Grading NL Central Offseason- Right Now

Pittsburgh Pirates: D

It was a quiet winter in the steel city adding just outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall whom you would think is just competing for a bench spot. The loss of Josh Harrison will hurt from a clubhouse perspective, while Ivan Nova’s movement will hurt from an innings eating perspective.

The Pirates would have a much higher grade if you considered the work they did at the trade deadline.  Having a full year of Chris Archer will make a difference for a team that was a surprising contender for a large part of 2018. Archer adds to their rotation that also features young stars in the making Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, making as solid top three.   The depth of the rotation takes a little plunge after that.

Cincinnati Reds: B+

The Reds got a B+ mainly for unloading the contract of Homer Bailey.  Getting rid of Bailey seemed like only a dream at the beginning of the offseason but they were able to do it while bringing in a potential steal of talent in Yasiel Puig.  While Puig has not lived up to the original hype he still brings some excitement to a Red’s organization that needed to show their fans that they are still trying to win.

The Reds were able to add some nice pieces to their rotation with former Dodger lefty Alex Wood and former Nationals righty Tanner Roark.  Both add depth to a very thin rotation.  These players both come from winning organizations which can only help the young starters during a season the season.

While trades were the main story the resigning of hard throwing closer Raisel Iglesias is an underappreciated move.  The Reds are not going to be frontrunners for the division next season, but their moves have made them no longer a push over.

Chicago Cubs: D-

Not that there was much expectation in the Chicago offseason with a cash strapped team but making virtually no improvements is never going to grade out well.  The Cubs should be getting back the services of last season’s big acquisition Yu Darvish. They will also have a full season of Cole Hamels.  The Cubs are hoping reclamation project Kendall Graverman still has something in the tank.

The rotation will be stronger to start the season. But the bullpen will still be a problem in the back end.  Uncertainty of the injury to Brandon Morrow and thee losses of Justin Wilson and Jesse Chavez leave the Cubs very vulnerable if there are any further injuries. 

Replacing Tommy La Stella with Daniel Descalso is a nice upgrade but other than that not much to say here.

Milwaukee Brewers: C+

We you have a team with very few holes you would think they would look to fill those holes.  Added another starter was a sensible move for the defending division champs.  Instead the added to the opposite end by adding the best catcher on the market Yasmani Grandal.  An already potent lineup made themselves even more dangerous.  Grandal whose offense has always been the story of his career, but his defense has been an underrated aspect of his career for a long time.  Grandal ranked first in the league pitch framing ahead of defensive juggernauts Yadier Molina and Jeff Mathis

The Brewers chose to nontender their two lefties opening up a spot for former Rangers closer Alex Claudio.  Claudio will have to pick up the slack of a few different lost relievers. He’s held opposing lefties to a .194/.220/.278 line in 315 total plate appearances over his five-year career, thanks in part to a deceptive delivery.

The Brewers getting a C+ is based off of their previous work.  The 2018 offseason and trade deadline were clearly an A+.  I would have liked to see the Brewers bring back a second baseman that is more proven rather than have Cory Spangenberg play hold over for top prospect Keston Huira. 

Bonus points for trading away Domingo Santana, he deserved a shot to play every day.

St. Louis Cardinals- A-

The Cardinals needed a corner infield and a reliver.  They added the best first baseman in the majors for a group of players that were not going to be a part of their plans in the 2019 season. Luke Weaver had fallen out of favor, Carson Kelly was quietly becoming too old to be a prospect and I couldn’t remember the other guy’s name, but he was a 26-year old infielder. 

The Cardinals didn’t stop at Goldschmidt adding long time reliver Andrew Miller to the fold, while he is not considered a closer he gives the Cardinals a lot of options at the backend.

St. Louis gets an A- because they still have a need for a bonifide closer and there is a gap in right field.  Still the Cardinal had a very successful winter.

NL Wildcard Game Preview

Colorado Rockies at Chicago Cubs

The Colorado Rockies entered the 2018 NL Wildcard Game with a pretty large disadvantage.  Losing a tough game to division rival LA in the afternoon and having to jump on a plan and go half way around the country to face one of the best playoff pitchers of the last ten year in Jon Lester.  Not only are they facing Lester but they are facing a team that has found themselves in the NLCS the last three years.  Let’s look compare and pick the NL Wildcard Game.

Starting Pitcher- Advantage Cubs or maybe not.

Jon Lester stands out when you compare the two lefties, but is his experience really enough.  Lester has faced the Rockies hitters an astonishing 138 times in his career. The most being veteran Matt Holliday who has crushed Lester to a .467 career batting average.  I don’t know if Bud Black has the confidence to start the veteran in this do or die game but if he did it would make sense when looking at the numbers.  Playing Holiday would most likely mean red hot youngster David Dahl would be taking a seat.  If Holiday does get the start it would not be long before he is replaced for defense or base running.

Rockies starter Kyle Freeland has had a breakout season, the 25 year old lefty went 18-8 with a 2.85ERA.  Quietly establishing himself as a go to starter for Bud Black.  Surprsingly Freeland actually has better numbers at Coors Field then he does on the road sporting a prolific 2.40ERA in the historically hitter friendly park.  Freeland was no slouch on the road either posting just 3.23ERA.  Freeland’s most intriguing stat line is just giving up 6 homers in 103 innings on the road.  Against a powerful Cubs lineup he will need to make sure and limit the damage that can come in bunches.  Kris Bryant has the best numbers against Freeland but the sample size is to small to overreact.

I like the matchup of Freeland vs the Cubs lefties but you can’t ignore the experience of the veteran Lester.  Slight advantage in starting pitching to the Cubbies.  Very slight.

Batting Order- Advantage Rockies

Colorado has pop and speed from 1-7 in their order.  Tony Wolters (assuming he starts) may also quietly have an advantage over Lester, going 2-4 with a walk in 5 career AB’s versus the veteran.  Nolan Arenado is a better hitter the Javy Baez and the Rockies have multiple threats to deal with including a surging Trevor Story and an always dangerous Charlie Blackmon.  I think it is the potential of the bench bats like Gerardo Parra and Matt Holliday that set the Rockies a part from the Cubbies.

The Cubs are no slouches.  Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo are as good a middle of the order that you will have in the league but Baez can be inconsistent and over anxious at times. Bryant will be the key to this game, I can see him being in big spots and coming through against Freeland.  Albert Almora will also play a big factor if he gets the start.

Both lineup are potent but with the lefty on the mound I am giving a slight edge to the Rockies.  Their depth is just a little better, I can also see them trying to take advantage of Lester on the base paths.

Bullpen- Advantage, who knows.

The Rockies spent money in the off season trying to rebuild a bullpen that was not good to say the least.  Wade Davis and Bryan Shaw have not lived up to the money they were paid but they still have the experience in a big game atmosphere to be effective.  With all hands on deck for an elimination game I would not be surprised to see Jon Gray and Adam Ottavino very early in this game.

The Cubs have made it work with their bullpen despite injuries to Pedro Strop and Brandin Morrow.  With the season on the line we could see a quick trigger from Joe Maddon.  Steve Cishek and Justin Wilson will be assets that an be targeted at any point of the game.

Both of these teams have their issues in the bullpen but I have to lean to the Rockies in this situation.  Wade Davis has been bad this year, but he is the most sure thing in a closing roll that either team has.  So advantage Rockies.

Who will win?

This game is tough.  Everything points to the Cubs winning.  They are better rested, have the more proven starter and a veteran lineup.  So, I am going to go with the Rockies.  Colorado will make life hell for Lester on the basepaths and force mistakes.  Joe Maddon is the best hope for Chicago.  His history of making the right decisions in a pinch will make it a great game.

Rockies upset Cubs 6-3.

NL Central Infield Rankings

Spring training has begun, before you know it the 2018 season will be upon us.  Last week we took a look at the NL Central’s top outfields, the St. Louis Cardinals coming out on top of our rankings, now lets dip into the infields.

5.Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 WAR: 6.6

Projected infield: Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Colin Moran

Potential Starter: David Freese

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of a rebuild. Players like Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will claim roles on this infield most likely until the trade deadline hits.  Two players that can play multiple positions have become a hot commodity in the MLB.

The emergence of Josh Bell at first base has given this infield a bright spot for the future. Bell’s season went under the radar to most baseball fans, clubbing 26 Homers while driving in 90RBI’s solidified his place in the middle of the Pirates order for many years come.  Bell very well could be the new face of this franchise, fans love the long ball and Bell will hit a lot of the them.

Mercer, Harrison and now Bell have become proven MLB players.  The biggest question facing the potential of this infield will be at third base.  Jung Ho Kang was set to be the 3rd baseman of this team for many years, until a drunk driving incident in his native Korea caused a loss of his work visa.  This unfortunate event opened up the chance for veteran and former World Series hero David Freese to assume the starting job. Freese put up solid numbers last season, but ultimately the Pirates are hoping Colin Moran, acquired in the Gerrit Cole deal, will take over the starting spot. Moran, 25, will have a chance to be the starter right away.  Projections show that he has the power of a major league player, but can he consistently hit.  The main reason the Pirates rank last in our projections is that we don’t think 2/4 of this group will even be on the team by the end of the season.

There is some young talent here but overall it’s not great.

4. Milwaukee Brewers 2017 WAR: 7.8

Projected infield: Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Oswaldo Arcia, Johnathon Villar

Potential Starter: Hernan Perez

The Milwaukee Brewers have a stacked outfield, but the infield has question marks.  Third Baseman Travis Shaw and potential second baseman Hernan Perez had career years in 2017.  Shaw’s power is for real, but he his lefty’s at a much more solid clip then he has in previous seasons.  If Shaw can keep those splits where they are we could see a future star in the making.  Perez on the other hand seemed to come out of nowhere for the Brew Crew in 2017.  His 14 homers and 13 steals were a nice boost to the team in spots starts.  He has to work on pitch selection though as his .289OBP is not something you want to see from a starter.  My guess is he keeps his role as spot starter in 2018, leaving the door open for former hight level prospect Jonathan Villar.

Villar entered 2017 with some high expectations, moving over to 2nd base was going to help him with his defensive issue and allow him to focus on getting on base.  The 2016 stolen base champ with a measly .293OBP, losing at bats the previously mentioned Perez as well as career backup Eric Sogard.  Villar still stole 24 bases in 2017, that part of his game is going anywhere.  But with uncertainty at the plate, expectations can’t and won’t be to high in 2018.

The final pieces of the puzzle, Korea’s Godzilla Eric Thames and Oswaldo Arcia round out an high upside infield core.  Thames proved to be worth the money handed out by the Brewers, bashing 31 homers in 2017, backing it up with a respectable .359OBP, Thames will most likely platoon for the Brewers in 2018, unless he figures out how to hit lefties, still not a bad option at first base.  Finally rookie Oswaldo Arcia impressed in his first full season.  Arcia, could very well be the best shortstop in the MLB one day, we don’t believe that will be in 2018 but very shortly we could see a version of Francisco Lindor on the National League side.

The Brewers have a lot of potential in the infield but with multiple platoon situations coming and the uncertainty of the 2nd base position, we can’t put them higher then 4th.

3. St. Louis Cardinals 2017 WAR: 10.5

Projected Infield: Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyroko

Potential Starter: Jose Martinez

The St. Louis Cardinals made efforts this offseason to improve their offense.  Reports of potential deals for Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado were being reported nearly everyday of the offseason.  But by the time spring training began the only real additions to the infield were prospects, Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock.  While Munoz has been a bright spot early in spring training the infield lineup seems pretty set.

Paul DeJong emerged from out of the shadows of the Cardinals prospect system taking over previous years rookie phenom Aledmys Diaz’s starting spot.  DeJong, has power and a solid glove, but his pitch selection is similar to Diaz’s, he will have to work on the strikeouts to finalize his potential.  While Dejong has the tools to be a star, his double play teammate Kolten Wong has slowly developed into a productive player with star potential.  Wong, is coming off a steady 2017 season, nothing flashy about his numbers, .285BA to go along with .375OBP are both hug improvements for Wong.  Both of these players should see a huge growth on the defensive end as well.  The Cardinals have brought back 3rd base coach and “secret weapon” Jose Oquendo.  Oquendo is well known for his ability to coach up players are the defensive end.

While the middle infield of the Cards is showing potential the real backbone of the organization is on the corners.  Veterans Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyroko both have there strengths and their flaws.  Gyroko, has found a home at 3rd base, ranking in the top 3 in defensive runs saved, with the addition of Marcell Ozuna, Gyroko will also have less pressure in the lineup, moving down to a role that suits his attributes much better. Matt Carpenter is one of the best lead-off men in baseball, that’s really his only good attribute.

The Cardinals are good on the infield, but they are much better in the outfield.  Third is a fair assessment.

2. Cincinnati Reds 2017 WAR: 13.3

Projected Starters: Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza

The Cincinnati Reds were a surprising second in total war for Central infielders in 2017 and this total was added up without All-Star Zack Cozart who left for California in the offseason.  The Reds have built a very strong in field heading into the 2018 season.  Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez are perfect fits for the hitter friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. Both supplied power in 2017 and there is no reason to expect anything less in 2018.

The question is can Peraza filled the void of Zack Cozart.  Cozart not only brought production at the plate but he also brought it with the glove.  Peraza has been a utility player for most of his career, establishing a position for him in 2018 could be the push he needs to make him a consistent major leaguer.  With the long time troubles of Billy Hamilton to get on base, Peraza could be thrust into the leadoff role in 2018, while his OBP doesn’t make him the clear canidate, his speed and 30 point higher BA gifts has to make him the frontrunner over Hamilton.

Finally we have Joey Votto, arguably the best first baseman in baseball.  Votto has every offensive tool. He alone, propels this group to the near top of the list.  Such a shame he seems to be wasting away in Cincinnati, hopefully they begin the track back to the top.  A player of this ability needs to have a chance at a World Series

1. Chicago Cubs 2017 WAR: 14.4

Projected Starters: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell

Potential Starter: Ben Zobrist

The Cubs are the most talented defensive and offensive infield potentially in the league.  Their ability to plug in a plus defender at any position is second to none.  The Cubs may plan to use Ben Zobrist or Javy Baez and super utility men in 2018, rotating them as they see fit.  The argument can be made that both players would be plus starters at multiple positions.  We are going to assume they go with Baez at second base and Russell at short.  Both players have limitation at the plate, but the upside far out weighs those limitations.

Russell and Baez make the best defensive middle infield in baseball, Baez took major steps on the offensive end in 2017, his 23 homers along with a .273BA showed a glimpse of his offensive potential.  Baez’s continued emergencs along with a healthy Addison Russell could make the Cubs infield incomparable.

Rizzo and Bryant are MVP contenders every year.  This team’s questions are on in the infield.  The Cubs are the best in the Central, maybe the league.



NL Central Outfield Rankings

The NL Central has been one of the most continuously active divisions in an offseason that has been mostly dull.  As we begin spring training we have to decide which teams stand out from the rest in each category.  We are going to begin with the outfield, additions and subtractions have set a few teams apart from the others.  Let’s get to ranking!

5. Cincinnati Reds, 2017 combined WAR: 5

Projected Starters: Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton

Fourth Outfielder: Jesse Winker

The Cincinnati Reds currently sit last in our rankings due mainly to the fact that they are unsure of the future os speedster Billy Hamilton. Jesse Winker proved that he is ready for the big leagues but with Hamilton still in the fold manager Bryan Price may be forced into a platoon situation.

Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler combined for 61 homeruns in 2017, both however showed that they can be boom or bust a large percentage of the time.  Schebler and Duvall both hit just above .230BA and hovered around .301 OBP.  While they have been tasked with driving in runs the lack of production from speedster Billy Hamilton left them with few options to drive in.

The Reds have a solid future to grow on in the outfield but right now it is full of unproven potential.  Great American Ballpark will help them provide the power but outside of that and Duvall/ Hamilton’s solid defense, there is much to like about this outfield core.

4. Pittsburgh Pirates, 2017 Combined WAR: 3.3

Projected Starters: Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Adam Frazier

Fourth Outfielder: Jordan Luplow or Daniel Nava?

It wasn’t long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates sat on top of this list.  Andrew McCutchen claimed that they the best young outfield in the game.  Now he sits in a San Francisco dugout wondering what could have been.

The Pirates still have two potentially dynamic players in Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, but with Polanco’s injury history and lack of true star production you have to question whether his ability will ever match expectations.  Polanco still has never hit above .258 in three full major league seasons.   Marte entered 2017 as the potential breakout star of baseball senior circuit, a gold glover with the ability to one day be a 30/30 man in the majors with a strong .350OBP.  Sadly a early season steroid suspension put a hole in a season that looked to have big time promise.  Marte has now taken on the role of team leader and star as he shifts to centerfield for 2018, can he pick up for the lose of McCutchen not only on the field but also the locker room?

The Pirates also have to determine whether Adam Frazier, infielder by trade, is the answer in left field.  Frazier provides stability but pretty much no power for a team that will be looking to replace 28HR from its lineup.  The Pirates just added veteran Daniel Nava to it’s roster to compete for the position but, let’s be honest, Daniel Nava is what he is and that is not a consistent MLB starter.

Rookie Austin Meadows is still developing, but as of right now, the Pirates have to options in the outfield and the rest is a coin flip.  Marte and Polanco’s ability though allows them to stay ahead of the Reds for last place.


3. Chicago Cubs, 2017 Combined WAR: 5.4

Projected Starters: Jason Heyward, Albert Amora, Kyle Schwarber

Fourth Outfielder: Ian Happ

The Chicago Cubs have a lot of potential players that could spend a lot of time patrolling the outfield in the friendly confines.  But I see Ben Zobrist as more of an infield option at second base.  That leaves us with a few question marks with serious potential.

While I am sure the Cubs regret the amount of money spent on Jason Heward, they will never admit it because you still get the best defensive outfielder in baseball.  While Heyward has been great defensively his offensive output has been subpar over the last two seasons and there is no reason to think it will improve.

Luckily for the Cubbies Albert Amora showed flashes of brilliance in 2017, defensively he has the talent to play center and he bat has begun to show signs of life, his .338OBP and .298BA lead all cubs outfielders in 2017, with another year of experience under his belt he can only improve.

Kyle Schwarber will be the greatest mystery of the bunch.  While Schwarber supplies the power that fans and GM’s drool over, he has not developed as a complete hitter.  Being sent down last season seemed to do him some good but the Cubs need an improvement from the .211BA.  Schwarber’s limitations defensively will force Joe Maddon to sit him in big situations of games as well as limit his overall usage.  Reports say that Schwarber has come into spring training in great shape, but does that really magically turn him into a viable outfielder?

Ian Happ is good, if the Cubs can find AB’s for him he will hit 30 homers, but who do they sit to make room?

2. Milwaukee Brewers, 2017 Combined WAR: 13.7

Projected Starters: Chritian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Ryan Braun

Fourth Outfielder: Domingo Santana

It’s hard to argue with the depth of the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers.  The additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain vaulted them right into the stratosphere of athletic/dynamic outfields.Yelich and Cain immediately provide upgrades in the lineup as well as defensively.  The Biggest question about this new look outfield is who is what Ryan Braun is going to show up in 2018

Braun featured career lows in every statistical category in 2017 outside of his injury riddled 2013 season.  Braun will have less pressure as the big names come into the fold but for the Brewers to overcome the arch rival Cubs they will need some form of the former MVP.

Another question that comes is what to do with Domingo Santana. Santana smashed 30 dingers for the Brew Crew in 2017 and now he has to relegated to a bench role.  Finding holes in the Brewers outfield depth was tough but, Cain has only played two full seasons in the majors without any injury issues and Braun seems to be a shell of his former self.  They are dynamic and talented but there are a lot of questions that still have no answers.

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 2017 Combined WAR: 14.3

Projected Starters: Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler, Marcell Ozuna

Fourth Outfielder: Jose Martinez

The Cardinals entered the 2017 offseason with a goal to add a power bat.  They were successful and now Marcell Ozuna will play in the most talented outfield in the NL Central.

The biggest question about the Cardinals outfield is whether or not Tommy Pham’s monster season was a fluke or not.  The fact is that Tommy Pham has his on every level in professional baseball.  If not for his injury history then he would have been in the majors a long time ago.

Now you may ask, What if he does get hurt again?  The Cardinals feature a stable of young talented outfielders ready to step in on a moments notice.  Guys like Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader have come to the majors and made an impact.

The pickup of Ozuna gave the Cardinals the flexibility in the lineup and defensively, what gets lost in Ozuna’s gaudy power numbers is his defensive ability.  The pickup of Ozuna allowed the Cardinals to move Pham to center and Fowler to right.  Each of these players made MLB’s top 10 outfielders by position and they are set to dominate the league.  The Cardinals have their flaws but the outfield is not one of them.



NL Central Chess Game- Yu Darvish

The NL Central has seen the most activity as a league during the 2018 off-season, Yu Darvish was just the latest move in a three way chess match for dominance.

The final memory of the 2017 MLB season was forgettable for Yu Darvish.  Two starts in the fall classic ended with Darvish setting new career lows in innings pitched per start. But the Chicago Cubs remembered Darvish a little differently, 6.1 innings pitched allowing 1 run while striking out 7.  Darvish helped end the cubbies season, now he looks to be the final piece for a potential championship.

Saturday, the Cubs inked the All-Star starter to a 6year $126million contract, taking the number 1 rated free agent pitcher off the market.  The Cubs effectively addressed their biggest concern leading into the 2018 season.  After several down seasons the Cubs utilized draft picks to build a strong core of position players which allowed them to make the moves necessary to fill a pitching staff with hired guns.  The Cubs rank dead last in innings pitched by “home grown” talent since 2012. Darvish will take the spot of departing free agent Jake Arrieta, presumably finalizing the 2018 rotation.  Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and fellow newcomer Tyler Chatwood,  forming the most complete rotation in the top heavy NL Central.

While the Cubs had an available spot in the rotation, this can be looked at as a reaction to the moves made by fellow NL Centrals rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers made moves to bolster their offenses to catch up with the powerhouse NL Central Champs.  The Cubs made the best counter move they could by bringing in Darvish.  Questions still loom around the Cubs bullpen, can they replace All-World closer Wade Davis with Brandon Morrow or Steve Cishek?  They also have to question the ability of long time ace Jon Lester, whom saw a nearly one run per game increase in ERA in 2017.  Darvish will provide stability to the rotation, playing his first five season in the bigs in hitter friendly Ballpark in Arlington, Darvish should have no fear of fellow hitter friendly Wrigley Field.

The Cubs inability to build pitching has been the lone criticism of a team that has now made three straight playoff appearances as well as two straight NLCS appearance.  But while the Cardinals and Brewers have to wait for young arms to develop, they Cubbies have been able to build a strong rotation that comes in immediately MLB ready.  The length of the contact will also give GM Theo Epstein a chance to continue to build.  If Lester is on his last leg and Kyle Hendricks comes back to the real world, Darvish will be able to fill in as the ace of a staff that will be competing for many years behind the great position player core.

While $126million sounds like a big number, in todays pitcher market Darvish comes in at a bargain price.  The Cardinals and Brewers have just been put on notice.  The Cubs have a grasp on the Central that they will not give up.  With great free agents still on the market it is the Cardinals and Brewers move.