The National League Central took a huge hit this offseason with the loss of star power, making some of the “under the radar” moves a large component in who wins this division in 2012.
Cardinals: Getting out from under the Albert Pujols deal should help this team for many years. You’ll hear some griping if the offense struggles this year, but the long-term flexibility this creates can’t be overstated. Carlos Beltran should provide enough offense to help contend for the division with the return of Adam Wainwright. Rafael Furcal is at the end of the line and can’t stay healthy, and they still have some questions at second and in right. Long term, they get an A, but this is only a one-year grade.
Brewers: The loss of Prince Fielder was inevitable and is now compounded by the Ryan Braun situation. I’m a big fan of the Aramis Ramirez signing. He’s a proven run producer and should soften the blow of losing Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is an upgrade at short over Yuniesky Betancourt. Offering Francisco Rodriguez arbitration backfired majorly and now they’re stuck with an $8 million setup man. I’m not sure anyone knows what to expect from Norichika Aoki.
Reds: The Reds made a good trade bringing in Mat Latos given the fact that Yonder Alonso was blocked at first, and they have rightfully lost patience with Edinson Volquez. They were fortunate to have Ryan Madson fall into their laps on a one-year deal. Bringing in Ryan Ludwick is an underrated pickup and should give them a decent one-two punch in left with Chris Heisey. They also got a good lefty setup man in Sean Marshall for Travis Wood, who wasn’t going to make the rotation anyway.
Cubs: Most importantly, they brought in quality personnel guys in Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. They acquired Anthony Rizzo, the guy they drafted in Boston for Andrew Cashner, both fairly good unproven prospects, so time will tell on that deal. After a lot of speculation, they held onto Matt Garza, who I still think can be a number-one pitcher. They can be patient, but they’d be smart to eventually give him a long-term deal. They rolled the dice handing the third base job to Ian Stewart, hoping he can get his career turned around. I didn’t see any purpose to the David DeJesus signing or to the acquisition of a handful of mediocre starting pitchers.
Pirates: The Pirates played way over their heads in the first half last year, which maybe gave them a false sense of security regarding their players. They have some talent on the way but are still a few years away, which makes the free-agent signings of Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas a complete waste of money. I like the Erik Bedard signing from the point of view that, if he stays healthy and pitches well, he’ll have value come trade deadline time. Casey McGehee was a worthwhile pickup to see if he can get himself turned around.
Astros: Not much they should have done this offseason with the team needing a complete overhaul, other than shopping Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez more aggressively. There may have been some takers on Lee with only one-year left on his contract. Trading Mark Melancon for Jed Lowrie was a small step in the right direction, assuming Lowrie gets past his health issues. They also brought in Chris Snyder, an underrated catcher with some power.