EDITOR'S NOTE: Kevin M. Schaefer is one of several recent applicants to write for BCB, and one of a handful we'll be allowing to "try out" in the coming weeks. His debut post is below; check it out and let us know what you think. - KL
We're headfirst into a new year, 2013. It's cold outside, but thoughts keep us warm- spring training is fast approaching. This offseason continues to be a busy one around the league and there's plenty happening here in the NL Central. Before teams start reporting in for camp let's take a minute and recap the moves and transactions, and what to keep a watchful eye on outside of Milwaukee. Here's what's been happening with the other teams in the division.
The Reds aren't going away. Last season they had the second most winning record in baseball, clinched the division, and then saw themselves shaken down by the Giants in the postseason. There's a lot to be said about their failure in the postseason, but it's hard to argue their numbers during the regular. The reasons are pretty clear as to why. Power is the name of the game in Cincinnati. Big bats return with the likes of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Brandon Phillips in the lineup as well as outfielder, Ryan Ludwick, who, after shopping around the free agency, decided to resign with the Reds.
Reds also added outfielder, Shin-Soo Choo, to their battalion in a trade with Cleveland for shortstop, Didi Gregorius and outfielder, Drew Stubbs. Choo comes in to Cincinnati with the OBP numbers they were looking for in a leadoff spot, which will most likely be where he resides in the batting order. Last year for the Indians Choo held a season OBP of .373 and his career numbers are closer to .380. He seems, on paper at least, a better man over Stubbs, who he will be replacing. Stubbs' batting average last year wasn't much over the Mendoza line at .213, and he had a sub .300 OBP. The real test of this trade will be if Choo can replace Stubbs' ability in the outfield. Drew Stubbs is one of the better gloves in center and Shin-Soo Choo spends most of his time residing in right field so there could be an adjusting period for him. When it comes to plate appearances though, Choo is a huge step in the right direction for the Reds. The deal also brought infielder, Jason Donald, over from Cleveland as well.
Also coming over from Cleveland, but from free agents, is third baseman, Jack Hannahan. The move seemed to be made to find depth in the corners and he will most likely be an off the bench player in Cincinnati.
Some remaining questions:
The top question in Cincinnati is where does Aroldis Chapman fit in 2013? Chapman has been the most watched player on the Reds' pitching staff for a few seasons now, as he has a sizzling arm. In 2012, Chapman was slotted to finally get a starting rotation spot, but he headed back to the bullpen as the closer when Ryan Madson tore his pitching elbow. Eventually, Chapman wore out his arm in the season as well and the Reds brought in veteran closer, Jonathan Broxton, to take the final inning duty. Now, in 2013, Reds are telling Chapman to prepare for a starting role again. Madson parted ways and found himself a place with the Los Angeles Angels and Broxton was given a three year contract with the Reds. Does this signify Chapman is for sure going to get his starting spot? Can his arm hold up to throwing high inning games?
The other remaining question that has yet to be answered is Scott Rolen. The veteran third baseman holds a lot of respect in the city and no one is quite sure yet if he returns for 2013. If he does, what does that mean for rising star, Todd Frazier, who currently holds the job? With Rolen's numbers declining exponentially every season it would be hard to understand if he took playing time away from Frazier.
St. Louis Cardinals
The 2011 World Series champs came in to 2012 minus two very big names in baseball, Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa. And yet, there they were in October, finding themselves in the NLCS, fighting the Giants for another go at the World Series title, but fell short and lost out. How'd they do it? Should we expect the same force in 2013? All signs seem to point to "most likely." Even without Pujols, and even under a skipper whose name isn't LaRussa, the birds fought their way through 162 games with a big 12-4 rally at the end of the season, and it wasn't exactly luck.
The Cards have a well established lineup with names that will be printed on St. Louis jerseys for time to come- Furcall, Jon Jay, David Freese, Matt Holliday. They have their top four starting rotation in pitching pretty well sealed for the upcoming season with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter Jake Westbrook, and Jaime Garcia. And the fifth and final spot will most likely go to one of their up and coming minor league top prospects, Lance Lynn or Shelby Miller, really, which ever seems more up to the task and ready to play in the show. I say that with bated breath though. There is still the substantial pitcher, Kyle Lohse, but he's a free agent and has yet to sign with anyone. Most likely he won't show up again in St. Louis because A) he'd cost too much, B) They have stellar Minor leaguers that are ready, and C) he'll probably find himself a hefty deal elsewhere. But alas, nothing's set in stone.
What is known though is that the other big name in free agents, Lance Berkman, went the way of Texas this past Saturday in a one year contract.
Gone in a trade is second basemen/outfielder/utility, Skip Schumaker, traded to the Dodgers for second basemen/shortstop, Jake Lemmerman, who, at 23 years old, has some stammering minor league numbers including a .377 OBP in his last three seasons. Cardinals also snagged LHP, Randy Choate, from the Dodgers in free agency.
Ty Wigginton. On December 14th, Cardinals signed Ty Wigginton to a two year, $5m contract off of free agents. This move really has people confused in St. Louis. He's an odd fit, sure, he gives depth, maybe. But what is depth at $2.5m a year? And where does he fit in the lineup for that price? He's not a better corner man then Allen Craig or David Freese. He isn't looking to be in the outfield over Holliday, Beltran, and Jon Jay. His numbers aren't spectacular at any category really, bringing in a career .263 BA .324 OBP .438 SLG. And those numbers have only been on the decline, compared to his 2012 .235/.314/.375. He doesn't hit home runs, he doesn't get on base, and he's not made to take a spot in the lineup to get rbis. This pick up, while seemingly an ok grab as adding another utility player just doesn't seem to fit the bill that he signed for. But this is baseball, you never know ‘til you know.
The Cardinals are hard to argue with. They hold a hefty hand. One of their biggest assets is their farm system which seems to produce future stars and has yet to really fail when called upon. The real question is will this same lineup, almost identical to last year's, be able to play like they did in 2012? Will they be able to scrap out wins to keep them in the running, and, if need be, make another 12-4 run at the end of the season to somehow find a spot in the wild card hunt? They seem to have the components. Time will tell, but don't expect some magical shortfall by these guys. They continuously prove that's not the case.
The Pirates hit their 20th losing season in a row in 2012. That's a standing record across all major sports. And that's been their story. A club who's only one main goal, to just get a winning season. It's not like they aren't trying though. Andrew McCutchen showed the league he is the elite star he was billed to be, batting .327 with an OBP of .400 and a SLG of .553 last year. Not to mention his 31 homers, 96 rbis, 107 runs, and 20 stolen bases. He also walked 70 times last season. Too bad that as much of an individual sport as this is, one man can't carry a team by himself. Lucky for the Bucs, Pedro Alverez broke through last year as well, smacking 30 home runs of his own. They even tried their hand at pitching last year, getting good action out of A.J. Burnett, and later adding Wandy Rodriguez to the lineup. But still, it didn't help enough.
So will 2013 be the year, or will Pittsburgh hit 21 losing seasons in a row? They've made a lot of bids this offseason to really try to prevent that from happening. Pirates declined club option for catcher, Rod Barajas in October, and instead signed free agent, Russel Martin, from the New York Yankees, as well as San Diego's, Ali Solis, off of waivers. They also dumped infielders, Brock Holt and Gustavo Nunez, as well as Yamaico Navarro in trade deals with Detroit, Boston, and Arizona respectively. Coming into their infield off of trades is, Jerry Sands and Ivan De Jesus from Boston, and Clint Robinson from Kansas City. The big influx though is in the pitching. They've already added nine new guys to the pitching staff, mostly though trades:
- RHP Chad Beck- waivers, Toronto
- RHP Vin Mazzaro- trade, Kansas City
- RHP Jhondaniel Medina- trade, Baltimore
- RHP Mark Melancon- trade, Boston
- RHP Stolmy Pimentel- Trade, Boston
- RHP Zach Stewart- trade, Boston
- RHP Zach Thornton- trade, Oakland
- LHP Francisco Liriano- free agency, Chicago White Sox
- LHP Andy Oliver- trade Detroit
What's it all mean? Their bullpen is getting rearranged, and they're looking to start building a younger team. This may not be a horrible idea, seeing as how the current system really hasn't worked too well. They've lost veteran starter Kevin Correia off of free agents to Minnesota, so most likely their starting five guys will be Burnett, Rodriguez, James McDonald, Liriano, and Kyle McPherson.
Were these moves enough to make 2013 a winning season? Probably not. The only names in that heap of names given that really stand out are catcher, Russell Martin, and starting pitcher, Fransisco Liriano, and those are some hard names to rely on. These additions to the team are rounding out spots desperately needed to be filled by the Pirates, but they still have a long way to go. Don't knock ‘em for trying though, because they get closer and closer as the seasons go by. Be on the lookout for a rising Pittsburgh ball club, but if the game plan is to ride McCutchen's bat through 2013 again, it may not end well for the Bucs.
Well, after losing 101 games in 2012, and the Astros leaving the division to rid of the "Battle for the Basement," the Cubs have nowhere to go but up. That is, if they can climb. 2012 marked the first year of the Theo Epstein era for Chicago, and the season played out pretty much how it was advertised- a rotating platoon of young faces moving through the system. While Epstein and company try to find the right guys, some names are definite returns for 2013, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. This seems to be the foundation that Chicago wants to build around, and doing so slowly. One can seemingly add second baseman, Darwin Barney, to the list as well, who has shown his strength with a glove last year, as well as holding his own at the plate, with an OBP just under .300 in 2012.
With such a young team, losing guys to free agency hasn't been much of a problem. Bullpen workhorse, Shawn Camp, was immediately resigned to Chicago, but 1B/OF, Bryan LaHair, 2012 All Star, saw his free agency status send him to Japan. This move wasn't too shocking, as LaHair's main position was first base, and that spot is reserved for Rizzo.
The Cubs have been busy this offseason trying to rebuild, and the name of the game has been free agents. The Cubs are going after pitching to try and match up to their (surprisingly) 14th best offense in the league. The names added so far are RHP Scott Baker- MIN, RHP Edwin Jackson WAS, and RHP Carlos Villanueva TOR. These are big moves for the Cubbies, who look to round out their pitching staff, and add to the already strong arms of Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, and Travis Wood.
Chicago also looked to beef up their bullpen by acquiring the highly sought after RHP, Kyuji Fujikawa, from Japan.
There's quite a few unanswered questions in Chicago, but let's ask one at a time. First off, with the signing of Fujikawa, will he be taking the closing spot away from Carlos Marmol or will he be the set up man? If he is the closer, what do you shop for in a Marmol trade if he complies? There were rumors floating around the north side about a trade for Dan Haren involving Marmol, only to fail in the last hours. As it always seems, and if the last season was a good indicator, Alfonso Soriano is always a trade option for the Cubs. Chicago has looked to shop him out more than once, and came close a few times, but to no such luck. Soriano played his best defense of his outfielding career with the Cubs in 2012. Is that enough reason to hold out on a ‘give away' trade for him?Finally, what do you do with Matt Garza? He has the makings to be a solid club pitcher who could make his stand in Chicago blue, but are they attached to him? Do they want him to be their number one ace, or now that they've acquired a few strong names in starting pitching do they start shopping him around? The bottom line for anyone following the Cubs is, don't get too attached to any one guy, and start familiarizing yourself with the minor league names you see during spring training.
It's been a busy offseason for the rest of the division, and it's only January. As is always in baseball, there's still more time.