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Winter Meetings Primer: The National League Central

With the December Winter meetings almost on tap (December 7-10), let’s see what the future may hold in Nashville…

Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler look to be the nucleus for years to come
Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler look to be the nucleus for years to come
Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Next up, the NL Central, the best division in baseball last season.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals almost led this division wire to wire, but never really had a huge lead, with the lead usually bouncing between four and seven games. They never were truly threatened, but never could pull away either.

They also had an unusual injury filled season, but still managed to win the most games in the NL, a nice even 100.

Key Free Agents: RP Matt Belisle, RP Jonathan Broxton, RP Randy Choate, RF Jason Heyward, SP John Lackey, IF Mark Reynolds, RP Carlos Villanueva, IF Pete Kozma (shhh, don't talk about him)

Needs:

C, Yadier Molina is still great, and will get the bulk of playing time, but he had a rough offensive season and will be 33. A backup is needed. [Note: The Cardinals signed Brayan Pena to be his backup, but he will be 34 next season too]

OF, If Heyward doesn't re-sign, that leaves a gaping hole in the lineup and in RF. Also, CF was eventually manned by Tommy Pham late in the season, who had an Abraham Almonte lighting in a bottle season. He might not be the answer.

RP: With all of those arms leaving, that should open a few spots.

Outlook: The Cardinals are not afraid to spend money, but usually do not approach the Yankees/Dodgers levels. They may shy away from trying to land Heyward who will command a Pujols like deal. They will make moves, as general manager John Mozeliak has never been afraid to deal.

Potential Tribe involvement: The Tribe and Cardinals have made many deals in the past, so I wouldn't rule anything out, but there does not seem to be a real fit here.

Pittsburgh Pirates

For the second year in a row, the Pirates lost the Wild Card play-in game. They did finish with 98 wins, second best in baseball. Unfortunately for them, they play in the same division as the Cardinals.

LGFT general manager Neal Huntington has done great in his eight seasons in Steel City, he took a perennial cellar dweller and made the playoffs each of the past three seasons, finishing in second each year by a grand total of seven games.

Key Free Agents: RP Antonio Bastardo, RP Joe Blanton, SP A.J. Burnett, SP J.A. Happ, 1B Corey Hart, IF Sean Rodriguez, RP Joakim Soria

Needs:

SS, Jordy Mercer and his 613 OPS will not cut it next season.

UT, most of the bench was lost to free agency.

SP, they have a solid front end in Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano,. But Jeff Locke and Charlie Morton are the current #3/#4.

Outlook: the Pirates may look to go for it all next season as after the 2016 they have a slew of young guys reaching free agent status and Cole will reach arbitration in 2017.

Potential Tribe involvement: This is the right team we could trade one of the Big three to if the pieces fit. The Pirates need another legit starter and Josh Harrison might be expendable.

Chicago Cubs

In a recurring theme, the Cubs had the third best record in all of baseball.They also made it to the NL Championship Series, until falling to the New York Mets.

They have a lot of excellent young talent. President Theo Epstein came in at the absolute right time as the young talent is all arriving in the majors at about the same time and he needs to flesh out the roster.

Key Free Agents: RP Trevor Cahill, OF Chris Denorfia, CF Dexter Fowler, SP Dan Haren, RP Tommy Hunter, CF Austin Jackson, RP Jason Motte, RP Fernando Rodney

Needs:

SP, the top four are set with Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel. But with Haren gone, that makes Tsuyoshi Wada the #5, so some depth is needed.

Outlook: The sleeping giant that is the Cubs (i.e. lots of payroll flexibility), general manager Jed Hoyer is likely to open his wallet to one of the top free agents. But with Price now off the market, who knows what that will entail. The Cubs do have an extra bat to deal as they cannot play all of Chris Coghlan, Jorge Soler, Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez. Also OF Alberto Almora could be on the block as well.

Potential Tribe involvement: The Tribe and Cubs had serious discussions last year about Carlos Carrasco according to reports. Could that be rekindled? The Cubs do have young cheap bats, but may not be willing to part with them as they are young and cheap.

Milwaukee Brewers

With each of the above three having a superb season, some team was going to have to struggle to offset those gaudy records. The Brewers were one of those teams as they finished a distant 32 games back.

They got off to rough start, finishing April at 5-17, costing Ron Roenicke his job. It really didn't get much better under Craig Counsell as they only had one month with a winning record, July at 13-12.

Key Free Agents: SP Kyle Lohse

Moves: Traded RP Francisco Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers for a minor leaguer and PTBNL.

Needs:

SS, Juan Segura didn't hit well in 2015.

3B, after  trading Aramis Ramirez , the starter ended up being Hernan Perez, the former Tiger farmhand, he of the 75 OPS+.

CF, Domingo Santana did well after Carlos Gomez was dealt, but he will only be 23 next season.

SP, this rotation has no ace.

RP, the dealing Rodriguez will open at least one spot.

Outlook: There were a number of fringe free agents as well, so a lot of fluff is gone. But this roster needs an overhaul. Other than Jonathan Lucroy, Adam Lind, Khris Davis and Ryan Braun, any roster spot could be revamped.

Potential Tribe involvement: If they Brewers want to rebuild, the Tribe does have some prospects to be dealt. Could they be interested in Giovanny Urshela? Trevor Bauer perhaps? A guy like Davis would be appealing, but I doubt the Brewers move him.

Cincinnati Reds

The other yang to the Brewers, the Reds were even worse than the Brewers, finishing four games behind them. They also set a record last season, starting a rookie pitcher in 64 consecutive games to finish out the season, obliterating a mark that stood for 113 years and was just 41 games.

The odd thing is that the Reds have stellar players on the roster: Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce. But nothing meshed well last year and it just might be time to start selling off those pieces.

Key Free Agents: RP Burke Badenhop, RP Sean Marshall, RP Manny Parra, C Brayan Pena, OF Skip Schumaker, OF Jason Bourgeois

Needs:

C, with Pena gone and it being very unlikely that Devin Mesoraco returning, let alone behind the plate, this is a gaping hole at the moment.

CF, it should be time to write off the Billy Hamilton experiment as he had a lowly 55 OPS+ last year.

SP, all those rookies got some excellent playing time last season, but I doubt general manager Walt Jocketty will open 2016 with the same five guys. Some veteran presence is needed.

RP, the bullpen was not very good and needs a lot of upgrades.

Outlook: With the three powerhouse teams in the division, it might make sense to blow it all up and go the Houston Astros route.

Potential Tribe involvement: Unless the Reds are willing to eat some of the dollar amounts on those high ticket guys, I really don't see the Tribe dealing in-state. Although Roberto Perez might be a good option for them in a lesser deal.