• There are three extremely competitive teams in the NL Central and two that aren't even trying. Here's how each team did in the offseason.
By Jon Tayler
March 19, 2018

The offseason is over, spring training is in full swing, and despite a few notable names still available on the market, most if not all teams have called it quits in terms of signings and trades. So it’s time to look back on just what every squad did this winter and hand out grades for the moves made—or, in some cases, for those they failed to make. Next up: the National League Central.

Players with an asterisk next to their name were re-signed as free agents.

Chicago Cubs

2017 Record: 92–70, first place in NL Central

Key Additions: RHP Steve Cishek, RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Brandon Morrow

Key Departures: RHP Jake Arrieta, C Alex Avila, RHP Wade Davis, OF Jon Jay, RHP John Lackey, RHP Hector Rondon, RHP Koji Uehara

The Cubs were one of the few teams this winter to make a splash, replacing Arrieta with Darvish in the rotation in their bid to maintain NL Central supremacy. It was a move that had to be made, given that losing Arrieta and Lackey—who I’m assuming is going to retire to become a county sheriff somewhere—left Chicago’s rotation thin. Darvish should help that, provided he’s recovered from his World Series hangover. Elsewhere, the Cubs also added two useful pieces to a shaky bullpen, with a new closer in Morrow and a veteran righty in Cishek. Those two should be upgrades over Davis, Rondon and the Japan-bound Uehara, but Morrow’s frightening injury history makes his signing less of a home run. More reliever depth would’ve been nice, and some help in the outfield, too, given Jay’s departure and the continued decay of Jason Heyward. But all in all, this was a solid offseason on the North Side.

Grade: B+

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Milwaukee Brewers

2017 Record: 86–76, second place in NL Central

Key Additions: RHP Matt Albers, OF Lorenzo Cain, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, RHP Yovani Gallardo, LHP Boone Logan, LHP Wade Miley, OF Christian Yelich

Key Departures: OF Lewis Brinson, RHP Matt Garza, RHP Jared Hughes, RHP Anthony Swarzak, RHP Carlos Torres, 2B Neil Walker

For a solid 24 hours in late January, it looked as if the Brewers were about to announce their presence with authority. In one night, Milwaukee dramatically overhauled its lineup and outfield, adding Yelich in a trade with Miami and signing Cain. Those two moves were rightfully hailed as the Brewers taking the next step toward contention after last year’s surprising finish. But unfortunately, they didn’t keep up the momentum by doing the one thing they had to do: add a front-line starter. Darvish and Arrieta went elsewhere—painfully enough for Milwaukee, the former landed with the team right above them in the standings—while cheaper options like Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb apparently were still beyond the Brewers’ price range. That’s hard to understand, given that at this stage, every additional win provided by one of those players is theoretically worth a ton as the potential difference between a wild-card spot (or better) and missing the playoffs.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of adding Yelich (at massive prospect cost) and Cain and making a postseason push, then you can’t settle for the underwhelming likes of Chacin, Miley and Gallardo to fill out a rotation already lacking stable or star options. There are no half-measures in either rebuilds or buy-ins, and that failure to go further dings the Brewers’ otherwise excellent offseason.

Grade: B-

St. Louis Cardinals

2017 Record: 83–79, third place in NL Central

Key Additions: RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Miles Mikolas, RHP Dominic Leone, RHP Bud Norris, OF Marcell Ozuna

Key Departures: RHP Sandy Alcantara, SS Aledmys Diaz, LHP Zach Duke, OF Randal Grichuk, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Juan Nicasio, RHP Seung-hwan Oh, OF Stephen Piscotty, RHP Trevor Rosenthal, OF Magneuris Sierra

After missing the playoffs for the second straight year and finishing worse than second in the division for the first time since 2008, you might’ve expected some big changes in St. Louis. To that end, the Cardinals did cut a lot of chaff, ditching the back-end of a weak bullpen and the disappointing outfield duo of Grichuk and Piscotty. Replacing them in part will be Ozuna, who broke out last year in Miami and, as such, punched his ticket out of town thanks to the Marlins’ new ownership group, which cares only about how big his paycheck is and not what he produces. He cost a pretty penny in prospects, but he’s a fantastic addition to a lineup that needed thump.

Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The bullpen, though, didn’t get as much attention, with St. Louis opting for serviceable veterans Gregerson and Norris. No one in that group qualifies as anything close to a shutdown reliever, which is what the Cardinals so desperately needed at several points last year. That said, keep an eye on Leone, obtained from Toronto in exchange for Grichuk; he could find his way into the closer role given his above-average stuff. Still, he’s no sure bet for a team that should have invested in something closer to that.

Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Pirates

2017 Record: 75–87, fourth place in NL Central

Key Additions: OF Corey Dickerson, RHP Michael Feliz, RHP Joe Musgrove, OF Daniel Nava

Key Departures: RHP Gerrit Cole, RHP Daniel Hudson, OF John Jaso, OF Andrew McCutchen

It was the end of an era in Pittsburgh, as the Pirates dealt away two faces of the franchise in Cole and McCutchen and slammed shut their contention window (and right on the fingers of their fans, too). It’s a brutal way for a fun Pirates team to come to an end, and Pittsburgh’s front office didn’t do much to soothe the sting by deciding to slide into a rebuild. Aside from Musgrove and Feliz, who came from Houston for Cole, the only other addition of major league talent to the roster was Dickerson, a cost casualty in Tampa Bay who was swapped for Hudson. Contention in 2018 obviously isn’t the goal in the Steel City, and that’s a true shame. The fans in Pittsburgh deserved better than the team punting and going cheap; they deserved McCutchen retiring in black and gold, or at least leading one last postseason run.

Grade: D

Cincinnati Reds

2017 Record: 68­–94, fifth place in NL Central

Key Additions: RHP David Hernandez, RHP Jared Hughes, LHP Oliver Perez, OF Ben Revere

Key Departures: SS Zack Cozart, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Drew Storen

PRESENTER: And the award for Least Interesting 2018 Offseason goes to… [drum roll] …the Cincinnati Reds!

[REDS leap up from seat, pumping fists, as crowd applauds and music swells]

ANNOUNCER: This is the Reds’ first win in this category, and the natural result of constantly ditching veterans and not signing players as part of a seemingly never-ending rebuild.

REDS: Wow, this is such an honor, and there are so many people to thank. First off, Major League Baseball, for letting teams stay in a rebuilding hole for as long as they want and allowing us to reap the financial rewards of running out cheap rosters on the regular. Also, the other tanking teams—because of them, we had an offseason where all we did was sign some fungible relievers but no one cared because everyone else is doing it now too. Oh, big thanks to Commissioner Rob Manfred, who isn’t on our backs about the fact that this season will mark a third straight year of us not even trying to field a competitive team.

[music starts to play]

Okay, okay, we’re almost done. And let this award be an inspiration to so many other rebuilding clubs: You, too, can do this for what feels like forever and have no one care or call you out. Thank you!

Grade: D

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