The offseason is winding down, which means it’s time to evaluate which teams made the right moves and which ones got caught sleeping. Although there are still some big names out there that could help some teams whose rosters are lacking, let’s take a look at which NL Central teams will improve upon their 2013 final positions.
2014 NL Central Rankings & Projections
5. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs had a very quiet offseason, which was to be expected. They’re still playing the waiting game, rebuilding as best as they can while the Pirates, Reds, and Cardinals battle it out. The only notable moves were signing Jose Veras and Wesley Wright to shore up the bullpen, and trading Brian Bogusevic for Justin Ruggiano. They also signed Ryan Roberts to act as a solid utility infielder. Like I said, quiet.
Chicago doesn’t have the guns to even make a splash in the NL Central this year. Their pitching staff isn’t even a little bit good, with Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood at the top, Edwin Jackson filling in the 3-spot. The final two spots will be filled by either Chris Rusin, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel or James McDonald. There’s some okay talent there, but I’m not banking on any of those guys winning more than 11 games.
As far as the lineup goes…sigh. Anthony Rizzo is the only real bopper, although Nate Schierholtz isn’t without a bit of pop. Junior Lake showed last year he can be an exciting and talented ballplayer, but let’s wait and see what happens when he gets a full season. I refuse to believe that last year’s abominable stats are an accurate gauge of Starlin Castro’s talents, and I fully expect him to bounce back and have a decent year.
I said it earlier—they’re rebuilding. Don’t expect anything out of the Cubs for the next couple of years.
Projected Finish: 69-93
4. Milwaukee Brewers
I tell you what, the Brewers lineup looks darn good this year. They’ll have Ryan Braun back, and even if he isn’t quite up to par with his typical performance he will still be dangerous. The rest of the lineup is full of young studs—Scooter Gennett, Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis are all extremely talented, and Aramis Ramirez will add some pop and a much-needed veteran presence. The Brewers are definitely on the rise offensively.
Pitching-wise they’re no slouch either. Kyle Lohse is the number one starter I suppose, and he’ll be backed up by Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada (or so I believe). I’ve always been a big Gallardo fan, and Lohse and both have ace potential. I don’t believe quite so firmly in Peralta and Estrada, but they could certainly both win 10 games at the back end. Will Smith was added to the bullpen in the Norichiki Aoki trade, and while it’s nothing to write home about, it certainly isn’t terrible. I’m excited to see what Jim Henderson can do this year at the back end.
I don’t see the Brewers making a playoff run this year, but I think they’re one or two years away from legitimate contention. Definitely keep an eye on Milwaukee in 2014.
Projected Finish: 80-82
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are going to come back in 2014 with a very similar roster as the one that made the playoffs last year, which is not a bad thing at all. The biggest move they made this offseason was adding Edinson Volquez, who will most certainly not fill the gap created by the departure of AJ Burnett. However, they will get a full season out of Gerrit Cole, and if Francisco Liriano is even close to as good as he was in 2013 the Pirates will still have a solid rotation. Jeff Locke and Wandy Rodriguez will occupy the other two spots, with Charlie Morton waiting in the wings.
The lineup is exciting and dynamic, led by five-tool stud Andrew McCutchen. Starling Marte and Jose Tabata will complement him in the outfield, with Pedro Alvarez, Jordy Mercer, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez and Russell Martin filling out the infield. One area I think the Pirates need to address is first base, as I don’t think Sanchez has the stuff to be a full-time starting first baseman. I think the Pirates are going to land Kendrys Morales before the season starts, and he could be the last piece that this offense needs.
The Pitsburgh bullpen is, in a word, lethal. I don’t know if Jason Grilli (who’s from my hometown in fact) can repeat his surprise season last year, but even if he can’t Mark Melancon and Tom Watson are right there to back him up. Definitely no trouble at the end of ballgames for the Buccos.
The Pirates are going to be good this year, but I’m not sure that they’ll have the same magic. They’ll be in the fight for a wildcard spot until the bitter end, but I don’t know if they’ve got the stuff to make a playoff run again.
Projected Finish: 90-72
2. Cincinnati Reds
Another team that had a very quiet offseason, the Reds are really no worse off than they were at the end of the 2013 season, although it might not seem that way on paper. They lost Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo, which at first glance seems devastating. However, the Reds were fully prepared to let them walk, as they already had the replacements ready to go. Super speedster Billy Hamilton is going to slide into the spot vacated by Choo, and patrol center field for the Reds. Tony Cingrani, who has been up and down between the majors and minors, will slide ride into the rotation and finally get a shot at a full season.
Cingrani will be the tail end of a very solid rotation, comprised of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Cingrani. I wouldn’t want to face any of these guys on a good day. Definitely one of the best rotations in the National League assuming that Cueto bounces back with a healthy season. The bullpen is very solid as well, with Aroldis Chapman still scorching baseball bats at the back end. The Reds added Manny Parra to shore it up even further—no issues here for the time being.
Hamilton will provide a spark to an already solid lineup. Bruce and Phillips will continue to provide plenty of pop in the middle, and I fully expect Joey Votto to continue being Joey Votto. One of the weak spots in Cincinnati in 2013 was their bench, but they addressed it with the addition of Brayan Peña and super utility man Skip Schumacher.
The Reds won the first wildcard spot last year, and I expect them to make the playoffs again in 2014, with only the Cardinals in their way of taking the division title instead of a wildcard spot.
Projected Finish: 92-70
1. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals were weak in only one spot last year—shortstop. They swiftly addressed that by signing Jhonny Peralta, who has been one of the top offensive shortstops the last couple years. They did trade away David Freese, which allowed them to move Matt Carpenter over to third to clear space for Hawaiian speedster Kolten Wong. They received Peter Bourjos in the Freese trade, who will fill the outfield spot vacated by Carlos Beltran. I don’t think this lineup will be any less deadly than last year, even though it will have a very different look. I’m a big fan of this offense in 2014.
The pitching staff is equally deadly. I think come Opening Day we’ll see Wainwright, Michael Wach, Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Jaime Garcia. Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez could definitely see some starts though, and deservedly so. I think they’re second only to the Tampa Bay Rays as far as young starting pitching goes, and I think that with even more seasoning Wacha and Miller will be even better than last year. The bullpen is very solid as well, with Trevor Rosenthal shutting it down in the ninth. Plenty of solid arms to back him up as well—no worries at all in the late innings.
If you ask me, the Cardinals are the best all-around team in the National League, and are definitely the team to beat in the NL Central. A World Series run is the goal here, and an attainable one at that.
Projected Finish: 96-66
Agree? Disagree? I wanna know. Tweet me @Roto_Dubs or leave a comment here.