The National League Central looks as if it will be the most wide-open division in Major League Baseball when the regular season opens in a few weeks. Minus the Pirates, who figure to contend for the worst record in the league this year, it appears anyone could take the Central. The Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and Brewers were all playoff teams in 2020, and only five games separated the division winner (Chicago) from the fourth-place finisher (Milwaukee). This past offseason would have been an opportune time for any of the Central’s teams to establish itself as the clear front-runner, but it doesn’t appear anyone separated itself from the pack.
The Cardinals made the biggest move in the division over the winter when they acquired third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Rockies. But other than that and re-signing right-hander Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina, they were pretty quiet.
The Cubs worsened their rotation when they traded away 2020 NL Cy Young-contending starter Yu Darvish to the Padres in a deal that netted them fellow righty Zach Davies. They also reunited with righty Jake Arrieta, who once won a Cy Young in their uniform but has since devolved into a back-end starter, and swapped out one flawed corner outfielder (Kyle Schwarber) for another (Joc Pederson).
The Reds said goodbye to last year’s Cy Young winner, Trevor Bauer, who signed with the Dodgers. They also cut ties with two accomplished relievers – Raisel Iglesias and Archie Bradley – though their bullpen did gain Sean Doolittle, Noe Ramirez and Cam Bedrosian. On the position player side, it doesn’t appear they adequately addressed shortstop, where they ranked 27th in the majors with 0.1 fWAR last year. Barring last-minute changes, they’re going to rely on some mix of Kyle Farmer, Jose Garcia and Dee-Strange Gordon, which isn’t particularly reassuring.
The Brewers, meanwhile, have reeled in two high-profile free agents in recent weeks, having signed former Cards second baseman Kolten Wong and ex-Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. At the very least, they should give the Brewers a pair of average regulars, largely because of the outstanding defense they typically provide. The Brewers are also getting back Lorenzo Cain, who sat out most of last season, and he’ll join Bradley and former MVP Christian Yelich in what should be a strong outfield.
Aside from Pittsburgh, FanGraphs’ preseason odds give every team in the division a realistic chance at coming out on top. The Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs and Reds are all projected to win between 78 and 81 games. Which of those four do you think is the favorite?
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