Over the next few weeks, we here at LWOS will be going from division to division and discussing a move that we believe each team MUST MAKE to improve the most. Today we present the first of six MLB winter previews: the National League Central.
The National League Central was an absolute powerhouse last year, so much so that it was historically great. The end of the regular season saw the three best records all come out of the Central, and there’s reason to believe that this trend could continue for the next few years. The Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals all have young, talented rosters that will be competitive for years to come, provided they stay healthy and their front offices make the necessary moves to take their respective teams to the next level.
Aside from the trade deadline, the most exciting time for any fan of a contender is the lauded winter meetings, where the general managers, and other front office staffers, of every team meet with each other and prospective free agents in an effort to improve enough to take that next step.
Cincinnati Reds: Embrace a true rebuild.
Father time hasn’t been very good to what is still a Reds team with plenty of talent. Joey Votto had an incredible season, hitting .314 with twenty-nine home runs and an even 1.000 OPS. Votto is easily the face of the franchise and while many will disagree vehemently, it’s time for the Reds to part ways with him and a few other pieces that they can still get good value for.
Votto could command a king’s ransom from a team looking to add a big bat to the middle of their order. While he’s never been great defensively, it’s plausible that an AL team in need some pop out of their DH spot would be willing to pony up. There’s another star in Cincy that’s generated some trade buzz lately as well. Aroldis Chapman has become one of the best closers in baseball and a team like the Cubs could put together a nice package of a young, everyday position players and prospects for the Cuban flamethrower.
Milwaukee Brewers: Build a starting rotation.
The Brewers shouldn’t have been as bad as they were last year. They’ve got some decent talent in everyday guys like Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun, but their issues aren’t on the offensive side of the ball. I won’t mince words when it comes to the Brewers starting rotation last year: it was absolutely abysmal. It’s not that they don’t have talented pitchers in guys like Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza in their rotation; however, it seems as though any time the Brew Crew signs a pitcher of note, their career takes a serious downturn.
With plenty of quality arms on the market this year, the Brewers could definitely make a stir by signing a couple of guys like Jordan Zimmerman or Jeff Samardzija. They’ve already taken a step in the right direction by signing their new pitching coach, Derek Johnson, but the man is going to need some more talent to work with in order to turn this staff around.
Chicago Cubs: Trade for Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel.
Oh what could have been… The Cubs were rumored to be in talks with the Padres to bring in the services of Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel at the 2015 trade deadline, but San Diego was surprisingly quiet at the end and decided not to unload. The Cubs need another arm for the middle of the rotation, and Ross fits their plans beautifully. He’s got a ton of arm talent but has been erratic from start-to-start, though he’s shown flashes of brilliance at times. That sounds a lot like a pretty well-known member at the top of the Cubs pitching staff, some guy named Jake Arrieta. A change in scenery might do Ross some good, and he would have a chance to be a solid third or fourth option in a rotation that already features two of the best starters in the National League in Jon Lester and Arrieta.
It’s also no secret that the Cubs need some help in the pen, as they relied far too heavily on guys like Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop down the stretch. Bringing in one of the best closers in baseball to finish games and moving Rondon up to a setup role almost makes too much sense and would make the Cubbies pen one of the best from the seventh inning on, much like that of the champion Kansas City Royals.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Bring in another big bat to help Andrew McCutchen.
Cutch has turned himself into a perennial MVP candidate. In turn, he’s made the Pirates one of the most dangerous teams in baseball, but he can’t do it all alone. He definitely had more help this year than in years past thanks to the emergence of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco into future stars for Pittsburgh. Taking a risk on a guy like Ian Desmond or signing a solid bat like Daniel Murphy makes a ton of sense. Desmond had a down year, but because of that could be signed to a low-risk, high-reward deal that could really pay off for Pittsburgh next season as Desmond tries to prove that he’s worth a longer-term contract to teams across the league.
Murphy has had an overlooked, consistent bat throughout his big league career, but any team that signs him to the big contract coming his way will have to deal with his below-average glove. I think the risk would definitely be worth it for a team like Pittsburgh, which sports a trio of good outfielders who can limit extra bases if Murphy were to make errors at second. Another option would be to sign a guy like Ben Zobrist and platoon him between second and short in an effort to keep his valuable bat in the lineup.
St. Louis Cardinals: Spend some money on a big arm.
The Cardinals have become synonymous with the right way to run an organization. This was evidenced by the fact they won 100 games last year despite a slew of injuries to their starting lineup. One thing became abundantly clear during their NLDS against the Cubs, however: the Cards need another big arm. Adam Wainwright isn’t getting any younger and, though he’s still a legitimate ace, his window is getting shorter and shorter. The Cards may end up losing John Lackey and that’s okay, but if they really want to make a splash they should pursue a guy like Zack Greinke to bolster an already uber-talented rotation. Another great option would be sending a package of prospects to a team like the Nationals for someone like Stephen Strasburg. The Cards seem to hit on gambles like that more often than not, and someone with the kind of stuff Strasburg has may be worth the risk.
What moves would you guys like to see someone in the Central make? Get in on the conversation in the comments below! Be sure to check in at the same time next week for the next division’s preview!