Busy Deadline Keeps AL Central Up in the Air

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IAugust 1, 2009

NEW YORK - JULY 01:  Jarrod Washburn #56 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the New York Yankees on July 1, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The AL Central is a notoriously difficult division to handicap, and today's trade deadline deals haven't clarified the picture much at all.

We know two teams are out: the Indians and the Royals. The Royals actually weakened their team by trading for Yuniesky Betancourt, who is currently posting a -20 OPS+, which is especially impressive considering 100 is average.

The Indians traded two of their three best players for questionable returns. The Cliff Lee deal was the stronger of the two, but regardless of how you feel about them, these weren't deals that made them strong right now.

The other three teams in the division all added pieces for this season, meaning all three feel that they've got the players to win now. Posted below each team is the change in VORP they will see from these moves. VORP only calculates what each player has done, it isn't proscriptive at this point.

Still, a player who is worth 2-3 wins now isn't likely to regress to a 1/2 win player for the rest of the season.

Detroit Tigers

Detroit added Jarrod Washburn, codenamed Plan C due to his status as the best non-Lee, non-Halladay pitcher available, but that doesn't mean he'll be an inconsequential add. Washburn is posting the seventh best ERA in baseball this season, 2.68, and a WHIP of 1.07. The man he'll replace in the rotation, Luke French, was fine as a fifth starter, but Washburn is an improvement without question.

His velocity is up to nearly 2006 levels and his off-speed pitches are as good as ever. In a rotation with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson he'll be even better; the soft-tosser to their power. If the Tigers can claim this division, they'll enter the playoffs with probably the best three-man rotation in the AL.

The addition of Washburn also renders Jeremy Bonderman's return moot. Not that he can't be a productive piece down the stretch, but if he doesn't seem to be back at full velocity, the Tigers could move him to the 'pen or find somewhere else to stash him for the time being.

Change in VORP from Luke French to Washburn: 37.5

Minnesota Twins

The Twins moved Low-A shortstop Tyler Ladendorf to the A's for Orlando Cabrera, a deal which will allow them to drop Alexi Casilla (-11.4 VORP) to Triple-A and push Nick Punto (-6.5 VORP) into a platoon with Brendan Harris (2.7 VORP).

Cabrera blames his weak start on the cold and rainy weather in Oakland, something that won't remotely be a factor in the 74 degree paradise that is the Metrodome. Ideally, he'd continue his strong July at the dish and improve his career low UZR, but that's something that will be hard to project.

The Twins probably needed to add pitching more than they did a middle infielder, but if Cabrera can help solidify an offense that has been inconsistent at best, then his addition will be worthwhile.

Maximum change in VORP: 29.0

Likely change: 22.5

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox made the most curious move of the day, bringing in long time trade target Jake Peavy in exchange for Aaron Poreda, Clayton Richard, and two other minor league arms.

Conventional logic says that Peavy is the most talented player acquired by any of the AL central teams today, but between Washburn's success so far this year, Peavy's move to a better division in a more difficult league, and a much more hitter friendly park therein, that may not be true.

Irrespective, Peavy steps in as the ace of their staff and he puts the Sox in a position not wholly unlike that of the Mets; both teams will hope to hold on until their injured stars come off the DL. Unlike the Mets, the White Sox have a chance of actually doing it.

Still, Peavy won't be a player in this race until mid-August at the very earliest, and it's more likely that he'll be back closer to September. If the Sox can hang with the Twins and Tigers until Peavy gets back, they'll be a hard team to keep out of the playoffs down the stretch.

Losing Richard is a bigger deal in the short-term, given Colon's injury and Contreras' intermittent effectiveness. Still, with Buehrle, Danks, and Floyd leading the charge, the Sox should have enough pitching to wait for Peavy to be healthy. This is a three or four year investment, not a six month rental, and the Sox simply cannot afford to have Peavy come back at less than 100 percent; they must be patient with the rehab process.

Change in VORP: 1.8

At first blush, it's hard to see anyone but the Tigers as the winner because they added a four win player. However, like the Twins, they didn't address their most pressing need and that may be a fatal flaw.

None of the three players added completed a team missing just one piece. Each will help his team, but the question is how much.

Many issues still hover around each of these teams, and while everyone got better, everyone is still trying to put it all together.

For my part, I tend to think that the Tigers made the best moves in the short term, but that a strong conclusion to the season for Orlando Cabrera could do the Twins a world of good. They gave up the least to get their prize, meaning they well could be the winners in the end.

As much as the Sox made this deal for this year, they didn't. If Peavy was a one-year piece, the deal would be an abomination; too much given up for too heavy a risk. However, while Peavy will improve the Sox this season, he makes them much better next season, so their grade, even if he comes back in September, will remain incomplete.


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