A Quick Needs Analysis for Each NL Central Team

It would have been nice if the Cubs signed David Price, but John Lackey is better than the obligatory consolation prize. Even our own Evan Altman has come around on the oft-abused Lackey. Beer and fried chicken aside, Lackey improves the Cubs to a 92-win team on paper. And there’s still work to be done. Based on the emphasis of analytics to which this front office religiously adheres, I’m hoping the projection is a 100-win season by next week and then we just let the playoff chips fall where they may with a rotation of Arrieta, Lester, Lackey, Hendricks, Hammel and a SP to be named later.

Chicago Cubs

Needs: Another starting pitcher. Bullpen help. Contact hitting. Defensive upgrades.

The sexy potential pick-up is Jason Heyward, though I am not on board. The Cubs hope to afford Alex Gordon. Both are probably out of reach financially unless the Cubs can move contracts.

This front office lives and breathes intrinsic value, so if you believe they are willing to move Jorge Soler and his modest salary you’d better believe a veritable haul is coming back, as it should. At two-to-five wins above replacement, minimally, the Cubs need a return, minimally, of $13 million dollars in value. A trade for Shelby Miller nearly accomplishes that, but I say shoot for the moon and try to get Sonny Gray.

Buyer beware: If the Cubs move Soler for pitching, they likely need a three-year fix at two outfield positions. Free agency may be the best path for upgrading the outfield at this point, but there are available pieces in trade. If they fail to replace Soler (if they trade him) the Cubs are looking at a replacement-level outfield for 2016.

How do the Cubs upgrade areas of need? Throw in Dan Vogelbach! Okay, I jest.

They may be able to swing a trade for an outfielder this week. Players that are probably available at the Winter Meetings and beyond include Josh Reddick, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon and Adam Eaton, just to name a few. Jason Heyward, Alex Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Ben Zobrist are all free agents who fill team-specific needs.

As far as starting pitching is concerned, Matt Moore and Scott Kazmir are intriguing options, and, as mentioned, Shelby Miller could be had for Jorge Soler according to many reports. The Cubs and White Sox also match up well in possible trade scenarios. I shouldn’t have to mention that Chris Sale is off limits short of a king’s ransom and then some, but Jose Quintana is a possibility that would look good on the North Side, and the Cubs have the surplus to make that happen.

Team assets: The Cubs middle infield depth is the envy of baseball. Their outfield depth — especially at the lower levels of their farm system — is sneaky good.

What to look for: The Cubs sign an outfielder in free agency, lengthen the back end of their rotation with a value signing or trade and pick up late-inning relief help. Will there be a blockbuster move? I don’t see it, but if the Cubs decide to move Kyle Schwarber, that would be a headline grabber.

Cincinnati Reds

Needs: This is a rebuilding team and any move they make that doesn’t reflect an accumulation of long-term assets would just be a waste of the entire year.

Moving Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce would go a long way toward making this team’s farm system relevant. Cincinnati’s rotation is less than stellar and most of the position players and key bullpen pieces are about to get either very old or very expensive. On paper, this is a 4th or 5th place team in the toughest division in baseball. It’s time to reassess the plan. I liken this team to Christmas shopping at Pottery Barn. There are a lot of assets that are incredibly attractive no matter the cost.

Their farm system lacks impact players. Looking at the haul that both Philadelphia and Milwaukee got in moving major league players, it is easy to assume that the Reds could turn this system around quickly with a few key trades. Houston matches up incredibly well with Cincinnati this week. So does Boston.

What to look for: The Reds can clean house and start a rebuild with a number of near major league ready players as viable assets, similar to what Philadelphia and Milwaukee did at last year’s trade deadline.

Milwaukee Brewers

Needs: The Brewers signaled their intention to rebuild at last season’s trade deadline. The cupboard is pretty bare right now, but the team still has moveable assts. Adam Lind, Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Garza will probably all be available this week. Jean Segura and Khris Davis would interest a lot of teams as well.

What to look for: The Brewers will continue to stealthily build what is now one of the top farm systems in baseball by making good trades and reducing their bloated payroll. Unfortunately, Ryan Braun is probably immovable at this point, and until the Brewers can unload that contract, they will be forced to sacrifice big league payroll in favor of cheap complimentary pieces while they continue to build minor league depth.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Needs: Pedro Alvarez is gone, Mark Melancon is on the block and Neil Walker is probably available too. The Pirates have had recent success in building value by signing formerly discarded starting pitchers. Whether that’s true or just coincidence should be put to the test this year as pitching coach Ray Searage will be without trusted aide and noted guru Jim Benedict, who has moved on to Miami. Last season, Pittsburgh was a 98-win team that seemed nothing like a 98-win team. Sustaining that success with a very limited payroll will be increasingly tougher as Pittsburgh’s younger players start to reach arb and free agent years. One area of immediate need is corner infield.

What to look for: The Pirates value shop every year. The next time this team makes a big splash will be the first. They lay low and strike big in most cases, and Allen Webster may be the surprise pick up of this season. Francisco Cervelli and Jung-Ho Kang are great examples of how this front office repeatedly finds diamonds in coal mines. When analysts mention potential moves, they never include the Pirates in their discussions. At the end of the year, however, this team will still be in the thick of the NL Central. They own frugality and always make wonderful, sound roster decisions. Keep an eye on the Pirates. Under the radar moves in December always turn out to be big moves by mid-summer.

St. Louis Cardinals

Needs: Age, injuries and suspensions have actually left the Cardinals needing starting pitchers. They have money to spend thanks to a new television contract but so far no takers. They will probably push the envelope on Johnny Cueto and come up short, and then pull someone off the scrap heap that becomes a Cy Young contender because they’re the Red Army, and that’s just what the Red Army does.

If Heyward leaves, I think they are okay with Randal Grichuk as a full-time outfielder. He’ll make up in power with what the team loses in defense, but the Cardinals will probably obtain new blood for the outfield anyway because this is a team built on a platoon system and nothing compromises The Cardinal Way.

What to look for: They are probably the only team in need of starting pitching that is not in on Shelby Miller. The incredible depth of their farm system matches up in potential trades for Sonny Gray or one of Carlos Carrasco/Danny Salazar.

With money and depth the Cardinals could become a very dangerous team at this year’s Winter Meetings, but I just don’t think they know how to be dangerous because they overvalue their farm system, which may hurt them this year. At any rate, this is the year that the Cardinals are finally looking up at the Cubs, so we’ll see if they become reactive in a gunslinger’s market or keep their guns holstered and wait for the market to come to them. Despite their nouveau-riche status, I expect the latter this week.

That being said, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. claims that his club will stretch again if we see the right opportunity to land a starting pitcher.

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