by JDCam 02.21.15
While the off-season dialogue around the NL Central has largely surrounded the Cubs and their aggressive rebuilding, the division promises to be highly competitive in 2015. The NL Central got far worse in 2014, particularly the exceptionally disappointing Cincinnatti Reds who had a -14 win swing. Even the division’s elite teams, the Cardinals and Pirates, dropped 7 and 6 wins respectively. The division’s less competitive teams did improve, with the Brewers and Cubs picking up 8 and 7 wins respectively. With the exception of the Cubs, NL Central teams had a relatively quiet off-season, which should lead to a three team showdown in September with the Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs battling for supremacy in the central.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2014: 90 wins: Steamer 2015: 86 wins; Conway West: 88 wins; JD Cam: 89 wins
In: Jason Heyward, Mark Reynolds, Matt Belisle
Out: Shelby Miller, Jason Motte, A.J Pierzynski, Daniel Descalso, Pat Neshek, Justin Masterson
Things to Like: Cleaning up in the Heyward trade; having a ton of underrated players; playing in a weak division
Things to Worry About: Replacing Oscar Taveras; Rotation depth; The Cubs
The Cardinals didn’t do much in the off-season, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They did ship Shelby Miller to the Braves with a package for OF Jason Heyward, a significant defensive upgrade who should continue his steady offensive improvement. The Cardinals did lose top prospect Oscar Taveras to a tragic car accident this winter, but come September, this team will be in the hunt for another NL Central crown.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates
2014: 88 wins: Steamer 2015: 85 wins; Conway West: 85 wins; JD Cam: 86 wins
In: Corey Hart, Steve Lombardozzi
Out: Edinson Volquez, Clint Barmes, Ernesto Frieri, Ike Davis
Things to Like: No key departures; maintaining a stockpile of solid prospects; an OF of McCutchen, Polanco and Marte
Things to Worry About: No key additions; rotational depth and consistency from Gerrit Cole
The Pirates are going places. After two excellent seasons under the guidance of underrated helmsman Clint Hurdle, the Pirates could be primed to take the next step and make a deep October run if all goes well in 2015. Much will depend on the consistency and development of former number 1 pick Gerrit Cole, who needs to make the jump into the upper echelon of NL starters. The Pirates starting outfield of McCutchen, Polanco and Marte is frightening, with a truly impressive combination of speed, power and defensive range. With several other underrated pieces such as Joey Harrison, Neil Walker and unknown quantity Jung Ho Kang the Pirates will be a formidable team in 2015.
3. Chicago Cubs
2014: 73 wins: Steamer 2015: 84 wins; Conway West: 80 wins; JD Cam: 82 wins
In: Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Jason Motte, David Ross, Chris Denorfia, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero
Out: Kyuji Fujikawa, Justin Ruggiano, Dan Straily
Things to Like: Significant upgrades at multiple positions; number 1 farm system in baseball; Joe Maddon
Things to Worry About: Consistency from Soler and Baez; a young inexperienced team
Very few teams in baseball have a front office who have played their hand more brilliantly than the Cubs. In the midst of another losing season the Cubs traded away their best major league assets for prospects which boosted their farm system to the best in baseball. They picked up their prized pitching anchor in Jon Lester and resigned stalwart Jason Hammel. Chicago’s most important acquisition however may have been manager Joe Maddon, the perfect foil for the Cubs litany of young talent. There are a lot of question marks around the Cubs young and talented roster. They may not be quite ready, but this Cubs team is primed to be dominant in the next few seasons.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
2014: 82 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 72 wins (5th); JD Cam: 70 wins (5th)
In: Adam Lind, Neal Cotts
Out: Marco Estrada, Zach Duke, Mark Reynolds, Tom Gorzelanny, Yovani Galllardo
Things to Like: The better ‘Cargo’; Jean Segura improving on his .286 OBP from 2014
Things to Worry About: Ryan Braun NOT enhancing his own performance; a weak rotation; little improvements across the roster
The Brewers just scream .500 don’t they? They don’t provoke much of a reaction, either positive or negative. Several Brewers had poor seasons in 2014 after a blistering start. Ryan Braun suffered from constant niggling injuries and Jean Segura was as bad in 2014 as he was good in 2013. The Brewers will suffer this season from a lack of rotational depth (after shipping innings eating Yovani Gallardo off to the Rangers). While the arrival of top prospect Orlando Arcia is exciting, Brewers fans may have little else to cheer in what promises to be an underwhelming 2015 season.
5. Cincinnati Reds
2014: 76 wins: Steamer 2015: 76 wins; Conway West: 77 wins (4th); JD Cam: 78 wins (4th)
In: None of note
Out: Chris Heisey, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon
Things to Like: Aroldis Chapman; Johnny Cueto; an improved year for Jay Bruce
Things to Worry About: Where did the rotation go? Mesoraco can’t reproduce 2014’s numbers
The Reds 2014 was disastrous, dropping a full 14 wins from 2013. They had several key contributors who struggled with injury and poor performance (most noticeably Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce). The Reds lost Mat Latos to a trade with the Marlins and breakout sensation Alfredo Simon to the Tigers. Tony Cingranni will need to step up if their rotation is going to be competitive. Even if Devin Mesoraco can’t continue his remarkable form from 2014 a healthy season from Cueto and Homer Bailey ought to yield a marginal improvement on 2014.