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NL Central Preview
By Joe Sheehan
Special to RotoWire
Joe Sheehan is the former co-founder and writer for Baseball Prospectus
who currently writes for Sports Illustrated and Basketball Prospectus.

More division previews by Joe Sheehan:
AL West | AL Central | AL East
NL West | NL Central | NL East


NL Central Preview

Despite having one of the best-run organizations in the game in the Cardinals, the game's best player in Albert Pujols, its best ballpark in Wrigley Field, and its best running joke in Ed Wade's reliever fetish, the NL Central retains a quality best described as "meh." Perhaps it's just because a six-team division will always include some teams having a bad year, but the Central has lost the identity it had a decade ago, when the Cardinals and Astros would regularly provide in-season - and postseason - drama. Perhaps a resurgence in Cincinnati, and one beginning in Pittsburgh, will change things. Chicago Cubs

Wasn't this supposed to be a good team for a long time, a mini-dynasty in the making just a few years ago? Now the Cubs just look old. It is hard to see where the Cubs are sure to be better in 2010 than they were in 2009, and easy to see where they may be worse.

I Hope Those Are ACT Scores. The 2010 baseball ages of the Cubs' projected Opening Day lineup, starting behind the plate: 27, 34, 30, 30, 32, 34, 32, 33. The 27-year-old hit .218/.321/.381 in an injury-plagued sophomore season. Think Jeff Baker will play some second base? OK, drop the third number to 29. This is one of the oldest teams in baseball, and simply from an actuarial standpoint, it's hard to project them to improve upon last year's 707 runs scored. Replacing Milton Bradley with Marlon Byrd is a lateral move. Derrek Lee was quietly outstanding a year ago, with a 972 OPS that will be hard to match. The team is banking on better health from Lee, Aramis Ramirez and a bounceback by Alfonso Soriano, which is wishcasting. Players get less productive and more frequently injured with age. It's not that the Cubs couldn't be better in '10, it's just unlikely. There's fantasy production here; just no value: there are few players likely to out-produce the price or round in which you have to take them.

The New Mark Grace. In an 18-team keeper league, I ended up with Starlin Castro for $4 mostly because I didn't want someone else getting him. The team is probably going to have to play for 2011 and beyond, anyway. I liked it at the time, although I find myself now wondering about the player's future. It's not that Castro isn't talented; it's that his organization isn't. The last time the Cubs developed a star non-pitcher was Mark Grace, more than 20 years ago. Their best position-player success stories since then are Joe Girardi, Corey Patterson and Ryan Theriot. Perhaps Castro can rise above that history, but until he does, you have to be a little concerned that he's going to be ridden off the rails.

Do Not Want. You can't be a high-leverage pitcher if you walk nearly a man an inning, so until Carlos Marmol stops doing that, he can be on someone else's roster. It is unlikely that he'll be allowed to hold the closer job anyway without improvement in that area, so you can't even hold your nose and take the saves. The Cubs' pen around Marmol is just awful, which means that they could have trouble keeping the team ahead, further limiting Marmol's save opportunities.

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