MLB Trade Rumors: 10 NL Central Deals That Could Swing The Division In 2011
In baseball, divisions can be won or lost based on what a team does in the winter months, and perhaps more so than any other division, the NL Central could be decided by a few key off season moves.
The division looks to be a three team race between the Cardinals, Reds, and Cubs. The Brewers are also capable of making some noise, while the Astros and Pirates are in the middle of rebuilding and could see marked improvement in the years to come.
What follows are the ten moves that could be the difference in the NL Central this coming season, whether it is by strengthening one of the front runners or improving one of the divisions bottom teams and making for a tougher division top to bottom.
Pirates Sign JJ Hardy
As the Pirates continue to rebuild, shortstop has emerged as one of the team's glaring holes, as Ronny Cedeno is little more than a utility infielder and should not be used as an everyday starter.
Hardy is coming off of a less than impressive tenure with the Twins, and could come at a discount. He was at his best with the Brewers, and a return to the NL Central could mean a comeback season for Hardy.
The Pirates have some money to spend, and figure to look to acquire a starting pitcher and a shortstop before the off season is through, and Hardy is the most appealing option in this season's free agent class.
Cubs Sign Brad Penny
While they are not in a position to make a huge free agent signing, the Cubs do have some money to work with this coming season and could be in position to sign at least a few players, one of which should be a veteran starting pitcher to provide some rotation depth.
With Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, and Randy Wells firmly entrenched in the rotation, the Cubs have a few guys to choose from for the remaining two rotation spots, with Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Samardzija and Casey Coleman all viable options.
However, if the Cubs were to acquire Penny, and he is back to being healthy after missing a good portion of last season, he would not only give them depth but has the potential to be a front of the rotation guy if he can return to form.
It is certainly worth the risk of a one year deal to see if Penny can comeback.
Kosuke Fukudome & Cash To The Athletics For Michael Wuertz
In need of a place to play Tyler Colvin, as well as a veteran right hander to help stabilize the back end of their rotation, this trade would effectively solve both of those problems for the Cubs.
Wuertz was a solid reliever in his time with the Cubs, and had established himself as a legitimate setup man the past few seasons, before struggling through a down year last year, so his stock may not be quite as high as it had been in the past.
As for the A's, they are in need of any help they can get offensively, and while Fukudome has been a disappointment in Chicago, a change of scenery could help him. His patient approach at the plate and stellar defense are staples of the Oakland organization as well.
Another outside factor is the A's pursuit of Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, whom the A's won rights to negotiate with in early November. Adding another Japanese player to the roster could only help with his acclimation to playing in the U.S.
Reds Sign Edgar Renteria
With the loss of Orlando Cabrera via free agency, the Reds once again find themselves in need of a starting shortstop and veteran presence in the clubhouse, and Renteria could provide them with both.
While Paul Janish is an in house option that the Reds could choose to go with, Renteria provides significantly more in the way of offensive production, and has recently stated that he is willing to play second base if need be.
The fact that he contemplated retirement this past season means that there is a chance that he may only be seeking a one-year contract, and that would be ideal for the Reds who need to look ahead to re-signing Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, among others.
Carlos Lee & Cash To The White Sox For Prospects
With Paul Konerko potentially on his way out in Chicago, the White Sox will no doubt be looking for a power bat to take his place. While they have been linked to the Padres Adrian Gonzalez, the White Sox could instead move top prospect Dayan Vicideo to first base, leave Mark Teahen at third base, and use Lee as the DH.
Lee's production has dipped a bit in recent seasons, but he is still more than capable of posting a 25 HR, 100 RBI season, and he could thrive in a DH role, as he is a sub par fielder and could benefit from focusing solely on offense.
As far as a return, the Astros are clearly in a state of rebuilding, and would benefit from ridding themselves of any of the $37 million that Lee is owed over the next two seasons, so it would not take much in terms of prospects for them to pull the trigger.
A few mid level players should do it, and if the Astros were willing to eat $20 million or so of the owed money, Lee would be a bargain for the White Sox at under $9 million per year. The Astros would then have some wiggle room to sign a few players as they continue to rebuild.
Reds Sign Brandon Webb
Webb is the Ben Sheets of this year's free agent class, as he is coming off of a pair of shoulder injuries and has only made one start in the past two seasons.
That said, he is by all reports, finally healthy and should come at a fairly reasonable, incentive laden deal for whoever is willing to take a chance on him.
That someone could very well be the Reds, as they are in need of an innings eater after letting Aaron Harang walk via free agency. Bronson Arroyo is back in the fold with Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto back as well.
Webb would not need to be anything other than a back of the rotation guy, and if he can return to form—he would be a steal.
Jason Bartlett To The Cardinals For Jason Motte and Fernando Salas
After a disappointing season from Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan, the Cardinals will no doubt be looking to upgrade the middle of their infield this off season, and one player that could be a potential fit would be the Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett.
With Reid Brignac ready to assume the starting shortstop job, and Bartlett set to enter free agency at the end of the 2011 season, there is little doubt that the Rays will be looking to shop him.
In return, the Rays will almost certainly be looking for bullpen help, after losing Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Grant Balfour to free agency, and Motte would give them a hard throwing and established late inning setup man.
Salas, who served as Class-AAA Memphis' closer last season, will give the Rays a potential closer of the future and someone who at the very least could serve as a valuable setup man this season. After posting an 11.9 K/9 mark and saving 19 games last year, he seems ready to make a major contribution at the big league level.
Cubs Sign Adam Dunn
Since 2004, the Cubs have had a constant at first base in Derrek Lee, but now they find themselves looking for a left handed power bat who can play first.
While Dunn will come at a price, probably in the neighborhood of $12-15 million per year, there is a chance the Cubs could get away with just a two year deal, in which case they may be more willing to pay him.
Dunn has torn up the Cubs throughout his career, and he is a lock for 30 HR and 100 RBI while posting a solid OBP in the process. If the Cubs are in fact still trying to win now, and not fully committed to a rebuild, signing Dunn could be the move that puts them over the top in the division.
Carlos Marmol To Reds For Yonder Alonso & Brad Boxberger
There are other options, however, if the Cubs don't sign Dunn, and a trade could be the answer at first base.
While it may seem like a stretch, as many times teams do not like to trade with division opponents, this would be a trade that would benefit both teams.
The Cubs would fill their hole at first base, and acquire the left handed hitter that they are seeking. Alonso, who is one of the Reds top prospects and was ranked 45th in Baseball America's Top 100 this past season, is firmly blocked by Joey Votto at first base and is no doubt available if the right deal came along.
For the Reds, acquiring Marmol would solve one of their biggest holes in the ninth inning role, where Francisco Cordero posted a 40 save season last year, but also blew eight saves and is entering the final year of his contract. He has established himself as one of the games top young relievers.
The Cubs could in turn look to Andrew Cashner or Sean Marshall for the time being in the ninth inning role, or could sign a stop gap option with some of the money they save in dealing Marmol.
Because of Marmol's tremendous value, and the fact that Alonso is still a fairly unproven commodity, the Cubs may seek a second player in the deal, and Boxberger would make sense. The Reds 2009 first round pick, he profiles as a late inning reliever and despite struggling through his first pro season, he still posted a 10.8 K/9 mark.
Prince Fielder To Red Sox For Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden, & Daniel Bard
It seems as though the Brewers are not going to be able to re-sign Fielder, and while there would be a number of suitors for the slugger's services, the Red Sox have an impressive stable of prospects to offer and a clear need for Fielder.
With Adrian Beltre leaving via free agency, the Red Sox could slide Kevin Youkilis over to third base to open things up for Fielder at first base and in the middle of the lineup.
Anderson would give the Brewers a replacement for Fielder, and at just 22-years old he made it to Class-AAA last season before earning a September call-up, so he could be ready for an everyday role as soon as next year.
Bowden is one of the Red Sox top pitching prospects, and has the repertoire to be a front of the rotation starting pitcher down the line, and as it is he would fill a spot in the Brewers rotation this coming season.
The player with the biggest immediate impact of the Brewers, however, would be Bard, who would almost certainly step into the closer's role after being one of the majors best setup men last season, when he posted a 1.93 ERA in 73 appearances while striking out over a batter an inning.
Losing Fielder would be tough, but this package of players would not only keep the Brewers competitive, but would make them stronger for the future than they would be if they simply resigned Fielder.