How the Winter Meetings Affected the NL Central

The Winter Meetings concluded on Thursday and even though there is plenty of offseason left, I thought this would be a good time to take stock of what the other teams in the NL Central have done since the end of the season.  I won’t go into what the Pirates have done, because that has been covered in-depth by many of Tim’s posts this week.

St. Louis Cardinals

Might as well start right at the top of the division.  Needless to say, the Cards didn’t have the best of weeks.  Pujols signed with the Angels for $254 million, which didn’t really surprise me too much.  Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner, is very competitive and was chafing at losing the division to the Rangers the past 2 years.  Moreno wanted a Latino player to call his own and market to the heavily-Latino region of California.  The Angels will be on the hook to Pujols when he is 41/42 years old, which carries a huge amount of risk, even in a league that sports the designated hitter.

Once the Cardinals signed Matt Holliday to an overly large contract, it seemed like they were hedging against Pujols leaving after the 2011 season.  Coupled with the resurgence of Lance Berkman, the Cards have their plans for the offense moving forward.  Even though Pujols should still be productive in the near future, the Cardinals will probably be better off not having the potential albatross of the contract at the tail end.

The Cards also lost Octavio Dotel to the Tigers in free agency.  Dotel was a key member for them during their World Series-winning run.

Milwaukee Brewers

While the Cardinals had a frustrating week in Dallas, the Brewers had to endure a calculated risk backfire in their face.  The Brewers offered Francisco Rodriguez arbitration, with every intention on their part that he would decline it.  As a Type B free agent, the Brewers would get a compensatory draft pick and the Scott Boras client could try and find a full-time closer job.  One problem — Rodriguez accepted the arbitration offer.  So now the Brewers will be on the hook for approximately $13 million to Rodriguez in 2012 and find a roster spot for him as a set-up man.

Not that the Brewers were probably in line to retain free agent Prince Fielder, but this turn of events all but rules them out payroll-wise.

The Brewers, after rumors connected them with Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes briefly, signed Alex Gonzalez to be their starting shortstop in 2012.  Gonzalez has power, but is aging and losing range rapidly at shortstop.  LaTroy Hawkins also signed with the Angels this week.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds had an extremely quiet week.  There were barely any rumors connected to Reds, aside from a stray Huston Street for Edinson Volquez rumor prior to Street going to the Padres.  Perhaps the Reds quelled most of the pre-Winter Meeting speculation by declaring Votto off limits in trade proposals.

The Reds covet a front of the rotation pitcher, with some speculation of their interest in James Shields of the Rays, and with a very fertile farm system it is quite possible that they will acquire one by the start of the season.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs kicked off the offseason by hiring Theo Epstein away from the Red Sox to become their President, then hiring Jed Hoyer away from the Padres to be their General Manager.

The Cubs have pretty much moved on from Aramis Ramirez, with the Brewers in play for his services.  The Cubs have also lost Carlos Pena to free agency for the time being.

At the end of November, the Cubs made a nice low-cost pickup by signing David DeJesus to a 2 year, $10 million deal to play RF for them in 2012.

The Cubs are in a limbo of sorts, as it is hard to tell if they are going to commit to the rebuild that they desperately need.  There are signs that Epstein and Hoyer may be thinking of some type of rebuild as Matt Garza’s name has been dangled out in the trade rumor circuit.

Houston Astros

The best pickup the Astros have made in the offseason has been hiring Jeff Luhnow to be their General Manager.  Luhnow was a special assistant with the Cardinals and is rumored to be the person responsible for getting Walt Jocketty relieved of his duties as General Manager with the Cardinals.  With Jocketty now the GM of the Cincinnati Reds, I wouldn’t expect too many Reds-Astros trades if the rumors are true.

The Astros were purchased by Jim Crane and the sale was finally approved in November.  The Astros are in the midst of a youth movement, but still have three veterans with large contracts that they would like to trade: Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, and Brett Myers.  There is a good deal of interest in Rodriguez, so I would expect him to be traded by Opening Day, but Lee’s onerous $18 million dollar deal could be extremely difficult to move.

But in reality, the Astros don’t really matter a whole lot because 2012 will be their last year in the NL Central before they are shipped off to the American League West.

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