We continue our MLB previews today by moving into the Central divisions, beginning with the NL. Full disclosure: I am a diehard Cardinals fan, and therefore also a Cubs hater, but I’m going to do my best to stay as objective as possible here. Here we go:
Notable offseason additions: Shin-Soo Choo
Notable losses: Drew Stubbs, Scott Rolen
Outlook: In my opinion, the #1 best move made during this past offseason was the Reds’ part in the 3-way trade between them, the Indians, and Diamondbacks. The Reds traded Didi Gregorious, who has an amazing name tool but is unproven anywhere else, and Drew Stubbs, who had just completed a truly awful season, for Shin-Soo Choo, arguably the most underrated bat in baseball. And the Reds did not need more offense. They’ve already got arguably the top bat in baseball in Joey Votto (this article is mandatory viewing whenever Votto’s name is mentioned), another huge offensive force that’s still improving in Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwick, and Todd Frazier are no slouches, either. The Reds should be one of the top offenses in the NL.
And the pitching isn’t much worse. Johnny Cueto has turned into a legitmate ace, and Mat Latos isn’t far behind. Homer Bailey showed flashes of finally living up to his former elite prospect status last year. And Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake are suitable back-end starters. The bullpen is also pretty great, especially now that Aroldis Chapman is being kept in it another year. He, along with Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall, should push this bullpen into near-elite status.
It’s hard to find a weakness in the Reds, and believe me, as a Cardinals fan, that’s annoying. But they seem to be good-to-great across the board, one of the better teams in MLB, and a lock for the playoffs.
St. Louis Cardinals
Notable offseason additions: Nobody, though this was relatively expected; no team in baseball was as poised to compete with what they already controlled after 2012 as St. Louis.
Notable losses: Kyle Lohse, Chris Carpenter, Rafael Furcal, Lance Berkman
Outlook: THE 2013 CARDINALS ARE THE GREATEST TEAM OF ALL TIME!!! …Whoops, sorry, that should be out of my system now. Ok, but even objectively, this is a very good team. The lineup is good to great at nearly every position. The “nearly” refers to the middle infield, which is an absolute dumpster fire. But at this point, a dumpster fire at 2B and SS is practically a Cardinal tradition, and it hasn’t been holding them back. Matt Carpenter looks better than Skip Schumaker, in any case.
The pitching suffers a couple blows in losing Kyle Lohse and the probable retirement of Chris Carpenter, but the Cardinals are one of the deepest teams in baseball, and should still have a solid rotation without them. Oh, and have I mentioned yet that the Cardinals have the best farm system in baseball? Well how silly of me; they do. There is an incredible amount of young impact talent coming up here, starting with Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal to begin this year. Only the Rangers and possibly the Rays can match the Cardinals in both competitiveness now and future outlook. However, for 2013, the Reds are still a bit much to overcome, and the Cardinals will have to settle for a Wild Card spot.
Notable offseason additions: Russell Martin, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Jonathan Sanchez
Notable losses: Joel Hanrahan, Erik Bedard
Outlook: The Pirates are arguably the saddest sports franchise in the Big 4 that America has to offer right now. There hasn’t been a winning season in Pittsburgh since 1992. Even Royals, Lions, and Clippers fans have to look upon the Pirates with a modicum of sympathy. With that in mind, it is perhaps prudent to judge the Pirates in 2013 as whether they can finally snap the losing curse or not, and not whether they are built for the playoffs (because they aren’t, not yet.)
The offense is built around legit superstar Andrew McCutchen, who has been locked up long enough that he will inevitably see Pittsburgh’s first winning season of the 21st century, and will one day be anointed to the holy trinity of Pittsburgh god-kings alongside Ben Roethlisberger and Sidney Crosby…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Still have to crack .500 first. Umm, McCutchen is awesome, and the rest of the offense is decent, but nothing special.
In fact, that could have been the entire Pirates preview: “McCutchen is amazing, everything else is decent.” This applies to the pitching as well, which is thoroughly decent. AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodiguez, decent. James McDonald was a Jekyll and Hyde act in 2012 that averaged out to decent. The bullpen? It looks pretty decent! The Pirates have one of the better farm systems in baseball, and their days of losing are nearly at an end, but I’m not totally sure they end now. I’m giving them exactly 80 wins in 2013, just enough to keep their losing streak alive for one last year, because that’s just how fate seems to see them.
Notable offseason additions: Kyle Lohse, Yuniesky Betanhahahahaha
Notable losses: Shaun Marcum, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf, Francisco Rodriguez
Outlook: On Monday, the Brewers bit the bullet and signed Lohse, even though it meant giving away their first round draft pick, and more importantly, the draft dollars attached to it thanks to the horrible new CBA. With this move, they effectively declared that they still see themselves as competitors in 2013. Then, the very next day, they sign Yuniesky Betancourt, who is hands down the worst player in baseball who is still getting regular work. He hasn’t provided positive value to a team since 2008. I can’t think of a more baffling pair of back-to-back moves in recent history, and it makes the 2013 Brewers a somewhat difficult team to project.
Milwaukee’s offense was the best in the NL in 2012, but it’s packed with regression candidates. Ryan Braun is still a stud and one of the very best players in baseball, but the Brewers enjoyed better than expected seasons from Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki, and Jonathan Lucroy last year, and it seems unlikely that they’ll all repeat their success.
There is potential in the rotation, but they are replacing 40 starts from Greinke and Marcum with 30 from Lohse, and that’s a bad start. Yovani Gallardo is an ace, though, and Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers showed flashes of being very effective starters, and it will be interesting to see if they can carry that over this year. However, nothing was done to address what was the worst bullpen in baseball last year, and that’s likely going to continue to be a thorn in their side. There’s an outside chance of the Brewers being in the wild card hunt if everything falls right this year, but it’s very hard to see that happening.
Notable offseason additions: Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker, Kyuji Fujikawa, Scott Feldman, Nate Schierholtz
Notable losses: Bryan LaHair
Outlook: CUBS SU—Sorry, again, trying to be objective here. The Cubs actually had a pretty great offseason, in my opinion, but they are to some extent the Astros Lite. They’re not good in 2013, nor do they really intend to be. Theo Epstein still appears committed to a total rebuild. However, the 2013 Cubs aren’t quite the train wreck that the Astros are. The offense has two potential long-term superstars in Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. David DeJesus is underrated, and the light at the end of the tunnel can finally be seen with Alfonso Soriano’s contract.
On the pitching side, there would actually be a pretty solid rotation here if Baker and Garza could stay healthy, but that seems incredibly unlikely. Jeff Samardzija was one of the bigger breakouts of 2012, and Edwin Jackson appears to finally have a long-term home, and is a solid if unspectacular option. The Cubs have perhaps a 75 win team on paper this year, but I’m not quite giving them that many because I think everyone useful not named Castro, Rizzo, and probably Samardzija will be out the door at the trade deadline to further the rebuild. They’re on the right track, but still at least a year away from being serious competitors.
Predicted Final Standings