NL Central trade deadline guide: Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals headline a buyer-heavy division

The single July 31 trade deadline is now only a little more than two weeks away. There have already been a handful of trades this summer (Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankees, Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox, Homer Bailey to the Athletics) and no doubt there are many more to come. Contenders and rebuilders only have a short time to act.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, we here at CBS Sports are going to take a division-by-division look around the league to see which teams are buying, which teams are selling, and which teams might do a little of both. Our venture continues today with the NL Central. 

This has easily been the most competitive division in baseball and things could change very quickly in the matter of a few days. We saw something similar happen last year, when the general consensus was that the Pirates -- having dealt Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole the previous offseason -- would be sellers, but they had an 11-game winning streak as part of a 13-of-15 hot streak going to late July and ended up as buyers. As such, much of what we'll see below is uncertainty. 

2019 MLB Trade Deadline: NL Central Buy or Sell

Status: Definite buyer

This is probably the longest window of contention in club history, with the Cubs having gone to the playoffs four straight years, a stretch that includes a World Series title and three trips to the NLCS. They are in first place and their best position players are still in their primes. Of course they'll buy. They already have during this season, by signing closer Craig Kimbrel and shipping out reliever Mike Montgomery for backup catcher Martin Maldonado. They could use much more bullpen depth, another starter for depth purposes wouldn't hurt -- though I doubt that's a focus -- and a consistent bat at second base, third base (with Kris Bryant playing outfield) or in the outfield wouldn't hurt. On the bullpen front, the Giants would be a nice match with either Will Smith or Tony Watson (or both, if we want to get crazy), but there's no guarantee they'll be sellers. If Ken Giles can come back healthy, he's certainly an option, though the Cubs definitely need lefties more than righties. As for bats, the Cubs have been connected to the Royals' Whit Merrifield, but it sounds like their demands are unrealistic. David Peralta's also been mentioned but, again, we can't be sure the D-Backs will sell. Peralta leading off in a corner outfield spot with Jason Heyward playing center field would be a really nice fit. Consistency is something the Cubs are missing in the lineup and Peralta had the exact same average and on-base percentage in 2017 and 2018. Kole Calhoun could also be a fit. I wonder if the Cubs have what it would take for Mitch Haniger? We know the Mariners are always willing to deal and Roenis Elias could be included to beef up the bullpen. Nick Castellanos of the Tigers would be a rental and is a negative on defense, but his bat would play. Regardless of the direction, expect Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to be aggressive. The Cubs' window is still open, but they aren't near as good this season was they were in the last few years. The roster has felt stale. They need to mix it up.

Status: Hold, for now

The Reds have been fighting with the Pirates to stay out of last place recently, but they are within striking range of contention, to the point that it would send a bad message to fans if they sold. A losing streak in front of July 31 would mean a big sell-off, though. Why? Because the following players hit free agency after the season: Alex Wood (yes, he's almost ready to return), Tanner Roark, Scooter Gennett, Yasiel Puig, David HernandezJared Hughes (2020 club option for $3M) and Jose Iglesias . The Reds could keep a bunch of their young core and supplement it by building more prospect currency in dealing most or all of those players. It might actually be better for the team in the long run. To reiterate, though, they aren't out of contention. If the Reds do buy, I get the feeling it'll be with long-term interests. That is to say, I can't see them coughing up prized prospects for players in a rental situation. We've already mentioned the ridiculous price the Royals reportedly have on Merrifield, but he would be a nice fit here, notably with Gennett being a free agent after the season and his positional flexibility. An upgrade at shortstop would be nice, as Iglesias offers very little with the bat. Freddy Galvis could work and I suppose they could try to deal with Jonathan Villar. Pitching-wise, they don't need much. As noted, Wood is coming back soon and they'll also get Amir Garrett off the injured list. Depth never hurts, so of course they'll surely be in discussions about bullpen arms along with every other contender. Most fascinating here is how the next few weeks play out in terms of wins and losses. The Reds could be buyers or one of the biggest sellers. To say that on July 17 is pretty fun, but that's where we are.

Status: Buyer

The defending NL Central champs have been pretty bad for the last month or so, to the point that they are now below .500 since their 7-1 start. After going to the NLCS last season and with Christian Yelich firmly in the middle of his prime, there is zero chance the Brewers sell right now. Maybe losing out until July 31 changes things, but that's an extreme hypothetical. It sounds ridiculous to say this if we think back to our perspective in March, but the Brewers could use a power bat at first base with how awful Jesus Aguilar and Travis Shaw have been this year. Justin Smoak hits free agency after this season. His numbers this year aren't good, but maybe he'd be rejuvenated with a change of scenery and with a contender. Most of all, the Brewers are going to seek pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. They've been connected in rumors multiple times with the Giants regarding Will Smith and Madison Bumgarner but, again, the Giants are white hot and might not even sell. We've also seen the Brewers connected to Diamondbacks' lefty Robbie Ray in rumors and that would be a real nice fit. The Brewers have also been said to be "monitoring" Mets right-handers Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler (who is hurt but might be back before the deadline) but it feels like the Mets would want a lot and would be tough to deal with. Other names to watch here would be Marcus Stroman, Matthew Boyd (though the Tigers' price is said to be astronomical) and Trevor Bauer (if the Indians go on a losing streak). A lot of the help needs to come internally, too. The Brewers simply need their players to play better.

Status: Hold, for now, but probably seller

Similar to the Reds, the Pirates could sure use some clarity. As things stand, they are within striking distance in terms of games, but there are teams in the way that make it harder to determine if they are truly a contender that needs to buy. Plus, I have to imagine the way that last year went down (winning streak then dealing Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow for Chris Archer) would make Neal Huntington a little gun shy. If they do get into seller territory, Francisco Cervelli (assuming he gets back from his concussions safely and can catch) hits free agency after the season and could be a fit for a team needing a rental catcher. Ditto for outfielder Corey Dickerson and Melky Cabrera in the outfield along with southpaw reliever Francisco Liriano. There are two areas where the Pirates could make a big splash and look to supplement the future core around budding superstar Josh Bell. 1. Starling Marte. He's 30 and is a good but not great all-around player. There's an $11.5 million club option for next season and a $12.5 million club option for 2021. 2. Felipe Vazquez. The 28-year-old closer is controlled pretty cheaply through 2023 ($10 million club options in 2022-23). The stud lefty could fetch a pretty penny, though reports indicate the Pirates' asking price is far too high (something like an organization's top three prospects). If the Pirates do buy, they would need to fix the rotation most and would probably benefit from multiple upgrades unless Jameson Taillon returns with a clean bill of health. Regardless, having three pitchers in the rotation with an ERA over five is something that needs to be addressed if they are planning on contending.

Status: Buyer

The Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt this past offseason and extended him. That's not the move of a seller and the Cardinals haven't been a seller in some time. And while they've hovered around .500 for the past few months, they are within striking distance of first place and sitting in playoff position right now. That's a buyer. Welcome to the competitive (or mediocre) National League! In looking around the roster, the sense I get is that it's littered with players who should be playing better, such as Goldschmidt, Paul DeJong after his big start, Jose Martinez at the plate, Harrison Bader and possibly in his age-related-decline Matt Carpenter. They aren't really great anywhere, but they aren't really terrible anywhere. They could use a third base upgrade, but likely will hope Carpenter turns things around. Aside from that, it's all about pitching, whether rotation help or a reliever or two. On the latter front, the Cardinals -- and seemingly every other contender -- have been connected to Will Smith. If they look at rotation help, we're back to cycling through a bunch of the same names: Bumgarner, Wheeler, Stroman, Bauer, Boyd and so on. Reports indicate they are willing to deal righty Carlos Martinez or outfielders such as Tyler O'Neill and Lane Thomas. Similar to the Cubs and Brewers, the Cardinals also just need a lot of their established talents to perform better. It sounds simple, but they have talent in house.
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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