With the Cub ace moving out west, it’s another sign that if the Brewers make the right moves, the NL Central could actually be within grasp.
There are plenty of reasons for fans to be frustrated the the Milwaukee Brewers haven’t made many high-impact moves yet this offseason, one reason being that they want to be assured that the offense won’t repeat 2020’s performance next season.
But another reason that Brewers fans may now be experiencing a sense of urgency for the team to go get some new players is the fact that no other teams seem to be taking charge of the division so far this offseason.
That thought was amplified by news of an reported transaction by the rival Cubs on Monday night.
It’s not everyday you see a team who won the division trade their ace the following offseason. Yet that’s exactly what the Cubs did as Yu Darvish, who was the NL Cy Young runner up with a 2.01 ERA, 0.961 WHIP, and 11.0 K/9, now heads to the Padres, who just added another star pitcher in former Rays starter Blake Snell.
Chicago receives a small army of prospects from San Diego in return, as well as ex-Brewers starter Zach Davies. But it’s hard to imagine that this deal, where the Cubs also lose backup catcher Victor Caratini, makes them more competitive in 2021.
And that’s exactly why Brewers fans should be eagerly awaiting what president of baseball operations David Stearns will do to round out the 2021 roster. Because as things stand right now, no one else is making an attempt to assert dominance in the NL Central.
The Yu Darvish trade is another example of an NL Central team either trading away stars or just staying largely inactive this offseason.
While the Darvish trade certainly comes off as a shocker, especially as it resulted in a contender getting rid of their best pitcher, you don’t even have to look that far to find another NL Central team who traded away one of their top players.
Just last week, on Christmas Eve, the Pittsburgh Pirates traded away 2019 All-Star first baseman Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals. Though he had a bit of a down 2020 (honestly, who didn’t at this point) he’d had an OPS+ of at least 108 in each of his prior four seasons.
While the Pirates weren’t expected to be much of competitors in 2021, the Cincinnati Reds had somewhat higher expectations. But they also traded a key piece, parting ways with former closer Raisel Iglesias. Not too long after that, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported that the team was also considering trades (at least to some extent) for pitchers Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo.
The St. Louis Cardinals were not one of the NL Central teams to trade one of its stars. But there was still surprise around the league when they declined the contract option of long time second baseman Kolten Wong. Combined with the free agency of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, those are some big shoes for the Cardinals to fill.
The losses of those teams are what they are. But what’s also striking is that none of those teams have really added any pieces to take hold of an NL Central that is there for the taking.
And that’s where the Brewers come in. Milwaukee’s excellent pitching staff remains largely intact from last season outside of starter Brett Anderson becoming a free agent and reliever Alex Claudio being non-tendered. It’s the offense that needs work.
But relatively simple moves could accomplish that goal. Is it so hard to believe that a couple prudent acquisitions at the corner infield spots combined with a likely bounceback for Christian Yelich and the return of Lorenzo Cain could result in an injection of offense needed to compete for the division?
Just as the Brewers haven’t made many moves yet and are bound to still do so, the same goes for other teams in the division. Until they do, it means the NL Central mostly remains wide open.