NL Central offseason recap: Brewers overhaul roster, Reds stay aggressive

St. Louis Cardinals

Last year: 91-71, first place

Who’s gone: LHP Tony Cingrani, LHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Dominic Leone, OF Jose Martinez, OF Marcell Ozuna, RHP Michael Wacha

Who’s here: C Oscar Hernandez, LHP Kwang-Hyun Kim, INF Brad Miller

Outlook: Coming off their fourth division title since 2013, the Cardinals didn’t do much in the offseason to widen the gap in the NL Central. St. Louis made a small splash by signing Kim, a South Korean pitcher who posted a 17-6 record, 2.51 ERA and 8.5 K/9 in the KBO last year. Kim will join what is arguably the best starting rotation in the division — Jack Flahery, Dakota Hudson, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and Kim. Key players like Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina and Dexter Fowler are all over the age of 32, so the window to win might be slowly closing for St. Louis.

Our prediction: 83-79, third place

 

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Milwaukee Brewers

Last year: 89-73, second place

Who’s gone: RHP Matt Albers, RHP Chase Anderson, RHP Zach Davies, LHP Gio Gonzalez, C Yasmani Grandal, OF Trent Grisham, RHP Junior Guerra, RHP Jordan Lyles, 3B Mike Moustakas, RHP Jimmy Nelson, UT Hernan Perez, LHP Drew Pomeranz, INF Tyler Saladino, 3B Travis Shaw, INF Cory Spangenberg, 1B Eric Thames, RHP Taylor Williams

Who’s here: LHP Brett Anderson, OF Avisail Garcia, INF Jedd Gyorko, 1B Ryon Healy, INF Brock Holt, LHP Eric Lauer, RHP Josh Lindblom, 1B Logan Morrison, C Omar Narvaez, UT Jace Peterson, RHP David Phelps, UT Ronny Rodriguez, 1B Justin Smoak, UT Eric Sogard, INF Luis Urias

Outlook: First off, just look at those two long lists of names. Milwaukee completely overhauled its roster after appearing in the NL wild-card game last year, as key players like Grandal, Moustakas and Thames — a trio that combined to hit 88 homers in 2019 — departed in free agency. To replace them, Milwaukee brought in a flurry of utility players like Holt, Rodriguez and Sogard to give manager Craig Counsell tools to attack opposing pitchers with position versatility. Milwaukee also acquired a promising middle infielder in Luis Urias in a trade with San Diego. When he gets healthy, Urias should unseat a struggling offensive player in Orlando Arcia at shortstop. Christian Yelich, the 2018 NL MVP, won’t become an unrestricted free agent until 2023. Brewers fans certainly hope Milwaukee’s next move is locking Yelich up with a long-term deal that he deserves.

Our prediction: 84-78, second place

 

Chicago Cubs

Last year: 84-78, third place

Who’s gone: OF Nick Castellanos, LHP Xavier Cedeno, RHP Steve Cishek, LHP Cole Hamels, LHP Derek Holland, OF/2B Tony Kemp, RHP Brandon Kintzler, C Jonathan Lucroy, RHP David Phelps, SS Addison Russell, RHP Pedro Strop, UT Ben Zobrist

Who’s here: RHP Jharel Cotton, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, 2B Jason Kipnis, UT Hernan Perez, RHP Casey Sadler, OF Steven Souza Jr., RHP Ryan Tepera, RHP Dan Winkler

Outlook: Excuse the pun (or don’t), but the Cubs were hibernating all offseason long. While their crosstown counterparts in the White Sox signed free agent after free agent, the Cubs didn’t attempt to improve. Chicago got Hamels and Zobrist, among others, off the books to save about $60 million but are still dissatisfied on the status of the payroll (currently fourth in MLB at $184 million). The Cubs also are witnessing tension building between the front office and three-time All-Star Kris Bryant. Bryant lost a service time grievance case in which he hoped to become a free agent after the 2020 season (instead of 2021) because Chicago deliberately held him out of the big leagues during his rookie season in 2015. Bryant lost the case and is reportedly disgruntled about his future in Chicago. Our take: The Cubs’ offseason has been ugly, and so will the 2020 campaign. Not even new manager David Ross can save them this time.

Our prediction: 74-88, fourth place

 

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Cincinnati Reds

Last year: 75-87, fourth place

Who’s gone: INF Christian Colon, RHP Kevin Gausman, C Juan Graterol, SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Alex Wood

Who’s here: OF Shogo Akiyama, OF Nick Castellanos, OF Travis Jankowski, LHP Wade Miley, 2B/3B Mike Moustakas, RHP Pedro Strop, RHP Tyler Thornburg

Outlook: Even though the Reds trailed by 12 1/2 games in the division race at the 2019 trade deadline, they made a statement by trading for right-hander Trevor Bauer. Cincinnati continued that same aggressive mindset in the offseason. It started by signing former Brewers slugger Moustakas to the long-term deal he’d been eyeing the past two winters. The Reds lost left-hander Wood to the Los Angeles Dodgers in free agency, but they replaced him with Miley to boost the starting rotation. Still not finished, the Reds signed Akiyama — a Japanese-born player who collected a .303/.392/.471 slash line in the JPPL last year – as well as Castellanos to boost their outfield. In all, the Reds spent $164 million on those four free agents who will have a significant impact in the Reds’ chase for their first division title since 2012. They might just do it.

Our prediction: 91-71, first place

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Last year: 69-93, fifth place

Who’s gone: OF Melky Cabrera, OF Lonnie Chisenhall, C Elias Diaz, UT Jake Elmore, LHP Francisco Liriano, OF Starling Marte, LHP Wei-Chung Wang

Who’s here: OF Socrates Brito, OF Jarrod Dyson, LHP Robbie Erlin, OF Guillermo Heredia, C Luke Maile, C John Ryan Murphy

Outlook: Pittsburgh continues to feel the aftershock of its trade for Chris Archer at the 2018 deadline that sunk the Pirates and gifted Tampa Bay two prospects in Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, now two of the top young players in baseball. The Pirates cleaned house shortly after the regular season, hiring a new team president, general manager and manager. Pittsburgh’s biggest move was trading eight-year veteran Marte for a pair of 19-year-old prospects. So, while we say the division is up for grabs this summer, it unfortunately doesn’t include the Pirates. Gear up for another ugly season at PNC Park.

Our prediction: 66-96, fifth place