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Assessing the Market: Part 2 - NL Central

It's a light day for me here, so I'm moving along to the NL Central's 6 teams.

Cincinnati Reds: A few poor and misguided souls believed that the Reds were legitimate playoff contenders this year, but things just fell apart for the Reds, pretty much completely. It all has to stem from some abysmal pitching.

Offensively, the Reds are solid and pretty strong, as a whole.

  • Sean Casey's doing his thing, hitting .319 with little power.
  • Ken Griffey, Jr has been very hot in June and is hitting .275/.339/.498.
  • Joe Randa has far exceeded anyone's expectations with his .298/.371/.504 line.
  • Adam Dunn is a franchise-caliber power hitter.
  • Felipe Lopez has played exceptionally well.
  • Ryan Freel was a very effective leadoff man and base stealer while healthy.
  • Wily Mo Pena, in limited time, is slugging .598.
The problem is the pitching. And it's a major problem.

Aaron Harang and Brandon Claussen have been solid in their 27 combined starts, posting an ERA in the low 4s (Aaron Harang has been exceptional with his 3.35 DIPS ERA).

But otherwise, the starting pitching in Cincy has been disastrous.

The Reds continue to come up in trade talks with Adam Dunn being the number 1 rumored player. And as painful as it is to say it, it would not necessarily be a bad move to deal him. He's about to get very, very expensive and is only under contract for two more years. The key is getting the right package, and it would necessarily be very, very costly.

The Chips: Adam Dunn, Joe Randa, Ken Griffey Jr, David Weathers, Sean Casey, Austin Kearns

The Verdict: It's not quite an "EVERYTHING MUST GO" type sale simply because their lineup is so strong. But Kearns should be traded if they're just going to let him rot in AAA. Casey is probably a worthwhile player to consider dealing. Randa would represent an upgrade (or would seem to be) for a lot of teams and Edwin Encarnacion is waiting in the wings. David Weathers is a Proven Veteran RelieverTM and probably could net a mid-level prospect.

And, of course, Adam Dunn. Adam Dunn is really the type of player you build around, but if he could bring in a young starting pitcher with potential (TINSTAAP warning) and another high-level prospect, it has to be explored.

The Reds are sellers and should definitely move the non-top tier guys. Adam Dunn should be dangled, but NOT actively shopped.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs are extremely interesting this year.

  • They're two out of the wild card.
  • They're two out of the wild card while Mark Prior and Kerry Wood have been hurt and have only started 16 games between the two. (They should have around 32 or 33, in total).
  • By XR, Derrek Lee is responsible for about 19.5% of the Cubs offense and has been the league's MVP unquestionably.
  • Derrek Lee probably won't keep that up.
  • Nomar Garciaparra's return probably won't compensate for Lee's expected regression.
  • The Cubs need another bat.
The Cubs could stand to upgrade at 2nd base or a corner outfield spot. They could also use a bullpen pitcher, but it's not quite as pressing as the need for another bat.

The Chips: Brian Drobiak, Jerome Williams, David Aardsma, Felix Pie, Jason Dubois

The Verdict: The Cubs are buying this year but have the problem of one of the weakest farm systems in baseball. The two additions of Aardsma and Williams give them two youngsters who might make a big difference in a trade.

Aubrey Huff is the name that keeps getting thrown around here and I think he makes a lot of sense, even though he has slumped for much of the year and has a .252/.319/.361 line.

In either case, the Cubs need another bat for the stretch run, but if Prior, Wood, Zambrano, and Maddux stay healthy and effective, they're contenders.

Houston Astros: In 2004, they came back in the wild card race when they were 7 games down.

They're currently 7 back (as of writing).

The only problem is that this year's team is not quite last year's.

Berkman is not yet back to full strength, where he is the feared slugger who routinely crushes baseballs to the lower-priced seats. Bagwell is hurt.  Beltran is struggling (in New York).

This team does not have the advantages afforded to last year's team.

You have to ask, though - how much will that mentality, the feeling that anything is possible - pervade preliminary discussions of strategy for the month of July? It's been done. We did it last year, we can do it again.

If the Astros did decide to rebuild, today, they have one trade chip who I think would interest quite a few teams: Craig Biggio.

Biggio's a career Astro, a great player, and a possible Hall of Famer. And he's having a very nice season at the age of 39, batting .285/.348/.484. He's not locked up long term and his contract is very reasonable.

One of the running themes among "team needs" is "second baseman." The Astros have two of them right now: Chris Burke and Craig Biggio.

The "Will this player be on our next playoff team" test indicates that Burke probably will be and that Biggio probably won't be.

The problem for the Astros is that they lack trade chips. The other huge one, Roger Clemens, has seen the rumors die down quite a bit.

The Chips: Biggio, Clemens.

The Verdict: At this point, standing pat might be the best option. The 'Stros have a very good rotation and could somehow work their way back into the race if Berkman gets back to form, Ensberg keeps hitting and they continue playing well.

If they do make moves, it seems to make the most sense to be on the selling side of the market. They have two of the most intriguing options potentially on the market who are both very old and not really part of their plans for the future. They could trade off some of the spare parts, like Mike Lamb, for a prospect or two, but I don't see too many of them fetching much value.

Brad Lidge is the final potential chip, but I can't see the Astros dealing three top-flight relievers in such a short timespan. Lidge would probably bring in a lot, but the deal would have to be right.

I'd opt to sell here and see what I could bring in for the near future. But it won't hurt them any more than it already has to just wait it out.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers are very well-built for the future, especially on the infield. From left to right, Ryan Braun, JJ Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Prince Fielder are expected to become the core of the Brewers of the future.

The Brewers of the present, though, have drifted out of contention after a nice couple of months in the race.

There's not much to it to me; it makes a lot of sense for the Brewers to keep stockpiling prospects and look to bring in some more young arms.

The Chips: Lyle Overbay, Russ Branyan, Ricky Botallico, Geoff Jenkins

The Verdict: Another year of sales from the Brew Crew. Their time is coming. Just not yet.

Botallico fits in as the Proven Veteran RelieverTM to trade. Because the NL is the no-DH league, one of Overbay or Prince Fielder has to get traded. Overbay will probably be the odd man out. They should explore dealing him now, but if not now, then definitely in the offseason. Branyan might help someone who is either looking for platoon help at third base (the Phillies could really use him) or a powerful lefty bat off the bench. Someone might want to take a flyer on the struggling Jenkins, if they're looking for a corner bat.

And my other thought, which I know can't be carried out because of various reasons, is Carlos Lee, who is in the midst of a career year and leads the league in RBIs.

He's quickly become a fan favorite in Milwaukee, I think, but this looks like his peak, and I think that he could net a LOT from a team looking that way. I'd float it and see what happens, but I wouldn't look to do it.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Who can we trade away this year????

This has to be the question that has been burning in Dave Littlefield's mind for the last month or so - his slightly below average team doesn't have the horses to make a playoff run. It doesn't have the minor leaguers to be looking towards the future.

It's just a below average team.

One rumor has been Kip Wells, whose service time is starting to catch up with him. Matt Lawton's name has probably been thrown around, too, if the Pirates are looking to keep moving players.

I think that a fundamental problem in their organization is that, outside of the Giles trade, they don't really get much in return. Let's take a look at some of the players they've added in over the last 2 years at the deadline:

Jose Hernandez
Matt Bruback
Bobby Hill
Freddy Sanchez
Ray Sadler
Frank Brooks
Ty Wigginton
Matt Peterson

The general theme of these additions is that they're not particularly good.

I suspect that we'll be seeing more of the same from Pittsburgh come July. I don't know what I would do to change it; they're not moving any impact players. They don't really have any impact players to move.

The Chips: Lawton, Kip Wells

The Verdict: Yet another typical Pittsburgh year. Maybe, for a change, they could just try and sneak in to make a deal to set themselves up for a postseason drive in '06, but I just don't see one to be made.

St. Louis Cardinals: The ONLY division leader that I would feel comfortable making the T-shirts for right now is in St. Louis.

We don't know what really works in the playoffs, but we do know that the better teams have a better shot to win in the playoffs.

The Cardinals could conceivably use another starter, but who couldn't? If the Cardinals really need to do anything, it's to look ahead to 2006, when they will have a major need for a corner outfielder. If they could swing a deal for a younger guy and then ship Reggie Sanders out elsewhere, that might be a good idea.

The Verdict: Minor improvements to the bullpen could help. Another starter would be nice. Either way, the Cards are stacked and are the odds-on favorite to take the NL Pennant again. Let's see if they can do it.