Next moves for NL Central teams are ...

December 23rd, 2019

The Hot Stove season is past the halfway point, and all the clubs in the National League Central still have important offseason goals to accomplish before Spring Training. As has been the case several times in recent years, the division title could very well be another wide-open race to the end.

What do the teams need to add in order to feel good about their chances to be competitive in 2020? Here is a closer look at their to-do lists:

Brewers: Fill the corner-infield spots
The Brewers signed Ryon Healy, who can play first and third base, but he is coming off injury and has Minor League options, so he’s no sure thing. That means president of baseball operations David Stearns will continue to shop. One would think it’s an uncomfortable feeling to reach the holiday break with glaring holes at positions typically expected to produce offense, but Stearns insists he is perfectly content with the trade and free-agent options still available to the Brewers, even on a budget. The Brewers do have one internal candidate for first base in Ryan Braun, though he’s not currently viewed as an everyday option to play that position. Healy may be the leading internal candidate for third for the moment.

Cardinals: Find a starter
While the Cardinals search for an everyday outfielder who brings a spark to the lineup, it is imperative that they also add a starting pitcher. We’ve seen top free agents Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Madison Bumgarner already sign, and Zack Wheeler, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Cole Hamels are also off the table.Perhaps that’s why the club turned to Korean left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim for a two-year contract. It remains to be seen if Kim will be an end-of-rotation or bullpen asset. Yet there are still a variety of pitchers out there.

Cubs: A blockbuster trade
The Cubs have been in waiting mode for most of this offseason, seeing where the top free agents land and which teams miss out on their services. Once there is more clarity about the clubs that need to seek a Plan B via trade, Chicago can get its winter maneuvering into a higher gear. Teams that missed out on Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson will check back in about potentially trading for star third baseman Kris Bryant. Teams that missed out on their catching targets will surely circle back to Chicago about Willson Contreras. The Cubs want to contend in 2020, but they are also open-minded to trades that will keep the window of contention open for years to come.

Pirates: Get to work on the roster
The Pirates got a late start to the offseason after overhauling their management team. Out went Frank Coonelly, Neal Huntington, Kyle Stark, Clint Hurdle, Tom Prince and Ray Searage. In came president Travis Williams, general manager Ben Cherington, assistant GM Steve Sanders, manager Derek Shelton, bench coach Don Kelly and pitching coach Oscar Marin. The front office spent most of the Winter Meetings interviewing pitching-coach candidates, gathering information, getting holdovers and new hires on the same page, then deliberating how they want to move forward. Now, it’s just about time to act. That could mean trading players like Starling Marte and Adam Frazier for prospects. It could mean signing a starting pitcher and an extra outfielder to fortify the roster. It could be a little of both, dealing established big leaguers for Major League-ready or near-ready youngsters. Whatever path they choose, their first step should come soon enough.

Reds: Add another bat
The Reds have a serious eye toward contending in the division and added space in the payroll to prove it. Second baseman Mike Moustakas was signed to a four-year contract worth $64 million, and lefty Wade Miley will join the rotation on a two-year, $15 million deal, according to sources. But following a season of anemic output in 2019, Cincinnati still needs more offense to consider itself one of the favorites for the postseason. The most likely place to put a bat is in one of the corner-outfield spots, and there are several free-agent options, such as top-of-the-board hitters Nicholas Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna, as well as Kole Calhoun, Corey Dickerson and Shogo Akiyama.