The National League Central Division just got interesting. The Cardinals had been speculated for months to be interested in veteran left-handed pitcher, Jon Lester. Many pundits and rival executives even thought the Cardinals were the ‘mystery’ team involved in the Lester sweepstakes. Alas, it appears the Cardinals were not really even involved with him to begin with. Many fans wanted someone like Lester to be signed, but it was not to be. Fans only ended up getting teased by all the speculation.
Now Lester has landed with the Cubs, the Lovable Losers. The Cubs have been in rebuild mode ever since Theo Epstein took the helm in Chi-town. Last season the Cubs entered the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes and ended up losing-out. This off-season the Cubs missed out on highly regarded Russell Martin behind the plate. However, the Cubs went after veteran Miguel Montero and late last night signed one of the most coveted free-agents, Lester. The Cubs need a front-line starting pitcher and Lester fills that position. While Vegas has upgraded the odds of the Cubs winning the World Series to 12-1, it’s unlikely the Cubs compete next year with their current lineup. They need another good pitcher and they need a big power bat. The teams is also relying on their prospects to hit well, which usually takes 1-2 seasons for full development. While the Lester signing makes the Cubs a better team and will compete on the field, they are not complete. But, a sure sign is that they are coming.
With the Cubs making big moves and looking to make more it appears the Reds could be ready for a fire-sale. The Reds have huge dollars committed to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey. Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier will all be looking for big paydays. The Reds cannot afford all of those players and you can bet Cueto is all smiles after seeing Lester sign for $155 million over six seasons. The Reds might try to contend this season or begin their rebuilding process. Either way, the Reds dominance will be halted once these players reach free agency.
The Pirates are doing their best to stay in contention with a low-budget. The loss of Russell Martin will certainly hurt the club. Yet they managed to re-sign Francisco Liriano for a manageable 3 years, $39 million. If Liriano stays healthy, which is a big if and gamble, the deal seems to be almost a steal. The Pirates appear ready to make Pedro Alvarez into a 1st basemen. This team still has pitching questions but keeping Liriano in town will help them to remain as contenders.
The Brewers collapsed in the second-half of the season and are concerned about Ryan Braun’s power. While the team has lost some bullpen pieces they have been mostly quiet this offseason. They managed to keep Aramis Rameriez and they hope Jean Segura will rebound and show his 2013 ability. The Brewers seemed to have had decent enough pieces to make the playoffs last season before the collapse. The Brew Crew are also limited in what they can do financially. There will not be a major move from this club.
Where do the Cardinals go from here? The Cardinals lost Pat Neshek to free agency as he found a $12.5 million dollar deal with Houston. Neshek had a great season with the Cardinals and Mo got the most from him. But, he found his payday and it is likely that he had a career year with St. Louis. More importantly, the Cardinals did not make a big move for Lester, no matter how many times they were speculated to be involved. The Cardinals appear to be content with their options in the rotation and if they find flaws it will be fixed at the trade deadline. In other words, now wasn’t the time to make a big move. There are many other pitching pieces the Cardinals could pick-up along the way. Some are left in this free agency class, but it seems as if the Birds will wait until June-July.
The Cubs might be winning the offseason. But, that doesn’t matter. The Cardinals haven’t won any offseason in recent years…or maybe ever. Yet, the Birds have enjoyed many runs to the National League Championship and World Series. Some teams are built in free agency. Some teams are built by trades. Some teams are built by prospects. The Cardinals are built by home-grown talent, smart trades, and low-to-mid-level free agent moves. While the Cardinals made a huge splash when they traded for Jason Heyward it appears the team will continue to stay away from massive contracts. While Holliday, Molina and Wainwright have sizable deals, they are not top-of-the market. It appears to be business as usual for St. Louis and they may look to lock-up Lance Lynn on a team friendly-deal.
The Birds are going to continue to push for the NL Central crown. I’m not buying the hype of the Cubs…yet. The Cards-Cubs rivalry has a great atmosphere to it, but it’s missing something. The rivalry is missing the Cubs being competitive. It’s coming and baseball fans should be excited. Despite everything that has happened so far in the winter meetings here is the outlook for the Central:
The Cardinals are the best team in the Central. The Pirates will still be competitive. The Cubs are on the rise. The Brewers remain stagnant. And finally, the Reds will become a sinking ship. The Reds might pour all their pieces into this season, it is difficult to see. While the division has been shaken up, the Cardinals remain on top. While the Cards might not have the star-power and hype some of the other clubs do the Cardinals get the wins and deep-postseason runs. Fans, breath easy. The Birds are in good hands with Mo making the roster. While you might come away disappointed with the lack of superstar you won’t be disappointed with the wealth of wins.