Fans of any of the NL Central race teams have to be scratching their heads as they watch the offseason unfold. Even at a time when the Hot Stove League has been lukewarm at best, the NL Central race seems to be a sprint to the bottom.
NL Central Race: What Is Going on Here?
In the shortened 2020 season, four of the five teams were in the National League playoffs. Granted, 2020 was a unique season, and aberrations were the rule and not the exception. Still, everybody except the woebegone Pirates found their way into the postseason.
Usually, teams in all sports will use a playoff appearance as a foundation for future success. That makes a lot of sense, and most fans have come to expect such growth, despite this, these are not your usual teams, and evidently, do not have the usual vision of playoff teams.
Here is a look at what each team in the NL Central has done so far this offseason:
NL Central Race: The Cubs
The Chicago Cubs won the NL Central with a record of 34-26. They had the core of their 2016 championship team intact and likely would have been the team to beat in 2021. So what have they done so far? From the 2020 roster, the Cubs have non-tendered lefty slugger Kyle Schwarber and bought out the option year of veteran lefty Jon Lester.
Okay, so neither Schwarber nor Lester has signed anywhere else. Maybe the Cubs want them back, just at a lower salary. If that were the case, how does one explain the rumored trade of top pitcher Yu Darvish and solid catcher Victor Caratini to the Padres? Also, the speculation about trading star third baseman Kris Bryant?
NL Central Race: The Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals finished second in the NL Central, just ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. What has their offseason looked like so far? For starters, they have not signed either of their stars, Yadi Molina, or Adam Wainwright. This doesn’t necessarily mean the Cardinals won’t sign either, but it doesn’t mean they will, either.
In fact, in some circles, it is being suggested that the Cardinals may be making a mess of the negotiations. This is not a good look for the team as they prepare for 2021. They also failed to offer a contract to pitcher John Brebbia. He wasn’t a threat to win the Cy Young award, but he was a serviceable alternative to nothing, which is what the Cardinals have done so far.
NL Central Race: The Reds
The Cincinnati Reds fulfilled some predictions by making the playoffs in 2020. While it surprised many, the Reds took advantage of the short season and grabbed a wildcard spot. Led by Trevor Bauer, they were a fun team to watch and battled hard against the Braves before falling in the playoffs. So, how did they build on this season?
In one sense, the Red’s offseason has been a debacle, at best. They traded away closer Raisel Iglesias to the Angels. They also are evidently looking to trade other stars like Eugenio Suarez and/or Mike Moustakas. They also seem to be out of the bidding for Bauer. It sure looks like the Reds’ “playoff run” was one and done.
NL Central Race: The Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers were the fourth team from the NL Central to make the playoffs in 2020 (with a losing record). So how is their offseason going? So far, they have claimed one player off waivers (Tim Lopes), traded for a pitcher (Leo Crawford), and signed a free agent (Dustin Peterson).
Oh, but wait, there’s more! They also signed four players and invited them all to spring training. The Brewers aren’t messing around. The Brewers also traded away Corey Knebel, their former closer, so the Brewers are on a roll. Watch out. NL Central!
NL Central Race: The Pirates
Then we have the Pittsburgh Pirates, with their sparkling 19-41 record in 2020. Let’s see, well they did manage to trade away their franchise slugger, Josh Bell. That should help them in 2021 and beyond. Oh, they also drafted a player in the Rule 5 draft. That can’t hurt, right?
The Pirates have bid farewell to more players than they acquired so far this offseason. Then again, when you finish 19-41, maybe you want to let go of as many players as you can. Either way, they have kept pace with the rest of the NL Central division. In the NL Central race, the race to mediocrity, that’s a start.
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