As the Winter Meetings approach, each team in the NL-Central will look to either maintain their prowess, increase their power to compete against those at the top, or rebuild. Where will the St. Louis Cardinals fall in this continuum?
The 2016 season ended with the Chicago Cubs carrying the National League Central pennant all the way to the World Series and then carrying the trophy home to Chicago after years of its absence. That band-aid is best ripped off. Likewise, the St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in second place in the NL-Central in 2016. Will these things impact the Winter Meetings?
Having shared the history we St. Louis Cardinals fans know all too well, we now find ourselves wondering what the Winter Meetings will bring. Will the Cardinals stand pat or find some impressive move(s) that will help them keep pace with other teams? How about the other teams in the National League Central? This post will take a look at each and attempt to predict the moves coming.
Before moving on, let me take a moment to look back at the end of the 2016. As a reminder, the Chicago Cubs finished first in the NL-C with a record of 103-58. The St. Louis Cardinals held the second spot with a record of 86-76. Third place was secured by the Pittsburgh Pirates with a record of 78-83. The bottom dwellers in 2016 were the Milwaukee Brewers (73-89) and the Cincinnati Reds (68-94).
First up, the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were the 2016 media darlings who were crowned World Series Champions from the moment that pitchers and catchers reported to duty in the spring of 2016. With the majority of their young team returning, the Cubs look to maintain this expectation into 2017.
That said, the Cubs do have a few things on their radar. The team is preparing themselves for the losses of Dexter Fowler and Aroldis Chapman. To help with this, they just recently added former St. Louis Cardinal Jon Jay to man their center field. This likely means that the Cubs could use the meetings to find a new closer, etc.
I think the Cubs will be the front-runner in the NL-Central in 2017 and that Theo will use the winter meetings to make sure this stay true. I look to the Cubs to make one big splash in the way of a closer or another arm that will assist their efforts of staying on top of the NL-C.
The Pirates… zzzzzzzz… What I love most about the Pirates is that their own MLB site suggests that they will likely move Andrew McCutchen during the meetings in an effort to gain pitching. This is the target that their MLB site suggests.
That said, I do believe that Cutch moves this next week. In fact, I think this is one of the fewest “big” moves that will be made during the meetings. I think we should also keep an eye on the name of Josh Harrison as a potential move the Pirates might make in a two-or-three-name move for some league-minimum infielder plus a pitcher.
Will this help them in 2017? I think it will help them contend for the wild card but nothing more. In short, I look for the Pirates to again play spoiler in 2017 rather than real contender.
Again, a snooze-fest, right? WAIT! The Brewers went into rebuild mode last season so this week’s meetings could be a real time of movement for them. Don’t read into this any prediction that the Brewers will collect any big moves, but rather my prediction that they will become big sellers.
Here it is, and it comes as no surprise: Ryan Braun. I predict that Braun will be sold this next week. What will he bring the Brewers in return? The Brew Crew would be well-advised to aim to pick up a handful of prospects to aid their rebuilding efforts.
Let’s be honest here, the Brewers are not going to be contenders in 2017. That said, young players always interest me as they have absolutely nothing to lose. 2017 will be a year to watch the Brewers as their young players make names for themselves. They might not win a whole lot, but they will play and will bring big returns to the Brewers in the offseason of 2017.
I love the Reds if only to hate them. I’ve written of my discontent for them and their tiny ballpark for us here before (go check it out). That said, the Reds might well become very active this week at the meetings.
What will they offer? I believe the Reds are in the best position to begin a rebuilding year as well. The organization would do well to admit that they are looking up at the division and carrying too much cash in players who could bring them better returns than wins in 2017.
So who will go? I look for the Reds to shop and likely move names such as Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips. Joey Votto might be moving too but the organization seems content to keep him their franchise player through his control of 2023. That said, it seems that Cozart and Phillips are more likely to go than Votto.
What will Cozart and Phillips likely bring? The Reds need pitching (who doesn’t?) and could certainly use some catching help to protect the oft-injured Devin Mesoraco. I look to the Reds to shop and move Cozart and Phillips this week or at least start these conversations to be continued after the meetings conclude.
One more thing, the Reds could well be one of the most active teams in the rule-5 draft since they have the number two selection overall in this year’s rule-5 draft. This might be where they find some help in their weak areas which could also help push Cozart and Phillips to other teams.
St. Louis Cardinals
Last but not least is our St. Louis Cardinals. What do we want our birds to do this week? We want them to grab all the value they can so that we can win this season, right? Will this be a reality?
The St. Louis Cardinals have been relatively busy already this winter despite all of our chagrin that Mozeliak hasn’t made a gigantic splash yet. The pick up of Brett Cecil made many in baseball claim that St. Louis might well have the deepest roster in the league. That said, can we hope that Mo will move some of the surplus this week?
I look for at least some of the names of Jhonny Peralta, Matt Adams, or maybe even Tommy Pham to be on the move this week. The 40-man is currently full so if Mozeliak is going to use this week to pick up his center fielder (Carlos Gomez feels best to me unless Mo can pull off a Byron Buxton move- go read Brendan’s piece), or pick up names in the rule-5, he will need to offload someone or others this week.
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With all the speculation surrounding the Cardinals, I do look for something big to come this week. I’m not sure if this will be a starting pitcher (please, no), or the prophesied center fielder (please, yes), or perhaps even help on the infield (please, Andrelton Simmons– read my rumor piece here). In short, this is the year for the Cardinals- in my opinion- to put together a real fight against Chicago and this week will be the week to prove it.
All said, I look for the Cubs to win the National League Central in 2017. I hate saying that but I just don’t see how they won’t. That said, I think the Cardinals have a decent chance of making this difficult. Furthermore, I see the Cardinals either pushing the division to the final week or having locked up the top wild card spot with ease.
The rest of the NL-C will fall probably in the same order as they did in 2016.
What do you think? What are you looking for this week? Have I missed anything? If you were the Cardinals GM, what would you do this week? Follow us on Twitter as we will keep you up-to-date as soon as we learn anything this week.