The National League Central sent four teams to the playoffs in 2020, yet none of those teams seem to have an interest in October baseball in 2021.
Producing four postseason participants and the league’s top two Cy Young finishers, the National League Central was an enthralling division in 2020. Given its widespread success, you’d expect at least one of its members to embark on an ultra-aggressive offseason in hopes of flying higher next season.
So far, that has not been the case.
The Chicago Cubs traded their ace, Yu Darvish, to the San Diego Padres earlier this week. They also non-tendered outfielder Kyle Schwarber and are fielding offers for all-stars’ Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. Depending on what comes of Bryant and Baez in the coming months, the Cubs could intentionally part ways with three cornerstone pieces this offseason.
The Cincinnati Reds didn’t even bother to enter the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes. Along with letting their reigning Cy Young depart without resistance, the Reds are also shopping starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo after each arm put forth stellar 2020 campaigns. Extending to the bullpen, they dealt Rasiel Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angles and non-tendered Archie Bradley.
The St. Louis Cardinals front office remains in hibernation as the New Year approaches. They have completed zero noteworthy transactions.
As for the Milwaukee Brewers, their lone impact transaction was trading Corey Knebel to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a single prospect.
Does anyone want to win the National League Central?!
The division is up for grabs, as one team is rebuilding, two teams are on the cusp of rebuilding, and two teams are idling. Somehow, each club shares the mentality of sacrificing its 2021 competitiveness for more robust future success – at the same time!
Perhaps I can adequately summarize each organization’s current stance: The Cubs won their glorious championship in 2016, so they can now transition into rebuild mode with little regret; the Reds prematurely took their shot in 2020, giving them no choice but to regroup for 2021; the Brewers are stuck in no man’s land, and the Cardinals find it pointless to pursue a playoff berth with a team that is borderline championship capable.
At this point, the team that does the least this offseason may gain the divisional edge. The Cardinals, built on pitching, have the best chance at sustaining success within the year. It might take nothing more than re-signing catcher Yadier Molina to help keep the pitching staff in shape. They might as well take a stab at a handful of low-cost, high-reward free agents to fill some of their deficiencies on offense.
The Brewers aren’t as threatening as the Dodgers, Padres, or Braves are, but they do have the pieces in place to pull through in a down NL Central. They possess a killer one-two rotation punch in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, and a revived Christian Yelich could make all the difference in their lineup. As of now, they still have arguably the top closer in MLB in Josh Hader.
Ultimately, the division lacks a sense of urgency. The Cubs could still chase one last hoorah before the contracts of Baez, Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo expire; however, the Darvish trade counters such a plan. Sorry Cubs fans.
The Cardinals nor Brewers face the pressures of winning before losing star players to free agency. St. Louis has Paul Goldschmidt under contract for another four years, while Milwaukee has Yelich for another nine years. In terms of stud pitching, Jack Flaherty becomes arbitration-eligible after the 2021 campaign, and Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff become eligible after the 2022 season.
We’ll see if a sense of urgency sparks within any one of these National League Central squads. Their passive approaches to this offseason are understandable, but there is a division to be won, and most fans would prefer their team try to win it if able. Get to the playoffs and anything can happen, even if the Dodgers and Padres lurk.