NL Central Offseason Report Cards
The NL Central is the fifth of the six MLB divisions to be graded by Noobsports.
Additions: OF Juan Pierre, OF Jacque Jones, OF/INF John Mabry, RP Scott Eyre, RP Bobby Howry, SP Wade Miller, OF Marquis Grissom, P Jason Simontacci, re-signed INF Neifi Perez, re-signed SP Glendon Rusch
Subtractions: OF Corey Patterson, OF Jeromy Burnitz, OF Todd Hollandsworth, SS Nomar Garciaparra, P Sergio Mitre, RP Mike Remlinger
Awarding "Worst Offseason, NL" to the Cubs has drawn some ire from fans on the North Side of Chicago (hey, boosters!!!). Here is the rationale behind the decision: there isn't a single move that the Cubs made that could be classified as "above average," aside from the low-risk addition of Wade Miller. They overpaid Howry, Eyre, and Jones and while Pierre is a much needed lead off hitter, the Marlins gave away Delgado and LoDuca for less. Baseball America even goes so far to say that the package the Cubs gave up might have been the best return the Marlins got in an offseason full of salary dumps. Throw in Tribune Co.'s antics (the raised ticket prices, the new bleacher seats, and the lowered payroll) and you have yourself a fairly embarassing offseason. I am not claiming that any of the additions weren't upgrades, but Nothing has changed in Wrigleyville: Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have to have huge years for the Cubs to compete.
(Note: I was willing to give GM Jim Hendry a free pass for signing Marquis Grissom, but now rumors have surfaced that the Cubs are interested in Juan Gonzalez. There are few athletes who I despise as much as Igor, but I have to give him some credit for getting himself in "the best condition of [his] life." If I was him, my life would be in absolute shambles after turning down a guaranteed $148 million or so from the Tigers at the height of MLB's spending spree. Think Ron Burgundy after he gets fired from the Channel 4 News Team, except with violent tendencies. Milk was a baaaad choice. The thought of accepting a minor league deal would probably drive me to buy a flamethrower and pull an Ugueth Urbina on the agent who advised me not to take Detroit's money.)
Offseason Grade: C-
Additions: SP Dave Williams, RP Grant Balfour, RP Chris Hammond, 2b/OF Tony Womack, INF Frank Menechino, re-signed INF Rich Aurilia
Subtractions: 1b Sean Casey, 2b D'Angelo Jimenez, SP Ramon Ortiz
Trading Sean Casey and his bloated salary for a much needed starter was commendable, but the Reds should have gone much further. The Cincinnatti lineup is actually pretty good but the pitching staff is so bad that Eric Milton (8-15, 6.47) is currently listed as the third starter on the depth chart. Without any blue chip pitching prospects ready to make an impact, the Reds need to deal off their veteran stars, starting with Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey won NL Comeback Player of the Year award in 2005 and has value around the league. If the Reds are willing to eat most of his salary, Junior should net the team a couple top prospects. Adam Dunn is probably Cincinnatti's most valuable chip and he is young enough that the team will be reluctant to part with him. However, if the Reds can get a breath-taking offer at the trade deadline, they have no choice but to take it and begin a complete rebuilding project.
Offseason Grade: C-
Additions: OF Preston Wilson, re-signed C Brad Ausmus, re-signed 1b/3b Mike Lamb, re-signed RP Russ Springer, re-signed INF Orlando Palmeiro
Subtractions: INF Jose Vizcaino, RP Scott Strickland
After going to the World Series, the Astros made only one significant pickup, might have lost their best player, and tried to force the face of the franchise into retirement. The good? Preston Wilson's signing brings some power to a below average lineup but he is far from flawless. He strikes out constantly and struggles to hit for average. Still, the 'Stros were wise to invest just $4.5 million to bring his home run swing to Minute Maid Park.
The bad? The future of Roger Clemens is still uncertain, except that he can not pitch for Houston until May 1 after the team declined to offer him arbitration. It is hard to fault the club for doing so, as he would have made well upwards of $20 million through the arbitration process. Clemens anchoring the rotation is absolutely necessary if the 'Stros want to have any chance at going deep into the postseason again. The Rocket could retire or sign with another team such as the Rangers, so his return to Houston is far from a sure thing.
The ugly? The Astros have filed an insurance claim on the remaining year of Jeff Bagwell's contract, despite the first basemen's desire to play in 2006. Bagwell has suffered a severe injury to his shoulder and the team hoped that the $15.6 million owed to him this year would be picked up by insurance. Bagwell has promised that he will go to spring training anyway, but there is no doubt that he deserved better treatment.
Offseason Grade: Incomplete
Additions: 3b Corey Koskie, SP David Bush, 2b Brent Abernathy, re-signed 3b Jeff Cirillo, re-signed C Chad Moeller, re-signed P Rick Helling
Subtractions: 1b Lyle Overbay, 1b/3b Wes Helms, RP Julio Santana
The Brewers may have had the best offseason of any team in the NL Central. Unfortunately, that's like saying that Emilio Estevez had the best film career by any cast member of "The Breakfast Club". Although he is a good player, it was the right time to trade Overbay, if only because stud slugging prospect Prince Fielder was waiting in the wings. Fielder, Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy should all start this year for the Brew Crew and you have to love the sheer talent of that infield. The addition of Koskie (in exchange for nothing) at third should move Bill Hall into a super-utility role. Bush is an intriguing piece for an improving rotation featuring Ben Sheets, Doug Davis, and Chris Capuano who all had ERAs under 4 last season. It is doubtful that Milwaukee can contend in 2006, but I like Prince Fielder so much that I will follow this club from start to finish. I like where this team is headed and GM Doug Melvin is doing a fantastic job.
Offseason Grade: C+
Additions: 1b Sean Casey, RP Damaso Marte, RP Roberto Hernandez, RP Terry Adams, OF Jeromy Burnitz, RP Scott Strickland, 3b Joe Randa
Subtractions: SP Josh Fogg, RP Jose Mesa, INF Rob Mackowiak, SS Alfredo Amezaga, SP Dave Williams, 3b Ty Wigginton
The Pirates replaced Lloyd McClendon with his exact opposite in former Dodger skipper Jim Tracy. The team hopes he will have the opposite effect as well, and so far, so good. The players are raving about Tracy and his staff for their "hands-on" approach while baseball fans will miss McClendon's hilarious outbursts at the umpires. The upgrade at manager helps make up for a very average offseason. The club improved the lineup by trading for Casey and signing Burnitz, but lost Fogg and Williams from the rotation, and replaced Jose Mesa with Roberto Hernandez. These are only stop-gap solutions which will not benefit the club long term. Tracy must hope that both Zach Duke and Oliver Perez can reach their potential and anchor the rotation for years while quiet stud OF Jason Bay continues to mash.
Offseason Grade: C-
St. Louis Cardinals
Additions: OF Juan Encarnacion, RP Braden Looper, OF Larry Bigbie, SP Sidney Ponson, 2b Aaron Miles, 2b Junior Spivey, C Gary Bennett, INF Deivi Cruz, RP Jeff Nelson, RP Ricardo Rincon
Subtractions: 2b Mark Grudzielanek, RP Ray King, OF Larry Walker, OF Reggie Sanders, SP Matt Morris, OF/INF John Mabry, RP Julian Tavarez, C Einar Diaz, OF/INF Abraham Nunez
The Cardinals made only lateral moves this winter. Encarnacion and Bigbie are decent enough players, but they are hardly going to elevate the Cardinals from perennial division winners to perennial World Series champions. Some critics have called Looper's 3 year contract the worst of the offseason but he and Rincon must effectively replace King and Tavarez in the bullpen. Degenerate Ponson might have been worth a shot but not at the cost of keeping prospect Anthony Reyes out of the rotation. Reyes is ready for the bigs despite refusing to bend the bill of his cap, inexplicably following the fashion trend set by my 50 year old father. The biggest question for manager Tony LaRussa is whether or not losing good character players like Sanders and Walker will hurt team chemistry. With third baseman Scott Rolen healthy once again and the NL Central having a terrible winter, the Birds are still the team to beat in the division.
Offseason Grade: C