Offseason team needs: NL Central

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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

Chicago Cubs

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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

Projected Lineup

Order Player Pos Age
1 Ian Happ CF 26
2 Anthony Rizzo 1B 31
3 Willson Contreras C 29
4 Kyle Schwarber LF 28
5 Kris Bryant 3B 29
6 Jason Heyward RF 31
7 Javier Baez SS 28
8 David Bote 2B 28

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.

Projected Rotation

1 Yu Darvish R 35
2 Kyle Hendricks R 31
3 Alec Mills R 29
4 Adbert Alzolay R 26
5 Colin Rea R 31

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.

Cincinnati Reds

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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

Projected Lineup

Order Player Pos Age
1 Shogo Akiyama CF 33
2 Nick Castellanos RF 29
3 Joey Votto 1B 37
4 Eugenio Suarez 3B 29
5 Mike Moustakas 2B 32
6 Jesse Winker LF 27
7 Jose Garcia SS 23
8 Tucker Barnhart C 30

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.

Projected Rotation

1 Sonny Gray R 31
2 Luis Castillo R 28
3 Tyler Mahle R 24
4 Wade Miley L 34
5 Michael Lorenzen R 29

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.

Milwaukee Brewers

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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

Projected Lineup

Order Player Pos Age
1 Lorenzo Cain CF 35
2 Christian Yelich RF 29
3 Keston Hiura 2B 24
4 Daniel Vogelbach 1B 28
5 Avisail Garcia LF 30
6 Orlando Arcia SS 26
7 Omar Narvaez C 29
8 Luis Urias 3B 24

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.

Projected Rotation

1 Corbin Burnes R 26
2 Brandon Woodruff R 28
3 Josh Lindblom R 33
4 Adrian Houser R 28
5 Eric Lauer L 26

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.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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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

Projected Lineup

Order Player Pos Age
1 Adam Frazier 2B 29
2 Ke'Bryan Hayes 3B 24
3 Colin Moran LF 28
4 Josh Bell 1B 28
5 Gregory Polanco RF 29
6 Bryan Reynolds CF 26
7 Jacob Stallings C 31
8 Erik Gonzalez SS 29

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.

Projected Rotation

1 Joe Musgrove R 28
2 Jameson Taillon R 29
3 Steven Brault L 29
4 Trevor Williams R 29
5 Mitch Keller R 25

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

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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

Projected Lineup

Order Player Pos Age
1 Tommy Edman 2B 26
2 Paul DeJong SS 25
3 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 33
4 Dylan Carlson LF 22
5 Dexter Fowler RF 35
6 Matt Carpenter 3B 35
7 Andrew Knizer C 26
8 Harrison Bader CF 24

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.

Projected Rotation

1 Jack Flaherty R 25
2 Kwang-Hyun Kim L 32
3 Carlos Martinez R 29
4 Austin Gomber L 27
5 Miles Mikolas R 32

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.

Offseason team needs: NL Central
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