2009: 83-78 - second place
1B Derek Lee .306 avg., 35 HR, 111 RBI
3B Aramis Ramirez .317 avg., 15 HR, 65 RBI
LF Alfonso Soriano .241 avg., 20 HR, 55 RBI, 118 Ks
P Ted Lilly 12-9, 3.10 ERA, 151 Ks
RP Carlos Marmol 15 saves, 93 Ks, 3.41 ERA
OF Marlon Byrd
1B Kevin Millar
OF Xavier Nady
P Carlos Silva
The Cubs received Silva in a trade for disgruntled outfielder Milton Bradley. Silva could very well be Chicago’s fifth starter this season, as the rotation dips off after Randy Wells. Byrd will replace Bradley in the outfield and allow Kosuke Fukudome to move to right field where he is more comforatable. Millar and Nady will bolster the bench.
OF Milton Bradley
RP Kevin Gregg
P Rich Harden
OF Reed Johnson
Bradley was a cancer in the clubhouse and Gregg was a cancer on the pitching mound. Cubs fans didn’t shed any tears when those two left town. Harden’s departure leaves some question marks in the starting rotation. Johnson gave the team some options in the outfield.
On paper, the Cubs should be competing for the NL Central title again. But, the squad will have to stay healthy and get production out of the top of the order, something they struggled with last year. A big concern for Chicago will be finding a fifth starter – either Silva, Sean Marshall, Jeff Samardzija or Tom Gorzelanny will need to step up.
2009: 78-84 – fourth place
1B Joey Votto .322 avg., 82 runs, 25 HR
2B Brandon Phillips .276 avg., 161 hits, 98 RBI
P Bronson Arroyo 15-13, 3.84 ERA, 3 CG, 127 Ks
RP Francisco Cordero 2.16 ERA, 39 saves, 58 Ks
SS Orlando Cabrera
SP Aroldis Chapman
2B Aaron Miles
Chapman is a Cuban defector with a lively fastball. The left-hander caught MLB scouts’ attention when he starred on the mound for the Cuban team during the World Baseball Classic. He will solidify a starting rotation that features Aaron Harang, Arroyo and Johnny Cueto.
3B Adam Rosales
OF Willy Taveras
Both players were traded to bring in Miles and player to be named. The Reds lose speed with Taveras leaving, but it’s not the end of the world be any means.
Cincinnati finished last season playing good ball. The outfield is inexperienced, but the infield should be solid. If young pitchers Cueto and Chapman stay steady this season, the Reds could surprise a few people.
2009: 74-88 – fifth place
1B Lance Berkman .274 avg., 25 HR, 80 RBI
CF Michael Bourn .285 avg., 12 3Bs, 61 SB
SP Roy Oswalt 8-6, 4.12 ERA, 3 CG, 181.1 IP
P Bret Meyers
RP Jose Valdez
Meyers was brought in from Philadelphia to assist Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez shoulder the load of the starting rotation. Valdez came into to help the bullpen, but won’t make up for the losses the Astros took in relief pitching.
P Brandon Backe
RP LaTroy Hawkins
SS Miguel Tejada
RP Jose Valverde
Valverde leaves town and takes 25 saves with him. Hawkins recorded 11 of his own. It will be hard to replace them in the bull pen. With Tejada gone, Tommy Manzella needs to step up at short stop.
The Astros outfield will produce in the field and the plate, anchored by the speedy Bourn and reliable Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence. The left side of the infield is a question mark with young players filling rolls. Pitching woes could doom Houston.
2009: 80-82 – third place
LF Ryan Braun .320 avg., 32 HR, 114 RBI, .551 slg.
1B Prince Fielder .299 avg., 46 HR, 141 RBI, 110 BB
SP Yovanni Gallardo 13-12, 3.73 ERA, 185.2 IP, 204 Ks
RP Trevor Hoffman 1.83 ERA, 37 saves, 48 Ks
P Doug Davis
CF Carols Gomez
RP LaTroy Hawkins
P Randy Wolf
C Gregg Zaun
Davis and Wolf will improve the starting rotation behind Gallardo, with Manny Parra and Jeff Suppan rounding out the starters. Hawkins brings a good set-up man to the bullpen. Gomez will fill the void left by Mike Cameron.
CF Mike Cameron
SS JJ Hardy
C Jason Kendall
RP Seth McClung
Hardy was streaky, but was part of a group of solid young players. Cameron will be missed by the Brewers more. Kendall played well while in Milwaukee, but the crew will be happier with Zaun.
The Brewers will need good starts from Davis, Suppan and Parra to get the ball to a reliable bullpen. The offense will carry Milwaukee, and if everyone stays healthy, this is a team that can compete with St. Louis and Chicago for the central title.
2009: 62-99 – sixth place
3B Andy LaRouche .258 avg., 135 hits, 64 RBI
OF Garrett Jones .293 avg., 21 HR, 44 RBI
P Zach Duke 11-16, 4.06 ERA, 3 CG, 213 IP
SS Bobby Crosby
RP Octavio Dotel
2B Akinori Iwamura
OF Ryan Church
Iwamura is expected to start at second base on opening day. Church and Crosby will be bench players but could see plenty of playing time when starters Garrett Jones or Ronny Cedeno struggle.
RP Matt Capps
CF Nyjer Morgan
P Ian Snell
The Pirates kept up with their rich tradition of seeing their best players leave the team. Morgan’s speed was crucial at the plate and in the field, and Capps was a solid closer.
It’s going to be a long season for Pittsburgh, and an even longer season for the fans paying for tickets. The Pirates will be a team other central teams get fat on.
St. Louis Cardinals
2009: 91-71 – first place
1B Albert Pujols .327 avg., 47 HR, 135 RBI, .658 slg., 1.101 OPS
OF Matt Holliday .353 avg., 13 HR, 55 RBI
P Adam Wainwright 2.63 ERA, 19-8, 233 IP, 212 Ks
P Chris Carpenter 17-4, 3 CG, 2.24 ERA, 144 Ks
P Rich Hill
P Brad Penny
These are great additions to compliment Carpenter and Wainwright. Penny and Hill can fill the rotation behind Kyle Lohse and give the Cardinals the toughest core of starting pitching in the league.
OF Rick Ankiel
Util Mark DeRosa
3B Troy Glaus
P Joel Piniero
P Todd Wellmeyer
The Cardinals can lose Piniero and Wellmeyer without too much concern, because of pitching depth. DeRosa and Ankiel were solid players for the redbirds, but again depth allows them to depart with the outfielders. Glaus’ best days are behind him, so no loss there for St. Louis
It is St. Louis’ division to lose. They have excellent pitching and the best all-around player in Albert Pujols. Holliday anchors a good outfield with Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick. Yadier Molina behind the plate bolsters the batting order too.
Final NL Central breakdown
The Cardinals have people in place to compete for a division title and possibly a pennant. The Cubs and Brewers have the potential to chase St. Louis down, but they will need consistency from at the plate and on the mound – right now it looks like the Cardinals are more likely to get the best performances in all three phases of the game.