We haven't checked in with the other clubs in the NL Central since the end of the 2011 season, and with the Winter Meetings on the horizon, there's no time like the present to see what our division-mates have been up to thus far and what they're looking to add at the Meetings.
In alphabetical order, then:
- The Cubs -- who, you may have heard, hired a new GM a few weeks back -- got a jump on the Winter Meetings by inking outfielder David DeJesus to a two-year deal. A lot of people said a lot of nice things after DeJesus signed the deal, but I can't seem to distinguish them anymore. All of them seem to be variations of the theme of "this guy's a grinder."
- The path for the Epstein Cubs remains somewhat uncharted: Theo's promised to rebuild the club from the ground up, but that hasn't stopped the rumors that the new front office wants to make a big splash by signing Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. Regardless of who the Cubs bring in this offseason, though, Epstein says that last season's prize acquisition, right-hander Matt Garza, isn't on the trading block.
- And it appears that mercurial maniac Carlos Zambrano -- who took a ball off the dome during winter league play -- isn't a sure thing to be moved, either. I can't imagine there will be much of a market for a hothead on the wrong side of 30, and Kerry Wood says that if Zambrano is willing to do things "the right way" in the Cubs clubhouse, the team would welcome him back. (I say, in response: GLWT.)
- Priority A-1 for the Reds this offseason? Finding a way to keep All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips -- who'll be playing on a one-year, $12 million deal in 2012 -- in the fold long term. For his part, Phillips says that he wants to play his entire career in Cincinnati "like my idol, Barry Larkin," but he's leaving the negotiations up to Reds GM Walt Jocketty and his agent.
- On the heels of a wildly disappointing 2011 campaign, the Reds have a number of holes to fill as the Winter Meetings begin. Tops of the list is starting pitching, and there's already been a lot of chatter that uber-prospect Yonder Alonso might be moved for a top arm. Alonso struggled in the field in his stint in the big leagues last year, but he showed up for the Reds annual Redsfest looking sleek: he says he's hired a personal chef and dropped 18 pounds already this offseason.
- The Reds will also have to find a new catcher, as Ramon Hernandez reportedly agreed to a two-year, $6.5 contract with the Rockies. The Reds hadn't yet offered Hernandez arbitration, but under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, they'll get a supplemental first-round pick in next year's draft as compensation.
- The bullpen might need a bit of work, too, especially if closer Francisco Cordero doesn't return. There were rumblings that Boston was interested in signing Cordero after Jon Papelbon signed with the Phillies, but it's been all quiet on the CoCo front the last couple weeks.
- In what's probably a perfect summary of their current plight, the Astros will be attending the Winter Meetings sans a full-time GM, as Ed Wade got the axe last week as Jim Crane's ownership group took over the franchise. The Astros weren't expected to be major -- or even minor -- players at the Meetings, given that they stripped the cupboards bare last season, but they've still got a couple of sizable contracts on the books in starters Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers.
- Thus, while the rest of the league looks to fill holes on their rosters, the Astros will look to find a new head man for the front office. At this point, we know that they've reached out to Rays GM (and Houston native) Andrew Friedman and Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine, but SBN Houston's David Coleman doesn't see (1) why Friedman would want to make that move, or (2) why the Astros would be interested in an unknown like Levine.
- And yesterday, word came out that the Astros have also received permission to speak to Bill Geivett, who currently serves as the senior vice president of scouting and player development (and assistant GM) for the Colorado Rockies.
- The Bucs didn't wait for the Winter Meetings to get a jump on the free-agent market, as they scooped up shortstop Clint Barmes for what qualifies as a spending splurge in Pittsburgh: two years, $10.5 million. That signing is probably the biggest free agent move the Pirates will make, although they did offer arbitration to first baseman Derrek Lee, who'd command a hefty salary on a one-year deal but is reportedly unlikely to accept the offer.
- Pittsburgh has decisions to make on a number of arbitration-eligible players before the middle of December, and while some of them will be easy (Joel Hanrahan, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens), a few others -- especially in the 'pen -- will be more difficult.
- The staff is still up in the air, but the Bucs appear set in the outfield for the foreseeable future: Pittsburgh seems committed to youngster Alex Presley in left field in 2012, with Jose Tabata manning the fort in right. And I'm not sure where, exactly, these rumors came from, but the Pirates made clear that they have no interest in trading centerfielder and budding superstar Andrew McCutchen.
- Still no news on the Redbirds' quest to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis, although we've now learned that His Respectfulness said no (politely, no doubt) to a nine-year, $198-million extension in January 2011. It's hard to imagine the Cards upping the ante on that offer, and it might end up being the best Pujols can do: the newly-minted Miami Marlins are interested in Pujols' services, too, but the scuttlebutt is that the Fish lowballed (relatively speaking) Lord Albert.
- The Cardinals middle-infield situation is also in flux: although the Birds were mightily impressed with Rafael Furcal during his time with the team, he's injury phone and isn't a spring chicken. Second base is also up in the air, as Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker are likely non-tenders and Nick Punto is a free agent.
- If they don't bring Furcal back, there are rumblings that St. Louis will make a push for free agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who played with the Braves in 2011.