Play Fantasy Use your Fantasy skills to win Cash Prizes. Join or start a league today. Play Now
  • My Scores
  • MLB
  • Golf
  • NFL
  • NCAA FB
  • Tennis

NL Central Preseason Outlook

by | CBSSports.com Staff Writer
  •  

Cincinnati Reds

2010 record: 91-71
Finish: First place, lost to Philadelphia Phillies in NLDS
Manager: Dusty Baker, fourth season

Spring training site: Goodyear, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 16
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Fred Lewis, Edgar Renteria, Dontrelle Willis
Key losses: Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Harang, Micah Owings, Arthur Rhodes

Offseason grade: C

Can MVP Joey Votto lead Cincy to back-to- back division titles? (US Presswire)  
Can MVP Joey Votto lead Cincy to back-to- back division titles? (US Presswire)  
The Reds aren't much different than they were a year ago. Most of the offseason work was done with an eye toward the future -- locking up Jay Bruce and avoiding an arbitration hearing with MPV Joey Votto by giving him a three-year, $38 million deal.

2011 outlook

Offense: The National League's best offense in 2010 (in terms of runs and OPS), the Reds haven't changed much. The only difference in the everyday lineup is Paul Janish replacing Cabrera at shortstop. Otherwise, the starters are the same. The left-field platoon -- if it is used as a platoon -- was upgraded by the addition of Lewis, who could split time with Jonny Gomes.

Defense: With Janish at short, the Reds are one of the better defensive teams in the majors. Last year the club won three Gold Gloves -- and their best defensive players didn't win one. Outfielders Bruce and Drew Stubbs are seriously underrated with the leather.

Pitching: No team can match the number of middle-of-the-rotation starters the Reds boast. Bronson Arroyo -- a solid No. 3 -- is the team's opening day starter. Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Homer Bailey, Travis Wood and Mike Leake are talented pitchers, but none are dominating.

Intangibles: There are expectations that haven't been in Cincinnati in several years. How does this team handle playing as the defending divisional champs?

Key player: After the season, GM Walt Jocketty identified leadoff hitter as the team's biggest need. He didn't address it, but hopes center fielder Stubbs can cut down on his strikeouts (168 last season), and improve his on-base percentage (.328 career) because he has the speed (30 stolen bases) to be a top-flight leadoff man with some pop (22 homers).

Top prospect: This time last year, 2007 first-rounder Devin Mesoraco was being called a bust. In 2010, the catcher played at three levels and hit 26 home runs, amassing a .302/.377/.587 line. Mesoraco also has a plus arm behind the plate, throwing out 41 percent (41 of 100) would-be base stealers last season. He could be in Cincinnati as soon as the tail part of this season.

For the season to be successful: The Reds need to build upon their recent success and find a true ace. If Cueto or Volquez make the next step, the team could find its top of the rotation guy. Then expect Aroldis Chapman to become either the closer or the shut-down, eighth-inning guy for a bullpen that needs to replace Rhodes. The team could play better than it did a season ago and still find itself out of the postseason in an improved NL Central.

St. Louis Cardinals

2010 record: 86-76
Finish: Second place
Manager: Tony La Russa, 16th season

Spring training site: Jupiter, Fla.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 14
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Lance Berkman, Ian Snell, Ryan Theriot
Key losses: Brad Penny, Brendan Ryan

Offseason grade: C-

Will this be Tony La Russa's final year at the Cardinals' helm? (Getty Images)  
Will this be Tony La Russa's final year at the Cardinals' helm? (Getty Images)  
For some reason the offseason strategy was to get older, slower and worse defensively. That doesn't seem like a successful strategy. If Berkman bounces back offensively, this grade could be a little off.

2011 outlook

Offense: It's not like an offense with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday is going to be terrible, but the team did struggle at times last season. The hope is Berkman can help. However, Berkman, 35, hit .248/.368/.413 with 14 homers last year -- all full-season career-lows.

Defense: Most Fantasy leagues have one guy who decides to completely punt on one statistic -- like forgetting about stolen bases and concentrating on batting average and home runs -- the Cardinals are doing this in real life with defense. Berkman is being asked to move to right field and the team has also seriously downgraded at short, with gritty, gutty Theriot replacing Ryan, perhaps the best defensive shortstop in the game.

Pitching: Few teams can match Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright at the front of the rotation, while lefty Jamie Garcia will hope to improve upon a stellar rookie year. Jake Westbrook is the No. 4 starter and the only real question mark is fifth starter Kyle Lohse, who is making $11.875 million this season and next.

More on Baseball

Intangibles: There were whispers last season that La Russa's message is wearing thin and his relationship with the team's top young player, Colby Rasmus, has been rocky. This could be the end of the run for La Russa in St. Louis, and if the team can't hold on to Pujols, it would be the perfect exit for the veteran skipper.

Key player: Well, besides Pujols, it's third baseman David Freese. Freese had a great start to 2010, hitting .296/.361/.404 with four homers before his season ended with an ankle injury after 70 games. Of course, the fact the Cardinals are just handing the third base spot to a player with 87 career games, is a reason for concern.

Top prospect: Right-hander Shelby Miller, one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, struck out 140 batters in 104 innings in his pro debut in Class A last year. He just turned 20 in October, so there's reason not to rush him, but he should be in the big leagues in 2012.

For the season to be successful: Garcia has to pitch like he did as a rookie and Westbrook needs to be one of the better No. 4 starters in the league. Strikeouts from the pitchers will help, because Rasmus is good defensively, but he can't cover the entire outfield. With Berkman and Holliday out there, Rasmus is going to be asked to cover a lot of ground.

Milwaukee Brewers

2010 record: 77-85
Finish: Third place
Manager: Ron Roenicke, first season

Spring training site: Phoenix, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 17
First full workout: Feb. 22

Key additions: Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Yuniesky Betancourt, Takashi Saito
Key losses: Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, Trevor Hoffman

Offseason grade: A

You have to give credit to GM Doug Melvin, who is certainly going for it in 2011. The Brewers aren't sure what they're going to be in 2012 when Prince Fielder is likely gone, but the team hopes to send him out a champion, getting former Cy Young winner Greinke, as well as underrated starter Marcum.

2011 outlook

The Brewers are hoping Zack Greinke returns to his 2.16 ERA form of two years ago. The right-hander slipped to 4.17 last year. (US Presswire)  
The Brewers are hoping Zack Greinke returns to his 2.16 ERA form of two years ago. The right-hander slipped to 4.17 last year. (US Presswire)  
Offense: This lineup is going to hit. That's for sure. The Brewers were third in OPS in the NL and fourth in runs. With Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, Fielder and Casey McGehee at the top of the lineup, they'll score enough runs for the pitching staff.

Defense: If there's one hit the Brewers took, it was defense, losing their two best defensive players -- shortstop Escobar and center fielder Cain. The Brewers go from a good defensive shortstop in Escobar to one of the worst in Betancourt.

Pitching: The move was later overshadowed by the trade for Greinke, but the Brewers' acquisition of Marcum was one of the best of the offseason. Marcum was 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA in 31 starts for the Blue Jays last year. He is 37-25 with a 3.85 ERA in his career. While the NL Central is greatly improved, it's not quite to the level of the AL East, where Marcum has been pitching. Add him and Greinke to one of the game's most underrated starters in Yovani Gallardo (14-7, 3.84 ERA, 3.42 xFIP) and you have the makings of a great rotation.

Intangibles: Some players never got along with former manager Ken Macha, so now Roenicke gets his chance to take over the talented club. However, expectations may be higher for the new skipper than they were for Macha because of the improved pitching staff.

Key player: Weeks is coming off the best campaign of his career (.269/.366/.464 with 29 home runs) and is a free agent after the season. While much of the focus has been on Fielder possibly leaving after the season, Weeks could also be gone following 2011.

Top prospect: Most of the Brewers' top prospects are somewhere else. How bad is it? Their top-rated prospect was drafted in 2004. Right-hander Mark Rogers has had arm trouble, but finally made his big-league debut last season, pitching in four games for the Brewers, including two starts. He had no record and a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings pitched. In 116 minor-league innings, he struck out 114 batters and was 6-8 with a 3.65 ERA.

For the season to be successful: A sexy pick to win the division, anything short of a playoff appearance will be considered a failure. Their top three pitchers in a playoff series will be a dangerous matchup for any opponent. If the Brewers don't make the playoffs, it could be a while before they're back there.

Houston Astros

2010 record: 76-86
Finish: Fourth place
Manager: Brad Mills, second season

Spring training site: Kissimmee, Fla.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 16
First full workout: Feb. 20

Key additions: Bill Hall, Clint Barmes, Ryan Rowland-Smith
Key losses: Geoff Blum, Tim Byrdak

Offseason grade: D

The Astros got a start on the offseason by dealing Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt last season. But they didn't do much to replace them, bringing in Hall, who could help, but the team did very little to improve.

2011 outlook

Offense: The Astros were next-to-last in runs scored (611) and last in OPS (.665) and homers (108) in the NL last season. The additions of Hall and Barmes aren't exactly the cure.

There's no slowing down Michael Bourn, who swiped 113 bases the past two seasons. (Getty Images)  
There's no slowing down Michael Bourn, who swiped 113 bases the past two seasons. (Getty Images)  
Defense: Center fielder Michael Bourn can cover a ton of real estate, which is helpful with Carlos Lee in left. The infield figures to be average at best, with Barmes helping out a little at shortstop.

Pitching: The starting rotation of Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris could be decent, but the bullpen figures to be a mess. It wasn't good last year -- finishing 27th in bullpen ERA (4.49) -- without too many improvements. Brandon Lyon (6-6, 3.12 ERA, 20 saves) is the closer.

Intangibles: The Astros went 40-33 in the second half last season, but it seemed more like a good run (and great job by Mills). It's unlikely they'll be able to match that kind of production over a full season, especially in the improved division.

Key player: Brett Wallace was supposed to be the replacement for Berkman for years to come. The Cardinals' first-rounder in 2008, Wallace has been a better trade piece than player so far, with the Astros becoming his fourth organization in just more than a year. In 51 games for the Astros last season, he hit .222/.296/.319 with two home runs and 13 RBI. He hit 18 home runs at Triple-A Las Vegas before being traded and called up to the Astros, but struggled to hit for any power in Houston.

Top prospect: While the big-league team looks like an organization that's rebuilding, the minor-league system isn't the type to help that process. Right-hander Jordan Lyles struggled at Triple-A Round Rock last season (0-3, 5.40 ERA in six starts), but could find his way to Houston this season. Lyles isn't going to overpower anyone, but he does have good control and an excellent changeup.

For the season to be successful: With Drayton McLane looking to sell the club, a poor farm system and little new talent coming in, the Astros seem hard-pressed to follow up on the second-half success they had last year. But hey, they're better than the Pirates.

Chicago Cubs

2010 record: 75-87
Finish: Fifth place
Manager: Mike Quade, first season; interim at conclusion of 2010

Spring training site: Mesa, Ariz.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 14
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Matt Garza, Carlos Pena, Kerry Wood
Key losses: Tom Gorzelanny, Xavier Nady

Offseason grade: B

The Cubs hope to capture some Tampa Bay magic with two former Rays -- Garza and Pena. First baseman Pena was signed to a one-year deal after hitting .196/.325/.407 with 28 home runs and 84 RBI last season. The Cubs traded for right-hander Garza, who was 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA last season.

2011 outlook

Offense: The Cubs weren't great last season, and Pena could give them a big boost, but that's questionable. Pena should get a boost in homers by playing at Wrigley Field, but it's still questionable how much better the offense will be.

If Carlos Pena is going to win over Cubs fans, he'll have to improve from last season's .196 average. (Getty Images)  
If Carlos Pena is going to win over Cubs fans, he'll have to improve from last season's .196 average. (Getty Images)  
Defense: Not one Cubs starter showed up in the top 10 of the Fielding Bible Awards at any position. That's not good.

Pitching: Garza should benefit from leaving the AL East for the NL Central, but he'll be hurt by going from Tropicana Field to Wrigley Field. In his career, Garza has surrendered 0.86 homers per nine innings at home (Tropicana and the Metrodome) and 1.28 away. Last season he allowed 1.40 home runs per nine innings away and 1.04 at the Trop. Garza also yielded a high percentage of fly balls -- that's fine with the likes of Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton playing behind you. With the Cubs defense? It could be trouble.

Intangibles: The Cubs were 24-13 under Quade last season after he took over for Lou Piniella, who retired. The team went 24-42 in Piniella's last 66 games.

Key player: Starlin Castro has been hailed as the Cubs star of the future, and his bat certainly plays -- he hit .300/.347/.408 in 125 games last season. That said, he also committed 27 errors, the second-most as a shortstop in the league. Still, he has decent range and a strong arm, so there's potential.

Top prospect: Center fielder Brett Jackson, 22, was the club's first-round pick in 2009 out of the University of California. He batted .318 with eight homers and 36 RBI (53 games) in his first minor-league season, split between two Class A teams and three games in rookie ball. After starting out last year hitting .316 with six homers and 38 RBI at Class A Daytona, he moved up to Double-A Tennessee and added six more homers with 28 RBI, while hitting .276 in 61 games. He does need to cut down on his strikeouts, 126 combined in 2011.

For the season to be successful: All the what-ifs in the pitching staff have to come together -- and there's plenty of those. Garza and Ryan Dempster are the most reliable of the pitchers and then comes Carlos Silva and Carlos Zambrano. Those two coming together and pitching well would be more surprising than both returning to the tank.

Pittsburgh Pirates

2010 record: 57-105
Finish: Sixth place
Manager: Clint Hurdle, first season

Spring training site: Bradenton, Fla.
Pitchers & catchers' first workout: Feb. 14
First full workout: Feb. 19

Key additions: Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz, Kevin Correia, Scott Olsen, Joe Beimel
Key losses: Zach Duke, Lastings Milledge, Chan Ho Park, Andy LaRoche

Offseason grade: C

It's kind of like reshuffling the chairs on the Titanic, isn't it? How easy is it to attract free agents to Pittsburgh? The park's nice, but after that? Overbay wasn't quite the biggest free agent on the market, but is a solid pickup, as is Diaz.

2011 outlook

Offense: Overbay doesn't exactly cure an offense that was last in the NL in runs (587), hits (1303) and batting average (.242). The continued development of Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen does give the team some hope.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is one of the top young players in the game. (US Presswire)  
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is one of the top young players in the game. (US Presswire)  
Defense: By pretty much any account or measurement tool, the Pirates defense was abysmal last season. Again, it's not like there is much change other than another year of experience for some key players.

Pitching: The starters had the worst ERA in the majors last season (5.28). Corria (10-10, 5.40 ERA) comes over as a free agent from San Diego, joining James McDonald, Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf in the rotation. Either Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek will close, with lefty Beimel beefing up the bullpen.

Intangibles: The last time the Pirates had a winning season, Barry Bonds didn't have satellites around his head, parents were worried about their kids watching the Simpsons, you probably didn't have e-mail, the Sega Genesis was the baddest machine on the block and McCutchen was getting ready for his sixth birthday party. That was 1992, by the way.

Key player: Third baseman Alvarez struggled when he was called up, but from September on, he hit .306/.355/.577 with six home runs and 27 RBI. Alvarez's play isn't just important to show the Pirates are getting better on the field, but also to give some sort of confidence that the team's top picks can pan out.

Top prospect: Right-hander Jameson Taillon hasn't thrown a professional pitch, but the 19-year old has amazing stuff and is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. While the Pirates have some promising arms, Taillon has the makings of a future ace, including a big fastball and a big curve. Some scouts felt Taillon should have been picked first instead of second behind Bryce Harper in last year's draft.

For the season to be successful: It would be a complete shock if the Pirates don't record their 19th consecutive losing season. But good seasons by young players like Alvarez, McCutchen and Tabata could at least give some hope that the streak will finally come to an end.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow  @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the  RSS feed.

  •  
 

Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
COMMENTS
Conversation powered by Livefyre
 

Latest

Most Popular