The NL Central’s Biggest Needs

1. Milwaukee Brewers

Biggest Needs: Starters & Stoppers

The Milwaukee Brewers very well might have been my personal favorite surprise of 2018, dating all the way back to the offseason. As any long-time cheese head can attest, the greatest plight of the franchise has always been their small-market mentality. Time and again the team builds up a legitimate core of future stars and either trades them away or allows them to walk in free agency because they’re unwilling to pony up on a contract. In 2018 we saw quite the departure from that mindset though. The Brew Crew signed Lorenzo Cain (a man they allowed to slip through their fingers at the dawn of his career) to a pretty sizable deal. Then they kept the good times rolling by adding Ariana Grande’s ex-fiance, Christian Yelich who will in all likelihood end up being the NL MVP in 2018. While attempting to chase down the Cubbies in the second half of the year, the Brewers made massive moves for power bats Mike Moustakas & Jonathan Schoop.

This Winter…double up on the efforts. This is a very good team on the edge of dominance in the National League. They need every last bit of talent they can muster to stay ahead of the Cubs and Cardinals, and keep pace with the Dodgers who ousted them from the playoffs a game away from the World Series. The Brewers needs are starting pitching and a viable shortstop option. Boy would new-found enemy, Manny Machado be an absolute breath of fresh air for them up the middle, but since that ship has sailed the “best available” conversation shifts to ex-Tiger Jose Iglesias and journeyman Asdrubal Cabrera. The former offers more defense, the latter a viable offensive threat…it’s a toss up for a squad that needs both up the middle.  The Brewers’ real money moves have to be focused around a reach for the top of the line pitchers like Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel. Or perhaps they’ll look to stay trade-hungry and test the waters on a young controllable arm currently with the Mets or Blue Jays.

2. Chicago Cubs –

Biggest Need: Outfield Consistency or Starting Depth

The Chicago Cubs were the best team in baseball’s senior circuit for much of the 2018 season, before being unceremoniously dropped into the wild card game and then bounced by an inferior Rockies squad in a 1-Game playoff format. Now if you’d like to hear me gripe about my dissatisfaction with the Wild Card game, might I suggest listening to the appropriately named Episode 3 (F*** The Wild Card) of The No Bull Just Ball Podcast.

Anyways, this is a very good, but not great team assembled in Chicago. Their needs come in the form of Starting Pitching and consistency in the Outfield. The solutions are actually linked together too, which makes this explanation fairly simple. If the young trio of Kyle Schwarber (LF), Ian Happ (CF), and Albert Almora (RF) is the way you wanna go for the future, then it is time to move Jason Heyward’s obnoxious-bust of a contract for any return you can get (even if it’s just some peanuts) and re-purpose that money for chasing prized starter: Patrick Corbin.

If you’d fancy yourself a new outfield slugger like Bryce Harper, than look to move one of the aforementioned youngsters in a package deal for a controllable starter on a team friendly deal…I feel like I’m going to this well a lot here, but the Blue Jays can seriously command a small fortune for their starters with the market being what it is.

Rumors are swirling about the Cubs being open to blowing things up and taking offers for all players…but I wouldn’t read too much into that, this team still has some prime productivity ahead of them…

3. St. Louis Cardinals –

Biggest Need: Big Splash

I’m very sorry to say that for this St. Louis Cardinals team, it’s sort of now or never on the free agent market. They struck out painfully with just about every attempted acquisition of a superstar a year ago. Somehow though they managed to land themselves just a game out of the final Wild Card spot in the National League. But with both the Brewers & Cubs conceivably getting better tonight, they won’t be able to sniff the top of their division without some major improvements. To avoid the dreaded middle ground, the Cards need to shoot for the top dogs this year.

I’m of course talking about the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel, and Patrick Corbin. Truth be told, with out reeling in some combination of these talents (or some other superstars via trade) the odds of us seeing St. Louis in playoff contention next summer will be slim at best.

The beauty of this team is that a lot of their players have positional flexibility to accommodate any potential big money men joining the Cards. All of their positions can certainly be upgraded via available FA and trade targets, so there’s a ton of options when it comes to moves. Now it just becomes a matter of the front office sealing the deal on a few…

4. Pittsburgh Pirates –

Biggest Need: Pick A Direction

All signs pointed to a full-scale rebuild for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018. They traded former MVP and fan favorite, Andrew McCutchen away for some prospects. It seemed as though more moves would soon follow that too…but then the unthinkable happened…they started winning. A rag tag band of Pirates staked claim to one of the NL’s wild card slots for a considerable length of time through July. So understandably, they tried to reverse course and build towards contention. That brought them Chris Archer from the Rays and kept what remained of trade-able assets in their midst while they eventually sputtered at season’s end.

Now their options are clear: keep building or start over…

If the Pirates want to keep on keeping on then the perfect storm is going to have to brew. The Cardinals will need to strike out on improvements yet again this winter, the Cubs or Brewers will have to inexplicably blow things up, and the Pirates themselves will have to win the offseason with some of the smartest moves conceivable considering their standing as perennial penny-pinchers. Sheerly from a logic standpoint, if three teams in your same division are better than you, you cannot make the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if you win 100 games in 2019…if the Brewers, Cubs, & Cards all win 101 or more then you are mathematically out of the playoffs unfortunately. So confidence will have to be at an irrational high in the Pirates’ front office if they’re choosing to go this route.

On the flip side, they can take the smarter approach and try to leverage some of their more obvious assets into prospects to build their future around. Guys like Archer, Felipe Vazquez, Francisco Cervelli, Starlin Marte, and Gregory Polanco all offer team-friendly alternatives to the contracts guys currently on the free agent market will be demanding. Teams looking for a starter have been salivating over Archer for years. A weak catching market means Cervelli would likely be a top prize. Marte & Polanco have shown the potential to sit on a tier just below Harper for teams who strike out with him. And of course not enough can be stated about the value of relievers like Vazquez in today’s bullpen-heavy game. The Pirates can really build a tomorrow if they blow it up today.

5. Cincinnati Reds –

Biggest Need: Trade Joey Votto

Somewhere in this world exists a place in which a perennial MVP candidate goes to hibernate the moment the Playoffs begin. Regardless of how many times he bats well over .300 with 30+ dingers, he always finds himself watching October baseball as a fan.

His name is Joey Votto, and he is a victim of loyalty. In an era of sports infamous for athletes and teams alike showing absolutely no allegiance to one another, the Cincinnati Reds and their superstar First Baseman have defied conventional wisdom. In a 12 year relationship they’ve only touched the Playoffs together on 3 occasions, being ousted in the opening round each time. Each and every year Votto puts up MVP numbers and gets dropped from conversation because the abysmal Reds remain well below .500 on the season. I believe that it is time for this duo to mutually agree to part ways, because quite frankly it’s the best thing for both of them. If they really loved eachother…they’d let eachother go.

Even in his age 35 season, Joey Votto is undoubtedly one of the best players in baseball today. And in the StatCast-Era no player in baseball has been more consistently phenomenal than Votto. Imagine what he could bring to one of the countless contenders in need of an upgrade at 1st. Drop Votto’s lefty line-drive approach in Yankee Stadium and I guarantee we’ll see his first MVP award since 2010. Imagine how much more potent he could make the Red Sox or Astros who both solely lack a consistent presence at 1st. Maybe he could join the Phillies, Nationals, or Cardinals desperate to use another superstar acquisition to entice a wary Bryce Harper. Move Votto and you give him the one thing he’s never gotten to sniff in his decade-plus career, a chance to win.

As for the Reds, you ask? How about a return of riches fit for royalty. What would you give up for a never-injured humble superstar with consistent top tier production that’ll make your sabermetric loving general manager wet himself? Whatever it takes. I mean seriously, Votto would instantly become the best player available via trade, and he’d easily overshadow Harper & Machado if it weren’t for the youth that they offer. The Reds could literally ask a team for their top prospects and receive them with almost no negotiation needed.

Sometimes breakups hurt. But with the promise of you both coming out on the other side better because of them…sometimes they’re the right thing to do….

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