Division doings: Tigers emerging as challengers for White Sox in AL Central
En route to winning the AL Central for the first time since 2008, the White Sox didn't get much of a fight from the rest of the division last season.
With Tony La Russa back in the dugout, the Sox pulled into first place on May 4 and stayed on top the rest of the way.
The White Sox led by 10 or more games for most of the final two months and were the only team in the Central that finished with a winning record (93-69).
Already big favorites to repeat as division champs in 2022, the Sox have been relatively quiet this offseason.
A lockout is expected when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires Dec. 1, but major league teams have been operating with a "business as usual" mindset.
Here's a look at early changes in the division:
A second baseman and right fielder top their list of needs, and the Sox also need help in the bullpen.
They addressed that issue by reportedly agreeing to a three-year, $24 million contract with right-hander Kendall Graveman.
"Free agency will have certain options to address certain needs and trades will have others," general manager Rick Hahn said. "It's just a matter of how we line them up. If you spend big on one thing via free agency maybe it's best to address the other need in a more cost effective way via trade. Right now it's here are our needs, here are the targets and how do we go about executing on them?"
Nick Castellanos would instantly fill the void in right and Marcus Semien is an obvious fit at second.
Both free agents are going to be expensive adds, so it's likely a situation where the White Sox zero in on one or the other.
To date, the Sox's biggest loss is starting pitcher Carlos Rodon, who is not expected to return after hitting the free-agent market.
They've had a losing record for five straight years, but the Tigers got the White Sox's attention while going 37-34 in the second half under new manager AJ Hinch.
"Detroit did a really good job from 2020 to 2021," Sox starter Dallas Keuchel said. "I was impressed with their competitiveness. A lot of credit goes to AJ Hinch but their players over there are very hungry."
The Tigers have already added two impact players. They signed free-agent starter Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year, $77 million contract and acquired Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart in a trade with the Reds.
If Detroit lands free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa as many expect, this is definitely going to be a team that pushes the Sox next season.
They started slipping in 2020 and the erstwhile Indians dipped to 80-82 last season, their first losing record since 2012.
Cleveland still has a starting rotation that features Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Cal Quantrill, so a return to winning is possible.
The Guardians also picked up star third baseman Jose Ramirez's $12 million club option for next season, a no-brainer.
Cleveland declined catcher Roberto Perez's $7 million option as it keeps a close eye on a diminishing payroll. Sandy Leon was signed to a minor league deal as a possible replacement.
Veteran relief pitchers Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Ervin Santana, Jesse Hahn and Kyle Zimmer are all free agents, so Kansas City is shopping for bullpen help.
A young rotation featuring Brady Singer and Kris Bubic should get better with age and veteran catcher Salvador Perez will help with that process while remaining a terror with the bat.
Nicky Lopez is a great story for the Royals.
The Naperville Central High School product was long viewed as a utility infielder -- solid glove, shaky bat.
Lopez is very skilled at shortstop and second base and he showed he's a legitimate starter by finishing fifth in the American League with a .300 batting average last season.
They went from back-to-back first place finishes to last place in 2021, and Minnesota looks like it's going to be lingering near the bottom of the AL Central for the foreseeable future.
The starting rotation is a major mess and the Twins' bullpen isn't much better.
Even without Nelson Cruz, who was traded to Tampa Bay last July, there's still enough offense to help counterbalance the pitching woes. But Minnesota needs to add a shortstop to replace Andrelton Simmons, who hit the free-agent market after one forgettable season with the Twins.