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NL Central team needs heading into winter meetings

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theScore's MLB offseason team needs series breaks down every club's roster and key departures, along with how holes could be filled in free agency ahead of the Dec. 4-7 winter meetings.


*Bolded names are players traded this offseason

Chicago Cubs

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2023 record: 83-79 (2nd in NL Central)
Projected 40-man payroll: $178M
Key departures: Cody Bellinger, Brad Boxberger, Jeimer Candelario, Tyler Duffey, Michael Fulmer, Shane Greene, Codi Heuer, Marcus Stroman
Needs: First baseman, third baseman, center fielder, starting pitching, relief pitching

Where the lineup stands

1 Mike Tauchman (L) CF 1.8
2 Nico Hoerner 2B 4.7
3 Ian Happ (S) LF 3.5
4 Seiya Suzuki RF 3.2
5 Dansby Swanson SS 4.9
6 Christopher Morel DH 1.4
7 Yan Gomes C 1.0
8 Matt Mervis (L) 1B -0.6
9 Nick Madrigal 3B 0.9

The Cubs narrowly missed the playoffs last season, falling one game short after a rough finish to the year. That prompted a managerial change, with former Brewers skipper Craig Counsell taking the reins. But the Cubs are going to need more than a new manager if they want to win their first division title in a full season since 2017. Finding a replacement for Bellinger, as well as a productive full-time third baseman, will be top of the list.

How the rotation looks

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1 Justin Steele L 4.9
2 Jameson Taillon R 1.6
3 Kyle Hendricks R 2.8
4 Jordan Wicks L 0.3
5 Javier Assad R 0.9

The Cubs enter 2024 with Steele and veterans Taillon and Hendricks locked into three of the five rotation spots after Stroman opted out of his deal. That leaves room for a free-agent addition or two unless Chicago plans to ride with youngsters Assad and Wicks, who've combined for 25 career starts. Chicago could really use another frontline starter and should be in the market to add one in either a trade or free agency.

Cincinnati Reds

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2023 record: 82-80 (3rd)
Projected 40-man payroll: $59M
Key departures: Harrison Bader, Curt Casali, Buck Farmer, Derek Law, Nick Senzel, Joey Votto
Needs: Starting pitching

Where the lineup stands

1 TJ Friedl (L) CF 4.4
2 Matt McLain 2B 3.2
3 Spencer Steer LF 2.1
4 Christian Encarnacion-Strand 1B 0.5
5 Jonathan India DH 1.2
6 Will Benson (L) RF 1.7
7 Noelvi Marte 3B 0.7
8 Elly De La Cruz (S) SS 1.7
9 Tyler Stephenson C -0.7

The Reds exceeded projections last season, finishing over .500 after losing 100 games the year prior. Cincinnati boasts an exciting young group of returning position players, including De La Cruz, Marte, and McLain, which should improve with more playing time together. The absence of Votto in the Reds' lineup feels strange, and the same could be said about India, who's been front and center in offseason trade rumors. It feels like the Reds have too many position players and not enough spots, so shipping India out feels inevitable.

How the rotation looks

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1 Hunter Greene R 2.0
2 Andrew Abbott L 2.2
3 Graham Ashcraft R 1.5
4 Nick Martinez R 1.4
5 Nick Lodolo L 0.0

The Reds' rotation is extremely talented, but four of the five pitchers projected to start next season are under 26. Nick Martinez's addition should help with mentorship, but who knows how long he'll hold up in the rotation after mostly serving as a swingman last season. Trading India could net the Reds another experienced starter without having to overpay in free agency. Cincinnati has reportedly been aggressive in its pursuit of pitching. Dealing from a surplus of position players could be the way the Reds get rotation help.

Milwaukee Brewers

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2023 record: 92-70 (1st)
Projected 40-man payroll: $101M
Key departures: Mark Canha (DET), Victor Caratini, Andrew Chafin, Josh Donaldson, Eric Lauer, Wade Miley, Darin Ruf, Carlos Santana, Julio Teheran, Rowdy Tellez, Abraham Toro (OAK), Justin Wilson, Jesse Winker, Brandon Woodruff
Needs: First baseman, third baseman, starting pitcher

Where the lineup stands

1 Christian Yelich (L) LF 4.1
2 William Contreras C 5.4
3 Sal Frelick (L) RF 1.4
4 Willy Adames SS 3.4
5 Tyrone Taylor DH 0.8
6 Garrett Mitchell (L) CF 0.4
7 Andruw Monasterio 3B 0.4
8 Jake Bauers (L) 1B -0.5
9 Brice Turang (L) 2B 0.2

The Brewers enter 2024 coming off a 92-win campaign and a second division title in three years, but it looks like the team could go in a different direction after switching managers, trading Canha, and letting a number of veteran players depart. If Milwaukee intends to compete, it'll need upgrades at first and third base, where trade acquisition Bauers and unproven youngster Monasterio are projected to start. Adames, who's in his final season under contract, is a trade candidate.

How the rotation looks

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1 Corbin Burnes R 3.4
2 Freddy Peralta R 3.0
3 Adrian Houser R 1.8
4 Colin Rea R 0.8
5 Robert Gasser L Rookie

Starting pitching has been a strength of the Brewers in recent years, but their rotation is going to look different next season without Woodruff, who's been a staple for them the past seven years, and Miley, who won nine games and posted a 3.14 ERA in 23 starts. Burnes and Peralta are still a solid pair at the top of the rotation, but Houser has been shaky the past two seasons, while Rea and Gasser are unproven. Burnes is set to hit free agency after 2024 and recently stated that he isn't planning on signing an extension.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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2023 record: 76-86 (4th)
Projected 40-man payroll: $53M
Key departures: Jarlín García, Andrew McCutchen, Vince Velasquez
Needs: Starting pitcher, second baseman, first baseman

Where the lineup stands

1 Oneil Cruz (L) SS 0.3
2 Bryan Reynolds (S) LF 2.3
3 Ke'Bryan Hayes 3B 3.2
4 Jack Suwinski (L) CF 2.8
5 Jared Triolo 1B 1.7
6 Joshua Palacios (L) RF 0.0
7 Henry Davis DH -1.0
8 Endy Rodríguez (S) C 0.7
9 Liover Peguero 2B 0.0

The Pirates were the hottest team in baseball to begin last season but only posted one winning month after going 19-9 in April. Most of their young core returns in 2024, with a healthy Cruz expected to lead the charge. McCutchen could also return next season to provide the young squad with veteran leadership. The 37-year-old made it clear he doesn't want to play anywhere else, and the Pirates appear interested in having him back.

How the rotation looks

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1 Mitch Keller R 3.3
2 Luis L. Ortiz R -0.3
3 Bailey Falter L 0.4
4 Quinn Priester R -0.6
5 Roansy Contreras R 0.1

Keller struggled in the second half after pitching like an All-Star through the first three months of last season. He'll return as the team's ace, but the rotation doesn't look too appealing past him. The Pirates will rely on some unproven arms to help their rotation improve on last season's 24th-ranked ERA. It wouldn't be surprising to see Pittsburgh add some affordable veteran arms like it did last year when it signed Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez, especially with Johan Oviedo out for the year while he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

St. Louis Cardinals

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2023 record: 71-91 (5th)
Projected 40-man payroll: $195M
Key departures: Jacob Barnes, Dakota Hudson, Andrew Knizner, Adam Wainwright (retired), Jake Woodford
Needs: Relievers

Where the lineup stands

1 Brendan Donovan (L) DH 2.1
2 Paul Goldschmidt 1B 3.7
3 Lars Nootbaar (L) CF 3.2
4 Nolan Arenado 3B 2.6
5 Willson Contreras C 2.4
6 Nolan Gorman (L) 2B 2.5
7 Jordan Walker RF 0.2
8 Tyler O'Neill LF 0.8
9 Tommy Edman (S) SS 2.3

Last season was a constant struggle for the Cardinals, who finished with their lowest winning percentage since 1995. The lineup remains talented, so it won't be surprising if St. Louis enters 2024 with a similar starting nine to last year. Turnaround campaigns from Goldschmidt, Arenado, and O'Neill could make huge differences, as could continued improvements from Walker and Gorman. With Goldschmidt only under contract for one more season, time is ticking for the club.

How the rotation looks

Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images Sport / Getty
1 Sonny Gray R 5.3
2 Miles Mikolas R 3.1
3 Kyle Gibson R 2.6
4 Lance Lynn R 0.5
5 Steven Matz L 2.0

The Cardinals have been one of the busiest teams early in the offseason, with John Mozeliak signing three starters in Gray, Lynn, and Gibson to address a rotation that ranked 14th in innings pitched, 22nd in FIP, and 26th in ERA last season. The starting five may be an improvement over 2023, but it's mostly comprised of players on the wrong side of 30, so it'll be interesting to see how it holds up over the grind of a full season.

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