Offseason team needs: NL Central
Welcome to theScore's MLB offseason team needs, where we'll break down every club's roster and key free agents, along with how holes could be filled in free agency. Up next is the NL Central.
*Player ages for 2021 season
2020 Record: 34-26 (1st in NL Central)
Projected 2021 payroll: $154.3M
Key free agents: Andrew Chafin, Tyler Chatwood, Billy Hamilton, Jeremy Jeffress, Jason Kipnis, Jon Lester, Cameron Maybin, Josh Phegley, Jose Quintana
Needs: Starter (two), reliever, 2nd baseman
The Cubs still possess a solid core of position players, a group still largely intact from the team's World Series-winning season in 2016. However, the clock is ticking, and those players need to produce. Chicago's new president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer will also need to decide if he wants to make another run at a championship in 2021, or blow it up.
Rizzo and Contreras were average, while Schwarber, Baez, and Bryant struggled last season. The latter two are perennial MVP candidates, and they're both slated to become free agents after the 2021 campaign. The Cubs could also use an upgrade at second base over Bote.
Chicago needs a lot of help beyond Darvish and Hendricks. Mills, who threw a no-hitter last season, wouldn't be a No. 3 on any legit contender.
With Jeffress hitting the open market, the bullpen also needs upgrades. The veteran reliever took over closing duties after Craig Kimbrel continued to struggle. The seven-time All-Star owns a 6.00 ERA in 41 appearances since joining the Cubs.
2020 Record: 31-29 (3rd in NL Central)
Projected 2021 payroll: $138.35M
Key free agents: Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Freddy Galvis
Needs: Starter, shortstop, reliever
There are a lot of questions for the Reds' offense to answer heading into 2021 after a historically poor wild-card series showing. Suarez, Moustakas, and Castellanos can offer more than just big power numbers, but all three failed to register an .800 OPS or better despite hitting a combined 37 homers in 2020. The club's shortstop situation also isn't promising, as Garcia doesn't move the needle for a team with contending aspirations.
Losing a reigning Cy Young winner would be devastating for any club. Bauer led the NL in ERA (1.73), WHIP (0.79), complete games (two), and shutouts (two) while recording 100 strikeouts to only 17 walks en route to becoming the first Reds pitcher to earn the award. Cincinnati boasts a lot of rotation depth, but its bullpen takes a hit with Lorenzen transitioning to being a starter.
2020 Record: 29-31 (4th in NL Central)
Projected 2021 payroll: $110.78M
Key free agents: Brett Anderson, Ryan Braun, Ben Gamel, Jedd Gyorko, Eric Sogard
Needs: 1st baseman, 3rd baseman, outfielder
There's not much for the Brewers to get excited about outside of Yelich and Hiura, who both posted disappointing campaigns in 2020 despite combining for 25 round-trippers. Cain isn't getting any younger, and the Brewers' lineup is littered with guys who are decent at best or not proven major-league starters. Vogelbach impressed with a .987 OPS in 19 games, but he played on three teams last season due to early struggles. The club also said goodbye to Braun, the franchise's homer leader, after declining his option.
The Brewers' pitching staff carried them in 2020. Only the Reds' staff compiled a higher fWAR in the NL than Milwaukee's 9.2. The group also posted a 10.68 K/9, the second-best mark in the Senior Circuit. Reliever Devin Williams, who won Rookie of the Year, was so good the club is reportedly listening to offers for ace closer Josh Hader.
2020 Record: 19-41 (5th in NL Central)
Projected 2021 payroll: $70.85M
Key free agents: Derek Holland, Keone Kela
Needs: 2nd baseman, shortstop, catcher, outfielder, reliever
The Pirates were MLB's worst team last season and need a lot of help. General manager Ben Cherington faces the task of improving an offense that accrued the NL's lowest fWAR (1.1). Moran and Hayes were the only bright spots, with the latter slashing .376/.442/.682 in 24 games after making his MLB debut. Reynolds returning to form following a terrific first season in 2019 would be a good start. Same goes for Bell, who hit 37 homers while posting a .936 OPS during his All-Star campaign two seasons ago.
Pittsburgh's starters finished in the middle of the pack among NL teams with a combined 4.74 ERA. The team jettisoned Chris Archer after declining his 2021 option, and the Pirates will welcome Taillon back to the rotation. The 29-year-old right-hander hasn't pitched since May 2019 following a second Tommy John surgery. Brault may be dealt, as multiple clubs are reportedly eyeing the hurler. The Pirates could also use a reliever or two with Kela hitting free agency.
St. Louis Cardinals
2020 Record: 30-28 (2nd in NL Central)
Projected 2021 payroll: $144.68M
Key free agents: Brad Miller, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Matt Wieters, Kolten Wong
Needs: Starter, Catcher, 2nd baseman, 3rd baseman
Molina hitting free agency could signal the end of an era in St. Louis. The nine-time All-Star is seeking a new contract after spending 17 seasons with the Cardinals, winning nine Gold Gloves, four Platinum Gloves, and two World Series. The team is also looking for somebody to man the keystone position with Wong set to leave after his option was declined. It doesn't look like there's much left in Carpenter's tank, so an upgrade at third would help the club moving forward. However, he's still owed $18.5 million in 2021 and holds a vesting option for 2022.
Wainwright is another Cardinals legend who may have played his last game with the team. The three-time All-Star is coming off his best campaign in years after posting a 3.15 ERA in 65 2/3 innings in his 15th season with St. Louis. The club will also likely be without right-hander Dakota Hudson next year due to Tommy John surgery. Mikolas returns to the rotation after missing all of 2019 because of a flexor tendon injury.