The Chicago White Sox won the American League Central by a comfortable thirteen games in 2021. Cleveland finished second, the Tigers third, followed by Kansas City, and, with a significant gap, the pre-season predicted AL Central champion Minnesota Twins. Projections can be so wrong and fail to take into account injuries and other unforeseen misfortunes any and all teams run into. Looking ahead to 2022 one might be tempted to assume that a comfortable margin like thirteen games could signal a repeat at least at the top of the division. Let us take a look at where the other four teams in the division could wind up and what it means for the Southsiders.
Cleveland Guardians / Indians
While Cleveland finished in second place in the Central, they were never in contention for the title and were trading pieces that did not fit into their future at the deadline. They finished with an 80-82 record. While I have stated in previous articles and will continue to believe Terry Francona will have them competitive again in 2022. Cleveland can pitch and has already exercised their club option on slugger Jose Ramirez for 12 million dollars.
Their starting rotation dealt with some injuries early on in 2021, and a solid bullpen was asked to carry the load for what proved to be too long. Shane Bieber will look to return to his Cy Young form in 2022 and will likely be followed by Aaron Civale, Cal Quantrill, Zach Plesac, and, possibly, Tristan McKenzie. While we know Bieber can be unhittable and is a household name, some of the others may not be. Looking a little deeper, Quantrill had an unbelievable second half. He made 14 starts after the break, finishing up with a 7-1 record and just a 1.94 earned run average winning his last four starts. We could dive deeper into the rotation, but I would be remiss failing to mention their closer, Emmanuel Clase. Clase is outstanding and looks like a mainstay at the back of the Cleveland bullpen for quite some time. Bottom line, I think with a few additions, the Guardians could be competitive again very quickly.
The Detroit Tigers finished the regular season at 77-85. On the surface, the club looks to be years from contending. Looking a little deeper tells a much different story. While Detroit has an aging star in Miguel Cabrera on the books through at least 2023, the Tigers seem to have money to spend. Judging by the signing of veteran starter Eduardo Rodriguez, the front offices intend to do just that. Earlier today, the Tigers inked Rodriguez to a five-year,77 million dollar deal. While one signing could mean everything or nothing, I will lean towards the latter and say the Tigers will keep spending. Detroit might just get the most coveted shortstop on the market, Carlos Correa. Does this do enough to put the Tigers in contention for the AL Central crown? Are these the only moves the Tigers make this offseason? So many questions to be answered and unfortunately, for us die-hard fans, an abundance of time to answer them. I think the Tigers will be a force to be reckoned with sooner rather than later.
Kansas City Royals
While Kansas City has the most recent success in the division measured only by World Series championships, the Royals may not be the closest to winning the next ring from the division. While Kansas City might be a few years away, the club could surprise and compete in 2022. With young starters like Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, and Daniel Lynch, among others, seem poised to compete for a rotation spot in 2022. Kansas City will also be able to call on veterans Mike Minor and Brad Keller in 2022.
The Royals have some decisions to make prior to the start of the 2022 season based on what they think they are going to be. If the Royals believe they will compete for the division in 2022, they should probably sign one or two veteran starters who can eat innings for them when the younger guys inevitably struggle. As it is currently constructed, the bullpen will not be able to support the young starters when they get into trouble. They may try to solve the innings issue at the back end and let the young starters they have battle it out without adding starters.
Even adding a few solid starters or bullpen arms may not be enough to get the Royals into contention in 2022. Bobby Witt would need to come up and play at a high level immediately while other key contributors like Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez will have to have maintain their pace of all-star baseball. The Royals are likely a few years away but could surprise and compete early.
Minnesota seems to be a team stuck in between. While the front office traded away players who could contribute in 2022, the club did receive players in return who could be ready quickly. One example would be the trade made with the Tampa Bay Rays for Nelson Cruz in which they received minor league players Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman who were both playing at the Triple-A level. In another trade, the Twins acquired two Double-A players for their best starter in Jose Berrios. Those players, Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson, could be ready to contribute soon as well. Martin hit .270, and Woods-Richardson seems to have good stuff, although it is yet to be capitalized on boasting an unimpressive 4.21 ERA in 44 starts. I would venture to say if Woods-Richardson finds his way to the big leagues in 2022, things have improved for him drastically or the club is headed in the wrong direction.
With the health of their major star Byron Buxton always in question and Josh Donaldson aging quickly, the Twins are stuck in a tough spot. That being said, if all goes well, meaning Buxton stays healthy, Donaldson finds the fountain of youth, and the young guys acquired recently perform at the big league level when given the opportunity, they could be a sleeping giant. Too much has to go right for the Twins to compete, and by the trade deadline next summer, the Twins will be sellers.
What It Means For The White Sox
What all this adds up to for Chicago is this. Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams, and company did a great job rebuilding this team. While the Sox took another small step this year, they are not a finished product. At least as a fan, I hope not. There are holes on this roster that need addressing and need it in a big way. A Marcus Semien signing could get the team started on the right foot.
But if they only take one swing this off-season, they will again fall short. Picking up Kimbrel’s option and trying to trade him would be the right thing to do. Extending Carlos Rodon a qualifying offer, but only with the ideology of using that saved money to address more team needs (hint hint – an everyday right fielder), would be wise. I loved the year Rodon had in 2021 and was very disappointed in the way it ended for him. Not just as a fan of the team, but for him personally. I have watched him battle his tail off since his debut in 2015, and his body just continues to fail him time after time. I hope they find a way to bring him back, but I just do not see it happening after the year he had. Somebody will take the risk, and they should!
Bottom line, if the Chicago White Sox want to stay atop the AL Central they will have to continue to add and cannot afford to get complacent. Rick Hahn ought to knows this, and time will tell if Jerry Reinsdorf will open the checkbook and let Hahn finish this thing with a parade. If not, you may see Hahn try to be creative and trade away some young key contributors from the 2021 roster to add as needed. Guys like Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets could become trade pieces. No time to look in the rear-view, objects may be closer than they appear!
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