5 NL Central teams, 5 year-end goals

December 9th, 2020

For a variety of reasons, the Hot Stove was set to "simmer" over the first several weeks of the offseason. But things have started to pick up steam this week, with the free-agent market coming more into focus and the annual Winter Meetings going virtual.

Within the National League Central, the Reds traded longtime closer Raisel Iglesias and cash to the Angels on Monday for reliever Noé Ramirez and a player to be named. The entire division has plenty of work to do as the calendar approaches 2021 and there is more clarity about next season.

Here is a glance at some year-end goals for each team in the division.

Brewers: Acquire a first baseman

The Brewers know they must do better offensively in 2021, and an opening at first base offers a spot where they can add some pop to the lineup. President of baseball operations David Stearns has done some notable shopping at that position in the past, signing Eric Thames as a free agent at the end of November 2016 and inking Justin Smoak to a one-year deal last Dec. 20. Smoak, however, didn’t produce at the plate and was released in September, leaving a vacancy once again. That vacancy is unlikely to be filled by Daniel Vogelbach, who re-signed with Milwaukee last week (avoiding arbitration), as he is viewed more as a designated hitter in the event that rule is kept in the NL for '21. The Brewers don't have any clear internal candidates for the position.

Cardinals: Add an outfielder

The Cardinals' No. 1 priority is upgrading their offense, and one of the top ways they can do that is through the outfield. A number of outfielders became available after the non-tender deadline, and the Cardinals have begun exploring those names. Joc Pederson, David Dahl, Eddie Rosario, Hunter Renfroe, Kyle Schwarber and Brian Goodwin are among the players who would fit well and add the power the Cardinals are seeking. Adding a left-handed bat to platoon with their young, right-handed-hitting outfielders is a creative way to inject offense without subtracting from their defense. The challenge will be to find the right player who fits into their payroll, which they hope to decrease after the pandemic-shortened season.

Cubs: Address the outfield

After the Cubs non-tendered Schwarber and Albert Almora Jr., their outfield was thinned considerably. At present they have Ian Happ and Jason Heyward ... and a heap of question marks behind them. Happ won the everyday job in center last year but could easily slide to left, if needed. That creates some flexibility in how new president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer will cast his net. If the Cubs do make a blockbuster trade (see: Kris Bryant), it would be logical to target a cost-effective and controllable outfielder. The Cubs have an MLB Pipeline Top 100 outfield prospect in 21-year-old Brennen Davis (No. 72), but he has not played above Class A South Bend. Nico Hoerner was a Gold Glove candidate at second base in '20, but the club did get him some experience in center. Chicago could also look for a combination of players to expand their depth chart. Down the stretch in '20, for example, Cameron Maybin and Billy Hamilton were worked into the outfield mix. The Cubs have also not ruled out trying to re-sign Schwarber, but his market as a free agent might make a reunion unrealistic.

Pirates: Trade for future talent

Team president Travis Williams recently acknowledged that "there's a lot of work that needs to be done" as the Pirates build toward the future. Their to-do list starts with acquiring prospects and developing the talent in their system, so expect general manager Ben Cherington to take an opportunistic outlook through the offseason. His approach might be more aggressive than last winter, however, when the Bucs' only big move was shipping out Starling Marte. Some of the Pirates’ youngest players are untouchable, but Cherington must at least listen to offers for their arbitration-eligible players, a list that includes Joe Musgrove, Josh Bell and Adam Frazier. Don't be surprised if the Pirates are active on the trade front while they work to add young, high-ceiling prospects. That's the top priority, but Cherington will also look to fill a few needs this offseason (an experienced outfielder, some rotation help and catching depth behind Jacob Stallings).

Reds: Land a shortstop

With the departure of Freddy Galvis and prospect José Garcia not quite ready for the everyday role, the Reds have made finding a shortstop who can provide offense their top offseason priority. Fortunately for GM Nick Krall and the club, the market is flush with shortstops, and includes such names as Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius and Korean star Ha-seong Kim, now that he's been posted by his KBO club. Cleveland also has a potential trade chip in superstar Francisco Lindor. Krall has been in touch with the agents of all the players and the clubs that might be interested in moving their shortstop.