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Sunday, December 8, 2013
NL Central: Three questions for each team

By David Schoenfield

We continue our three questions series with the NL Central ...

St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Cardinals
What do they need? Unless the Cardinals surprise everyone with a blockbuster trade, they're essentially done for the offseason. Jhonny Peralta was signed to play shortstop, Matt Carpenter will move over to third and rookie Kolten Wong will be the second baseman. Peter Bourjos, acquired for David Freese, should take over a portion of the center-field duties from Jon Jay, with Allen Craig in right field, at least until Oscar Taveras is ready.

Do they have enough power? The Cardinals led the NL in runs scored in 2013, but they hit a record .330 with runners in scoring position. (In 2012, they hit .264 with RISP.) They ranked 13th in the NL in home runs in 2013, and Bourjos and Wong aren't going to help in that department, so the offense will be hard-pressed to score 783 runs again.

Who's going to be in the rotation? Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn have to be locks, leaving Joe Kelly, Jaime Garcia and Carlos Martinez for one spot (not to mention Trevor Rosenthal if the Cards were creative). For now, Rosenthal is the closer, and with Edward Mujica and John Axford gone, maybe Martinez stays in the pen for his rookie season.


Pittsburgh Pirates
Pittsburgh Pirates
What do they need? First base, starting pitcher, right field.

Who are they going after? They inquired about Adam Lind and Mitch Moreland, while free agent James Loney would be a relatively inexpensive signing. Pirates first basemen hit .264/.346/.422 with 17 home runs, so none of those guys are really big upgrades over that. Right field may actually be the bigger problem area, but with top prospect Gregory Polanco close to the majors, the Pirates can live with a Jose Tabata/Travis Snider platoon for a year or half a season. Well, try to live.

What about A.J. Burnett ... or David Price? If Burnett retires or signs elsewhere, the Pirates do have a big hole in the rotation to fill. Francisco Liriano is unlikely to repeat his big season (16-8, 3.02 ERA) and the league figured out Jeff Locke in the second half. Wandy Rodriguez is still around and Gerrit Cole has ace potential, but one more starter would be nice. The Pirates have the prospects to acquire Price. Don't be shocked if they get him.

Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati Reds
What do they need? Besides Joey Votto taking all those walks instead of driving in runs? Right now, the Reds are counting on speed demon Billy Hamilton to take over from Shin-Soo Choo in center and veteran Ryan Ludwick to return from an injury-plagued 2013. Hamilton hit .258/.308/.343 at Triple-A, so there are concerns over his bat at the major league level. Ludwick will be 35, making him a risky bet for a bounce back, especially since 2012 had been his best season since 2008. They did sign Skip Schumaker, who provides insurance in center.

Will they go after a starter? With the departure of Bronson Arroyo, it's possible, although they still have a solid five-man group with Tony Cingrani. And there's always the possibility that new manager Bryan Price (elevated from pitching coach) will convince Aroldis Chapman to move out from the bullpen.

OK, Brandon Phillips. On the market or not? First he was, then GM Walt Jocketty said he wasn't. Then CEO Bob Castellini said, "you never say never." Schumaker could play second base (or even Hamilton, who played shortstop before moving to center last season) if the Reds do decide to trade Phillips, who is signed through 2017.

Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee Brewers
What do they need? A first baseman. The Marlins are offering Logan Morrison around, so that could be a good fit. Ike Davis would be available from the Mets. They traded Norichika Aoki to acquire Will Smith from the Royals. Smith will get a chance to win a rotation spot.

Do they have any trade chips left? Not really, unless you include Ryan Braun. Aramis Ramirez is still around, but he's not a fit for the Marlins or Mets. The farm system isn't exactly loaded with top prospects.

Is there a chance this team could be in the playoff race? I'm done picking the Brewers. Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and Jonathan Lucroy make for a nice core, but the rotation needs Yovani Gallardo (4.18 ERA) and Wily Peralta (4.37 ERA) to pitch better, and the lack of depth is a huge problem.

Chicago Cubs
Chicago Cubs
What do they need? Well, they were 14th in the NL in runs scored and 12th in runs allowed. So ... basically, everything. But the prospects are coming!

Will Jeff Samardzija be with the Cubs in 2014? The Cubs seem determined to trade him, and he's viewed as one of the players most likely to be traded during the winter meetings. Will he be part of a package to acquire Price? The Cubs have been quiet this offseason, foregoing free agents, so you have to wonder if a big trade is in the works. Or maybe they'll just punt on another season as they wait for Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and company to arrive.

Will anybody take Starlin Castro? No reason to trade him now. The Cubs would be selling low. Maybe new manager Rick Renteria can get him back on track.