National League Central – 2011 Trade Deadline Buyers & Sellers

The National League Central is one of Major League Baseball’s tightest, most interesting races right now. Even the Pirates are flirting with .500, something they haven’t done in nearly 20 years.  It is likely that the Wildcard will come from the NL Central, giving the teams in this division a little extra incentive to make some moves to improve their rosters. It will be interesting to see what the Pirates do this year as the trade deadline approaches, they are notorious sellers, but with their team in better competitive position, they might be holding onto some of their players.

National League Central

Milwaukee Brewers

  • First Place, NL Central
  • Playoff Chances: High
  • Strengths: Offense, Pitching
  • Weaknesses: Offense, Pitching

The Brewers have been competitive recently, but this is the first season where it is all coming together in a big way.  They have to be careful with how they manage this trade deadline, because a lot of their success stems from team chemistry.  I put their pitching and offense as both strengths and weaknesses because they aren’t dominant or terrible at either.  They score runs and crush the ball, but they aren’t very good at getting on base consistently.  Shortstop is a position where it is usually easier to find guys who can get on base regularly, so hear me out on this one – Maybe the Brewers make a trade for Jose Reyes.  Imagine that team with Reyes setting the table and Braun/Fielder driving him in.  They would almost be a lock to score a first inning run with him in the lineup.  Other than finding a reliable on-base guy, I wouldn’t expect the Brewers to make too many moves.  Teams in positions like the Brewers generally try to shore up their bullpens come the trade deadline so look for moves of that type as the deadline nears.

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St. Louis Cardinals

  • Second Place, NL Central
  • Playoff Chances: Moderately High
  • Strengths: Offense
  • Weaknesses: Pitching

We all knew that losing Wainwright before the season started was going to hurt the Cards pitching staff, we just didn’t realize how much.  Combine his loss with Pujols’ cold start and you almost could have written the Cardinals off.  They are back, however, and itching for a playoff spot.  A rejuvenated Berkman is leading the Cardinals offense, but their pitching staff has no leader per se as they sit in the bottom half of the league in every major pitching statistic. Kyle Lohse is the closest thing they have to a defined “Ace” and he’s going to need help.  St. Louis should be on the prowl for a quality starting pitcher, preferably with playoff experience.  There is a short supply of those around the league, and most of them are on playoff contenders meaning they won’t move easily.  But all St. Louis needs is one and they could easily take over the division.  Keep your eyes peeled.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Third Place, NL Central
  • Playoff Chances: Moderate
  • Strengths: None
  • Weaknesses: Offense, Pitching

We are reaching the midpoint of the season and the Pirates have a winning record AND sit only a handful of games out of first place.  I don’t believe I have ever said those words in my entire life.  How they got to this position is a mystery in and of itself.  They aren’t ranked higher than 22nd in any major offensive stat, but their ERA is respectable.  The Pirates are playing with a fire that we haven’t seen from them in nearly 20 years.  When the 2011 trade deadline arrives, it will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle it.  In years past, they were like a fruit tree, ripe for the picking.  You could get just about anything you wanted or needed from the Pirates, but I think that this year will be different.  They have seen that they can compete with the roster they have on the field, and while they may be a year or two away from making a big playoff push, they probably won’t want to do a whole lot of dismantling.  With the trade deadline about a month away, a lot can change, however.  Maybe we will see the Pirates as buyers this year.

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Cincinnati Reds

  • Fourth Place, NL Central
  • Playoff Chances: Moderate
  • Strengths: Offense
  • Weakness: Pitching

Division winners last year, the Cincinnati Reds find themselves in an unusual position as we near the midway point of the season.  Sure, they might be used to looking up at the Brewers and/or Cardinals, but now the Pirates are getting competitive and if they want to make a playoff push, they need to be active at the trade deadline.  Offensively, this team has very few weaknesses.  Their pitching, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. With the exception of Johnny Cueto, nobody in the Reds starting rotation has an ERA close to 3.0.  The bullpen is decent, but could definitely use some work.  Whether he throws 105 MPH or not, Aroldis Champan has a monster ERA and a WHIP that is closing in on 2.0.  It might be time to find him a new home and get someone in the bullpen who doesn’t allow baserunners as often. I don’t see the Reds making the playoffs this year, but not because they have a bad team, they just aren’t on the top of their game and a few other teams in the division are.  No major moves from the Reds at this year’s MLB trade deadline.

Chicago Cubs

  • Fifth Place, NL Central
  • Playoff Chances: Low
  • Strengths: None
  • Weaknesses: Pitching, Pitching, Pitching, Offense

The Cubs have just about the worst pitching staff in all of baseball.  They are last in team ERA, quality starts and WHIP, which is a recipe for disaster. You can’t expect any offense to win ballgames for you when your pitching staff can’t stop giving up runs.  Offensively, they aren’t too great either.  They get on base very well (5th best batting average in the league), but they are only 15th in runs scored.  They don’t have anyone who can bring in runs for them *cough cough Soriano*.  The absence of D. Lee is probably also hurting their run production, but all of this is a moot point because their pitching staff is so bad.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cubs were major sellers this year. They owe a lot of people a lot of money, and aren’t getting the wins to match.  That usually means that they will be looking to unload salary, and the Cubs do have some attractive pieces.  Soriano, despite his inability to hit with RISP, is a legitimate offensive threat.  Carlos Marmol is a premier closer who is pretty much wasting away with every game the Cubs lose.  Lots of teams would love to have him closing things out for them, and the Cubs might be willing to part with him if the price is right.

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Houston Astros

  • Sixth Place, NL Central
  • Playoff Chances: Low
  • Strengths: None
  • Weaknesses: Pitching, Offense

The Astros are about the only team in baseball that can rival Chicago’s futility on the mound.  They are ranked 27th or lower in every major pitching statistic, so their record shouldn’t be too surprising.  I think that this is one of a handful of teams who will be seriously looking to dump players come the trade deadline.  We’ve been waiting for Houston to get rid of Carlos Lee for quite some time, and I think this is the year that they actually do it. He is the oldest player on the team at age 35, and doesn’t quite fit in with the young direction the team is trying to take.  His numbers have been down the past couple of years, but that’s nothing that a change of scenery can’t fix.  He could do very well as a DH if he goes to an AL team and there are quite a few contenders looking to shore up their lineup.  The Astros don’t have a lot of payroll going out to players not named Carlos Lee, so they might have a little bit of flexibility when shopping him around if they are willing to pay a portion of his remaining salary.

 

About Aaron Garcia

Aaron is an avid sports fan who passionately follows the NFL, NBA and MLB, in addition to NCAA Sports. He is an Arizona State University grad who loves the Dodgers and the Patriots.