First off, I would like to start this post off with a quick disclaimer; I am a die-hard Cubs fan, so talking about the NL Central is both a blessing and a curse for me. However, I will remain as objective as I possibly can be (yes, even when talking about the Brewers and Cardinals). As many of you who follow baseball know, the most recent flurry of Hot Stove happenings have *mostly* been associated with the NL Central. Team by team, I will go through these recent deals and give my two cents about how it impacts the respective team, the division, and baseball in general.
The St. Louis Cardinals were in need of some type of blockbuster and/or major-impact free agent acquisition. Both of which have happened for the Red Birds in the month of December. On December 5th, it was announced that the Cardinals had acquired 1B Paul Goldschmidt from the Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Luke Weaver, C Carson Kelly, INF Andrew Young, and a 2019 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick. This is the textbook definition of a blockbuster trade. Paul Goldschmidt, or “Goldy” as he is commonly referred to as, is arguably the top 1B in the game, and even after a very slow April and May, he still finished the 2018 campaign with .922 OPS, slugging 33 homers, and playing his usual above average defense. While he is in a contract year, Cardinal fans will certainly enjoy watching him this year, and maybe for years to come if they can get an extension worked out. On the field, the impact of his bat cannot be understated. The biggest hole in the 2018 Cardinals lineup was a feared, consistent slugger in the middle of their lineup. Matt Carpenter had an excellent 2nd half, Marcela Ozuna hit, but not for a ton of power, and other players were good in flashes, such as Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham (pre-trade of course). The only drawback to this deal is that Matt Carpenter will have to move over to 3rd base, where his well documented arm issues might take a toll on the defense, but overall, Goldy should be an excellent fit right in the middle of their lineup. The other side of the move is interesting as well. Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly regressed a bit in 2018, but both are still very young and will have plenty of playing time in Arizona. Andy Young is a 24 yr. old hit first prospect who has made it as high as AA. The other major move the Cardinals made was the signing of super-lefty Andrew Miller to a 2 year/25 million dollar contract. The Cardinals desperately needed a left handed reliever and are relying on Miller to return to form after injuries plagued his 2018 season. He should fit in nicely in the “fireman” role behind Jordan Hicks. Coming off a very up and down 2018 where the Red Birds started off very sluggish, then got hot for a few months, then tailed off drastically in the stretch run, these two moves will certainly give them a boost and put them square in the middle of the NL Central race, as well as the hunt for a Wild Card.
The Cincinnati Reds made a huge (some might call it a blockbuster) trade on the 21st of December, when they acquired Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer, and cash from the Dodgers for Homer Bailey, INF Jeter Downs (#8 prospect in Reds system) and Josiah Gray (#20). The Dodgers subsequently released Bailey, making this more of a salary dump move for them, while acquiring a few intriguing prospects. This move allows them to stay under the luxury tax threshold, and have some payroll flexibility in this loaded free agent class (not naming names…). From the Reds perspective, this move will not make them contenders by any stretch, as they remain a year or two away on the rebuild curve. It will, however, make them a very exciting team to watch. Adding Puig and Kemp to an already pretty exciting offense, which features Joey Votto and the breakout slugger Scooter Gennett. This move will certainly fill some seats in what is normally a fairly empty Great American Ball Park. The Reds also made a trade for Nationals starter Tanner Roark. He figures to eat innings up for a very very young rotation, and to save some innings from an overused bullpen.
Overshadowed by the Reds-Dodgers blockbuster, the Brewers also made a pretty significant move on the 21st of December. Well, it would have been significant in 2017. The Brewers shipped off Domingo Santana to the Mariners for Ben Gamel and minor league pitcher Noah Zavolas. Santana had a very strong 2017 season with the bat but was overshadowed by the acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and MVP Christian Yelich in the offseason following that 2017 season. Santana came into 2018 with hopes of a still somewhat significant role, but that never came to fruition, as he struggled and spent significant time in AAA. He should see regular at bats with the ever-changing Mariners roster. Ben Gamel figures to be a 4th or 5th outfielder for the Brew Crew, which is still a major role seeing that injuries and rest are inevitable. Another lesser (no offense Cory) deal that was made by the Brewers was the signing of Cory Spangenberg to a 1 year deal. He will make $1.2 million if he is on the 25 man roster (meaning he is playing in the Majors) or $250k if he is in the minors. He figures to be up and down quite a bit this upcoming year, and play a role similar to Eric Sogard last year. Coming off of a division title in 2018, these moves certainly do not hurt the Brewers, but it will be interesting to see if they miss Santana’s bat in pinch hitting or spot-start duty.
The Cubs, after trading fan favorite Tommy La Stella and non-tendering Ronald Torreyes, who they acquired from the Yankees, appeared to have found their backup, utility infielder of choice. Daniel Descalso, coming off one of his best career years with the bat out in the desert, signed a 2 year/$5 million dollar deal to play in front of the Wrigley faithful. A former Cardinal, Descalso has bounced around a bit, most notably playing for the D-Backs and seeing a fairly big uptick in his power numbers due to a change in hitting and swing philosophy (Oh how we love the launch angle era…), figures to see pretty significant playing time based on how Joe Maddon likes to mix and match lineups. The Cubs also made a deal of lesser significance, when they signed rehabbing pitcher Kendall Graveman to a 2 year deal that will pay $575k in 2019 to rehab from Tommy John surgery, and then a player option of $3 million for 2020. This is very similar to the Drew Smyly deal that Cubs gave out in the pre-2018 offseason. It remains to be seen if Theo and company have something up their sleeve (or more payroll flexibility) but the Descalso deal gives them flexibility both in the field, and a solid left handed bat either off the bench or a start every now and then. Coming off of a 2018 Wild Card loss, the Cubs will be right in the thick of the NL Central race, and assuming some of the injuries and offensive struggles regress back to the normal level of production we were used to seeing from this team, they are one of the top teams in the NL.
Last but not least (at least in projected win total for 2019) we have the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their offseason has been defined by more by who they have lost rather than who they have gained. Ivan Nova was shipped out to the White Sox for minor leaguer Yordi Rosario and $500k in international spending capacity, Jordy Mercer signed a free agent contract with the Tigers, and Josh Harrison (Mr. Super Utility himself) is a free agent and is not expected to come back to Pittsburgh. However, the team did sign long time Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall to a 1 year/ $2.75 million deal, and Jordan Lyles to a 1 year/ $2.05 million deal. While neither of these players are superstars by any stretch, Chisenhall should provide solid outfield play and a league average (which is good in baseball terms) bat, utilizing a short porch in right field at PNC park that is very kind to lefties; Lyles has shown flashes of being a solid major league pitcher, and Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has been known to work miracles before. The Pirates could stick in the race for a few months, but unless they make some significant moves, they will likely be in the middle of the pack again in 2019.
To wrap up, speculation on a potential Corey Kluber trade has heated up slightly after the conclusion of a very sluggish Winter Meetings. The Indians extended Carlos Carrasco, and have indicated that if they do move a starter, they would much rather it be Kluber than Trevor Bauer. One team that could potentially be a serious player for him is the Dodgers (surprise surprise, they’re all over the map). This trade would make sense for both sides. The Dodgers need another high impact pitcher in their rotation behind Kershaw and Buehler (assuming he does not regress after an excellent rookie campaign), and the Indians need outfielders after the losses of Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley. The Dodgers, even after swinging the trade with the Reds, have plenty of outfield depth. Alex Verdugo, Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, Andrew Toles, and even Cody Bellinger in flashes are just some of the notable names that the Dodgers ran out there in 2018, and Dave Roberts can only play 3 at a time of course. Bellinger and Taylor will not be traded, barring the apocalypse, but Alex Verdugo is a name that has been in many trade rumors, seeing that he has been atop the MLB prospect lists for a few years, and his graduation to being a full time major leaguer is inevitable at this point. The Dodgers also have a very loaded farm system in which the Indians could choose from in a Kluber deal. Dustin May, Gavin Lux, Keibert Ruiz, Mitchell White and Will Smith are just a few names that could be packaged along with Verdugo in a potential deal. Another sleeper team that could be involved, however on the very fringe, is the Reds. They would most likely have to give up 2 of the best prospects in baseball, Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell, in order to get talks started, but never say never. Other very fringe teams that could be talking with the Indians about the perennial Cy Young candidate include the Brewers and the Phillies, both of which need pitching and have very good farm systems.
Although the MLB Hot Stove has gotten off to a somewhat sluggish start, the action can only pick up from here. With many high profile names both in free agency and on the trade block, it should be an exciting start to 2019, as we look ahead to the 2019 baseball season.