Taking a look at each AL Central club’s most intriguing non-tender/free agent

The MLB non-tender deadline has passed, which should make the upcoming MLB Winter Meetings all that more interesting, especially with so many quality free agents available. Due to financial losses from COVID, it was evident that MLB clubs were more frugal than in seasons past, and were less willing to give expensive contracts to arbitration-eligible players. Even the Royals, a club that had been more generous over the past year when it came to playing Minor League players and club employees during the break, had to make some tough decisions, highlighted by their non-tender of third baseman Maikel Franco, who had a surprisingly effective season in 2020.

However, even though many players across the league are now surprisingly free agents, it is likely that there will be a lot of competition on the market for these available players, especially since teams may be able to get them at a cheaper rate than in years past. The American League Central especially saw a lot of movement, as every team in the division parted ways with a key player whom they may have tendered a contract in a non-pandemic off-season.

Thus, let’s take a look at one key player from each club in the AL Central who was non-tendered or allowed to hit free agency this Winter, and whether or not they would be a good fit on this Kansas City Royals team in 2021.

Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon, LHP

Outfielder Nomar Marzara was also non-tendered, and could actually be a possibility in Kansas City (though I do think he’s one of the more overrated players available). However, Rodon may be one of the most high-profile players to be non-tendered at the deadline, as he was the third overall pick in the 2014 draft and commanded a $6.25 million signing bonus, which was the highest bonus awarded to any player in that draft. He actually went a pick ahead of Kyle Schwarber, who also was non-tendered at the deadline by the Cubs, but Rodon’s signing bonus was nearly $3 million more than the former Cubs outfielder.

Rodon made his debut in 2015, and posted a 9-6 record and 3.75 ERA in 23 starts and 139.1 IP that season. While he accumulated a 1.7 WAR, he did struggle with command, as he posted a 1.96 K/BB ratio, according to Fangraphs. However, in 2016, Rodon improved his command slightly, as he increased his strikeout rate and lowered his walk rate, which helped him produce a K/BB ratio of 3.11 in 28 starts and 165 IP. However, while he displayed better control of the strike zone, he did give up the long ball more, as his HR/9 rate increased from 9.8 in 2015 to 2016, respectively. This produce an increase in ERA (4.04), but he did accumulate a higher WAR (2.7) mostly due to him pitching 26 more innings and making five more starts in 2016.

However, after 2016, things haven’t gone right for Rodon, as he has struggled to stay healthy. He only made 12 starts in 2017, and his walk rate rose from 2.95 to 4.02. In 2018, he was able to finish the year strong after starting the season on the 60-day injured list. He ended up making 20 starts and accumulated 120.2 innings, and ended up posting a 4.18 ERA and accumulating a 0.9 WAR, completely serviceable considering he had just recovered from injury. Unfortunately, he has only made 11 appearances and accumulated 42.1 IP in 2019 and 2020, due to Tommy John surgery he received in the middle of 2019. And thus, with other rotation options such as Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, and Michael Kopech, who is expected to return after sitting out 2020 due to COVID, it made sense for the White Sox to part ways with their former top pick.

Does Rodon make sense for the Royals?

As of now, Rodon doesn’t seem worth acquiring. The strength of the Royals system is pitching, and the Royals already picked up Mike Minor, who fills out the rotation currently. If the Royals had not acquired Minor, Rodon would be an interesting one-year flier, who could perhaps offer some trade value if he could stay healthy and bounce back to his 2018 levels. However, with Minor recently acquired, Rodon would only block a pitching prospects like Daniely Lynch, Jackson Kowar, or Asa Lacy, which would be counterproductive to what they are trying to do in this rebuilding process.

Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Indians: Tyler Naquin, OF

The 15th overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Texas A&M, Naquin started out his career in Cleveland strong. As a rookie in 2016, he posted a .296/.372/.514 slash, wRC+ of 133, and a WAR of 2.1 in 116 games and 365 plate appearances, according to Fangraphs. However, while his slash and 14 home runs and 52 runs scored were impressive, Naquin also flashed some flaws, as his his strikeout rate was 30.7 percent and his BABIP was .411, both higher than average. And thus, there was some worry that some regression was in store when he began his sophomore season.

However, Naquin was injured in 2017 and only played in 19 total games in Cleveland (he mostly rehabbed in Triple-A Columbus). In 2018 and 2019, he only played in 61 and 89 games, and respectively. He posted a 71 wRC+ in 2018 and 101 wRC+ in 2019, but he did hit 10 home runs in 2019, and his K rate was only 22.4 percent, which at the time was a career low. Unfortunately, despite showing promise in 2019, Naquin took a step back in 2020, as his K rate rose to 28.4 and his wRC+ fell to 62, his lowest mark since his 19-game sample in 2017. And thus, with Naquin on the verge of turning 30, and the Indians seemingly in rebuilding mode, it made sense for Cleveland to not offer him a contract at the deadline.

Does Naquin make sense for the Royals?

If the Royals can get Naquin on a one-year, $1-1.5 million per year deal, then Naquin could be a sleeper candidate in the Kansas City outfield in 2021. In 2019, he saved 6.1 Defensive runs, according to Fangraphs, and his .288/.325/.467 slash that year shows that Naquin isn’t that far removed from being a 2-3 WAR player at the MLB level (he posted a 1.5 WAR in 2019). Furthermore, this comparison of Naquin’s metric to Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benitendi’s should make Royals fans more open to a possible Naquin acquisition:

It’s likely that Naquin will have suitors this Winter, and I don’t imagine the Royals will jump on Naquin super quickly. But if he stays on the free agent market for a while, and if the Royals make no major offensive moves, then it would not be surprising to see Moore pull the trigger on the former Indians outfielder.

Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Detroit Tigers: Jonathan Schoop, 2B/IF

Somehow, the Tigers tendered contracts to all their arbitration eligible players, as reported by Detroit Tigers MLB.com beat writer Jason Beck:

The Tigers moves made sense: they have a lot of payroll to burn, and all those players listed still have some upside for a club that is still clearly rebuilding (they have finished in last place in the Central the past two seasons). However, even though he wasn’t an arbitration-eligible player, the Tigers did part ways with Jonathan Schoop, who posted a 114 wRC+ and 1.4 WAR in 44 games in his lone season in Detroit, according to Fangraphs. Even though Schoop missed the last 16 games of the season due to a wrist injury, 2020 was his best season since 2017 in Baltimore, where he posted 120 wRC+ and 3.7 WAR as the Orioles’ regular second baseman.

Schoop is no stranger to the AL Central, as he played in 2019 in Minnesota and posted a 1.3 WAR in 121 games. However, many figured Schoop was near the end of his career as a productive infielder, as the Twins parted ways with the Dutch infielder, even though he was a regular on a Twins team that won the AL Central easily two seasons ago. Thankfully for Schoop, the move east to Michigan ended up being a blessing, as he not only found his hitting stroke again, but his defense also improved, as he saved 3.0 runs defensively in 2020 as the Tigers’ second baseman, and was nominated for a Gold Glove as well.

Does Schoop make sense for the Royals?

Schoop has just turned to 29, which is crazy to think because it feels like he has been in the league forever. However, even though Schoop may be a bargain at the keystone position, he would not be a fit on this Royals roster. Even if the Royals feel that Nicky Lopez is not the answer at second, it seems likely that Moore and manager Mike Matheny would move Whit Merrifield back to second rather than acquire a free agent middle infielder. However, it seemed like Hunter Dozier was the answer at third in 2019, and Moore acquired Maikel Franco last Winter, which shifted Dozier off of the hot corner (though with Franco’s release, Dozier could return). Thus, while one cannot rule out the possibility of the Royals acquiring Schoop, it doesn’t seem beneficial for the Royals to bring him to Kansas City, even on a one-year deal.

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Minnesota Twins: Eddie Rosario, OF

Without a doubt, Rosario was the most surprising non-tender decision in the Central division, even though it seems like it is a much-welcomed move from Twins fans. Yes, his career OBP is .310. And yes, his defense leaves a lot to be desired in the outfield, as he cost the Twins 11.7 runs defensively, according to Fangraphs metrics. However, when looking at his advanced statcast data below, it’s hard to imagine this Twins team being better in 2021 without Rosario:

Without a doubt, Rosario is a bit of a hacker, and he is pretty much an offensive-only player at this point in his career. However, he’s been a model of consistency offensively the past four seasons in Minnesota, as he has averaged a .213 ISO and 111 wRC+ from 2017-2020. Safe to say, a lot of clubs would welcome that kind of hitting proficiency, and it is likely that the recently-turned 29-year-old Rosario will be a hot commodity and topic this off-season, especially during the Winter Meetings.

Does Rosario make sense for the Royals?

Yes. Absolutely yes. Make no mistake: Rosario would be a one-year option for the Royals. The whole point of the acquisition would be to get Rosario on a decent deal, watch him rake, and flip him at the deadline in an attempt to get a decent prospect return. Unlike Franco, Rosario is a proven commodity, and it is likely that Moore would get a satisfactory return in 2021 should the Royals convince Rosario to bring his bat to the City of Fountains. Furthermore, unlike Twins fans, who seem pessimistic about Rosario’s outlook in 2021 and beyond, Royals fans appear to be a bit more optimistic:

Rosario is one of the most enticing free agents available from the wave of non-tender deadline decisions. He will probably only sign on a one-to-two year deal, and will probably only get around $6-9 million per year, which is not really all that demanding for a club, even in this COVID-affected economy. Rosario would make sense for Kansas City in left field, and not only would he fill in for Franco’s spot in the middle of the order in 2021, but he would surpass Franco’s expected production exponentially.

It won’t be an easy battle for Rosario. But if Moore has a shot to do it, he should seriously consider it, especially if he can get Rosario in the $8-9 million range for one season.

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