The NL Central looks like it’s Chicago and then everyone else -LSB

We’re taking our tour through the winter plans for all MLB teams, and today we’re landing in the NL Central, where the only monster inside might actually start acting like this.

Chicago Cubs

Owner cheap index: Before last week, it was one of the higher in the league, happy to collect the cash from their faceless, colorless town for recent Big 10 grades around the park. But after poaching Craig Counsell, maybe not?

Prospects: Inflating the manager’s pay scale to ditch the eternally opinionated and lost David Ross in a dump to bring in Craig Counsell signals. . . something. On the one hand, it wouldn’t make sense to bring in one of the best managers in the game for that kind of price and then just give him the talent from an 84-win team to turn into an 87- or change 88-win-one. , while I wish a prospect or two could add just a touch more. On the other hand, it would make perfect sense for Ricketts-Cubs.

It makes even more sense when the division has come back to, and even sunk under, the Cubs. The Brewers just lost their manager, one of their top starters is out for the year and the other is likely traded before the season. The Reds and Pirates are unlikely to supplement their young core with the signings they need. The Cardinals. . . whatever. The Cubs can easily just tinker from here and be Central favorites in 2024.

Should they have more ambition, there are obvious holes. First and third base, DH and a starting pitcher or two. A bullpen arm or two wouldn’t hurt either. They will claim that Christopher Morel will fill one of those linebacking gaps, but looks like their GM is already ringing the dinner bell for other teams to make him part of a trade package. Morel may have the biggest boom-or-chest bat anywhere and the threat of being a bust much more could make him best used as a trade chip. There also isn’t a position open for the Cubs where Morel wouldn’t be better off with a glove on his head instead of his left hand.

The Cubs could use any of the big names. Shohei Ohtani solves two of their problems, but not until 2025 for both. Bringing back Cody Bellinger solves first base and is insurance in case hot young thing Pete Crow-Armstrong can’t hit a fastball above his waist in center. Matt Chapman would give them the best defensive infield in the league while also occasionally hitting the ball out of the infield, which Nick Madrigal can’t.

They don’t necessarily need Blake Snell or Aaron Nola, but Sonny Gray or Eduardo Rodriguez would fit in very nicely behind Justin Steele. The Cubs also have a highly touted system that should make them a player in any of the rumored big deals being offered, whether it’s Juan Soto, Pete Alonso, Tyler Glasnow or whoever. They are rumored to be the frontrunners in the clubhouse to offer Rhys Hoskins a cushion contract to prove he is back to normal after his ACL poofed, which should save them money to move on to something else.

It feels like the Cubs are getting ready to once again dominate the NL Central, given their resource advantage, in a way they never really had to stop doing. But there’s also a heavy don’t-believe-it-until-you-see-it element because it’s still the Ricketts family at work here.

Ohtani meter: 7. The Cubs will probably make more noise chasing Ohtani than actually chasing him, but that makes all the sense in the world. He fills a need, he makes them an NL contender with just his bat, given the state of the division the Cubs provide him with games that matter from year one. And they also have their own network that everyone hates to sell.

Cincinnati Reds

Owner cheap index: Galactic and asshole

Prospects: For as much excitement as the Reds generated for a minute or two there with the host of kids who came through and at least flashed, they’re hardly a sure thing in 2024. Elly De La Cruz struck and changed throughout in something of a sucking sound at the board. He won’t stay that way, but when he becomes Alex Rodriguez 2.0, it’s not exactly known or automatic either. Christian Encarnacion-Strand’s K/BB rate is still itching. Jonathan India actually has more mediocre defensive or offensive value, which is why the Reds aren’t exactly clear on how much they want to trade him. An upgrade at DH will not fail.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be worth watching, and it’s hardly far-fetched that every player under 25 here gets good and Great American Ballpark looks like a pinball again. So it would be encouraging to see Bob Castellini and his dickhead son actually get their thumbs out of their ass and supplement that lineup with something more than a rotation that still depends on the health of Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, the definition of a castle. in the sand. If they do stay healthy, along with Andrew Abbot, this would be a scary rotation for a while. But if your aunt had balls and stuff.

The Reds should absolutely be hot for Gray or Rodriguez or Nola or trade for Glasnow (his health issues would fit right in). At least the free agent pitchers above would take the ball often and with more than one starter able to get at least five innings without causing a Three Mile Island redux, the Reds would have hung in the playoffs a lot longer last year . The Central and National League as a whole is hardly a glove, and it won’t take much for the Reds to put themselves on the business end of it. But they won’t.

Ohtani meter: 1. It’s not hard to see where Ohtani will get the contending team he’s wanted for years out of the Reds, and they certainly have more than enough money, with about $150 million expected to be available under the tax threshold. But an annual salary of $50 million (at least) would cause the Castellini to have five simultaneous brain bubbles.

Milwaukee Brewers

Owner cheap index: Affordability index is kind of high, although weighted for the market, but his overall tools index is very high because he just whined and pestered the state and city and gave him hundreds of millions for improvements to a ballpark about what real things Wisconsin and Milwaukee too may have. need.

Prospects: Hard to analyze because we’ll have to wait for them to stop moaning about losing Counsell to “that team 80 miles south”. That might not come until June, when the Cubs have sufficiently soaked up whatever is left here.

Because the Brewers are pretty much screwed. Brandon Woodruff will miss the season with shoulder surgery. Corbin Burnes will almost certainly be traded a year out of free agency. It’s their two best starters gone, who kidnapped Freddy Peralta, Adrien Houser and three guys from the Mars cheese castle.

And the offense does not come to their aid. Christian Yelich was able to track the ball again (or have the pitch signal from center field active again) and produced a level below his MVP form of a few years ago. Which was better than the six levels below what he was playing on. William Contreras was also a plus hitter, but that’s about it. Sal Frelick came up and walked a lot but no more. The Crew will be riding a lot on Frelick and other kids like Garrett Mitchell and Brice Turang, but none of them are sure things. Jackson Chuorio and Seth Rollins Tyler Black could join during the season. But any team that relies on all of that. . . are the 2023 Reds.

But now that Mark Attanasio has gotten his ballpark deal, and now that Burnes and Woodruff have set this team on a path that will be hard to deviate from, you don’t have to look too hard to see that the club is seeing all of this as an excuse to reset and aim for the seasons after 2025. Maybe they’ll look for an upgrade first, enter the Hoskins rehab derby and sign a pitcher or two they think will most of the year stand still while they dodge the salaries on top of that the market would demand.

They will be looking hard for Giannis and Dame Time to keep the eyes focused elsewhere in Cream City for as long as possible.

Ohtani meter: -2

Pittsburgh Pirates

Owner cheap index: The worst there is.

Prospects: The Bucs look like they’re a half or full step behind the Reds in where they are because there’s less certainty about what their prospects are that cracked the series. Oneill Cruz might be able to throw a baseball through three live cows, but he still has barely half a season of MLB experience thanks to his ankle in putty at the start of last year. His offensive numbers in those 90+ games are barely average. Jared Triolo is not going to carry a .440 BABIP throughout his career. Endy Rodriguez didn’t hit a lick. Neither did Henry Davis. Time is on their side here, but taking the time to figure out what they just have could prevent them from making the splash the Reds need to make in the offseason.

The rotation is not much different. Mitch Keller is probably a very good no. 2, but is the ace here. Johan Oviedo or Luis Ortiz haven’t really shown the control to get around the strikes they’re not getting, at least not yet. Roansy Contreras struck out in the minors but not in his cameo in the Bigs, but did have a penchant for providing fans with a home run ball in their beer.

In a perfect world, the Pirates could use a matchup in the outfield and in the rotation behind or ahead of Keller. In Bob Nutting’s world, they’ll let the kids fend for themselves for at least another season.

Ohtani meter: -1,000

St Louis Cardinals

Owner cheap index: Extremely high for a team and fans that consider itself the center of the baseball world.

Prospects: Man is this a mess. The Cardinals season began by blowing the paint off Jordan Walker’s irrelevant spring training numbers, cramming him into a crowded outfield, and then it only got worse. They had one good starter, who they had to pitch to the World Series champions (Jordan Montgomery). Paul Goldschmidt began his decline at 36. Nolan Arenado traded fly balls for ground balls and he will be 33 next year. Willson Contreras actually hit for them, but the whole place hated his guts when he walked into the clubhouse because he wasn’t Yadier Molina.

There’s sure to be some good offense to dig out of this steamy shell, because even though they’re old, Goldschmidt and Arenado are still serviceable, and Contreras, Nootbar, Gorman, and Donovan were all plus hitters last year, albeit 19th ended in runs. But the Cards wouldn’t be out of place to bring in three starters because otherwise they’re going to lose a lot of 8-7 games. The rotation is led by Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz, and after that it’s the Matthew Liberatore Experience again, only this time with about three guys (Liberatore is baseball’s Oliver Wahlstrom).

The Cards could go crazy and sign two of the top starters, say Nola plus Rodriguez or something, hope the lineup does better than the .247 they managed last year with runners in scoring position, and goof 85 wins. But when did they ever do that? They shouldn’t have lost 91 games last year, but that doesn’t mean they have to win 91 in 2024. The Cubs can easily make the purchase to win the division with 92 or 93 wins, and the bar for the wild-card spots may never be lower than it was last season. Cardinals fans can sweat another summer while eating for free.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky

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