MLB Winter Meetings: Breaking down the team needs for every NL Central team
What should each NL Central team be looking to accomplish next week at the winter meetings?
Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings are set for next week. Generally speaking, the winter meetings have long been a place for lots of offseason action, notably trades and free-agent signings. Activity has been ratcheted down in recent years because of the influx of technology and front office personnel being able to easily communicate all the time, not just when they are all in one building.
Still, there's potential for this season to have a little extra bump. If teams are holding back a bit until there's a new collective bargaining agreement, and said agreement gets done before then, maybe we see a deluge. Hey, a guy can dream, right?
Leading up to the meetings, which begin Monday, we'll run through each division and take a look at the (remaining) offseason needs of each team.
We start in the NL Central.
The champs made some big splashes in each of the past two winter meetings and I wouldn't expect that trend to continue. They are in for a relatively quiet offseason.
That doesn't mean there's nothing to do. If Dexter Fowler signs elsewhere -- and that seems likely -- the Cubs still can use Albert Almora (righty) with Jason Heyward (lefty) in center. Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler and Ben Zobrist are still available as starters in the outfield when Javier Baez starts at second.
It's also possible that some of the names above are used along with a very nice stash of position-playing prospects in a trade for a longer-term starting pitcher (for the record it feels like Soler is the most likely to be traded and Schwarber won't be going anywhere). The rotation looks set with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Mike Montgomery, but both Arrieta and Lackey are free agents after next season while Montgomery could still be used in the swingman role (sixth starter, injury-replacement starter and long reliever).
The biggest immediate need is to shore up the bullpen. Leaving Montgomery out, the Cubs only have Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Justin Grimm, Rob Zastryzny and Felix Pena coming back. The latter two have limited experience and the Cubs could still prefer Zastryzny as a starter (so he'd begin in the minors).
Some might think the Cubs need to swing for the fences at closer, but they could also fill out the depth. They've had success with unheralded options before like Rondon. The 25-year-old Edwards has the look of a future stud closer, too.
The Reds bullpen was historically bad last season, but they stockpiled so many young arms in sell-offs the last few years that the pitchers who don't win starting jobs could be moved to the bullpen, and internal improvement is very possible. It already started last season with Michael Lorenzen looking good and Raisel Iglesias posting a 1.98 ERA as a reliever. Given the state of the rebuild, expect that to be the eighth-ninth inning duo for the Reds while they fill internally behind them for the most part.
The double-play combo of veterans Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart could be moved. In free agency, the middle infield options are terrible. Considering that and the fact that Cozart has decent trade value, the Reds could stand to add more pitching depth by dealing him. Phillips needs to go and it doesn't matter how. He only has one year left on his deal and barely any value left.
These moves would enable the Reds to play Dilson Herrera (who came over in the Jay Bruce trade) and Jose Peraza on an everyday basis up the middle between third baseman Eugenio Suarez and team leader Joey Votto.
Otherwise it's about adding cheap players with big upside in moves that casual fans won't even notice (see the second-to-last paragraph of the Brewers' entry below for an example of what I mean). Especially in this free agency class, there's no reason for a huge signing and they can't afford that anyway. Next year should be the year where the Reds are truly sorting out which players will be part of the nucleus that turns things around.
The Brewers are also still in a rebuild, but they won 73 games last season and aren't in as quite as rough shape as the Reds are in terms of payroll.
Still, Ryan Braun is 33 and has $80 million left on his deal through 2020 (it's $76 million in salary, but there's a $4 million buyout on his mutual option for 2021). This doesn't seem to match up well with the Brewers' intended turnaround. Plus, there aren't many good slugging options in free agency and Braun is coming off two very good seasons at the plate.
Otherwise, the Brewers need to keep doing what they've been doing. Look for bargains. They already grabbed a guy they seem to believe satisfies this in Eric Thames after doing so last year with the likes of Jonathan Villar and Junior Guerra.
It's still foundation-building time. Things have gone well so far under general manager David Stearns, so we'll see how it progresses this offseason.
Judging from most trade rumors, the Pirates aren't likely to trade Andrew McCutchen following his surprising down year. He's only signed through 2017, so a team in the Pirates' situation not looking to deal McCutchen says they aren't ready to give up on contention for this next season. Sure, they'd be selling low, but they'd also get plenty for him in this market.
Expecting a bounceback season from McCutchen is an area of reasonable improvement, as is expecting a healthy bounceback from ace Gerrit Cole and another step forward for Gregory Polanco. Young players like Josh Bell, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow have the potential for a huge impact. Same for Felipo Rivero in the bullpen if he can improve his control.
Basically, the Pirates need to count on a lot of youth and a few bounceback seasons from veterans in order to compete. How to guard against some of those questions? Find bargains to build depth.
The Pirates have scored huge in both free agency and trades for cheap starting pitching thanks to pitching guru Ray Searage. Ivan Nova, for example, is likely to be paid huge in free agency thanks in part to closing with 11 strong Pirates starts.
There are reports that Josh Harrison is being shopped and perhaps the Pirates have starting pitching targets in mind that seem fixable. The middle infield could already use some shoring up, as could the bullpen. In the case of the latter, though, it's possible the Pirates find good internal options. They are adept in this field.
And of course, they very well could trade Cutch. The hunch is they'd only do so if they get back players who help them compete in 2017 instead of looking for prospects who are years away from the bigs. There's enough here to jump back in contention right away.
The biggest thing here is the Cardinals need a center fielder. One who hits leadoff would be ideal so Matt Carpenter could hit third, as there isn't really another great leadoff option. There's only one free agent who works in this scenario and it's Dexter Fowler.
If no Fowler, the Cardinals would need to find a way to trade for someone who can play quality defense in center. It was a glaring issue in 2016.
The pitching staff should mostly be set, with Lance Lynn returning from Tommy John surgery to join four from the Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Alex Reyes, Jaime Garcia group in the rotation. Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal will be stretched out in the spring and look like possible long-relief shut-down options in front of closer Seung hwan Oh. Lefty Brett Cecil was already signed as well.
Sure, runs allowed was an issue last season, but there are pitchers on that list who should pitch better and the defense was pretty bad. Getting a true center fielder and sliding Randal Grichuk to a left (with Stephen Piscotty in right) is one way to help matters.
A recent report (Jon Morosi) says the Cards have shown interest in free agent third baseman Justin Turner. Should they land him, trading Jhonny Peralta makes sense. In fact, clearing Matt Adams wouldn't hurt, either. In such a scenario, the Cardinals would still have Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, Kolten Wong, Aledmys Diaz and Turner for four infield spots. That's a more athletic team.
Also, notice I listed six starting pitchers above. The Cardinals have great starting pitching depth and it's in demand this offseason. They could include some of this in order to offload someone like Peralta in order to land the center fielder they crave. We've heard Marcell Ozuna of the Marlins in trade rumors.
And, of course, every single team in baseball should be looking for more depth. With the Cardinals, specifically, they could stand a good backup catcher to help Yadier Molina to get more rest.
NEXT: We'll look at the AL Central on Wednesday
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