With the lack of win-now moves made by National League Central teams this offseason, it is easy to forget that the division provided four postseason teams last year. Sure, only one of them won a playoff game -- the Cardinals, who won only one -- but still, a quarter of last year's 16-team postseason field came from the NL Central. They’re hardly irrelevant.
One would think that each NL Central team will have to end up making some moves, any moves, before the season begins. In that spirit of hope and optimism, here’s a look at one move each team could make, with players still on the free-agent market, that would help their club heading into 2021 … and is still reasonable given the team’s apparent strategy. (Sorry, this means no Trevor Bauer back to Cincinnati.)
This isn’t idle chatter. One of these teams is going to end up winning this division and reaching the postseason, after all. It might not be four this time, but without question, despite all appearances, this division matters.
Cubs: Sign Chris Archer
The Cubs are clearly not going to be big spenders this winter: They just traded away a No. 1 starter (Yu Darvish) under a relatively reasonable contract from a team that won the NL Central in 2020. So expecting them to go after one of the top remaining starters is probably shortsighted.
But Archer makes a ton of sense. He probably won’t cost much, given that he missed all of 2020 while recovering from thoracic outlet syndrome, and he hasn’t really been an above-average pitcher since … '15? Still, though, Archer’s strikeout rate has always been good, even when he’s struggled, and he clearly has everything to gain from a make-good contract. And hey, he was in the Cubs' organization, until they traded him in a package for Matt Garza in January 2011. Maybe Chicago is the team that can finally get him right.
Cardinals: Sign Joc Pederson
The market seems to be cratering on Pederson, who, with some justification, seems to be seen too much as a platoon player to be given starting-outfielder money. But this is where the Cardinals' outfield weaknesses and strengths work together well.
St. Louis has a bunch of outfielders: Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Lane Thomas, Justin Williams and even Austin Dean. The problem is that you cannot, at this point, trust any of them (save for maybe Carlson) to be an everyday player. This could have precluded the Cardinals from going after someone like Michael Brantley, but it could make them perfect for Pederson, who would basically play every game against right-handed pitchers and be mixed and matched against lefties. (O’Neill, Bader and Thomas all hit right-handed.)
And more than anything, the Cardinals need power. Pederson certainly provides that. Can the market get low enough for the Cards to get involved? After the signings of George Springer (by Toronto) and Brantley (by Houston), perhaps Pederson’s options are clarifying.
Reds: Sign Didi Gregorius
Gregorius probably would make the Reds' lineup a little too left-handed heavy, and all told, Andrelton Simmons might have been a better fit, but he's now headed to Minnesota. Gregorius -- who made his big league debut with Cincinnati in 2012 -- is the last notable shortstop standing.
Gregorius is still better than putting Jose Garcia out there every day, and he's an ideal one-year stopgap. And it's not like this offense couldn't use the help.
Franco had a nice rebound year with Kansas City in 2020, and the further away we get from his Philadelphia years, when he felt like a failed phenom, the more you can appreciate what he gives you, rather than being frustrated with what he doesn’t. He doesn’t miss much time (he played all 60 games last year), he is solid, if unspectacular, with the glove and he has a little more pop than you might think. And he’s entering his age-28 season, so he’s not old. This might be the most obvious move on this list.
Pirates: Sign Mark Melancon
If the Pirates are focused solely on building up their farm system, how about a reunion with their closer from their mid-2010s heyday? He’d clearly like to remain a closer, was decent in '20 and is exactly the sort of arm that teams get a little too desperate for at the Trade Deadline.
Could Pittsburgh get a mid-level prospect for Melancon if he has a good year? Why not give it a shot? It’s fair to say he won’t be all that expensive, given that he turns 36 in March. And he did always look great in that uniform.