The National League Central has been an active division this offseason. The Milwaukee Brewers appear to be retooling, the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs are making pushes, and the Pittsburgh Pirates are biding their time.
The Cardinals were the first movers in the division, signing Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson, and Sonny Gray before the Winter Meetings started. They didn't extend arbitration contracts to Dakota Hudson, Jake Woodford, Andrew Knizner, or Juan Yepez, and they offered contracts to Dylan Carlson, Tyler O'Neill, Ryan Helsley, and Tommy Edman. They also beefed up the bullpen by adding Rule 5 Draft pick, Ryan Fernandez, trading Tyler O'Neill for Nick Robertson, and also trading for Andrew Kittredge. The final signing of Keynan Middleton was the icing on the cake.
Transforming the team for the Cardinals was important, but the changes at both the executive and field levels were just as important. Bringing Yadier Molina, Daniel Descalso, and Chaim Bloom into the fold improves the team's outlook for 2024 and beyond.
John Mozeliak and the front office members have been very busy, and the offseason was a general success. However, did they do enough to surpass the other teams in the National League Central?
Let's take a look at the other National League Central teams' transactions this offseason and evaluate if these teams improved or not.
Majors Subtractions: RHP Vince Velasquez, LHP Jarlin Garcia
Major Additions: RHP Aroldis Chapman, LHP Marco Gonzales, C Ali Sanchez, 1B Rowdy Tellez, LHP Martin Perez
Notable Moves: Won the No. 9 draft pick in the 2024 MLB Draft, catcher Endy Rodriguez's season-ending injury
The Pirates are a team that appears to be holding off in the National League Central. Despite an influx of young, talented players such as O'Neil Cruz and Ke'Bryan Hayes, the Pirates are holding pat on making a push for the division. Most of their moves were moves on the margins in which they filled out their roster.
The Pirates traded for Marco Gonzales just a couple of days after the Atlanta Braves acquired him in the Jerred Kelenic trade. This transaction appeared to be a salary dump on the part of the Braves, but Pittsburgh gets a decent starting pitcher to work behind the team's ace, Mitch Keller. The Pirates also bolstered their rotation when they signed left-handed pitcher Martin Perez to a one-year, $8 million contract.
Pittsburgh added Aroldis Chapman, although this move could result in a Trade Deadline transaction to net a prospect of two. The signings of Rowdy Tellez and Ali Sanchez provide some bench depth. The return of Andrew McCutchen creates some buzz in the city, and he could see time at DH and in the corner outfield. Most of the Pirates' moves have been relatively minor, only showing their willingness to wait it out and see what happens in the division.
Pittsburgh doesn't figure to be a contender for the National League Central crown next year, but they are an interesting team to watch these next few years given their youth influx. Right-handed pitcher Paul Skenes, their most recent draft pick, could even reach the majors by the end of the season next year.