A Move For Every Team - NL Central
Whether you’re the Chicago Cubs -- who sit a hair ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers by half-a-game -- or the Cincinnati Reds -- who are 13 games back and 10 games under .500 – there’s a move your team can make by tomorrow's deadline and I’m here to tell you what it is.
Down to our second-to-last division preview, the NL Central.
Chicago Cubs (60-44, 1st NL Central, 1st NL)
Chicago’s pitching rotation has been a weak area this year after the loss of Jake Arrieta in the off season and Yu Darvish’s multiple trips to the disabled list, and it was clear they needed to upgrade if they wanted to make another deep run in the post season. But the Cubs may have already acquired the best pitcher who would have been available at the deadline when they picked up Cole Hamels from the Texas Rangers on July 27th.
Their offence on the other hand has been a force to be reckoned with this season. They’re in the top five in the MLB in runs, hits, batting average, and first in on-base percentage. Even with Kris Bryant on the DL with no real timetable for return, there's no reason for the Cubs to make any drastic positional moves.
One spot they could still use a fill-in is in the bullpen -- especially with Brandon Morrow going to the DL a week ago with bicep inflammation. The Cubs have the third-lowest bullpen ERA in the majors and it has been no small factor in their spot atop the National League.
Their Target: Sergio Romo, Tampa Bay Rays
Milwaukee Brewers (61-46, 2nd NL Central, 2nd NL)
The Brewers sit a half-game behind the Cubs for first in the division and NL, and are pace to top their 86-win season a year ago. They’ve already made two moves in the last few days, acquiring third baseman Mike Moustakas from the Kansas City Royals and Joakim Soria from the Chicago White Sox.
26-year-old outfielder Christian Yelich has been crushing the ball in his first season in Milwaukee after being traded to the Brewers during the off season. He’s leading the team with a .318 average and has been able to help pick the team up when Eric Thames and Ryan Braun have gone to the disabled list.
The Brewers pitching staff has been even more impressive, both their starters and bullpen are in the top 10 in ERA, and Brent Suter is the only starter with an ERA+ under 100 (average). They’ve already added to the staff with Soria incoming, but despite that move, and the statistical evidence, I think the Brewers need to pick up an ace.
In a situation where they might be playing a one-game playoff, it is more important to have a proven commodity to send out there with your season on the line for one game. While it is obviously going to be tough, and costly, to get an ace, it would make the Brewers legitimate contenders.
Their Target: Madison Bumgarner, he has playoff experience on top of playoff experience and could help a young Brewers team.
Pittsburgh Pirates (55-52, 3rd NL Central, 8th NL)
The Pirates are one of the hottest teams in baseball. They’re 16-8 in July, and have lost just three of their last 18 games. In that stretch they had a series win against the Indians and a four-game sweep of the Brewers.
Pittsburgh’s strong play of late has shifted them from being clear sellers at the deadline to being on the bubble, or even buyers. The Bucs have played themselves within three and a half games of the second wildcard spot, but have several teams that will be fighting with them for it down the stretch including the Braves, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks.
While the organization may think it has enough to make a push for the final playoff spot, injuries may make the decision for them. Yesterday both Josh Bell and Corey Dickerson – two huge pieces of the Pirates' offence – went to the DL with an oblique strain and hamstring strain, respectively. Neither of them have a clear timetable for return, which could put a fork in the Pirates' season and their chances of contending for the playoffs.
However, this run may have shown them that they have the pieces to win, and could lead to them sticking with minor moves centered around adding prospect depth at the deadline. This feels especially possible given that Pittsburgh has just three players on the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list, and only one in the top 50 -- Mitch Keller -- who will likely make his major league debut this year or next.
Their Target: Prospects in exchange for David Freese, Francisco Cervelli, and/or Josh Harrison. They could try to move Felipe Vazquez if they wanted a bigger package of prospects.
St. Louis Cardinals (53-51, 4th NL Central, 9th NL)
After playing above .500 baseball for April and May, the Cards haven’t been able to keep up that pace and have fallen to four and a half games out of the second wild card spot. Their rotation has been mauled by injury as Michael Wacha, Alex Reyes and Adam Wainwright have all hit the DL since May and none of them are back yet. Add in injuries to veterans Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong and Brett Cecil, and it’s surprising St. Louis has managed to stay above water and in position to make a run for the playoffs.
That being said, it would be unwise to make any risky moves in a year that you aren’t healthy enough to make a real effort at a title.
Dexter Fowler’s play has consistently reminded the Cardinals they need to look for a right fielder. He’s hitting an embarrassing .180 with an on-base percentage of .277. That’s worse than 62 players' batting average this year. To say they need an upgrade would be an understatement. While they likely won’t be able to move him because of $16.5 million salary through 2021, they need to try and find someone to get that playing time either to develop or just play better.
Their Target: Jesse Winker, Cincinnati Reds. He’s a good contact outfielder who doesn’t strike out much and gets on base consistently.
Cincinnati Reds (48-58. 5th NL Central, 12th NL)
The Reds sit in last place in the division, but have reason to be optimistic about the future with the young talent they have in the minor leagues. Cincinnati had the eighth best preseason farm system according to MLB.com, including two players who have already made their MLB debut this season -- outfielder Jesse Winker and RHP Tyler Mahle. The Reds still have their top three prospects, third baseman Nick Senzel, right-handed starter Hunter Greene, and outfielder Taylor Trammel -- all among the top 35 prospects in the MLB-- waiting in the minors.
Fifth-year third baseman Eugenio Suarez has been a bright spot for Cincy despite missing two weeks in April with a fracture in his right thumb. That hasn’t slowed down the righty a bit as he’s hit 24 home runs so far -- just two short of his career high last season. His average is 40 points higher than last year at .301, and he’s already surpassed his WAR from last season.
Scooter Gennett has also continued his strong play dating back to last season and was finally recognized for it with his first All-Star selection this year. Either of these two players could be on the move, though it is much more likely that Gennett is moved -- he has just one more season of arbitration before becoming an unrestricted free agent, while Suarez is signed through 2024 with a team option for 2025.
Their Target: A Scooter Gennett buyer with prospects, namely, the Philadelphia Phillies. It would likely take Sixto Sanchez – the Phillies No. 1 prospect – and other pieces, but Gennett would be huge for the Phils up the middle.