National League Central Division 2009 Breakdown
No. 5 of 7
1. Chicago Cubs
Key Addition(s): Aaron Miles, Aaron Heilman, Kevin Gregg and Milton Bradley
Key Loss(s): Rich Hill, Felix Pie, Jason Marquis, Kerry Wood and Mark DeRosa
Off-Season Grade: B+
Alfonso Soriano LF
Aaron Miles 2B
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Derrek Lee 1B
Milton Bradley RF
Kosuke Fukudome CF
Geovany Soto C
Ryan Theriot SS
Key Backups: Mike Fontenot and Reed Johnson
SP: Carlos Zambrano
SP: Rich Harden
SP: Ryan Dempster
RP: Aaron Heilman
SU: Carlos Marmol
CL: Kevin Gregg
Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Jeff Samardzija, P
Notes: A give some, take some type of offseason this year for Chicago’s north side team. The Cubs picked up Aaron Miles, who nearly carried the Cardinals on his back last season to the playoffs, to platoon at second base.
They aquired Aaron Heilman in a trade from the Mariners and signed slugger Milton Bradley and former Marlins closer, Kevin Gregg to potentially close out games with the loss of Kerry Wood to free agency.
The lineup only got better over the offseason. The switch from Mike Fontenot to Aaron Miles at second will add a more consistent hitter at the top of the order. Milton Bradley brings a big stick to the middle of the lineup to help Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.
Kosuke Fukudome will likely move from right to center to cater to Bradley’s lack of mobility. Last season’s NL Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto adds a different dimension to the lineup in the seven slot, where he can use the entire field.
There is a phenomenal group at the top of the rotation for the Cubbies. Zambrano, Harden and Dempster teamed up for a 41-14 record last season with just a 2.98 ERA.
With Aaron Heilman coming over from Seattle, it adds multiple things to the pitching staff. Heilman can be a spot starter, a long reliever or middle reliever. Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg will most likely battle it out for the closer role in Spring Training.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
Key Addition(s): Khalil Greene and Trevor Miller
Key Loss(s): Aaron Miles
Off-Season Grade: C
Skip Schumaker LF
Rick Ankiel CF
Troy Glaus 3B
Albert Pujols 1B
Yadier Molina C
Ryan Ludwick RF
Khalil Greene SS
Brendan Ryan 2B
Key Backups: Jason LaRue and Brian Barton
SP: Adam Wainwright
SP: Kyle Lohse
SP: Joel Piniero
RP: Ryan Franklin
SU: Kyle McClellan
CL: Chris Perez
Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Colby Rasmus, OF
Notes: Not quite what St. Louis fans wanted this winter. A rotation that is desperate for a top-notch pitcher didn’t get any help and will rely on former closer, former starter, and former reliever Adam Wainwright to right the ship again.
The only player the Cardinals really need is Albert Pujols. The guy hit .357 last season, belted 37 homers and drove in 116 base runners, winning the NL MVP. If Pujols can keep healthy, he may be able to help St. Louis into the Wild Card spot for the National League.
New comer Khalil Greene won’t have any pressure on him, as he fills in the shoes of Brendan Ryan, who didn’t really make many fans last season.
Most likely, this is one of the worst rotations in this division. Adam Wainwright is never sure if he’ll be starting a game or closing it out. Kyle Lohse and Joel Piniero are decent at best.
The youth at the back end of the bullpen may not pay off this season, but it could come around in seasons to come. Kyle McClellan and Chris Perez will fight for the closer spot all season long. Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals try to sign a proven closer during the season.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
Key Addition(s): Trevor Hoffman, Trot Nixon and Jorge Julio
Key Loss(s): C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets and Salomon Torres
Off-Season Grade: D+
Rickie Weeks 2B
Bill Hall 3B
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Corey Hart RF
J.J. Hardy SS
Mike Cameron CF
Jason Kendall C
Key Backups: Tony Gwynn Jr. and Craig Counsell
SP: Manny Parra
SP: Dave Bush
SP: Yovanni Gallardo
RP: David Riske
SU: Jorge Julio
CL: Trevor Hoffman
Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Alcides Escobar, SS/2B
Notes: What a devastating offseason for all of Brewers Nation. After making a run to the playoffs last season, the Brewers lost their two top starters, C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets, to free agency.
Through all the losses, Milwaukee did bring in future Hall-of-Famer Trevor Hoffman to close out games, and they also made sure to re-sign slugger, Prince Fielder.
The Brew Crew will come out with the same lineup as last season. The big boys, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, will anchor the middle of the lineup. The other role players around them will have to do something to be able to compete with the Cubs and the Cardinals this upcoming season.
Corey Hart’s All-Star season will have to be copied and most likely upgraded so that Milwaukee has another big bat in that lineup. Look out for either Mike Rivera or Vinny Rottino to take over the catching duties if Jason Kendall slips at all.
Milwaukee will definitely miss Sabathia and Sheets. The Brewers will look to young Manny Parra and Yovanni Gallardo to really step it up.
A loss of plenty of relievers will now open the door for newcomer Jorge Julio to play a big role. Eric Gagne, Derrick Turnbow, and Salamon Torres have all split ways from the team. Former Red Todd Coffey could play a large role for the Brewers this season, so fantasy owners take notice.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Key Addition(s): Eric Hinske and Ramon Vasquez
Key Loss(s): Ronny Paulino
Off-Season Grade: C-
Nate McClouth CF
Freddy Sanchez 2B
Craig Monroe LF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Jack Wilson SS
Brandon Moss RF
Ryan Doumit C
Andy LaRoche 3B
Key Backups: Steve Pearce and Ramon Vasquez
SP: Paul Maholm
SP: Ian Snell
SP: Tom Gorzelanny
RP: Sean Burnett
SU: John Grabow
CL: Matt Capps
Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Jose Tabata, OF
Notes: I guess a C- was a bit rough of an offseason grade for the Pirates, since they don’t have much money to work with. Letting Ronny Paulino move to the Phillies is no big deal since Ryan Doumit had such a break out season last year. Doumit hit .318 and 15 home runs in 2008. Adding Hinske could pressure Brandon Moss and Craig Monroe to have better seasons.
I don’t have much to say about this Pittsburgh lineup Freddy Sanchez will have to pick up the pace from last season to have the Pirates become last season’s Rays. A Craig Monroe, Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson 3-4-5 is most likely the worst of its sort in the majors.
This rotation has potential. If Ian Snell can get back into the swing of things after a 7-12 2008 ,this rotation may carry the Pirates to third in the division if the Brewers slip.
Career 30-35 starter Paul Maholm and lefty Tom Gorzelanny will most likely need to be at .500 or better to get anywhere. Expect big numbers from Ross Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens as the potential No. 4 and No. 5 starters.
5. Houston Astros
Key Addition(s): Jason Michaels, Toby Hall, Clay Hensley and LaTroy Hawkins
Key Loss(s): Ty Wiggington and Reggie Abercrombie
Off-Season Grade: C
Michael Bourn CF
Hunter Pence RF
Miguel Tejada SS
Lance Berkman 1B
Carlos Lee LF
Geoff Blum 3B
Humberto Quintero C
Kaz Matsui 2B
Key Backups: J.R. Towles and Ramon Vasquez
SP: Roy Oswalt
SP: Wandy Rodriguez
SP: Brian Moehler
RP: Tim Byrdak
SU: LaTroy Hawkins
CL: Jose Valverde
Young Player to Keep an Eye On: J.R. Towles, C
Notes: Houston, what happened? A few seasons ago, you were competing in the World Series, and now, in 2009, you’re being predicated to finish fifth in the NL Central.
The Astros added multiple role players to the 2009 roster this winter, including backup catcher Toby Hall and back end starter Clay Hensley. The loss of “Wiggy” at third base will add insult to injury for this Houston lineup.
Through two seasons in the big leagues, Hunter Pence has hit .292, belted 42 homers and drove in 152 runners. With him and Berkman being the bright spots in the tattered Astros lineup, they will nearly have to drive in a combined 215+ runs this season to get some numbers up on the board.
Miguel Tejada and Carlos Lee will still be threats, but they’re not getting any younger, and it has been showing the last few seasons. Ramon Vasquez may start at third base instead of Geoff Blum as well.
Roy Oswalt continues to quietly be one of the best starters in the entire league. Oswalt, a career 129-64 pitcher, will need to have a 20 win season to attempt to carry this pitching staff which is weak up and down. Another player to watch for the Astros is closer, Jose Valverde, who posted 44 saves last season.
6. Cincinnati Reds
Key Addition(s): Jonny Gomes, Arthur Rhodes and Ramon Hernandez
Key Loss(s): Ryan Freel
Off-Season Grade: B-
Willy Taveras CF
Brandon Phillips 2B
Jay Bruce RF
Joey Votto 1B
Ramon Hernandez C
Jonny Gomes LF
Edwin Encarnacion 3B
Alex Gonzalez SS
Key Backups: Norris Hopper and Jeff Keppinger
SP: Aaron Harang
SP: Edinson Volquez
SP: Bronson Arroyo
RP: David Weathers
SU: Arthur Rhodes
CL: Francisco Cordero
Young Player to Keep an Eye On: Jay Bruce, OF
Notes: Nearly a flawless off-season for the Reds, other then giving up valuable utility man, Ryan Freel. The newcomers to Cincinnati will most likely make a big difference, and could move the Reds from their predicted cellar spot to maybe fourth place in the division.
Arthur Rhodes will add another solid reliever late in the game that isn’t named Cordero. After multiple seasons of Jason LaRue and David Ross, it will be refreshing to have an everyday catcher who can put up numbers like Ramon Hernandez.
Jay Bruce was nearly unstoppable last season when he was called up from the minor leagues. He played in 108 games in 2008, hitting .254 with 21 long balls. Bruce, All-Star, Ramon Hernandez, solid hitter Brandon Phillips, and sophomore Joey Votto could add up to big runs in Cincy. But don’t get me wrong, by mid-season, Reds fans will be crying for Adam Dunn.
Edinson Volquez made a name for himself last season, going 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA. Volquez will combine with Aaron Harang for at least 35 wins this season and the rest of the role players will need to pick it up (*cough* Arroyo *cough*).
Don’t think Francisco Cordero has the closer role locked up. I believe Arthur Rhodes could take over if Cordero blows a few chances.
Next up…National League West Division