After last posts NL East preview we move to the NL Central. It is pretty well known that this is the division i know the best and i know the teams involved very well. But no matter how well you know a division you can never correctly perdict every move the teams in a division will make. As i said in my previous posts these are the moves that i think are the most likely to happen and also moves that i think teams should make.
The Cubs added on to their dissapointing 2009 season by putting up an even worse 2010 season. The Cubs had managed to build the worst team with the biggest budget which makes me even more proud to be a Cubs fan. Luckily all of the Cubs bad contracts are begining to come off the books, losing Derrek Lee and Ted Lilly's big salaries should loosen up the Cubs wallets. But i would not recommend they spend big this offseason, although Adam Dunn is available and they are in need of a first baseman i think they should hold off. The problem with acquiring Adam Dunn is that it is a typical Cubs move, it may help us be competitve next year but in the end the contract will hold us down. The only way i would fill first base with a big name player this offseason is if they can find a way to acquire Adrain Gonzalez via trade. It would cost a lot of players but the Cubs have been improving their farm system and may have the prospects to get him now. I dont need to explain the impact Adrian Gonzalez would have on this team. If they cant bring in Gonzalez I would recommend siging Adam LaRoche, he would significantly cheaper than Dunn and would provide the left handed power bat the Cubs crave. He consistently puts up a .280-25-90 with quality defense and would allow the Cubs to have money to spend in other areas or allow them to hold on to their money so they can spend big next season. They also need to begin to plan how they will fill the hole at third when Aramis leaves next season. I woldnt be suprised to see A-Ram dealt either this offseason or at the deadline. The only other major area of need is releif pitching that im sure they will waste their money on.
Cincinnati Reds -
The Reds are not a team that needs a lot of work, they have a nice affordable core of players that have room to improve. They are set at all the major position players but their biggest need is starting pitching. If you know anything about post-season baseball you know that you need a dominant ace at the top of your staff to succeed. Look at the Giants (Lincecum), Rangers (Cliff Lee). Phillies (H20), Yankees (CC Sabathia). This is really the piece the Reds are missing, the only way they can address this is if they trade for Zack Grienke. Now of course thier is the problem that the Royals want the farm for him but i think the Reds have the prospects to matchup. They would likely have to give up Travis Wood, Yonder Alonso, Mike Leake and another big prospect to get him but it would be worth it.Now i know there will be people who disagree with First of all Grienke played for one of the worst defenses from a UZR standpoint they didnt make a ton of errors but their players lacked the range to make the plays for him. If you brought Grienke into the national league with one of the best defenses in the league he could put up numbers similar to his CY Young winning season of 2009(with more wins). The other benifit of Grienke is that he is in/near his prime and should be able to put up similarly productive numbers for the next few seasons. I have also heard the Reds have interest in Marco Scutaro as the Red Sox have put him on the market. They could fill a hole at short stop or they could attempt to have Paul Janish play a full season, although im not sure his bat will play well in a full season. But besides adding an ace the Reds only need to make a few tweaks here and there.
The Astros finally realized that it was time to go into a rebuilding faze this past season by dealing former stars such as Lance Berkamn and Roy Oswalt. They did get some nice pieces in return but they are far from contention, they will need to draft better and acquire better prospects if they want to compete with the rest of the division. I do like the move they just made by acquiring Clint Barmes for Felipe Paulino straight up. While his offense may regress from leaving Coors field he should still provide more than the rotation of Angel Sanchez and Tommy Manzella. He also plays good defense according to his UZR. There are still some significant holes around the infield, I do like Chris Johnson at third but im not sure how he projects long term (Is he the next Casey McGhee?). They can do better than Jeff Keppinger at second and I doubt that Brett Wallace is the answer at first. Jason Castro didnt show much at the big league level last season but they should give him some time. Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are fine in the outfield but Carlos Lee is definitly hurting them both offensivly and defensively. The pitching staff could use some help as well with Brett Myers playing the ace followed by middle of the rotation guys in Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris. While they did make some moves that will help the club in the long run the Astros are maintaining the level they have been at for years where they are not horrible but they wont make it over .500 either. I still think they need to scrap the whole team and start from scratch dealing Pence, Myers, Bourn and Lee (although the later may be though).
They definitly have the offensive pieces to compete but they are extremely lacking in the pitching department. Their main off-season goal will be to beaf up that pitching staff behind Gallardo and Wolf. Earlier in the offseason it seemed they were willing to part with Prince Fielder but it seems less likely now. I have heard rumors that Casey McGhee could be moved for pitching which would also open the door for Matt Gamel to start for a full season. I wouldnt be suprised if some Corey Hart rumors pop up either as they did at the trade deadline last year. Im not sure who they would match up with for pitching but they desperatly need some. They dont want to waste their offensive players prime years when they have no pitching. If Milwaukee had any money i would think they would go after some starters but im not sure they have a ton to spend. But besides thier lack of pitching this is a very strong roster that should be able to get them to the post-season if they can prevent runs from scoring.
The Pirates are on the rise although their record may not reflect that. They have developed a nucleus of very good offensive players that should score plenty of runs. But like the Brewers they lack the pitching to be competitve. Their best pitching prospect James Tailon wont be ready for a while, but they are attempting to be aggresive through the free agent market. I wouldnt be suprised to see Jorge De La Rosa and Jeff Francis in Pittsburgh as the new Manager Clint Hurdle is familiar with both players. This season i think they want to attempt to be respectable while continuing to improve so they wont hand out any massive contracts. I am very excited to see Pedro Alvarez for a full season as he showed off his tremendous talent at the end of last season. He could be a .260-30-100 player this year with a good top of the order hitters in McCutchen and Tabata. They could use some improvement at short stop, left field, and first base but every other position looks solid for next year. They will probably sign some small contracts and make some small trades to fill holes at those positions and if they add some pitching they could be a 70 win team.
St. Louis Cardinals-
They were unable to keep up with the Reds last season but they did play a fairly good season. The back end of their rotation didnt perform to expectations and their middle infield struggled. They addressed the pitching by re-signing Jake Westbrook but they could still use some additional pitching. They have a solid offensive core in Pujols, Holliday, and Rasmus and with the return of David Freese from injury they could be even better this coming up season. They will most likely bring in someone to back up Frees in case he is hurt again or he struggles, this player may start up the middle but be versatile enough to play the hot corner. I have heard Miguel Tejada is being considered along with some other SS/2B to improve upon Brendan Ryan and Skip Schumakers production. But outside of those few moves the major offseason goal for the Cardinals should be giving Pujols his contract extension which is almost guranteed he will agree to. The Cardinals and the Reds look to be in the best shape of the teams in this division and have the fewest moves to make.