NL Central division

New Year’s Resolutions for NL Central teams

2018 is upon us, and that means it is time to look forward to the year ahead. The NL Central division proved to be one of the most lackluster divisions in 2017, with the Cubs not quite hitting their stride until September, and the Cardinals floating around .500.

With that being said, here are New Year’s resolutions for the five teams in the NL Central to make it a more exciting year.

Cincinnati Reds: Get extended work from young starters

The Reds finished in last place with a 68-94 record. That would make you think they are an all around bad team right? Well, not exactly.

The Reds had a pretty good offense. Joey Votto may have won the MVP if the Reds had more wins, and Scooter Gennett had a breakout year at the plate. They ranked 14th in runs and still have the potential to be one of baseball’s better teams.

What the Reds struggled with was pitching. They were second to last in ERA and could not get much of anything from anybody. However, 2018 is the year where many of their young pitchers should be getting a full season worth of work. Their young core is highlighted by Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson.

If these three guys can start to put together a full season worth of solid work, the Reds may be closer to competing than most think.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Plan for the future

NL Central division

Andrew McCutchen may be in his final year in Pittsburgh (Photo from Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports).

Andrew McCutchen is entering the final year of his six-year, $51.5 million contract. He finished 2017 with a respectable .279/.363/.486 slash line, along with 28 home runs and 88 RBIs. Those are stats that can help any team in the majors. The reason I say that is because the Pirates ought to seriously consider moving him before he hits free agency next winter.

The Pirates have a couple good players coming up through their system, such as Austin Meadows, who is the the ninth best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com. Josh Bell also had a great rookie year, and Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte add to a solid outfield.

The only problem is that this team does not seem to be getting anywhere. Pittsburgh finished at 75-87 and fourth in the Central. Marte being suspended for half the year may have had something to do with that, but his presence for a full season alone won’t help them compete for the NL Central crown.

There have already been intense discussions about Gerrit Cole moving to New York. The move does not seem as serious as it once did, but just the fact that there are credible talks out there speaks as to what the Pirates think they can accomplish in 2018. With some of the young talent they have, this is a good opportunity for them to build up for 2019-21.

This coming year looks to be more of a year in limbo for Pittsburgh, so it would be best to get what they can for McCutchen and Cole.

St. Louis Cardinals: Add another bat and a reliever before the regular season

NL Central division

The Ozuna trade shows how serious the Cardinals are about winning now (Photo from Walsh Sports Analytics)

The Cardinals have been the center of multiple rumors this offseason. They were able to land Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins for a fairly reasonable price, so they have that to be happy about. They also signed a pitcher from from the NPB not named Shohei Ohtani in Miles Mikolas. Both acquisitions should make an immediate impact on the ball club.

With Trevor Rosenthal released from the team, the Cardinals are in search for a closer. There are still plenty of names available. Alex Colome has been brought up in multiple trade rumors with the Cardinals, and Greg Holland and Wade Davis are still on the market as well. Any of these three guys would bolster the back of a bullpen that does not have a closer at the moment.

St. Louis should also be in search for one more impact bat. Adding Ozuna was nice, but the front office knows that there is more work to be done.

With the outfield in a comfortable position at the moment, the Cardinals ought to be looking for corner infielders. Ideally, they would like to have Matt Carpenter move around the infield and have Jedd Gyorko as a utility man. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are two free agents that come to mind that fit the mold. The only problem is that these two do not provide any extra pop that the Cardinals don’t already have. It would just clutter the infield more.

The Cardinals are still looking for a team to trade with. Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson are both on their radar, but it seems they won’t be traded at least until the All-Star break.

The Cardinals may have to wait until 2018 free agency to add one of these guys, but that should not stop them for looking for a bat this offseason. They are not that far off from competing with the Cubs for the NL Central title in 2018.

Milwaukee Brewers: Build off 2017 success

NL Central division

Travis Shaw was a first time All-Star in 2017 (Photo from Pintrest)

Even though they did not make the playoffs, the Brewers were a pleasant surprise in 2017. Travis Shaw and Eric Thames emerged as above average hitters and made the Brewers a threatening lineup. Jimmy Nelson also broke out as a potential ace in the rotation. They were able to give the Cubs fits and were neck and neck with them until the end.

The organization knows that this is not the time to take any steps back. The Brewers have real potential to make the playoffs, so they are doing what they can to ensure they play at the same type of level they did last year. They have not landed any big name free agents, but the signings of Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo show they are serious about improving their rotation and doing what it takes to stay in the thick of things.

Although it is unlikely, signing an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvsih would be tremendously helpful. The Brewers had the lowest payroll in 2017, so that says a lot about what they were able to accomplish in the NL Central. If they were able to spend a little more money, who knows what they might be able to do.

Chicago Cubs: Stay separated from the rest of the pack

After the Cubs broke their legendary drought in 2016, it looked as if it would be impossible to dethrone the Cubs for the years to come. After 2017, it is evident that is not the case. Kyle Schwarber struggled at the plate greatly and Jason Heyward is not playing up to his contract. Now that Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis have hit free agency, the Cubs look vulnerable.

It is still important to remember the Cubs have the best pieces out of anyone in the Central. There is no reason they can’t make 2018 the fourth consecutive year they make the NLCS. However, the Cardinals look like they have a decent shot at making things more difficult for the Cubs. The Brewers also may be even better next year.

The Cubs have had some solid signings thus far. They signed Tyler Chatwood and Brandon Morrow, who are two excellent pickups for their rotation.

What the Cubs are hoping for is continued growth from the 2016 MVP, Kris Bryant. He still had a great 2017, but he has the potential to be a perennial MVP contender. Along with Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have a lot of pieces in place for success. They just need to make sure it is enough to fend off the Brewers and Cardinals.

Either way, this should be an exciting year in the Central and could lay ground for what happens in the future as well.

 

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MLB Free Agents

When will the free agent market topple?

The hot stove has been a buzz this offseason. Much of the conversation has centered around trades and international signings. Giancarlo Stanton has moved on to the Yankees, and the young phenom, Shohei Ohtani is an Angel. However, we have yet to see many big names fall off of the free agent board this winter. Why is that?

Patience a free agent’s friend

MLB free agency

Relievers like Brandon Morrow are having a good offseason thus far (Photo from FanRag)

In this day of age, free agents are paid an exuberant amount of money, especially if they are on the right side of 30 and have shown great potential. That is why it is best to wait and see what the market does before signing onto any long-term deals.

This winter has been kind to relievers thus far. Although not a lot of closers have come off the board, middle relief pitchers have been doing quite well. What this means is Wade Davis, the top reliever on the market, is going to be in for a big payday. He should be coming off the board soon as many relievers have been flying off and there are plenty of teams looking for a new closer.

What we have yet to see is many offensive players get signed to new teams. We have seen Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Longoria and Marcell Ozuna move to new ball clubs. However, the only big name hitting free agents to be signed thus far are Zack Cozart and Carlos Santana. Neither of these players signed deals that exceeded four years though, which is what some of the other free agents are looking for.

Has it always been like this?

MLB free agency

Bryce Harper will likely fetch the largest contract in baseball history next winter (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports wrote an article back in November about how slow the offseason was pre-thanksgiving. He stated that you are not imagining things, the hot stove is rather cool this year.

Some rumors were that teams were waiting for the Giancarlo Stanton trade to be finalized before any free agent hitters would be signed. Well, Stanton was traded two weeks ago and the winter meetings have come and gone. What is the hold up?

One theory is that next year’s free agent class is having a large influence. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will both be testing free agency, and they could be fetching figures in the $400 million range, so it would make sense that teams are saving up for those kinds of contracts to land a new franchise player.

Harper and Machado aren’t the only big names hitting the market though. Clayton Kershaw has an opt-out clause after 2018. Other big names are hitting the market such as Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, Andrew McCutchen, Brian Dozier, and A.J. Pollock. Either way though, we should be getting close to some names coming off the board. Then again, who knows anything in this tumultuous offseason.

Who will be the next to come?

Unfortunately, we still may be a ways away from any hitters being swept off the market. As mentioned earlier, Wade Davis should be picked up by someone soon, even though there have not been many rumors surrounding him. Yu Darvish has met with the Cubs and stated that he thought the meeting went well.

Pitchers are the hot commodity at the moment, partially due to the fact that power hitters are a dime a dozen these days. Major league ballplayers hit more home runs last year than any other year in history.

Perhaps teams are not sure how to value someone like J.D. Martinez. Normally, a player who hit 45 home runs and over 100 RBIs with a .300 batting average would be signed by now, at least we should have heard more about him at the winter meetings. However, teams are not sure how much to give the slugger. It has been reported that Martinez is looking for something in the range of seven years, $200 million. He has been linked to Boston, but nothing seems imminent.

We still have a way to go before pitchers and catchers report in February, so there is still plenty of time for the dominoes to fall. Once some teams figure out that they won’t be able to trade for some of the names they would like to, then they will focus their attention onto some of the available free agents.

This free agent class does not offer some of the young superstars like next year’s class will. However, players like J.D. Martinez and Lorenzo Cain both have the ability to make a difference on a contending team. Even with how things have been going, it is difficult to imagine them being available for much longer.

 

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Ohtani

Where will Shohei Ohtani land?

Shohei Ohtani is the king of the offseason at the moment. The MLB has not seen anything like him since Babe Ruth was smacking home runs nearly a century ago. Ohtani has the potential to be a two-way star, so when he was posted, every team in the majors wanted a piece of him. Right away though, Ohtani has slashed the field down to seven teams already. Out of those seven teams, where might he sign?

The only two teams that are deeper into the mainland of the United States who still remain are the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers. The other five teams are the San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ohtani prefers the west coast

The west coast has a much more prevalent Japanese population compared to elsewhere in the country. On top of that, it would be closest to his homeland. Ohtani has already informed 23 teams that he would not sign with them, and they almost all are outside of the west coast.

You can’t blame Ohtani for picking the California teams as well as Seattle, as he still wants to remain close to his roots and there is nothing wrong with that. The 23-year-old has the freedom to choose whatever team he wants as he is the hottest commodity this offseason. Many people thought that his preference would have to do with money or a DH, but it always came down to geography for him.

Which teams fit?

Shohei Ohtani

Dipoto and the Mariners have been working on their pitch for Ohtani all year long (Photo Courtesy of NW Sports Beat)

The DH position may be more in Ohtani’s scope now that he has narrowed down the west coast. Money is not a huge factor at this point though. Due to rules on rookie contracts, there is only so much money he can make at first. That is, he will make the maximum salary for a rookie the first three years before he is available for arbitration.

It has also been reported by the New York Times that Ohtani prefers a smaller market. Considering Los Angeles does not fit that bill, it will be unlikely he goes to the Angels or Dodgers even though he is expected to meet with both teams.

Although it has not been reported how big of a factor the DH is, it would not be wild to assume that an American League team would make much more sense for the Japanese star. That would knock out the Padres, Cubs and Giants from the Ohtani sweepstakes. The Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers would the remaining candidates.

The Mariners have a history of Japanese ballplayers playing for them. Most notably, one of the all-time baseball greats, Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro built up a real reputation for players across the pond, as if you were to combine his NPB and MLB hits, he would have the most in baseball history. Along with that, the Mariners fit the bill for being on the West Coast, more so than the Texas Rangers.

That is why the Mariners are the most likely destination for Ohtani. Seattle is not far off from being a contending team, so a spark from Ohtani could boost them into the playoffs.

How will Ohtani translate to the MLB?

Shohei Ohtani

MLB teams will try to figure a way to get Ohtani’s bat into the lineup (Photo courtesy of Kazuhiro Nogi–Getty Images)

There doesn’t seem to be much of a question that Ohtani’s pitching will translate to the United States. He has an impressive strikeout to walk ratio and has a career 2.52 ERA in his five seasons in the NPB.

Some wonder if his hitting will be at the same level in the major leagues. He has been able to hit over .300 the past two seasons, and has shown signs of power as well. It would be hard to believe him not getting steady opportunities throughout 2018 to prove his ability at the plate.

The one thing that Ohtani is not custom to is the grueling process of a 162-game season. Also, the month of spring training along with a month long playoff can be very physically demanding. Former NFL and MLB athlete, Brian Jordan, stated that playing a 162-game baseball season is one of the toughest things to do in sports.

Ohtani has not come too close to that mark, however he may not when he is playing in the majors anyway. In order to ensure he is an effective pitcher and hitter, it will be imperative that the coaching staff is able to manage his fatigue well in order to get maximum effectiveness from the star.

Overall, Ohtani could prove to be one of the best players that has come from Japan. Only time will tell if he will be able to make the jump to the majors, but signing with Seattle could give him the opportunity to showcase everything he has in a place he would be happy to be.

 

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