The warm glow of MLB Hot Stove’s warming glow: NL Central

The warm glow of MLB Hot Stove’s warming glow: NL Central

We know not to expect much from the Pittsburgh Pirates, though as for everyone else...

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It’s officially the offseason now, as we’ve gotten Scott Boras’s Fozzy Bear-in-the-college-dorm act at the GM Meetings. So let’s keep this record spinning right round and move to the NL Central, which I don’t feel personally about at all.

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Chicago Cubs

Chicago Cubs

Willson Contreras
Image: Getty Images

Projected 2023 Payroll: Not nearly enough

Notable Free Agents: Willson Contreras (pictured above), Drew Smyly

Could they use Aaron Judge?: Absofuckinglutely, but the Ricketts would worry about the damage to the buildings they own across the street.

What could they use other than Judge: Other than a change of ownership that’s not coming, they could use acting like the only big market team in the division. The Cubs should lord over this division financially, which means they should lord over it in the standings too given what’s already here.

The Cubbies definitely need a No. 1 starter, especially considering that it’s hard to know what they might get from Kyle Hendricks now that he missed a large chunk of the end of last season with shoulder problems. And given his repertoire and stuff, even though he expertly toed the line on his margin of error, it was still Wallenda thin. Justin Steele was a nice surprise last year, and we assume Marcus Stroman will still pitch in between the days he’s running errands for Kyrie Irving, but both are mid-rotation guys rather than the top. Seeing as how the Ricketts family would treat any eight- or 10-year deal like its own personal tax hike, a two- or three-year deal for just a lot of money for a deGrom or Verlander to bridge the gap to whatever creature the Cubs’ overhyped Pitch Lab produces that can take the reins after that would seem to make a lot of sense. Or they could package a collection of their supposedly much-respected prospect group for Shohei Ohtani. Instead, they’ll do what they did last year, and probably sign a guy off the B-List, or try and shroud that cheaper avenue by getting the spicy Japanese import in Kodai Senga who throws 123 MPH but also can’t find the plate.

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Cubs (cont’d)

Cubs (cont’d)

Nico Hoerner
Image: Getty Images

They need help on offense too. There is no middle of the lineup here, which will only get worse as they let Willson Contreras walk to St. Louis because he doesn’t frame pitches well, a skill that will be obsolete in a year’s time thanks to the automatic strike zone. So that’s some thinking. They really need one of the big shortstops, both offensively and defensively, even if they eventually have to move that guy to third. That would allow them to move Nico Hoerner (pictured above) to second, which would greatly improve their defense and also not force anyone to watch Nick Madrigal try so very, very hard to ground out in 18 out of 20 ABs.

They also need a centerfielder, and while they were hoping one of a couple of prospects might have filled that at some point next season, Brennen Davis got a backiotomy and Alex Canario managed to somehow destroy his shoulder and ankle at the same time in winter ball. No one else is close. Brandon Nimmo would fit wonderfully, which will make it more frustrating when they sign Kevin Kiermaier just in time for his centerfield skills to erode and be unable to hit at all.

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds

Hunter Greene
Image: Getty Images

Projected 2023 Payroll: Unfiltered water from the Ohio River outside the park

Notable Free Agents: Get the fuck outta here.

Could they use Aaron Judge?: Yep, though he’ll have to wait another two years to remind everyone where he went if he wants to pull a full Gaudreau here.

What else could they use than Judge?: Everything, but the Reds are at least bouncing up off the floor, however barely, off a total rebuild. They just need to wait, basically. The only players here that will still be here when the Reds are thinking about playing games that matter again are Hunter Greene (pictured above), Nick Lodolo on the mound, and maybe Jonathan India in the field.

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Reds (cont’d)

Reds (cont’d)

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That’s assuming Joey Votto (pictured above) ever retires, which he might not and we’d all be better for it if he didn’t. Reds fans might get a treat if Elly De La Cruz tears it up again in the minors and gets a mid- or late-season cameo. Keeping Lodolo’s and Greene’s elbows from exploding are about the extent of the aims of this season, and maybe finding a vet either on the roster or via free agency who can pop off for three months before being dealt for more guys who matter in 2025 or 2026.

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Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee Brewers

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Estimated 2023 Payroll: $128 million

Notable Free Agents: Andrew McCutcheon, Taylor Rogers, Brad Boxberger

Could they use Aaron Judge?: Yeah huh.

What could they use besides Judge: A sharp end. There’s a decent number of decent hitters here, as the Brewers sported six guys with wRC+ over 100 and below 120, with only Hunter Renfroe going above 120. It led to an offense that finished around 10th in runs, OBP, and slugging for the season. You still feel like they need one more boomstick at the top of the lineup now that Christian Yelich (pictured above) is officially not that anymore. The combination of Esteury Ruiz and Garrett Mitchell in center is intriguing, as both have some pretty gaudy numbers working their way through the minors, and Mitchell flashed being a thing in his brief time in Milwaukee last year — even though he struck out 41 percent of the time. There might be something of a logjam in the outfield with Mitchell, Ruiz, and the promising duo of Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer both knocking on the door and all outfielders.

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Brewers (cont’d)

Brewers (cont’d)

Corbin Burnes
Image: Getty Images

First base is a need, which would allow a move for Rowdy Tellez to DH. Or maybe the Brew Crew just signs a DH. Jose Abreu would be something the Brewers would do as he shouldn’t command a lot of years, one would think. Anthony Rizzo makes some sense if he doesn’t want more than three years. But maybe one of those outfield kids kicks Yelich or Renfroe to DH. An upgrade at catcher wouldn’t be remiss either if they want to get more of a bat there than Victor Caratini or a returning Omar Navarez, such as outbidding the Cardinals for Contreras or Gary Sanchez or the like.

The rotation just really needs to keep everyone healthy, as Freddy Peralta only made 17 starts last year, and Corbin Burnes (pictured above) and Brandon Woodruff all have their own injury history. Wouldn’t hurt if Aaron Ashby could stop throwing a ball for every strike he manages as well.

While there was a fuckton of noise about the trade of Josh Hader — some of that from within the clubhouse — his utter refusal to pitch in non-save situations in the ninth inning lowered his value, and if the Crew re-sign Taylor Rogers or an equivalent they’ll be more than fine with Devin Williams, Matt Bush, and Peter Strzelecki. For all the supposed disappointment of the 2022 Brewers, who led the Central for a long while, they finished one game worse than the Phillies. They’re hardly far away.

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Pittsburgh Pirates

Pittsburgh Pirates

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Projected 2023 Payroll: Something like this...

Gif:



Notable Free Agents: See video.

If Cats Sounded Like Arnold Schwarzenegger

Could they use Aaron Judge?: Yes, because signing that check would kill their owner, which is what they really need.

What else could they use besides Judge: I’m being callous, but it’s hard not to get angry about the Pirates who play in maybe the most beautiful park in the league and have a fanbase that desperately wants to have a team worth their time and is always supporting it when they do, but is constantly fucked over by their owner. They’re in the same spot as the Reds, where the worst of their rebuild is probably over, and whatever Bucs fans are left will get a full season of Oneil Cruz (pictured above) this time around.

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Pirates (cont’d)

Pirates (cont’d)

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Ke’Bryan Hayes (pictured above) has yet to hit in his season and a half of MLB life, but has proven to be a plus-plus third baseman with the glove. Still, he collapsed in the second half last year offensively, and third isn’t somewhere you can have a glove-only guy. This feels like a make-or-break season for him. There could be a host of other kids in the lineup and rotation here, which is at least exciting in seeing who will make the cut — and who won’t — to be guys Bob Nutting won’t pay in five to seven years. But it’s not really about this season for the Pirates. Or even the next one. This is pure evaluation time.

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St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

Adam Wainwright
Image: Getty Images

Projected 2023 Payroll: $157 million

Notable Free Agents: Corey Dickerson, Jose Quintana

Could they use Aaron Judge?: Really could, but let’s not entertain that thought one second longer.

What else could they use besides Judge: Rotation help would seem to be the order of the day. They really needed Quintana and the boost he provided after the deadline. This is still a team counting on 75-year-old Adam Wainwright (pictured above) at the top of the rotation, while trying to convince themselves and us that this is the season Jack Flaherty can both stay healthy and be dominant, something he hasn’t done in four years. There’s no one in the current projected rotation that is a strikeout mutant, and they could use one. They could use the same in the pen, where only Ryan Helsley and Giovanni Gallegos were true doom-bringers. And that’s assuming that Helsley can A) feel his fingers again and B) is going to tell anyone if he can or can’t this time around.

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Cardinals (cont’d)

Cardinals (cont’d)

Nolan Arenado
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There will come a day when, depending mostly on two 30+ infielders in Nolan Arenado (pictured above) and Paul Goldschmidt, will come back to bite them, even if the Rockies are still paying for Arenado. But it almost certainly won’t be this season. A replacement for Yadier Molina is top of the list for the lineup, and it’s going to be Contreras we all just have to come to terms with that, if that’s even possible. Maybe another bat for the DH role or in the outfield, but probably not necessary. They’re the class of the division simply because no one other than Milwaukee is even trying.

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