We’ll continue our tour today with the NL Central, a division that has four teams still alive in the playoffs race, though only three teams behaved as contenders. It was weird to see the Cardinals trading off some veteran talent while the Pirates were making big go-for-it trades. Then again, this came on the heels of the Cardinals firing their manager, so maybe the only weird part was seeing the Pirates pay in the price of precious (albeit flawed) prospects.
Reds – The Reds were the only true seller in the NL Central, but they also didn’t have much to sell, at least approaching the deadline. The one player that everyone thought would get traded, Matt Harvey, stayed put instead. The next most likely trade pieces were closer Raisel Iglesias and set-up man Jared Hughes, and neither of them left either, despite an acute need for relief pitchers among most contenders. The only trade that the Reds made was instead a bit of a surprise, with Adam Duvall going to the Braves. I like what the Reds got in return – Lucas Sims has too much major league service time to technically be considered a prospect, but he has a chance still to be a rotation regular, and Preston Tucker can be pretty useful in the short term, much as Duvall was when the Reds acquired him.
Meanwhile, what once was a problem of four outfielders for three spots for the Reds has suddenly become the opposite problem – can the Reds field two corner outfielders astride Billy Hamilton in center? They currently have a platoon of sorts, though Phillip Ervin isn’t strictly being used against lefties only. Tucker will see time against right-handers, as will Mason Williams, with the remaining at-bats going to Brandon Dixon and eventually Dilson Herrera, who otherwise can’t seem to catch a playing time break.
The Reds were using a six-man rotation after the return of Homer Bailey from the DL, in anticipation of a Matt Harvey trade. It was thought that they solved that problem by demoting Tyler Mahle after a string of grisly starts, but instead they’re giving Robert Stephenson his first chance of 2018 and have reverted back to a six-man rotation. Stephenson unfortunately regressed back to his high-walking ways, once again not trusting his fastball in his first start back against the light-hitting Mets. He’ll get more starts down the stretch, but his lack of confidence in his fastball remains a significant concern.
Cardinals – Tommy Pham has long had a chip on his shoulder, rightfully so, for how the Cardinals took so long to trust in him, how they refused to negotiate any sort of salary over the league minimum this year and how he’s been passed over by other outfielders in their organization in the past. So you can see how they would consider dealing him – even though it’s really difficult to quantify, “getting along” does matter in group dynamics, even we differ on the degree of emphasis placed upon that quality. Even still, I was shocked to see them trade Pham away to the Rays, especially shortly after they fired Mike Matheny as the manager. Moreover, from what I can tell, the return of a package headlined by Justin Williams and Genesis Cabrera doesn’t seem all that impressive. Williams has stagnated at Triple-A with a .693 OPS, albeit at age 22; Cabrera is interesting insomuch as he’s a 21-year old lefty that’s already reached Double-A and has struck out 124 batters in 113 innings, but he’s also averaging 4.5 walks per nine innings.
With the Pham trade, the Cardinals have entirely turned over their outfield from a couple of years ago. Marcel Ozuna was already locked in, and when he recovers from his broken foot – probably by next spring – Dexter Fowler will probably take at least a good chunk of the right field starts. But the big beneficiary in center field is Harrison Bader, who had already worked his way into a decent amount of playing time. I’m not convinced that Bader will rise anywhere near what Pham did last year, but he does have some power/speed potential. Jose Martinez is also getting time in the outfield, so as to allow Matt Carpenter to stick to first base. Plus Tyler O’Neill has a lot of long-term power potential, albeit at the cost of his batting average, which projects to be pretty poor given his lousy plate discipline.
Brewers – This section had to be re-written after Corey Knebel’s meltdown Thursday afternoon against the Padres. He will not get the Brewers next save opportunity and instead will next pitch in a low-leverage situation. Joakim Soria is also unlikely to be the man, following Knebel’s struggles with a grand slam allowed and then by leaving with a groin injury. The next chance will probably go to either Josh Hader or Jeremy Jeffress. Jeffress has pitched the last two days, so my money is on Hader if a chance comes up Friday.
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The Brewers have some redundancy in the infield, so they have the ability to mix-and-match, thus resulting in some lost playing time for Travis Shaw and Eric Thames against lefties, and Ryan Braun against righties. New acquisitions Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop have each sat once, and Schoop has helped solve the riddle by playing four games at shortstop. Whenever Schoop plays shortstop, that means that Orlando Arcia has to take a seat – they function as a bit of an offense/defense platoon. Instead of taking the next step up in his development, Arcia has slid five steps back, hitting just .210/.248/.277. No matter how good his defense is, it’s hard for it to overcome his offense. There’s a reason why you don’t see too many Mark Belangers in the game – or Brendan Ryan if you want a current example.
Cubs – The addition of Cole Hamels has been great through two starts – he’s posted an 0.82 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 11 innings, striking out 11 in the process. Moreover, it’s been a case of addition by subtraction, allowing the Cubs to take Tyler Chatwood out of the rotation. Chatwood has pitched just twice since the Hamels trade, having been relegated to the back end of the bullpen.
Pirates – As alluded, the Pirates were a shocking entrant into the Chris Archer sweepstakes – it’s just not been in their nature to trade big prospects for help at the deadline, and it comes on the heels of trading away Gerrit Cole during the offseason. But they caught a hot streak in July which turned their thinking around, and they paid a hefty price in Austin Meadows and Tyler Glasnow to get Archer. They also shortened games by adding Keone Kela to their set-up crew. It doesn’t appear that Kela is a threat to take away Felipe Vazquez’s closer role, but he does serve as a long-term backup of sorts.
The addition of Archer technically displaces Nick Kingham from the rotation, but Kingham was already displacing himself. He has a 5.02 ERA with the big club and it has been worse in recent outings.
Trading away Meadows puts the onus on Starling Marte, Corey Dickerson and Gregory Polanco to play every day – the Pirates had a 4-for-3 problem for a while, and they used it to get Polanco and then Marte back on track at various points this season. Now Adam Frazier remains as the top outfield backup and super-sub.