Grading NL Central front offices at midway point of 2024 MLB season

Tampa Bay Rays v Pittsburgh Pirates
Tampa Bay Rays v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages
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This week marks the halfway point of the 2024 season. That makes this an excellent time to deliver mid-term grades for the work done by each team’s front office since the conclusion of the 2023 post-season.

This third installment looks at the NL Central.

With the exception of the 44-32 Milwaukee Brewers, the Central has been a haven for mediocrity during the season’s first half. The Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Cubs are a collective 11 games under .500. Surprisingly, though, at least one NL Central front office scores pretty well in this interim rating.

The standard of measurement in Wins Above Average (WAA), a variant of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). For this purpose, WAA is preferable because unlike WAR, it is zero-based. That means the sum of all the decisions made by each team’s front office gives at least a good estimate of the number of games those moves have improved – or worsened – the team’s status this season.

Our grading scale is straight-forward. Front offices that have improved their team by…:

 +3.0 games or higher = A

+1.0 to +2.9 games = B

-0.9 to +0.9 games = C

 -1.0 to -2.5 games = D

-2.6 games or worse = F

A team’s front office impacts that team’s standing in five ways. Those five are:

1. By the impact of players it acquires from other teams via trade, purchase or waiver claim.

2. By the impact of players it surrenders to other teams in those same transactions.

3. By the impact of players it signs at free agency or extends.

4. By the impact of players it loses to free agency or releases.

5. By the impact of players it promotes from its own farm system.

From best to worst, here’s how NL Central front offices stack up by those five yardsticks.

Grading the front office work of the NL Central in 2024

Chicago Cubs: Jed Hoyer, president of baseball operations; Carter Hawkins, general manager. Grade: A.

This rating will astonish Cubs partisans, who’ve suffered through the team’s 37-43 start and routine offensive/bullpen failures. In Chicago, Hoyer’s tenure is viewed as problematic at best.

So this is an appropriate time to clarify what the front office rating system does and does not do. It does NOT necessarily reflect a team’s record or its position in the standings. It also does NOT grade either the selection of a manager -- in this instance, Craig Counsell -- or his performance. It DOES assess the relative improvement, or lack of same, of a team’s roster from one season to the next.

In short, as mediocre as the Cubs have been this year, they would have been worse if the front office had done nothing. And the signing of Counsell does not count.

Despite the mood on the North Side, the Hoyer-Hawkins front office actually had a pretty good offseason. Since the end of the 2023 postseason, the Cubs front office made 24 personnel moves impacting the major league roster, 12 of which have produced positive value. Nine were negative, the other three being neutral.

Noteworthy among those decisions was the signing of free agent pitcher Shota Imanaga. He’s 7-2 with a 2.96  ERA. Michael Busch, obtained from the Dodgers in a winter trade, has an .820 OPS. Those two additions alone have netted +1.7 WAA to the team’s record.

Combine that with the value produced by Hoyer-Hawkins’ other recent moves and it adds up to +3.0 games in the standings. That’s a borderline A.

If Hoyer and Hawkins had such a good offseason, why are the Cubs so bad? The obvious answer is their under-performing core. Players under contract prior to the 2024 pre-season include closer Adbert Alzolay, starter Kyle Hendricks, recently released catcher Yan Gomes, catcher Miguel Amaya, second baseman Nico Hoerner, third baseman Christopher Morel, and high-priced shortstop Dansby Swanson. All seven have been liabilities, their collective impact measuring out to -5.1 games.

Score: +3.0, Grade: A.