|Grading the NL Central Offseason|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on February 08, 2009
Well, there is plenty of time for more deals to change the landscape across the Majors including potential trades and free agent signings, but with Spring Training just a little over two weeks away, it’s time to offer some opinions on what teams did to prepare for the upcoming season.
Chicago Cubs: For the Cubs this offseason has been all about figuring out how to take it to the next level. While the quality of the Brewers has fallen, the quality of other teams in the division has taken a step forward leaving the Cubs with a whole new set of challengers who they’ll have to stare down. Adding free agent outfielder Milton Bradley was their splashiest move of the offseason which should add a little bit more punch to the lineup, but it the real focus of the offseason was the pitching. In came former closer Kevin Gregg, who’ll compete for closer/setup man duties with incumbent Carlos Marmol, while Luis Vizcaino and David Patton add some further depth to the pen.
On the starting front the Cubs traded for Aaron Heilman, who they hope can be their fifth starter despite the fact he’s worked out of the bullpen since 2005. If he can’t handle starting duties, they intend to make it a three-man race with former starter Chad Gaudin, Jeff Samardzija and Sean Marshall.
On the loss side, the Cubs took a couple of big hits, losing Kerry Wood to free agency and trading Mark DeRosa who had a career year last season. Small but notable departures include pitchers Rich Hill, Jason Marquis, Bob Howry and the disappointing Felix Pie, who never lived up to a fraction of the hype.
Grade B. If Bradley can stay healthy and sane, he’s a huge boost to the offense while the pitching has indeed gotten deeper.
Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers offseason can be summed up with one word: ouch. No team, no matter how much depth they have, can shrug off the loss of two top pitchers like CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets not to mention their only real closer.
The closer situation they were able to address by bringing in all-times saves leader Trevor Hoffman, but Hoffman isn’t the same closer he used to be and the Brewer could find the ninth to be a rather adventurous inning on a regular basis. Aside from Hoffman the Brew Crew made no major additions.
Grade C- They tried hard to compete for Sabathia and lost out in the bidding, then failed to go after any of the better free agent pitchers on the market. 2009 looks to be a harsh year in Milwaukee.
Houston Astros: The song basically remains the same in Houston although attempts to bolster the back end of the starting staff and add some depth to the bullpen happened but on a minor scale. In are SP Mike Hampton, as well as relievers Jose Capellan, Jeff Fulchino and Gilbert De La Vara. None are major impact players. Hampton replaces Randy Wolf, who is still available on the free agent market and probably will not re-sign with the team.
The team probably will miss catcher Brad Ausmus for his defense and familiarity with the pitching staff.
Grade C-. No major gains and signing Hampton to replace Randy Wolf isn’t going to turn this team into a contender. A healthy Carlos Lee and a healthy Wandy Rodriguez should make the team somewhat better than they were in 2008.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Redbirds clearly aren’t done making moves this offseason but if you had to judge them now, what you’d see is a lack of depth in the bullpen which lost five relievers to free agency not to mention starters Braden Looper and Matt Clement. Of the seven, five (Looper, Jason Isringhausen, Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson and Ron Villone) still have not found another team to play for.
Still the Cards have not waited and have gone out and acquired a trio of lefties, Royce Ring, Charlie Manning and Trevor Miller, to fill part of that gap. They still need some right handed hurlers in the pen, but it’s the starting pitching that should be the concern.
They are hoping that Chris Carpenter will finally make a successful return and that a healthy Chris Duncan, Rick Ankiel and Albert Pujols will make the team better. They supplemented the offense with the addition of Khalil Greene who should benefit from playing outside of San Diego.
Grade B-. Adding Khalil Greene is a big boost to the offense, but unless the team can find more starting pitching from within the organization things could go south in a hurry.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds will have some new faces in key positions this year including catcher Ramon Hernandez who’ll be looking to recapture some of his power after several dismal years in Baltimore, and the light hitting Willy Tavares who’ll almost certainly be the everyday center fielder as well as lead off for the Reds. And the outfield in Cincy will certainly be crowded with Jerry Hairston, Jay Bruce, Willy Tavares, rookies Chris Dickerson and Norris Hopper and possibly Johnny Gomes who signed a minor league contract.
Unless Willy Tavares can raise his OBP significantly, none of their signings are impact players. That goes against the team strategy of trying to develop all of their own top talent. They’ve done a good job so far, but they desperately need pitching to succeed, but all they’ve done is add reliever Arthur Rhodes, while losing four relievers and a starter. That’s more than the organization can produce on its own.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The offense doesn’t look too bad especially since the Pirates added outfielder Eric Hinske, who still provides some decent power to the lineup and should help the team score some more runs.
They also have brought in utility infielder Ramon Vazquez, back up catcher Jason Jaramillo, and Craig Monroe (minor league deal).
Grade C-. None of these deals will help this team avoid its 17th straight season of sub-.500 baseball. The only hope here is that Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny will finally step forward as will some of the team’s young hitters.
How have the NL Central GM’s performed this offseason? Let us hear your opinion below in our comments section.