Spring Training is almost upon us! The NL Central figures to be an exciting division 2017 that includes the Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Pirates, and Cardinals. Last year the Cubs ran away with the division after capping off a 103 win season. Can the other teams in the division catch up to the world champion Cubs? After a long offseason, it’s time to hand out some offseason grades. Who put themselves in a position to improve in 2017?
Chicago Cubs: Grade A-
Key Additions: Brett Anderson, Eddie Butler, Wade Davis, Jim Henderson, Jon Jay, Koji Uehara
Key Departures: Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler, Jason Hammel, David Ross, Jorge Soler
The Cubs had an excellent offseason. First, they deserve a lot of credit for not having to overpay for a reliever. The Yankees had to pay $80 million to sign Aroldis Chapman but the Cubs only had to deal expendable 4th outfielder Jorge Soler to acquire Wade Davis. The former Royal closer also comes on a cheap 1-year deal. You can make the argument that Davis is an upgrade over Chapman as well. Davis has a 0.85 ERA over the past 3 years compared to Chapman’s 1.72 ERA over the past 3 years. They also added dependable Koji Uehara on a one-year deal as well to fill out bullpen depth. Jon Jay was also an excellent pickup to replace Dexter Fowler. Jay hit .291 with an OBP of .339 and is expected to platoon with young stud Albert Almora. The only concerning factor is the 5th starter in the rotation but that often times means the rest of your team is pretty loaded if you’re just worried about the 5th starter.
Cincinnati Reds: Grade C
Key Additions: Bronson Arroyo, Luis Castillo, Scott Feldman, Desmond Jennings, Drew Storen
Key Departures: Dan Straily
The Reds gave up the most home runs in baseball last year (258). They didn’t really do much to improve. Maybe Desmond Jennings turns out to be a nice minor league signing to provide some defense and speed. Dealing below average Dan Straily for 3 nice prospects was a plus but there was too much inactivity for the Reds. The same lousy team is going to be trotting out on the field in 2017.
Milwaukee Brewers: Grade D
Key Additions: Jett Bandy, Joba Chamberlain, Neftali Feliz, Tommy Milone, Blake Parker, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames
Key Departures: Chris Carter, Tyler Thornburg, Martin Maldonado
Brewers general manager David Stearns went to Harvard but it doesn’t take a genius to tell you that he didn’t put together a great offseason. The Brewers decided to release the NL leader in home runs Chris Carter because he strikes out too much. Carter hit 41 in 2016. Instead, they replaced him with Eric Thames who is a career .250 with 21 career home runs. Thames took his talents to Korea because he couldn’t make a major league roster. Milwaukee gave him a $15 million deal just because he played well overseas. Then Milwaukee decided it was a good idea to trade a reliever Tyler Thornburg for Travis Shaw and two low-level prospects. Thornberg had a 2.15 ERA last year with an excellent strikeout right to go with it (12.1 per 9 innings). Shaw is a below average defender at third base and can’t hit left-handed pitching (.171 average vs. lefties). This team is 5 years away at least from contending.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Grade C-
Key Additions: Daniel Hudson
Key Departures: Neftali Feliz, Matt Joyce, Jeff Locke, Sean Rodriguez, Ryan Vogelsong
The Pirates obviously don’t have a big budget to work with but keeping Ivan Nova was a big accomplishment. Nova went 5-2 with a 3.06 during the 2nd half of the season with Pittsburgh after coming over from the trade with New York. That pretty much capped off the Pirates offseason after they failed to trade Andrew McCutchen. No one’s going to blame them for not dealing the face of their franchise but the Pirates can’t compete with these big market teams without constant turnover. Losing depth such as Sean Rodriguez and others could halt the Pirates from locking up a potential playoff wildcard spot.
St. Louis Cardinals: Grade B-
Key Additions: Brett Cecil, Dexter Fowler
Key Departures: Jaime Garcia, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Matt Holliday, Brandon Moss
It’s safe to say that the Cubs recent success has made the Cardinals panic a bit and reach into their pockets like never before. Staying away from high-priced free agents has been the epitome of the Red Birds success so I’m a little wary of watching how these additions turn out. Dexter Fowler is obviously a nice coup but he probably isn’t worth $82.5 million. Fowler, 30, will probably won’t be able to perform on the back end of this contract but in the short term it should work out just fine. If there is one thing the Cardinals needed it was a lead off guy and Fowler gets on base (.393 OBP). The Cecil signing may have been the weirdest one of the winter. The Cardinals gave Cecil $30.5 million for a guy who often times couldn’t be counted on in Toronto last year. His 3.93 ERA in 2016 over 36.2 innings made this signing a head scratcher. Overpaying relievers has been the trend but it doesn’t make it right.