MLB winter meetings 2018: What you need to know about the Cubs, Cardinals and the rest of the NL Central

Baseball's winter meetings will be hosted at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas from Monday, Dec. 10, to Thursday, Dec. 13. By definition, the meetings are supposed to be about the business aspect of the industry. They aren't viewed that way, however, since the top commodities these days are trades and free-agent signings and hot-stove rumors. 

These are often the busiest days of the winter. This particular set could be the busiest days in recent memory, with Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sitting in free agency. Hey, anytime you have a couple mid-20s MVP candidates available, the stakes are high. Of course, for as much attention as those two get, they aren't the only ones out there -- and they won't be the only ones talked about.

With the 2018 Winter Meetings forthcoming, we've decided to preview the league division by division. Here are the AL East and NL East.

Chicago Cubs

Needs: A big swing for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado was long thought inevitable and it could still be in the cards, if the Cubs are playing possum. All the messaging from around the team this offseason, however, is that the team is in a budget crunch. If that's the case, a cursory look at the roster doesn't show many holes. The bullpen depth could stand to be improved, an upgrade at backup catcher -- in the form of a locker-room respected veteran -- wouldn't hurt and they could use someone who could play shortstop to either be Javier Baez's backup until Addison Russell is off suspension or to replace Russell altogether. 

Approach: Until Harper signs elsewhere, I won't believe he's off the table for the Cubs. Still, if we're to believe the reporting, the Cubs will need to find a way to shed payroll in order to add. That probably means attaching someone like Kyle Schwarber or Ian Happ to Tyler Chatwood in a trade. I'm not sure there's a way they could possibly offload Jason Heyward's deal, so it's going to have to be Chatwood's. 

If the Cubs really are in a major budget crunch, though, I can't help but think it's going to be an awfully quiet offseason. So much went wrong last season with injuries and underperformance and they still won 95 games. Nearly everyone of importance is back. Maybe they don't need to do much aside from a bullpen piece or two and a veteran backup catcher.

Cincinnati Reds

Needs: My colleague R.J. Anderson covered it in depth back in September: Starting pitching. They could use multiple starters. 

Approach: The Reds likely have the ability to spend some in free agency and they've already been connected in rumors to the likes of Dallas Keuchel, J.A. Happ and a Matt Harvey reunion. It seems likely they'd be priced out of someone like Keuchel, but Happ and Harvey are certainly doable. Wade Miley would work. He had the best season of his career with pitching coach Derek Johnson, who the Reds hired away from the Brewers. The Reds could also look to trade and a project like Sonny Gray would be a nice fit. Don't rule out the Reds adding bullpen help, either, especially if they can't land a starter to their liking. 

Milwaukee Brewers

Needs: After non-tendering Jonathan Schoop and losing Mike Moustakas to free agency, the Brewers could use either a second baseman or third baseman with Travis Shaw filling the other hole. They could choose to go with Hernan Perez at second, but he's probably better served as a backup. Prospect Keston Hiura isn't far off, so the likely path for a signing would be a veteran on a one-year deal. 

Pitching-wise, the Brewers could be set. Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Jeremy Jeffress and Corbin Burnes return for a very strong bullpen while the rotation could go: Jhoulys Chacin, Jimmy Nelson, Zach Davies, Chase Anderson and Brandon Woodruff. It would be concerning to not add to the rotation this offseason, though, given the possible issues with that group. They also lost Joakim Soria, so perhaps they'd like another back-end weapon. 

Approach: A portion of the farm system has been drained with the Christian Yelich trade and graduations to the big-league club, so a big trade appears unlikely. Much of the reportage around the team suggests there isn't much money to be spent. Maybe J.A. Happ's price is low enough or a reunion with Wade Miley happens. Some other arms that could come cheap: Clay Buchholz, Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey, Jeremy Hellickson. There are lots of options at second base, too, such as Derek Dietrich, Logan Forsythe and maybe they could afford Jed Lowrie, due to his age and injury history. 

Pittsburgh Pirates

Needs: The Pirates don't really have a shortstop and it seems like that would be an issue, right? 

Also, after being a buyer last July because of the most ill-timed winning streak I can remember, they are probably closer to rebuilding than contending, right? 

Approach: They should be able to spend a bit in free agency, but I don't have much in the way of an expectation that they will spend a lot. Jordy Mercer could probably be re-signed. Jose Iglesias is also a free agent and could be a fit. 

On the possibly rebuilding front, catcher Francisco Cervelli hits free agency after 2019, so he's a trade candidate. Starter Ivan Nova is in the same boat. It doesn't appear they will do a major rebuild, which means Starling Marte and Chris Archer stay put. 

St. Louis Cardinals

Needs: A big bat either at third base or in right field. That screams Harper or Machado and they've been connected to Harper in rumors. The back end of the bullpen could use a sure thing, too.

Approach: My hunch is they are going to put the full court press on Harper. If they lose out there, they'll try to convince Machado to move to third base. The fallbacks, then, would be Mike Moustakas at third and perhaps the likes of A.J. Pollock, Andrew McCutchen, Avisail Garcia or -- much further down the list, due to age -- Nick Markakis.

In the bullpen, surely the top target would be Craig Kimbrel. If the Cardinals land one of the two megastars, they won't be able to afford Kimbrel. Other possible late-inning relievers the Cardinals could grab if they don't land Machado or Harper: Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Jeurys Familia, Adam Ottavino, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Hunter Strickland

Let's also note that the Cardinals can do some infield rearranging and trade for Paul Goldschmidt. The rumor mill has suggested the Diamondbacks would like to package Goldschmidt with Zack Greinke's big contract and the Cardinals could handle that. It would take them out of the Harper/Machado running, but what if they are already out? 

A deal for Goldschmidt and Grienke while signing Kimbrel would be a pretty nice offseason. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Snyder has been a baseball writer with CBS Sports since 2011. A member of the BBWAA, he's now covered every World Series since 2010. The former Indiana University baseball player now lives on the... Full Bio

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