Home MLB MLB offseason so far: NL Central

MLB offseason so far: NL Central

by Matt Smith

After looking at the offseason moves made so far by the teams in the NL West division, we now turn our attention to the NL Central.

Milwaukee Brewers

Fans of the Brewers haven’t yet been subjected to the sight of Prince Fielder being paraded in another team’s uniform, leaving open the slim possibility that he might return rather than leave as a free agent.  It still seems likely that he won’t be back with the Brewers and the team could be facing a devastating double blow if Ryan Braun’s appeal against a positive drug test fails and he receives a 50 game ban.

The Brewers have revamped the left side of their infield by signing ex-Cub Aramis Ramirez and ex-Brave Alex Gonzalez and, subject to them trading him away, are bringing back reliever Francisco Rodriguez after he accepted their offer of arbitration.  Milwaukee are intent on making another strong playoff push in 2012, particularly with starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum eligible to be free agents at the end of the season, and if the losses of Fielder and Braun (albeit just a temporary loss in the latter’s case) are confirmed then the Brewers may look to bring in another bat to strengthen the lineup before Opening Day.

St. Louis Cardinals

Unlike the Brewers, Cardinals fans have already seen their first base hero smiling at another team’s press conference. Albert Pujols has joined the Los Angeles Angels and his absence, both of his potent bat and his presence as the superstar leader of the team, will be keenly felt in 2012. Veteran manager Tony La Russa has also retired, being replaced by rookie manager Mike Matheny, making this the beginning of a new era in St. Louis.

Such losses are slightly easier to cope with when you are basking in the glow of a World Series triumph.  The Cardinals have also rapidly moved to replace part of Pujols’ offensive production. Even before his departure was announced, many considered that a useful Plan B would be to move Lance Berkman to first base and to sign outfielder free agent Carlos Beltran.  That’s exactly what the Cards have done and when you factor in a healthy again Adam Wainwright rejoining the rotation and shortstop Rafael Furcal being re-signed on a two-year contract, it’s clear that the Cardinals are not content to live off the memories of a World Championship and their former first baseman. 

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds’ offseason began with rumours that the team was potentially open to trading former MVP first baseman Joey Votto.  During the second half of December, we learned that GM Walt Jocketty is in no mood to rebuild.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

Cincinnati completed a surprising and exciting trade by acquiring Mat Latos from the Padres, dealing away Edinson Volquez and several top prospects to obtain a pitcher with genuine ‘ace’ level talent. The team then traded for the Cubs’ reliever Sean Marshall and have begun talks on a potential contract extension with the left-hander.

Adding two quality arms to their pitching staff has put the Reds in position to show that their disappointing defence of their 2010 NL Central title will be put right in 2012.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Buccos are following their standard plan of recent years: bringing in a few veterans to complement the youngsters coming through. That’s more sensible than throwing a substantial amount of money at one or two free agents when you haven’t got the talent around them to make the team a contender. However, the plan relies on the youngsters becoming All-Star calibre players and being the ones to propel the team to the postseason.

Andrew McCutchen is doing his bit and there’s hope that Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata can push on in 2012, maybe even for James McDonald to have a breakthrough year on the mound, but it’s a lot to ask for.

The veteran additions they have made are decent enough. Erik Bedard could be an inspired gamble to lead the pitching staff if he can stay healthy, Rob Barajas will add some pop from behind the plate and Clint Barmes is a steady-Eddie in the infield. Casey McGehee had a tough 2011 in his third full Major League season in Milwaukee, but his previous two seasons had been positive and the Pirates have traded for him in the hope that he will bounce back, which is a chance worth taking.

The problem for fans in Pittsburgh is that the moves don’t look like making the team a contender and when you’ve not had a winning season since 1992, that’s not easy to take.

Chicago Cubs

It’s ‘all change’ on the North side of Chicago.  Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are staging a Red Sox Front Office reunion at Wrigley Field, with Cubs fans hoping that their curse-reversing powers do not end with the Bambino and work on Billy Goats too.  Mike Quade was sacked as manager, being replaced by another former Boston employee Dale Sveum.

Much as Cubs fans would like to see Prince Fielder swatting homers for them – and it’s possible that could still happen – Epstein and Hoyer know that there is no quick fix to turn this team into a contender.  A period of rebuilding is needed and while they haven’t yet found someone desperate enough to take Carlos Zambrano or Alfonso Soriano’s contracts off their hands, it’s more likely that Major League talent will be leaving this offseason rather than joining.

They have added David DeJesus to their outfield, and acquired Ian Stewart and pitcher Travis Wood in trades, but the main story of the Cubs’ offseason so far has been seeing the steep price that teams (Oakland and San Diego) have been able to charge for established starting pitchers.  That makes it all the more likely that Matt Garza will be traded for some quality prospects before Spring Training.

Houston Astros

Sadly, the Astros will be ending their National League tenure with a whimper, and not just by whimpering at the thought of joining the Angels and Rangers in the AL West in 2013.

The new owner, Jim Crane, was finally approved by MLB and he wasted little time in stamping his authority on the organization by firing General Manager Ed Wade.  A new GM has yet to be appointed.

The Astros have acquired a good infielder in Jed Lowrie as part of a trade that sent reliever Mark Melancon to the Red Sox, but the rest of the Astros’ offseason is likely to be devoted to seeing what they can get in return for trading Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers.


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