AL CENTRAL: Buy, Sell, Or Drink?

Cleveland has a problem. They struggle to win ballgames against opponents they should destroy. Consider that they have five players hitting better than .290 and on the mound, Bauer, Kluber and Clevinger, three of the best starting pitchers in the bigs.

The problem? The bullpen. Of the six relievers with the most appearances, two have an earned run average under 3.40 and the other four all over 5.50. That’s a problem. Fortunately, the Indians recognized this and turned former starter Oliver Perez into a lefty buzzsaw out of the bullpen. He’s a guy with a 4.43 career ERA primarily as a starter but has an ERA under 1.0 as a lefty specialist.

But they need more. They’ve already used Neil Ramirez in about half of their games and they can’t count on Andrew Miller who is now on the disabled list. Fortunately, pitchers with expiring contracts are out there. Cleveland has enough offense and starting pitching to win the whole thing but they’ll need more help from the bullpen to get through Boston or New York or Houston. BUY

What does the rest of the division do? Sell. The question is, “How much?”

Detroit’s Nicholas Castellanos is the kind of player who will be very attractive come the trade deadline: outfielder, 25-plus home run power and he’s hitting above .300. Perfect time to trade him for offensive talent to a team that is convinced it is one player away. And if they can get more offensive talent for pitcher Matthew Boyd, then that leaves a rotation that may not look like much now, but has some real upside. SELL with hope.

I love Minnesota’s fondness for Joe Mauer and his fondness for his home state, but he’s a first baseman who has two home runs. Two! They have the two Eddies: Rosario and Escobar who are two good pretty good pieces of a puzzle and there are a lot of pretty good middle relievers in the bullpen. That’s not enough to build on. Anybody in the pipeline to put on the mound? Might as well bring em up now. SELL with hope.

Chicago also has middle relievers to offer and maybe starter Reynaldo Lopez, who has been the beneficiary of some good fortune when you consider his walks and hits per inning is 1.30 and his ERA is 3.68. Jose Abreu is having a below-average year. He might be on the way out. The good news? There are a lot of guys on this team 27 or younger who are having pretty good success in their first full-time cracks at the majors. So SELL, but sell wisely and buy starting pitching. This could be a team that surprises some people next year.

Kansas City? Kansas City already sold one piece. John Jay is now in Arizona. But Whit Merrifield is still there. And so is Mike Moustakas. And so is…um…that’s it. On the mound? Another pretty decent bullpen. Kelvin Herrera is gone. But just one starting pitcher, Brad Keller with an ERA under 5.0. So, the sale has begun and, if starting pitching is the goal, the turnaround could be sooner rather than later. But, make no mistake. This one could take awhile. So, might as well crack open a stout and relax.

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