Welcome to theScore’s MLB offseason team needs, in which we’ll break down every club’s roster and its key free agents, along with how holes could be filled in free agency. Up next is the NL Central.
AL EAST I NL EAST I AL CENTRAL I NL CENTRAL I AL WEST I NL WEST
2018 Record: 95-68 (2nd in division)
Projected 2019 Payroll: $209M
Key free agents: Daniel Murphy
Team needs: Relief pitcher, outfielder
The Cubs are reportedly cash-strapped, and what looked like a dynasty in the making after winning the 2016 World Series is quickly becoming a team full of questions. If true, the apparent inability to spend big means Chicago won’t make a splash in free agency. Instead, minor tweaks to the bullpen may amount to the most notable changes this offseason in hopes that the core can rebound. Rumors that no players are untouchable – including Kris Bryant – have been downplayed, but the farm system’s been purged of elite talent in recent years so a slight reset doesn’t seem entirely out of the question.
2018 Record: 67-95 (5th in division)
Projected 2019 Payroll: $97.9M
Key free agents: Matt Harvey
Team needs: Starting pitcher, outfielder, relief pitcher
The Reds are looking to improve their pitching staff either through free agency or trade. Ideally, they can move Billy Hamilton in a deal, but his value’s trended downward for years and other teams may not consider him a starting outfielder. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s been linked to Yankees right-hander Sonny Gray, but he’d be more of a complementary piece – and a reclamation project to boot – than a rotation anchor. The team’s reportedly willing to boost payroll by $30 million, but isn’t expected to contend for the top free agents.
2018 Record: 96-67 (1st in division)
Projected 2019 Payroll: $111M
Key free agents: Mike Moustakas, Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley, Curtis Granderson
Team needs: Starting pitcher, catcher, middle infielder
The rotation was cobbled together with super glue and hope last season, so that has to be the top priority. It should already improve – Brandon Woodruff will likely transition to a starting role, Jimmy Nelson will hopefully be healthy after missing all of 2018 with a shoulder injury, and Corbin Burnes might get a look – but the front office could bring in other options, too. Behind the plate, despite Erik Kratz’s fun postseason, chances are slim he enters 2019 as the full-time backstop. Instead, the Brewers could be a good trade partner for Miami to send J.T. Realmuto, or a landing spot for a free agent like Wilson Ramos.
2018 Record: 82-79 (4th in division)
Projected 2019 Payroll: $69.9M
Key free agents: Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison
Team needs: Shortstop, second baseman
If the Pirates had a history of spending big, Manny Machado would be a wonderful fit and provide some much-needed heft in the lineup. However, precedent suggests this definitely won’t happen, as the Pirates have rarely dipped their toes into free-agent waters. Otherwise, the team’s trajectory is a mystery. After trading ace Gerrit Cole to the Astros last offseason, it looked like a rebuild was incoming, but then Pittsburgh dealt for Chris Archer in July (and the rotation is actually a source of strength going forward). If the Pirates do anything, expect them to sign mid-tier free agents or make another trade.
St. Louis Cardinals
2018 Record: 88-74 (3rd in division)
Projected 2019 Payroll: $136.8M
Key free agents: Matt Adams, Tyson Ross, Bud Norris
Team needs: Closer, third baseman
There’s been talk that St. Louis is willing to spend big for years, but nothing’s really stuck. The Cardinals whiffed on David Price and couldn’t get Giancarlo Stanton last offseason. Bryce Harper seems like a prime candidate, but the team appears more focused on improving a corner-infield spot or the bullpen. Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas will likely get some consideration, as could Cody Allen or Craig Kimbrel, though the Cardinals might be gun-shy after giving out regrettable contracts to relievers Brett Cecil and Greg Holland in recent years.