there an opportunity for the Guards to pounce and reclaim the division in 2024?
These are the kind of answers we hope to scratch the surface of here today, as we check in on what is up with the dystopian wasteland that is the American League Central.
The State of the AL Central: Does Anyone Want to Win This Division in 2024?
The Kansas City Royals
The club is said to have been starting talks with Bobby Witt Jr. on a contract extension. Longtime fixture Zack Greinke is (finally) mulling retirement; pitching also appears to be the primary focus of the clubs' offseason agenda. It also seems like there is more talk surrounding their potential relocation to downtown Kansas City to get a new ballpark. Again, this is a team that finished 2023 with 56 wins, so there's not much to expect from them in 2024.
The Motor City Kitties actually finished ahead of the Guardians last season, and 2024 will be the first time in 17 years in which Miguel Cabrera won't be on their roster. But rest assured, shortstop Javier Báez decided to take up the mantle and become the team's new contractual albatross as he exercised his four-year option to remain in Detroit. The club did swing a trade for outfielder Mark Cahna (who would have looked great in Cleveland), but they will look to add veteran arms as Eduardo Rodriguez is now a free agent.
The big news out of the Twin Cities is that the Twins "anticipate scaling back player payroll this offseason." Sonny Gray, Joey Gallo, and Kenta Maeda are all free agents this offseason, and they have been rumored to be considering moving Jorge Polanco as well. With all the moving parts, could the reigning divisional champs take a step back? It sure seems possible. The club does have some exceptional everyday players, but injuries have continued to hit them hard; hopefully their 2023 results were an aberration, for the Guardians' sake at least.
Chicago White Sox
Just as the Twins intend to scale back on their payroll, so do the White Sox. After finishing the 2023 season with more than 100 losses, the club has a ton of questions to answer, and a rebuild appears to be on the horizon as Mike Clevinger, Liam Hendriks, Yasmani Grandal, and Elvis Andrus are all free agents. José Ramírez's sparring buddy Tim Anderson is also out. Rumors of trading Dylan Cease have also begun to emerge. The White Sox do have some exciting young positional players, but don't appear to be much of a threat in 2024.
With the Twins and White Sox not looking to increase spending, it could be opportunistic timing for the Guardians to fill some holes this offseason and go for the divisional title. Though the recent news of Bally Sports potentially dropping the Guardians will likely have a ripple effect on the club's free-agent spending. I'm not saying they won't spend, but it probably won't be on any top-tier free agents. Look for potential deals for guys like Randal Grichuk or Hunter Renfroe.
The 2023 season saw the Guardians take a step back. However, if a series of events goes right - one or two of the highly touted prospects pan out (think Kyle Manzardo, Chase DeLauter, Brayan Rocchio, and George Valera) and can contribute meaningfully, coupled with bounce-back years from others, and if the team can make two or three additions - then there really isn't any excuse for them not to compete for the AL Central. If this past season taught us anything, it was that anything can happen once you make the playoffs, and that needs to be the goal year-in and year-out.