Looking Around the Central


Even though nothing is happening right now on the baseball diamonds in the Majors, there is still work to be done for every big-league ball club.

That is especially true of the National League Central, where we saw a lot of competition take place – and where we are sure to see some big changes as every team is racing to be next in line at the top of the standings.

With that in mind, let’s take a trip around the NL Central to see what’s been brewing in our division and the cards are stacking for (or against) us for 2012.

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are right in the thick of another Next Year, but this time there may actually be some small glimmers of hope. First, they have Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations after he left Boston amid much scandal, disappointment and fried chicken. Epstein’s presence on Addison Street is an obvious bright spot for the Cubbies for a few reasons:

  1. When he showed up in Boston, it only took two years for him to build a championship team.
  2. He loves, loves, LOVES to spend money by the bucketful.

But that’s old news. What’s cooking right now at Wrigley?

So far, just lunch. Last week, according to Cubs.com’s Carrie Muskat, Theo and Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita sat down for a mid-day meeting with Carlos Zambrano, at the embattled pitcher’s request. It seems that Big Z wants very much to remain a Cub, but Epstein, Fleita, and most of the clubhouse aren’t sure it’s such a good idea. Zambrano’s behavioral and temperamental issues are well known to everybody in and out of the clubhouse in Chicago, and this meeting apparently ended with Epstein setting some ground rules on how he needs to “earn his way back to being a Cub”. You can read all about it here.

The coaching carousel is also making another turn in the Windy City as the Cubs have brought a fifth candidate into the mix. This time it’s Red Sox bench coach DeMarlo Hale. Hale has been a coach for Boston since Sveum’s departure in 2006. He knows both Theo and the Cubs’ General Manager Jed Hoyer well enough that he didn’t even have to interview in person. According to the club’s official website the interview phase is over now, and after the general manager meetings they will begin reviewing the candidates in earnest. Among the  five candidates are two of Milwaukee’s favorite coaching sons: former pitching coach Mike Maddux, and current hitting coach Dale Sveum. One thing’s for sure – no matter who has the helm in Chicago, they will have at least one weird name.

Also make sure you check out our friends at Cubbies Crib. They have some great opinions on Zambrano, as well as some Dale Sveum manager talk and how the GM meetings may shake out for the Cubs this week. Here’s hoping that free agent deals are the only thing they win in Milwaukee this year.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Steel City is knee-deep in football season, as meaningful baseball talks generally wraps up about July 1st in Pittsburgh. That being said, there are actual stories coming out of PNC Park this time of year.

One of them just happens to be hilarious.

Xavier Paul’s season went so well in Pittsburgh that he got accepted to play for Brisbane Bandits in the Australian Baseball League. There was only one problem: he never wanted to play there. As it turns out, minor league journeyman Breland Brown was the one who really wanted to play in the Land Down Under, so he faked his identity as an agent, and signed a deal letting himself play for Sydney’s team while Paul got signed on to Brisbane’s roster. Everything was going swimmingly for Brown until the Aussies caught up to the plot – and Paul started receiving calls from Brisbane asking why he wasn’t showing up to practice. After that the whole charade fell through, and hilarious hi-jinx ensued. By ‘hi-jinx’ I mean an official investigation by the MLB, ALB, and possibly authorities. More details about this weird, ridiculous tale can be found here.

In other Pirates’ news, the Buc front office is currently looking at aging, injured free agents to fill their many holes and their farm system is slowly breaking down in the Arizona Fall League. Business as usual.

Want to have some laughs while you’re learning about the Pirates? Go to Rum Bunter and check out the latest on Xavier Paul, free agency, Pirate prospects and the enduring hope of a better tomorrow.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds’ attempt to defend the NL Central title in 2011 fell short as they finished in third place. Looking ahead to 2012, there isn’t a whole lot changing at the Great American Ballpark next year. Before anything else, it appears that scheduling has taken the top spot of the Reds’ off-season business. Major League Baseball recently approved the changing of the Reds Opening Day schedule to allow, of all things, a parade.

It may seem silly to some, but to Reds fans it is a big deal. The Findlay Market in Cincinnati hosts an Opening Day Parade every year for the team to help celebrate the history of baseball’s oldest professional franchise. This year, the game and aforementioned parade would be held on Good Friday – which also happens to be a vital economic day for the market. Hosting the parade shuts down the market, so officials from the Market and the Reds made an appeal to Major League executives, and they got the situation handled. I assume the next order of business is to get the Pot-Luck Dinner roster filled up.

Pitching priorities seem to be a focus for Cincy, as the club looks to move forward with fastball aficionado Aroldis Chapman finally getting a starting gig next season. That is, if he can stay healthy. Chapman and the club decided to scrub his Winter League play recently after he starting feeling the effects of shoulder inflammation late in October. No one seems to be worried about his injury, although he had a similar bout with inflammation in the throwing shoulder early in the season which caused him to miss a whole month.

In possibly related news, it would appear as though the Reds are in the market for a new closer. That’s because the club recently declined Fransisco Cordero’s option for 2012, which measured a hefty $12 Million. I say “possibly related” because, from an outsider’s perspective, I think Chapman would be better suited as a closer then a starter. There is no speculation as to who will officially fill the shoes of the 36 year-old pitcher, but the Reds have reportedly been in contact with just about everyone on the market, including CoCo himself (for a smaller price, I assume.)

Learn all about this and a ton more from the staff of Blog Red Machine, where they breakdown the division, the Reds farm system, and just about everything else.

Houston Astros

Yes, it’s true – there is even news surrounding the Houston Astros. Unfortunately for ‘Stros fans, it has little to do with winning baseball.

Right now, the biggest story in Houston is largely legal in nature. The team is awaiting the vote from other team owners later this week to approve the sale of the Houston Astros to a group of investors led by Jim Crane. The sale apparently would include an agreement from Major League Baseball that the team would move to the AL West in 2013, and bring with it a nice little compensation package. Unfortunately, the sale would include the current Houston line up.

On the actual baseball front, most of the news coming out of Houston deals with the revamping of the club’s farm system. The team has made several notable Minor League signings, and they have one hell of a young pitcher making waves in the Fall League right now. As usual, there are bright young stars shining for Houston now, and if they can stick around, this is a contender in the future.

Until that actually happens, head over to Climbing Tal’s Hill where they delve into everything from money woes, realignment, minor league players and more so you don’t have to.

St. Louis Cardinals

Good news: Tony LaRussa has retired as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. Bad News: They found another manager and plan to play again in 2012, after winning the World Series.

Oh well, I guess you can’t get everything you want.

So just who is the new unquestioned and all-powerful mastermind of Red Bird Nation, you ask? Who else but former Cardinal catcher Mike Matheny, of course. Many find it odd that Matheny got the job as skipper as he has no baseball coaching experience on any level, but everyone has to start somewhere. The Cardinals thought he had a good handle on the organization’s goals and plans for the future, and he has the right mentality and reputation around the league for the position. As Deadspin pointed out, former manager LaRussa also took quite a fancy to him. I’m sure a recommendation like that doesn’t hurt, either. (By the way, that last link is probably NSFW)

Now that they found the new skip, they can move in to more important matters, like how to keep The Machine they created from turning against them. Albert Pujols looked more and more likely that he was leaving St. Louis last week, as he toured the new facilities and met with club executives of the newly re-branded Miami Marlins. According to sources in that front office, he had a ball. There is little more to this story other than the fact that he had a good time in South Beach, but it puts more pressure on the team to try and redouble their efforts to keep him, or try to replace him with a splash in the free agency market.

If you are, for some reason, still interested in St. Louis Cardinals news, check out our friendly rivals at Redbird Rants. They cover the coaching changes, World Series Wins and free agency speculation with great aplomb befitting that of such privileged baseball souls.

Hopefully that tides us over until more substantial news starts coming down the pipe. Please keep liking, following, and reading Reviewing the Brew for your Milwaukee Brewers news. Not only does it allow Lou to eat more often, it is also occasionally relevant and entertaining.