MLB Free Agency Has Proven the AL Central is Wide Open

The Tigers and Royals have been aggressive in free agency so far this winter, as the AL Central is one of MLB's most wide-open divisions.

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 21: Bobby Witt Jr. #7 celebrates a home run with MJ Melendez #1 of the Kansas City Royals during the game between the Kansas City Royals and the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

It’s no shock to anyone that the AL Central is once again going to be considered the weakest division in baseball heading into 2024. No team from the division has had recent playoff sucess and the second-place team in the division hasn’t been above .500 in the past three years.

The White Sox, Guardians, and Twins have each taken a turn winning the division with a strong year in each of the past three seasons but none have been able to sustain success.

While Minnesota ran away with the division in 2023, after disappointing seasons in Cleveland and Chicago, they may not have as easy of a path this coming season.

Minnesota has had an underwhelming offseason so far as they’ve watched ace Sonny Gray sign with the Cardinals and Tyler Mahle join the Rangers. They in turn have yet to make a move of substance and they have a few key holes still in order to simply return to the level of their 2023 roster, nonetheless improve in hopes of contention.

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Pitcher Kenta Maeda and solid contributors Michael A. Taylor, Joey Gallo, and Donovan Solano are all free agents as well. The Twins need to figure out the rotation first and foremost and then figure out how to replace or bring back offensive pieces. With Byron Buxton taking on primarily a designated hitter role last season, the hole is center field is glaring.

While they’re more experineced and look stronger as a team right now, the Twins have holes and other teams in this division are attacking the offseason. In order to remain the clear favorite in the division, Minnesota needs to add at least two pitchers in addition to an outfielder.

Many expected the Guardians and White Sox to be in mix last season, but it was the Detroit Tigers that finished in second place and took a big step forward. Their season flew under the radar with the Twins walking away with the division but the Tigers set themselves up to compete soon.

With a rising core of young position players led by Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, and others, the Tigers entered this offseason ready to attack the pitching market. While they may not be in play for a huge name, they have already added Kenta Maeda (from the rival Twins) and Jack Flaherty on short-term deals to try improve their rotation.

They brought in veteran Mark Cahna to provide some added pop to their lineup and helped the back end of their bullpen by reuniting with left-handed veteran Andrew Chafin. Detroit has been active and they might not be done just yet.

With an obvious hole at third base still, the Tigers have come up recently on the Just Baseball Show as a potential landing spot for former Tiger and current Ray Isaac Paredes. Whether it be him or someone else, keep an eye out for them to make a move to further bolster their offense through that premium positon.

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The Tigers are in position to at least push the Twins and make a legit run at this division. If they’re able to add another arm and/or a starting third baseman, watch out for this team.

Cleveland watched just about their entire roster from 2022 regress last season as they fell to third in the division and rumors of them trading ace Shane Bieber began. Whether or not Cleveland moves on from Bieber or not, they face a similar question once again this winter: How can they improve the offense?

The Guardians have some of the best young pitching depth in baseball with rookies Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams showing plenty of promise last year and Triston McKenzie looking to return in healthy form next season. They have others waiting in the wings as well as they’re expected to be alright on the pitching side.

They absolutely need to address the offense especially in the outfield as both center field and right field were positions with poor production. They acquired Kyle Manzardo at the deadline who will provide some pop as a first base and designated hitter alongside Josh Naylor, but the offense is lacking what it needs to be a playoff contender.

While not far away from being able to contend in a weak division, the Guardians have moves to make and they’ve got to.

Entering the offseason, it felt like the White Sox and Royals were set to fade into the background with Chicago retooling with an aim on 2025 and the Royals continuing to stay the course with their rebuild. The White Sox have done just that, but Kansas City has come out firing as one of the most aggressive teams in free agency.

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They have made a variety of signings headlined by deals with veteran starters Michael Wacha and Seth Lugo. Both pitched for the Padres last season and were more reliable than any pitcher on the Royals last season. They both slot into rotation and instantly make the Royals at the least formidable from a starting pitcher perspective. They also added Kyle Wright from the Braves who will miss the 2024 season but could be a solid controllable starter in the future.

They signed Hunter Renfroe and utilityman Garrett Hampson to help bolster their young offense as well. Renfroe joins a top of the order led by rising superstars Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino. The Royals weren’t done yet as they seriously improved the back of the bullpen with signings of Will Smith (World Series 2024???) and Chris Stratton.

Kansas City has been the most active team in the division and they’re not ready to win a World Series but they’re proving to be serious about taking a step forward. This team is at the very least going to be noticeably more competitive than they were last season, which will allow their young core to grow. Alright Royals, let’s see what you got.

This may not be the best division, it’s still the worst frankly, but it’s getting a whole lot more interesting with the Tigers and Royals ready to take a step forward after being at the bottom of the division in the past few years.

I can envision a world where the Tigers or Royals make a push in this division which means that the Twins and Guardians evidently have work to do over the next couple months.

Hopefully the AL Central will remain competitive into the final weeks of the season unlike the past three seasons. Only time will tell.

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