National League Central
You can’t have a much better offseason than the one the Chicago Cubs are having up to this point. Despite a 97 win season that culminated in an appearance in the NLCS, the Chicago Cubs were still disappointed by their performance in that championship series. The Cubs have responded to those disappointments in a big way this offseason. The Cubs have added two strong veteran presences, in John Lackey and Ben Zobrist, to the pitching staff and offense respectively, and have added perhaps the most impressive of all the free agent position players in Jason Heyward. The Cubs did lose both Starlin Castro and Dexter Fowler, but have made clear upgrades at both of those positions with Zobrist and Heyward. Lackey provides a strong third starter behind the Cubs two aces, making their pitching staff just as formidable as their offense. The scariest part is the Cubs may not yet be done, as they look to add another starting pitcher to the team. The Cubs have had one of the best offseasons in recent memory, and really may be the team to beat in not only the NL Central, but perhaps the entire league.
Perhaps no other team in all of baseball has lost as many contributing members of last year’s second half roster than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite that, the Pirates still look to be pretty good in the NL Central. Obviously the Pirates haven’t had as flashy of an offseason as the Cubs, but they have quietly made a few smart moves. The Pirates saved money by letting go of Pedro Alvarez, trading Neil Walker and Charlie Morton, and refusing to give out expensive contracts to the likes of J.A. Happ, Joakim Soria, and Antonio Bastardo. While the Pirates haven’t used that money saved to make any big splashes, they have acquired two pitchers in Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong, who should be able to fill the void left by the several starters the Pirates lost from last year. The addition of Jason Rogers is an interesting one, as he could fill the gap until prospect Josh Bell is ready to be a full time Major Leaguer. The Pirates may not be exponentially better, but they aren’t much worse, and for a team that won 98 games, that is perfectly fine.
While the Brewers have watched both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies make big moves in their rebuilding efforts, the Brewers have done the same, albeit on a smaller scale. The Brewers did not have quite the strong assets that those other two teams had in Simmons, Miller and Giles, but nevertheless the Brewers have still so far made the best out of those assets. The Brewers have traded both Adam Lind and Francisco Rodriguez, getting a modest return for both, accelerating their rebuild. The Brewers also added several buy low candidates, in Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini and Jonathan Villar, and couldd very well use those three as trade pieces if they can rebuild some value. The real question mark that still remains for the Brewers is whether or not they want to, or even can, trade Jonathan Lucroy for the price they believe he is worth. Either way, the Brewers have had a decently average offseason up to this point in December.
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals haven’t necessarily had a bad offseason, but it hasn’t been “good” either. While the Chicago Cubs have gotten even better, after beating the Cardinals in last year’s playoffs, the Cardinals have lost several key players to those same Chicago Cubs. At this point, the Cardinals stand at a bit of a crossroads. They were unable to sign both John Lackey and Jason Heyward, and watched as the Cubs came in and signed both. The Cardinals did turn some of their outfield depth into more infield depth, with the trade of Jon Jay for Jedd Gyorko, but they now find themselves trusting several young players in the everyday lineup next season. Time still remains for the Cardinals to improve this offseason, but this offseason has to be viewed as a failure with the significant improvements made by the Cubs, and the continued presence of the Pittsburgh Pirates as well.
Key Departures: 3B Todd Frazier
The final team in the National League Central is probably the team that has had the worst offseason in the entire National League, if not the entire Major Leagues. Rather than trade the group of Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce at last year’s trade deadline when their value was at a height, the Reds chose to keep all three, and only trade Johnny Cueto. After the events of the last week or two, the Reds front office must be really regretting that decision. While the Reds did attempt to trade Chapman this offseason, and appeared to do so with the Dodgers, that trade fell apart, along with any value Chapman had, following allegations of a domestic incident involving Chapman surfaced in the aftermath of the trade. The Reds followed by trading Frazier, although the return was much less than what it probably could have been last season. Add to that Chapman’s completely diminished trade value, and the Reds are already well behind even the Milwaukee Brewers in their rebuilding effort. In a division with the Pirates, Cubs and Cardinals, the Reds have no margin of error, making this offseason even more of an unmitigated disaster.