MLB recently declared Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada a free agent (though he is subject to a team's international free agent pool, which means the team that signs him will end up paying far more than just the cost of his bonus/salary, due to taxes on going over the spending limit. Moncada might play almost anywhere on the field (he's spent time at shortstop, second base, and center field during the last couple years). He's put up big numbers at the plate and on the bases. Were he eligible for this June's MLB Draft, there's a good chance he'd be the #1 pick.
Moncada is only 19, so he'll probably spend at least a little time in 2015 in the minors. If he got off to a good start there though, he could be called up by Memorial Day. It's unlikely he'd have quite the same impact Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu had immediately upon their arrival in MLB, but it's not out of the question either. He could make a difference in a hurry.
James Shields is the last of the big free agents still on the market. He's not Max Scherzer or Jon Lester, but he profiles as a very good #2 starter, and can be expected to make a substantial difference for whatever team shells out the $80-100 million it will probably take to sign him.
Two things we know right now:
- Neither of those guys is going to be signed by the Indians.
- The AL Central looks to be a very close race in 2015, with Detroit projected for only one win more than the Tribe at both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs.
With those things in mind, all I find myself really hoping for when it comes to Moncada and Shields is that they don't sign with the Tigers. Detroit lost out on Scherzer (who signed with Washington) and sent Rick Porcello to Boston; their once dominant starting rotation now looks pretty thin at the backend.
They also have some questions marks in the lineup (same as pretty much every team), and a very weak farm system, so they could certainly use a young talent with the versatility to fill in at a number of different positions.
Their payroll right now is right around what it was in 2014, so adding someone big would mean reaching new heights, but they're set to take a lot of money off the books at the end of this season, so they could get back to their recent payroll levels for 2016, even if they add someone big this month.
If Detroit doesn't add anyone of note, the Indians stand a good chance of contending all season and perhaps winning their first AL Central crown since 2007. If Detroit is able to add 3 or 4 expected wins to their tally, the Tribe's odds of making the playoffs will dip sharply.
It's time to root for anyone but Mike Ilitch to take out their checkbook and nab the top two talents on the market.