Before you laugh, consider this:
The world champion St. Louis Cardinals lost future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols, future Hall-of-Fame manager Tony LaRussa and legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Just to reiterate: those were three of the most crucial people in the Cardinals' success.
In their place, the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny as their LaRussa replacement.
The most important thing to know about Matheny is that he has not been a manager or coach at any level whatsoever, just like fellow newcomer Robin Ventura over on the South Side.
Not a third base coach. Not a bench coach. Nothing.
Not at the major league level. Not at the minor league level. Not even for a youth baseball team.
So St. Louis went from one of the most savvy managers in baseball to one of the most inexperienced.
That's not to say Matheny can't eventually learn and become a winner. But this first year—and likely several more—will absolutely be a learning experience for Matheny as he learns on-the-fly how to deal with things as a manager that he never had to consider as a player.
What's more, the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers points out that the average drop in wins the year after a team wins the World Series is 5.5 wins, making their predicted 2012 win total around 84.5.
If Matheny's absolute inexperience as a coach is also factored in, the win total could drop to around 80 games.
Sure, the Cardinals picked up Carlos Beltran to plug the void left by Pujols' departure, but Beltran is going to be 35 years old this season. The Redbirds are counting on him and other aging veterans like 36-year-old Lance Berkman and 34-year-old oft-injured Rafael Furcal to continue to produce in their post-prime years.
And it doesn't look like Roy Oswalt will be joining the Cardinals.
The Brewers, meanwhile, lost their own slugger in Prince Fielder, replacing his offense with that of Aramis Ramirez, who has a history of coming up small in games of significance. Furthermore, Ramirez's sub-standard defense neutralizes any defensive benefit provided by newcomer Alex Gonzalez in the Brewers' already porous infield defense.
And with Ryan Braun being careful not to get caught again with PEDs following his successful appeal of a failed drug test, it will be interesting to see whether his offense output will drop.
The Reds look to be the best of the class in the NL Central.
But despite their offense, even they are no lock.
They lost pitcher Edinson Volquez. And there are questions surrounding Aroldis Chapman's ability to become a legit starter and whether Mat Latos can adjust from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.
The Cubs have quietly improved their team defense and especially their starting pitching, two key reasons for their abysmal 2011 record.
Cubs fans won't have to endure seeing Doug Davis and Rodrigo Lopez take the bump on a regular basis.
Expect the Cubs to jump from their 71-win season last year to an 84-win season in 2012. That would be good enough to compete with the weakened Cardinals and Brewers for second place in the vulnerable NL Central.