This MLB offseason has been a crazy one in terms of different franchise players going to teams on completely opposite sides of the country. No division in baseball has seen two of its best players leave the division this offseason except for the NL Central.
As many of you know, star first basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder left the teams they have spent their entire careers with, the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers respectively, in order to go to teams in the AL—the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers.
Albert Pujols has been the face of the Cardinals' for 11 seasons, a period of time in which he won two World Series championships. However, for most of the 2011 season the Cardinals faced the terrible realization that their franchise first baseman might leave their team, much like what the Cleveland Cavaliers faced during Lebron James' last season with the team.
Of course, Pujols ended up signing a monster deal with the Angels and left his former team dead in the water without equal compensation for losing their best player in years.
Obviously, the Cardinals aren't nearly as good of a team without Pujols as they are with him. But they are still a decent team. They still have star outfielder Matt Holliday and stud pitchers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright among other players.
They are no longer one of the best teams in baseball as they have been for years with the services of Albert Pujols. The loss of Pujols to LA greatly decreases the talent of NL Central, which last year only had two teams with winning records. You guessed it; those teams were the Cardinals and the Brewers.
Last season, the Brewers faced many of the same challenges regarding their own star first baseman, Prince Fielder. Like Pujols, it has been believed that Fielder would leave Milwaukee after the season ended via free agency, which he ended up doing by signing a long-term deal with the Detroit Tigers.
The Fielder signing has been a lot more expected than the Pujols one was, but it was equally devastating for Milwaukee. They also are facing the possibility of franchise star outfielder Ryan Braun missing the first 50 games of next season because of steroid allegations.
The Brewers had better supporting-position players surrounding Fielder than the Cardinals had surrounding Pujols, but they will have their problems next season scoring runs with the absence of the run-producing Fielder from the their line-up.
Currently, the Cardinals and Brewers are nowhere near the potent and dangerous teams that they were last season and postseason. Their respective loss of on-field talent greatly increases the parity between the teams of the division—while simultaneously decreasing the total talent of the division itself.
For this upcoming season, teams like the Reds and Pirates will have a much better chance of contending for the divisional crown than they did last year. Not by improving their own team, but by their rival teams St. Louis and Milwaukee—losing the key players that they did.
If Cincinnati and Pittsburgh had their current rosters last season, then they would have had little to no chance of winning the NL Central. This year they do have somewhat of a shot to win the divisional title.
This sudden drop-off of star power in the division begs to bring up the idea that the NL Central has become the worst division in baseball.
In my opinion, the NL Central has indeed become the MLB's worst division simply because no other division in baseball has lost two extremely high-caliber players that Pujols and Fielder are—without gaining any player of that same level in return.
Who will the NL Central this season?
The NL West's two best teams, the Diamondbacks and the Giants, have only gotten better this offseason—unlike how the Cardinals and Brewers have gotten worse. The Giants haven't made a lot of moves, but the important thing is that they didn't lose any of their better players via trade of free agency.
They did improve their fielding with the acquisitions of Ryan Theriot and Angel Pagan. They slightly improved their bullpen by signing Clay Hensley. The Diamondbacks have drastically improved their team by trading with Oakland for pitchers Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow, as well as signing outfielder Jason Kubel.
The NL East's two best teams from last year, the Braves and the Phillies, didn't really lose anyone that important this offseason. If they did—like the Phillies losing Ryan Madson to the Reds—they replaced them quickly with more-than-adequate replacements like Jonathan Papelbon.
Another team in that division, the Miami Marlins, established themselves as a potential division contender with their flurry of offseason pick-ups—namely in star shortstop Jose Reyes and in pitchers Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. The Marlins' emergence as a contender greatly improves the NL East's standing as one of the toughest divisions in baseball.
In the AL East, the highly-talented Yankees added some pitching help in Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda. While the Red Sox, a highly disappointing but talented team from last year, made a major trade for closer Andrew Bailey to replace Jonathan Papelbon who left for the Phillies.
The Rays made some relatively minor additions to their team by signing first baseman Carlos Pena to his second stint with the club and shortstop Jeff Keppinger.
Of course, the AL Central and AL West were able to benefit from the NL Central losing Fielder and Pujols, as the Tigers and Angels immediately transformed themselves into contenders for the AL pennant.
In addition to nabbing Pujols, the Angels went in their own division to sign pitcher C.J. Wilson from the Rangers and to replace the loss of Wilson. Texas signed highly touted starter from Japan, Yu Darvish, to a huge contract to anchor their rotation for years to come.
More so than any other divisions in baseball, did the AL Central and West improve their teams and divisions—respective divisions.
Going back to my original point, the NL Central is nowhere close to as good as it was before this offseason.
One could make a case that the Reds improved their team greatly by trading for pitcher Mat Latos from the Padres, and by signing closer Ryan Madson. The truth is that the additions they made barely offset who they lost in order to acquire those players—like losing Francisco Cordero in free agency or by trading young players Edinson Volquez and Yonder Alonso to get Latos.
All in all, the other five divisions in the MLB each improved this offseason period—while the NL Central did the opposite by losing the incredibly talented players that they did.
It's going to be a tough season for those NL Central teams, especially those on the lower end of the spectrum like the Cubs and Astros. Even though the division's better teams like the Brewers, Cardinals and Reds will certainly face their struggles as well—especially when playing the better divisions in the league.