Home Baseball Grading NL Central Transactions

Grading NL Central Transactions

by Mark Hostert

The MLB offseason has been a storm of trades and transactions. The NL Central has been one of the more active divisions. While the Cubs can contribute to most of the headline moves, each team has lost or gained valuable players from the year before. The Cardinals are the reigning NL Central champs and had to change the plans for the organization. While they should be considered the favorites to repeat as the division champions, they will have some more competition this season.


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Joe Maddon introduced as the manager of the Chicago Cubs with Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein (David Banks/Getty Images North America)

Chicago Cubs

Notable Additions:

  1. Joe Maddon – Maddon excercised an opt-out clause in his contract from the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cubs were considered to be immediate suitors. While many considered the Cubs to have tampered with Maddon he is now with Chicago. His personality was what Chicago was looking for in a revival. Maddon is considered to be one of the top three managers in baseball and his work with young players cannot be overlooked.
  2. Jon Lester – The Cubs were in hot pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka last offseason and lost to the Yankees. This year they would be in a battle with the Red Sox and Giants. Lester’s name circulated around the Cardinals organization as well, but it was the Cubs being the team to land him. His $155MM/6 year contract was considered a win for his agent. Now Lester will have to perform on the field. Lester is coming off the best season of his career, but how long will be still be considered an ace?
  3. Miguel Montero – The Cubs lost out on the Russell Martin sweepstakes and needed to improve at the catcher position. The team managed to find their catcher from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Montero is owed $40MM over three seasons. He put up very nice offensive numbers in 2009, 2011 and 2012 but the past two seasons have been a struggle at the plate. If Montero can rebound offensively he is the catcher the Cubs needed.
  4. Dexter Fowler – The Cubs first big move in 2015 was for Fowler. The club had been looking for a centerfielder the entire offseason. Fowler will be the stop-gap the club needs as they will wait for some of their home-grown players to come to the roster.
  5. Jason Hammel – The Cubs had a big half-season from Hammel and packed him along with Jeff Smardzija to Oakland last season. Hammel struggled in Oakland but started to find his stuff towards the end of the season. Hammel provides rotation depth for the Cubs as they pursue the playoffs.
Jon+Lester+Oakland+Athletics+v+Seattle+Mariners+_Hfo_bqGiLPl

Lester coming to the Cubs accelerates their timetable to contend. The players believe this is the year.

The Cubs did not lose any player of note coming off a 73-89 season. While the team lost on Russell Martin they did find an upgrade at catcher. While many believe the Cubs are ready to contend this season they will be putting faith into unproven rookies.

Grade – A+ – While the Cubs offseason might not lead to the playoffs this season, the moves are helping to turn the franchise. Maddon is a manager that many MLB teams would love to have controlling their clubhouse. The Cubs also needed to land a pitcher, Lester could be the domino for other free-agents to come to Chicago in the future. They will rely heavily on young players to produce offensively for the club. The rotation is not deep enough as they will depend on Jake Arrieta repeating his stellar year. However, they have eight options for the rotation and competition could bring out the best in guys like Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront and Travis Wood.


 

The Brewers believe they are a playoff team. But, Mark Reynolds and others have departed with no obvious replacements.

Milwaukee Brewers

Notable additions:

  1. Adam Lind – Lind is the answer the Brewers are going with after losing Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay. Lind only had 290 plate appearances but does have 20 home run power.

Notable departures:

  1. Yovani Gallardo – The Brewers traded Gallardo to the Rangers to shed salary and get more team controlled players. Gallardo is no longer a strikeout machine but he provided depth and was a solid option for the Brewers. The team will turn to younger, unproven options to fill his role.
  2. Mark Reynolds – The Cardinals managed to sign Reynolds over the winter meetings. Reynolds launched 22 home runs, but hit under .200 and struck-out all too often.
  3. Zach Duke – He was quietly one of the better relief pitchers in the MLB last season. This loss is more notable than what many recognize. Duke might not have the season he did in 2014, but it will be hard to find someone else that will as well.
  4. Francisco Rodriquez – He is still unsigned and could return but he was fantastic for the Brewers, saving 44 games. The Brewers have been exploring for closing options.
  5. Rickie Weeks – OK. He is still a free agent. He isn’t the players he once was, but Weeks and Fielder were staples of the once formidable Brewers lineup.

The Brewers believe the roster they have should make the playoffs. The team collapsed last season but this strategy typically doesn’t work for teams. Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Kyle Lohse aren’t getting any younger. The window is closing quickly for the Brewers.

Grade: F  – The club needed to make some moves to make their team stronger. Instead, they are losing more pieces than what they had. Lind will not be enough for the team. There are real question about the power numbers Ryan Braun will be able to produce. While Kyle Lohse has been good for the Brewers, he is listed as their ace. The Reds believed they had the pieces to come back and win the Central last season. They missed the playoffs. Look for the Brewers to do the same this season with the lack of adding contributors to a team that collapsed completely.


 

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Will the Pirates pursue more help for McCutchen during the season? (Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Notable Additions:

  1. Francisco Liriano – While he might not be an addition, keeping him around was a win for the Pirates. He signed a very reasonable contract. While Gerrit Cole will fill the role of the teams ace in the coming season, Liriano has been a force.
  2. Jung-ho Kang – Kang provides little risk to the Pirates, but the potential is great. Kang comes from Korea, while the KBO is more like Double A with more offense, Kang stood out. If he can provide power with marginal defense it will be a good signing.
  3. Francisco Cervelli – Cervelli will have to do what Russell Martin did for this club. The Pirates could not afford Martin in the long-run and this may be what is best for the club.
  4. AJ Burnett – While he may have been awful in Philadelphia, the Pirates have been able to get the most out of pitchers. This should help the club get over from losing Edinson Volquez.

Notable Departures:

  1. Russell+Martin+Pittsburgh+Pirates+v+Atlanta+WVfWLbW4Mxkl

    Liriano returns, while Martin departs. The Pirates have had success without many of their prospects. But is there enough this season?

    Russell Martin – Pittsburgh loved Martin. While his numbers offensively were much better in 2014, than 2013 he did not play in as many games. Martin was attributed to helping the pitching staff greatly. However, this loss of Martin could be difficult to overcome.

  2. Edinson Volquez – The Pirates took a flier on Volquez and fixed him. Yet, he departed via free agency to the Royals. Volquez was one of the better pitchers down the stretch and came close to pitching 200 innings, something he hasn’t done since 2008.
  3. Travis Snider – The team just traded him to Baltimore. Yet, Snider was going to provide valuable depth for a team that is being built on depth.

It is amazing the what the Pirates have done considering an overall lack of star power the last two seasons. They have relied on very few of their prospects in getting there. While the club will need to depend on their young talent in the coming season it looks like this could be the year the Pirates do not make the playoffs.

Grade: B  –Letting Martin go is what is best for the long run. The team has tremendous depth, but overall their offseason was stagnant. Cervelli was a nice move and keeping Liriano was key. Yet, the team needs to get Andrew McCutchen some help. Management seems content on waiting for their prospects to be ready to play. They are staying away from high-priced free agents. Yet, they are going to need Josh Harrison to continue his work from last season. Pedro Alvarez appears to be getting shifted to first and Gregory Polanco will have to be more consistent.


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Joey Votto and Jay Bruce need to return to form for the Reds in 2015. But, did the departure of Latos and Simon cost too much? (Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

Cincinnati Reds

Notable Additions:

  1. Marlon Byrd – Byrd has been a good offensive player in the MLB. Now he joins the Reds, a team that needed another offensive piece.
  2. Anthony DeSclafani– He was the big name in the Latos trade. He will be projected to be the teams 5th starter. Yet, the Reds NEED to win this season as the window is closing fast. They will be putting faith into a very unproven Desclfani.

Notable Departures:

  1. Mat Latos – The team traded him the Marlins, picking Cueto as the guy they want to attempt to re-sign. Latos has ace potential. Yet, the club knew they could not afford to keep all their pitchers when they hit free agency at the same time.
  2. Alfredo Simon – Simon broke out with the club last year. While he was not expected to perform at that level he will need to be replaced.

The club needed to reduce payroll for 2015. While the team was decimated by injuries last season, they will need big returns from Votto, Phillips and Bruce.

Grade: C  – They had to reduce payroll, but after watching Scherzer sign for a record deal with the Nationals you can bet Cueto will want to do the same. If the Reds are out of contention it is likely the team could trade Cueto and Aroldis Chapman. The lineup is solid as long as guys return healthy and they get production out of Hamilton, Frazier and Mesoraco like they did last season. The lineup could be one of the best in the game, yet the staff has serious questions. The team isn’t better than they were last season, but they will be healthy. The Reds are not out of the race but the window is closing for this team.


MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves

The Cardinals are the team to beat in the Central, but if they wish to stay on top Heyward must improve offensively.

St. Louis Cardinals

Notable Additions:

  1.  Jason Heyward – Heyward is now the solution to right field. He is only signed through the end of this season. Heyward is a tremendous defensive option and if he can hit like he did in 2012, he will be an MVP candidate.
  2. Jordan Walden – Also coming from Atlanta in the same deal as Heyward. The Cards have a great bullpen option in Walden. Walden has some experience closing but is mostly used as a setup man.
  3. Mark Reynolds – While it appears Reynolds will mostly be coming off the bench, he provides power the Cardinals have never had in that role. Reynolds will strikeout often, but this was a smart move by the team.
  4. Matt Belisle – While his stats may not be great, pitching in Colorado isn’t easy. The Cardinals will look to get the most out of Belisle.

Notable Departures:

Pat+Neshek+St+Louis+Cardinals+v+San+Francisco+iWPSRYSJtdjl

Neshek was key out of the bullpen in 2014. The Cardinals will look to Walden and others to produce.

  1. Oscar Taveras – We will never know what he could have done for the game.
  2. Shelby Miller – Miller was looking like he could take over as the ace one day, but after a rough 2014 the Cards are putting their faith into Michael Wacha.
  3. Pat Neshek – His best seasons were with the club and he earned his money elsewhere. He was unexpected from the beginning. Yet, what he did cannot be swept under the rug.
  4. Justin Materson – His stay was short in St. Louis and the Cardinals have many other options to replace him.

Mo shook things up with the Cardinals by trading Craig and Kelly before the deadline. There is no shortage of starting pitching options with this team. The play of Adams will be monumental for their success offensively.

Grade: A  -The Cardinals have been to four straight National League Championship Series. Mozeliak deserves a lot of credit for having to change the offseason plan very quickly. He also deserves credit from staying away from Max Scherzer and Jon Lester at high prices. The Cardinals are in a position where they do not need those pitchers. Wacha appears to be healthy and ready. The Cardinals are still the team to beat in the Central. The young players on the roster will have another year of experience. Lynn is looking like he is ready to become a top pitcher in the National League. Wong may be ready to become an all-star second basemen. Heyward could blossom to superstar status in St. Louis. They might have the most talent in the NL.

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