The Off-Season in Review: NL Central

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

As Opening Day draws near, we take a look back at the off-season, breaking down each team's biggest additions, losses and injury concerns, division by division.

The Reds and Cardinals took things relatively easy this off-season, but the rest of the division was busy building up to take a shot at their playoff spots, now and in the future.

Chicago Cubs

Major Additions: Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Nate Schierholtz,

Key Departures: Randy Wells, Manny Corpas

Significant Injuries: Matt Garza, Scott Baker, Arodys Vizcaino, Darwin Barney, Ian Stewert

Since taking over the Cubs, President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer have tried to speed up the sizable task of rebuilding the organization by signing mid-market pitchers and dealing them during the season. It is strategy that worked well with Paul Malholm last season and that thinking could come into play with signings like Baker, Feldman and Villanueva this year. The Edwin Jackson signing was more of surprising, however. While Epstein and company could still look to leverage Jackson in trade at some point, that is probably not the reason for this deal. The Chicago brass may feel the team is closer to competing then they appear. Even if that is the case, competing in 2013 is a long shot. The Cubs are almost certain to continue swapping quality role players for young talent during the 2013 season, but with their resources, they could also begin buying for 2014 and beyond in the very near future.

Cincinnati Reds

Major Additions: Shin-Soo Choo, Jack Hannahan,

Key Departures: Drew Stubbs, Didi Gregorios, Dioner Navarro

Significant Injuries: Nick Masset

After winning 97 games and topping the second-place Cardinals by nine games, the Reds did not feel the need to make any big changes this off-season. The only major difference on for 2013 club is Shin-Soo Choo in place of Drew Stubbs in center, The Reds nabbed Choo as part of the three team deal with the Indians and Diamondbacks. Choo’s bat is almost certainly an upgrade from the inconsistent Drew, but his defense in center, where he has played just one game since 2006, could negate some of that value. Regardless, the Reds still look like the team to beat in the division this season.

Milwaukee Brewers

Major Additions: Kyle Lohse, Tom Gorzelanny, Mike Gonzalez, Burke Badenhop

Key Departures: Shaun Marcum

Significant Injuries: Mat Gamel, Corey Hart, Jeff Bianchi, Taylor Green, Mark Rogers

When the Brewers signed Kyle Lohse on March 25, the right-hander's off-season long nightmare finally ended. Lohse was one of several victims of the new CBA’s draft compensation system, which costs teams a first round pick if they sign a player who received a qualified offer from their original club. Lohse’s nightmare was an opportunity for the Brewers, who got a strong mid-rotation arm at the discounted price of three years/ $33M to help bolster their starting pitching. The Brewers top need was relief pitching help, however. They added lefties Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny and righty Burke Bradenhop in attempt to fix what was the worst bullpen in baseball last season with a 4.66 ERA. Corey Hart, who is recovering from knee, will start the season on the DL with an eye on a return in May. First baseman Matt Gamel was expected to help plug the hole left by Hart, but he was lost to ACL surgery this Spring, so the team’s offense will begin the year without much production at the plate from the first base position.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Major Additions: Russell Martin, Brandon Inge, Jerry Sands, Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Jonathan Sanchez

Key Departures: Joel Hanrahan, Kevin Correia

Significant Injuries: Brandon Inge, Francisco Liriano, Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton

The Pirates decades-long rebuilding process may soon come to an end, as the Pirates ready Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon for the big leagues and their off-season at least partly reflects that optimism. GM Neal Huntington surprised a lot of people when he signed away from the Yankees for two years/$17M in late November, giving him a veteran behind the plate to help bring the kids along. The trade that sent closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox for reliever Mark Melancon, 1B/OF Jerry Sands and prospect Stolmy Pimentel was a little less surprising, since Hanrahan was in his walk year, but it could prove to be just as important. After a horrible start to the 2012 season in Boston, Melancon showed some signs that he could still be an effective late inning reliever late in the year and Sands gives Pittsburgh some extra depth. The future still rest on the cache of arms just nearing the Majors now, but there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel in Pittsburgh.

St. Louis Cardinals

Major Additions: Randy Choate

Key Departures: Lance Berkman, Kyle Lohse, Skip Shumaker

Significant Injuries:Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte, David Freese, Rafael Furcal

Prior to the elbow injury that ended Rafael Furcal’s season, the St. Louis Cardinals had been extremely inactive over the off-season. GM John Mozeliak built his 2011 World Series Championship team through strong player development and this team has been built the same way, leaving him little need to pick up pricey additions. The Cardinals currently rank first in Baseball America’s list of the top farm systems as well, so Mozeliak could very well remain quite for a few more off-seasons. Injuries might not allow that however. The Cards will be missing Chris Carpenter and Furcal for the season and closer Jason Motte will begin the year on the DL as well. St. Louis has been rumored to be on the lookout for a replacement at short, but there do not appear to many strong options available. The Cardinals have a habit of sneaking up on teams and finding their way into the playoffs. That is very much a possibility in 2013, even if they have made little noise this winter.

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