On Wednesday Adam Moss started our Pre-Spring Training Power Rankings with the AL East. Today Jacob Bollinger and Dylan Frazier review and rank the teams in the NL Central.
Offseason Additions: Wade Davis (acquired from KC), Koji Uehara (signed as FA), Brett Anderson (signed as FA)
Offseason Loses: Dexter Fowler (signed to STL), Jorge Soler (Traded to KC), Aroldis Chapman (signed with NYY)
Players who need to step up: Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber.
The Cubs are coming off of their first world series in 108 years, and they look like they could be poised to win several more. With Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, and league MVP Kris Bryant leading the pack, the Cubs look to be the pride of the MLB for a long time. Not standing pat, they go out and sign Koji Uehara from Boston and traded for Wade Davis. They filled the holes they had with their bullpen with the departure of Aroldis Chapman and added more depth in their rotation as well. However, losing two center fielders in Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler, could be problematic for the Cubbies.
Jason Heyward looked lost at times during the 2016 season and has to step up his game if they want to repeat as champs. He batted only .230 last year and he will have to get back to the way he played in Atlanta otherwise it’ll be tough for the Cubs to win it again.
You’re probably wondering why we put Schwarber on here. It’s because it remains to be seen how his knee holds up. He will also be playing the LF for the Cubs as he transitions back to catching. The thing with Schwarber is that he has one of the best bats in all of baseball but he doesn’t have a position to play.
All in all, the Cubs are looking like a team that will be competitive this year once again but like everything, they have a few problems. CF will be a problem that will need addressed but if there’s any manager that will figure it out, it’s Joe Maddon.
St. Louis Cardinals
Offseason additions: Dexter Fowler (signed as a FA), Brett Cecil (signed as a FA),
Offseason subtractions: Seth Maness (signed with KC), Jaime Garcia (traded to ATL), Jordan Walden, Brandon Moss(signed with KC), Matt Holiday (signed with NYY)
Players who need to step up: Adam Wainwright, Trevor Rosenthal, Kolton Wong, Matt Carpenter
The St. Louis Cardinals missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and the Cards will be looking to rekindle their demon magic of old. The Cardinals struck back at the Cubs by signing Dexter Fowler significantly improving their outfield, both offensively and defensively. St. Louis also signed Brett Cecil, who should be very solid out of the ‘pen. The Cardinals watched Seth Maness, Jordan Walden, Jaime Garcia, and Matt Holiday go in free agency. Brett Cecil will be perform better than the relievers who walked and Dexter Fowler is clearly more valuable than a rapidly aging Matt Holiday.
Adam Wainwright had a career year at the dish (.686 OPS) and the worst on the mound (4.62 ERA). The once reliable Trevor Rosenthal also struggled mightily (4.46 ERA) and lost his job to Seung-hwan Oh. The Cardinals need their ace, and former closer, to pitch like normal if they wish to compete with the Chicago Cubs. On the offensive side, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter need to figure things out. Wong failed to build off of a strong 2015, finishing with a .682 OPS. Some are beginning to question if he will ever truly become the star many thought he was going to be. While Matt Carpenter had a solid season he is the unquestioned leader of the offense will need to up his production to make up for the loss of Matt Holiday and the fact he is starting more often at first base.
The Cardinals lost some talent but they were able to cover their losses in the offseason. St. Louis will be in the hunt once again but they need their veterans to ignore the passage of time if they want to challenge Chicago for the division title.
Offseason additions: Phil Gosselin (acquired from ARI), Daniel Hudson (signed as a free agent)
Offseason subtractions: Jeff Locke (signed with MIA), Ryan Vogelsong (signed with MIN), Neftali Feliz (signed with MIL), Matt Joyce (signed with OAK), Sean Rodriguez (signed with ATL)
Players who need to step up: Andrew McCutchen, Gerrit Cole
After three straight postseason appearances 2016 was a big let down for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Marred by injuries, underperforming stars, and a meh divisional record (38-42) the Pirates finished the season 78-83. Pittsburgh is looking for a much better 2017 and hoping to return to Buctober. General Manager Neal Huntington was able to resign starter Ivan Nova, fixing one of the biggest issues of the 2016 team. He also signed hard-throwing Daniel Hudson to help bolster a bullpen that really struggled last year. The Pirates were finally able to shake free of “pitcher” Jeff Locke. However, they were unable to resign utilityman Sean Rodriguez and reliever Neftali Feliz.
Anyone who has followed baseball over the last few years knows who Andrew McCutchen is. Anyone who followed baseball last year also knows how bad he was in 2016. The Pirates have moved him to right field where his declining defensive ability can be hidden. The real question is: Can Cutch be Cutch again?
Gerrit Cole also has something to prove this year. He followed a dominant 2015 with an injury marred 2016. The Pirates can have a very strong 1-2-3 if Cole can avoid injuries and prove that 2015 was not a fluke. The Pirates destiny will be controlled by their rotation and it starts with Cole.
The core of the 2015 team (98 wins) is mostly here but if Pittsburgh wants to compete this year they will need their young guns to step up and the veterans to play to their ability. Realistically the Pirates will be aiming for yet another Wild Card spot.
Offseason additions: Neftali Feliz (signed as a FA), Travis Shaw (acquired from BOS), Tommy Milone (signed as a FA), Eric Thames (signed as a FA)
Offseason subtractions: Chris Carter, Tyler Thornburg (traded to BOS), Martin Maldonado (traded to LAA), Chris Capauno
Players who need to step up: Ryan Braun
2016 was the first full season of rebuilding for the Milwaukee Brewers and wasn’t all bad. They were able to get a good return for all-star catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Their young pitchers impressed and Jonathan Villar looks like the real deal. The Brewers won’t be expected to do much this season, except play spoiler. Fans should be on a trade watch as the Brewers have a couple of players ripe for flipping. The signing of Neftali Feliz was a smart move and will likely net the Brewers one good prospect when July comes around. The Brewers let NL co-home run king Chris Carter walk this offseason and replaced him with Eric Thames. If you said “Who?” congratulations you had the same reaction as everyone else.
Ryan Braun had his best year at the plate since 2012 but he will still need to be the man for the Brewers. The club will need him to be a clubhouse leader to help guide this young team through what is sure to be a tough season. Don’t worry Ryan, you won’t have to worry about Milwaukee after the trade deadline.
General Manager David Stearns is slowly rebuilding and it is still early in the process. He has shown the ability to make some decent trades. The trade deadline will most likely the most exciting part of the season for the Brewers, the rest of it is sure to be depressing.
Offseason Additions: Desmond Jennings (signed as FA), Bronson Arroyo (signed as FA), Scott Feldman (signed as FA), Drew Storen (signed as FA)
Offseason Loses: Dan Straily (traded to MIA), Brandon Phillips (traded to ATL)
Players who need to step up: Eugenio Suarez, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson
The Reds play in the NL central, that’s pretty much it. They have several issues with their team, pitching being the most obvious one. They have very young pitchers that have little to no experience, but this could be interesting. There are no expectations for the pitchers and anything positive they do is progress. Bringing Arroyo back could pay off in several ways, the most important one being as a mentor. Being in the MLB as long as he has, he could offer so many lessons to the young pitcher that could pay off in the future. Then the Reds also have this guy named Joey Votto, you may have heard of him.
Eugenio Suarez, in his first year in the MLB as a third baseman, showed signs of being great. He had 21 HR while hitting .248. However he played very below-average defense, comitting 23 errors. That led all 3B in the NL. In order for the Reds to take the next step, he has to clean his fielding up. Several Reds’ executives said he had been taking ground balls all winter, which is a positive sign.
Cody Reed, to be blunt, looked like he didn’t belong on a pitching mound last year. In 47 innings, he posted a 7.36 ERA and gave up 12 home runs. He never could get into a rhythm early in games and would become rattled very fast. This cannot be a trend in 2017 for him and the Reds. Now granted the Reds will be lucky to win 75 games this year, they have to have Reed perform well.
2017 will be a year of growing pains for Cincinnati, that will have a team with several new faces on it. Bryan Price enters his third year at the helm and he will have to be given time to help the young team succeed. This doesn’t appear to be the Reds’ year but as they always say, wait til this year.
With all these things in consideration here is our projected standings:
Chicago Cubs: 104-58
St. Louis Cardinals: 87-75
Pittsburgh Pirates: 82-79
Milwaukee Brewers: 72-90
Cincinnati Reds: 72-90