Ah, home sweet home. The NL Central…the only division I really care about. If you know anything about me, you know I’m a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan. With that in mind, I’ll begin my NL Central preview with a look at the reigning division champs from Missouri:
St. Louis Cardinals
Key additions: SP Brad Penny; OF Matt Holliday (re-signed); IF Felipe Lopez
Key losses: 3B Mark DeRosa; 3B Troy Glaus; SP John Smoltz; OF Rick Ankiel
Cards fans, enjoy this while it lasts. Inking Matt Holliday was priority #1 for GM John Mozeliak, and you gotta give the guy credit: he got the job done. But the Holliday contract has been universally panned around the league as too much money over too many years. I still don’t know who we were bidding against for Holliday’s services. At any rate, Holliday gives LaRussa the “impact bat” he’s long wanted to slot in behind Albert Pujols. But as much as we might like this deal today, I don’t think any Cards fans are going to be ecstatic about it in seven years when Holliday is 37 years old. As it stands, the Cards look like one of the stronger teams in the division. Third base is a huge question mark and the back end of the bullpen is still dicey if you ask me. But otherwise, this is a solid veteran club with enough live arms (Carpenter, Wainwright, etc) and big bats (Pujols, Holliday, Ludwick, Rasmus) to be one of the better teams in the league. For now.
Key additions: CF Marlon Byrd; SP / RP Carlos Silva; OF Xavier Nady
Key losses: RF Milton Bradley; SP Rich Harden
As a lifelong Cards fan, fewer things in life bring me greater joy than watching the Cubs self-destruct. After two straight division titles, the Cubs really underwhelmed last season, dropping to 83 wins. It was a pretty quiet offseason on the North Side. I suppose it was an accomplishment just getting something in return for disgruntled OF Milton Bradley, but acquiring Carlos Silva and his exorbitant contract in return makes no sense to me. The Cubs still have the talent to be dangerous in the division. If Alfonso Soriano can stay healthy and if Carlos Zambrano’s arm doesn’t completely fall off, I expect the Cubbies to duke it out with the Cards for the division crown.
Key additions: SP Aroldis Chapman; SS Orlando Cabrera
Key losses: CF Willy Taveras
I like Cincy as a dark horse in this division. With Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey, they already had the makings of a solid rotation prior to the Aroldis Chapman signing. If the Cuban defector can throw strikes consistently, he gives them another formidable young arm to add to the stable. The offense is nothing special, but Joey Votto could be an MVP candidate by season’s end. Look for Jay Bruce to bounce back after a nightmarish 2009. He is a legitimate power bat and he’ll provide protection for Votto and Brandon Phillips. If the bullpen can keep it together, the Reds have a chance to field their best team in a long time.
Key additions: SP Randy Wolf; CF Carlos Gomez; C Greg Zaun
Key losses: CF Mike Cameron; SS J.J. Hardy; C Jason Kendall
The addition of Wolf should help, given that the Brewers posted an MLB-worst 5.37 ERA last year. But the bottom of the rotation (Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra, Dave Bush) is still pretty much batting-practice fodder. At least the team can hit. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are just approaching their prime. Youngsters Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar have gotten their feet wet at the major league level the past few seasons and now they’re poised for growth. But I think it’ll be another long summer in Milwaukee with plenty of 9-7 losses.
Key additions: 3B Pedro Feliz; RP Matt Lindstrom; RP Brandon Lyon; SP Brett Myers
Key losses: SS Miguel Tejada; RP Jose Valverde
Last year’s Houston team won 74 games, but I can’t see how this year’s iteration will be demonstrably better. The offense hinges on the health of the Big Puma, Lance Berkman. The slugging 1B has already undergone arthroscopic knee surgery this spring; not a good sign. I like Oswalt, Wandy, and Myers, but the rest of the rotation is a mess and the bullpen will be awful. Who really thinks Lindstrom and Lyon are an upgrade over Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins? Anyway, this is a pedestrian team. Nothing more.
Key additions: 2B Akinori Iwamura; IF Bobby Crosby; RP Octavio Dotel
Key losses: RP Matt Capps
This team is so bad. At least they have Andrew McCutchen.