Tigers' division rivals making major moves at winter meetings

Indians, White Sox make early improvements

(AP Photo/Ben Margot/Kathy Williams)

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The first day of the winter meetings have come and gone with little noise from many of the biggest free agent names like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. Many of the most active general managers, like Detroit's Dave Dombrowski, took a patient approach to the early stages of the meetings, either satisfied with their current rosters or waiting for the right match to emerge.

But two teams wasted little time making a splash over the event's first 24 hours, which might make Detroit's quest for a fifth straight Central Division title the most difficult of them all.

Surprisingly, the Cleveland Indians kicked off the transaction blitz by sending 2B prospect Joey Wendle to the Oakland A's for slugging 1B Brandon Moss.

Nick Swisher provided the Indians little production offensively from the 1B position last season, hitting .208 with eight home runs and 42 RBI. The lifetime .251 hitter posted career lows in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, walks, RBI, home runs, runs scored and hits and played in just 97 games.

Read: Detroit Tigers winter meetings shopping list

To fill the void in his lineup, Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti acquired Moss, who mashed 25 home runs and drove in 81 while batting .234 in 2014. Moss crushed 76 homers over the past three seasons. The lefty does come with a catch -- he struck out 153 times last season and 140 times the year before. But, as with any power hitter, the Indians will accept the whiffs to add valuable power to their lineup.

Now Cleveland adds a dangerous lineup to a starting rotation led by Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and young studs Carlos Carrasco and T.J. House.

Here's a look at Cleveland's potential lineup with the addition of Moss:
CF Michael Bourn
2B Jason Kipnis
LF Michael Brantley
1B Brandon Moss
DH Carlos Santana
C Yan Gomes
RF David Murphy
3B Lonnie Chisenhall
SS Jose Ramirez

According to WAR, Moss was worth nearly four more wins than Swisher last season, which would have given the Indians an 89-73 record (one game behind the Tigers). If Cleveland's young rotation continues to improve, it could be a very dangerous contender in the AL Central next season.

Less than a day later, the Chicago White Sox made two enormous moves to put them immediately in the AL Central conversation. Kenny Williams announced the acquisition of starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija from the A's and the free agent signing of closer David Robertson early Tuesday morning.

Samardzija is one of the best young pitchers in baseball and posted a 2.99 ERA to go with 202 strikeouts in 33 starts last season. The righty will fit between ace Chris Sale and workhorse Jose Quintana in Chicago's quickly-improving rotation.

Robertson, on the other hand, will anchor the White Sox bullpen. He posted a 3.08 ERA en route to saving 39 games last year for the Yankees and owns a career ERA of 2.81 in 402 appearances.

Chicago ranked 13th in the AL in team ERA last season and finished 17 games behind Detroit in the final standings. But these two moves by Williams will vastly improve the White Sox pitching and put them back in the AL Central discussion.

The rest of the Central: Defending American League champion Kansas City has signed relief pitcher Jason Frasor and Luke Hochevar over the past few weeks, while the Twins made a mini splash by bringing back Torii Hunter.

Detroit has won the AL Central for four straight seasons, but the rest of the division is quickly gaining ground. After running away with the crown by 15 games in 2011, the Tigers have won the Central by a combined four games over the past three seasons.