Building and Rebuilding: Shifting NL Central Cores | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Last year, I surveyed the contractual cores of the NL Central clubs, in order to project each club’s competitive vision into the future. For example, the Reds’ roster appeared to be at a turning point that could produce a potential dynasty, the Cubs were waiting out a few contracts in their rebuilding effort, and the Brewers were using some remaining contractual years from their core players to “win-now” with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

Almost immediately after my survey, the Cincinnati Reds inked superstar Joey Votto and long-term second baseman Brandon Phillips to contract extensions. Furthermore, the success of Todd Frazier in various roles throughout the season solidified his place in the organization’s future. After the season, the club’s swap with the Indians for Shin-Soo Choo added a short-term upgrade to complement these new long-term pieces. In short, the Reds used their 2012 season and 2012-2013 offseason to jump into “dynasty” status; they boast the most lucrative contracts in the NL Central, and perhaps the strongest core of position players and pitchers alike.

By contrast, the Brewers’ year spun the organization in a completely different direction. A string of injuries throughout the season allowed the organizational pitching depth to steal spots in the rotation, and although the club’s replacement madness made it difficult for the Brewers to consistently compete throughout the season, the rough stretches early in the season compelled the Brewers to realign the look of their club. Trading Zack Greinke allowed the Brewers to address a long-term need at shortstop, and the Brewers landed a few more organizational arms along with Jean Segura. While yet another year whittled off contracts for Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo, and franchise player Ryan Braun, the Brewers aggressively aligned their organizational depth in order to build a more flexible, inexpensive (cost effective?) club for 2013 and beyond.

These contract core surveys obviously do not exhaust each and every roster option for the NL Central clubs. Rather, I want to use these surveys to showcase the contractual standing of key contributors to NL Central clubs, alongside their basic career value (using a simple PA/OPS+ and IP/ERA+ system). I included all players under guaranteed contracts through 2015 (and beyond), as well as key arbitration-eligible players under reserve through 2015 (and beyond). In cases such as the Brewers, were numerous key contributors remain in their early career control years, I added a “long-term” category; similarly, there is a “short-term” category to account for 2013 and 2014 contracts.

Dynasty: Cincinnati Reds
As mentioned above, the Reds used contract extensions and promoted key prospects to ensure the long-term viability of their ballclub. Their roster core is arguably the most balanced of any NL Central club, and even if contract extensions to Votto and Phillips look questionable in the late-30s portions of those deals, they will provide the Reds with two of the NL Centrals most consistent producers for years to come. Question marks remain about the ability of Aroldis Chapman to work as an MLB starter, but if Chapman produces anywhere near an average starter, the Reds will be able to maintain a few strong starters for several years, to accompany their bats.

Joey Votto (2023; ages 29-39): 3064 PA, 155 OPS+
Brandon Phillips (2017; ages 32-36): 4989 PA, 96 OPS+
Devin Mesoraco (2017; ages 25-29): 237 PA, 66 OPS+
Todd Frazier (2017; ages 27-31): 586 PA, 111 OPS+
Jay Bruce (2016; ages 26-29): 2709 PA, 113 OPS+
Mat Latos (2015; ages 25-27): 639 OP, 112 ERA+
Mike Leake (2015; ages 25-27): 485 IP, 97 ERA+
Aroldis Chapman (2015; ages 25-27): 135 IP, 177 ERA+
Sean Marshall (2015; ages 30-32): 591 IP, 116 ERA+
Jonathan Broxton (2015; 29-31): 450 IP, 136 ERA+

Short-term: Johnny Cueto (2014), Homer Bailey (2014), Bronson Arroyo (2013), Shin-Soo Choo (2013), Ryan Hanigan (2013), Nick Masset (2013)

Competing: St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals organization has this uncanny ability to employ players that appear to be role players with any other club, and yield extremely good (if not surprising) performances from those players. Now, the dual-ace identity of their pitching rotation may be shifting to a trio of younger pitchers, but the Cardinals’ ability to remain competitive throughout their rotational shift is strong thanks to their fielding core. Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and David Freese used their 2012 campaigns to solidify their cases to be key contributors for the 2013 Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ bullpen features a gang of long-term arms, offering more help as their established starters finish their contracts and their young pitchers gain their sea legs. The Cardinals may have new faces after 2013, but their organizational identity will be familiar.

Yadier Molina (2017; ages 30-34): 4060 PA, 95 OPS+
Lance Lynn (2017; ages 26-30): 210.7 IP, 104 ERA+
Matt Holliday (2016; ages 33-36): 5517 PA, 137 OPS+
Allen Craig (2016; ages 28-31): 857 PA, 134 OPS+
Jon Jay (2016; ages 28-31): 1328 PA, 113 OPS+
Fernando Salas (2016; ages 28-31): 164.3 IP, 118 ERA+
David Freese (2015; ages 30-32): 1234 PA, 121 OPS+
Jaime Garcia (2015; ages 26-28): 495.7 IP, 111 ERA+

Short-term: Jason Motte (2014), Jake Westbrook (2013), Carlos Beltran (2013), Chris Carpenter (2013), Adam Wainwright (2013)
Long-term: Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly

Competing: Pittsburgh Pirates
After another year, the same questions remain for the Pittsburgh Pirates. In some regards, performances by players such as Andrew McCutchen and even Pedro Alvarez provide hope for the club’s 2013 competitive outlook. On the other hand, the club’s young core pushed further into the season, but was unable to finish the season as competitive as their opening surge. Mid-season acquisition Wandy Rodriguez gives the Pirates’ another short-term arm to accompany A.J. Burnett, while youngsters like Jeff Locke get their chance to make their names. With McCutchen’s breakout season — not unlike that of Matt Kemp a couple years back — and a cast of characters from Neil Walker to Jose Tabata, the Pirates should be able to hang around in the NL Central. Now the question is, can they push their competition further into the season in 2013?

Andrew McCutchen (2017; ages 26-30): 2497 PA, 135 OPS+
Neil Walker (2016; ages 27-30): 1530 PA, 111 OPS+
Jose Tabata (2016; ages 24-27): 1197 PA, 97 OPS+
Mark Melancon (2016; ages 28-31): 157 IP, 101 ERA+
Travis Snider (2016; ages ): 1062 PA, 94 OPS+
James McDonald (2015; ages 28-30): 482.7 IP, 93 ERA+
Garrett Jones (2015; ages 32-34): 2089 PA, 114 OPS+

Short-term: Russell Martin (2014), Gaby Sanchez (2014), A.J. Burnett (2013), Wandy Rodriguez (2013), Clint Barmes (2013), Jeff Karstens (2013),
Long-term: Jeff Locke, Starling Marte

Competing: Milwaukee Brewers
The 2013 Brewers’ core looks entirely different from the 2012 outlook. Players such as Weeks and Hart are now at the points in their contracts where they become short-term players; their service to the Brewers’ organization ensures that they will remain a part of the Brewers’ identity for a generation of fans, but the Brewers’ competitive outlook now features new faces. John Axford gets another chance to prove that he’s the best closer in the NL Central, and Marco Estrada can use his arbitration years to follow Yovani Gallardo in the rotation. After that, it’s a whole bunch of long-term options, giving the Brewers flexibility in their roster, and presenting many players with opportunities to seize big league jobs. With superstar Ryan Braun on the roster, the Brewers have a good excuse to make every season a win-now year, but the outlook for 2013 is decidedly long-term. While that leaves questions about the Brewers’ ability to compete, there is no doubt that the short-term gang of regulars can help lead the youngsters to a competitive season.

Ryan Braun (2020; ages 29-37): 3854 PA, 147 OPS+
John Axford (2016; ages 30-33): 208.7 IP, 132 ERA+
Jonathan Lucroy (2016; ages 27-30): 1111 PA, 98 OPS+
Marco Estrada (2015; ages 29-31): 262.3 IP, 95 ERA+
Chris Narveson (2015; ages 31-33): 385.7 IP, 87 ERA+

Short-term: Aramis Ramirez (2014), Rickie Weeks (2014), Yovani Gallardo (2014), Corey Hart (2013), Carlos Gomez (2013)
Long-term: Mike Fiers, Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta, Jean Segura, Norichika Aoki*
*I included Aoki as a long-term player because it is my understanding that once Aoki’s initial contract is up, the Brewers can reserve his rights through several years of service (I believe the same happened with Seattle and Ichiro). Please correct me if I am mistaken.

Rebuilding: Chicago Cubs
If the Brewers’ core looks different due to a gang of new faces and long-term players in 2013, the Cubs’ core looks different due to a new set of big league players and big-time prospects. The single-most important element of the Cubs’ rebuilding process is occurring in 2013: namely, their long-term contracts to players such as Alfonso Soriano are now decidedly short-term engagements. Furthermore, their signing of Jorge Soler gives the Cubs another prospect to accompany Anthony Rizzo and star-in-training Starlin Castro. Even if the Cubs are a rebuilding club, their roster looks stronger in 2013 and beyond, as their rotation features some low-risk short-term options, as well as the durable, dependable Edwin Jackson. The next step occurs on the field; if Rizzo and Castro can develop together, and the organization can continue to develop its youngsters to fill the spots vacated by their short-term contracts, the Cubs might be able to reassess their rebuilding status as early as 2014.

Jorge Soler (2020; to age 27): n/a
Starlin Castro (2019; ages 26-32): 1912 PA, 106 OPS+
Travis Wood (2015; ages 26-28): 364.7 IP, 94 ERA+
Jeff Samardzija (2015; ages 28-30): 344.3 IP, 99 ERA+

Short-term: Alfonso Soriano (2014), Matt Garza (2013), Scott Feldman (2013), Scott Baker (2013), David DeJesus (2013)
Long-term: Anthony Rizzo

Key Long Contracts in the Division:
Joey Votto (2023; ages 29-39): 3064 PA, 155 OPS+
Jorge Soler (2020; to age 27): n/a
Ryan Braun (2020; ages 29-37): 3854 PA, 147 OPS+
Starlin Castro (2019; ages 26-32): 1912 PA, 106 OPS+
Andrew McCutchen (2017; ages 26-30): 2497 PA, 135 OPS+
Brandon Phillips (2017; ages 32-36): 4989 PA, 96 OPS+
Yadier Molina (2017; ages 30-34): 4060 PA, 95 OPS+
Lance Lynn (2017; ages 26-30): 210.7 IP, 104 ERA+
Brandon Phillips (2017; ages 32-36): 4989 PA, 96 OPS+
Devin Mesoraco (2017; ages 25-29): 237 PA, 66 OPS+
Todd Frazier (2017; ages 27-31): 586 PA, 111 OPS+
Jay Bruce (2016; ages 26-29): 2709 PA, 113 OPS+
Neil Walker (2016; ages 27-30): 1530 PA, 111 OPS+
Jose Tabata (2016; ages 24-27): 1197 PA, 97 OPS+
Mark Melancon (2016; ages 28-31): 157 IP, 101 ERA+
Matt Holliday (2016; ages 33-36): 5517 PA, 137 OPS+
Allen Craig (2016; ages 28-31): 857 PA, 134 OPS+
Jon Jay (2016; ages 28-31): 1328 PA, 113 OPS+
Fernando Salas (2016; ages 28-31): 164.3 IP, 118 ERA+
John Axford (2016; ages 30-33): 208.7 IP, 132 ERA+
Jonathan Lucroy (2016; ages 27-30): 1111 PA, 98 OPS+

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