NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Mike Matheny (third season).
2013: 97-65, first place, lost World Series to Boston.
He’s Here: SS Jhonny Peralta, CF Peter Bourjos, INF Mark Ellis, OF Randall Grichuk, OF Oscar Taveras, RHP Jorge Rondon, assistant batting coach David Bell.
He’s Outta Here: OF Carlos Beltran, 3B David Freese, RHP Edward Mujica, RHP Chris Carpenter, RHP Jake Westbrook, OF Adron Chambers, OF Brock Peterson, RHP Fernando Salas, RHP John Axford, INF Ryan Jackson.
On Deck: Coming off their second World Series appearance in three years, the Cardinals didn’t require a significant makeover. Peralta fills the biggest void, replacing the light-hitting combination of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso. The Cardinals love Bourjos’ speed on the bases and in the field, and he enters camp as the starting CF ahead of incumbent Jon Jay. The Bourjos trade with the Angels for Freese also created an opening for rookie 2B Kolten Wong, among the team’s top prospects, with Matt Carpenter moving to 3B coming off a breakout year. After missing 2013 due to reconstructive elbow surgery, Jason Motte returns to the bullpen as a setup man for closer Trevor Rosenthal. There’s a surplus of starting rotation candidates led by 19-game winner Adam Wainwright, second in Cy Young Award balloting. Michael Wacha is coming off an electric finish to his debut season, fellow rookie Shelby Miller won 15 games before getting shut down during the postseason and lefty Jaime Garcia is back from shoulder surgery.
Manager: Clint Hurdle (fourth season).
2013: 94-68, second place, wild card, lost to Cardinals in division series.
He’s Here: RHP Edinson Volquez, C Chris Stewart, OF Jaff Decker, LHP Daniel Schlereth, 1B Travis Ishikawa, OF Chris Dickerson.
He’s Outta Here: RHP A.J. Burnett, RF Marlon Byrd, 1B Justin Morneau, 1B-OF Garrett Jones, C Michael McKenry, OF Felix Pie, RHP Kyle Farnsworth.
On Deck: The franchise’s first playoff berth in 21 years did little to change Pittsburgh’s typically economical approach to free agency. The only major addition came in the form of Volquez, and the Pirates will try to turn him into the 2014 version of Francisco Liriano. Pittsburgh grabbed Liriano on the cheap last winter and he ended up winning 16 games and earning a handful of Cy Young votes. The rest of the signees were depth-related. The loss of Burnett will hurt, though the top of the rotation should be solid behind Liriano and Gerrit Cole, who was remarkable during his rookie season. Volquez is in the mix for the fifth spot, while the bullpen should look much the same as it did last season when Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli provided one of the best setup-closer combinations in baseball. The only real question marks as camp begins remain the ones Pittsburgh faced when last season ended: first base and right field. Gaby Sanchez and Andrew Lambo will likely platoon at first, while Jose Tabata and Travis Snider get one last shot to earn a big league spot in right as highly touted Gregory Polanco gets some needed seasoning with Triple-A Indianapolis. Polanco and former first-round pick Jameson Taillon — who could join the rotation sometime in 2014 — will in big league camp and provide a glimpse of why Pittsburgh decided to double down on its thriving minor league system rather than open up the checkbook for free agents.
Manager: Bryan Price (first season).
2013: 90-72, third place, lost wild-card game to Pirates.
He’s Here: 2B-OF Skip Schumaker, C Brayan Pena.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Dusty Baker, CF Shin-Soo Choo, RHP Bronson Arroyo, C Ryan Hanigan.
On Deck: The Reds made very few additions to their roster, which had a few notable losses. Arroyo left as a free agent, costing the rotation a dependable, 200-inning starter. Choo was one of the majors’ top leadoff hitters last season, but wanted a big, multiyear deal. And Hanigan was part of a three-team trade that brought the Reds a prospect and opened the way for Devin Mesoraco to become the everyday catcher. LHP Tony Cingrani will move into Arroyo’s spot. Touted speedster Billy Hamilton takes over Choo’s spot at the top of the order despite his lack of experience at the major league level and newness to playing the outfield. The Reds are counting on LF Ryan Ludwick — their cleanup hitter — to be fully recovered from a shoulder injury that wiped out more than half of his season last year. The Reds have made the playoffs in three of the last four years, but failed to get past the opening round each time. They elevated Price, their pitching coach, in hopes that a change at the top trickles down in the postseason.
Manager: Ron Roenicke (fourth season).
2013: 74-88, fourth place.
He’s Here: RHP Matt Garza, 1B Lyle Overbay, 3B-1B Mark Reynolds, LHP Zach Duke, LHP Will Smith.
He’s Outta Here: 1B-OF Corey Hart, OF Norichika Aoki, RHP Chris Narveson, INF Yuniesky Betancourt, RHP Burke Badenhop, 1B Mat Gamel.
On Deck: The Brewers spiced up an otherwise quiet offseason with the surprise signing of Garza to a $50 million, four-year contract with an option for a fifth year. He joins Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse to form a solid top of the rotation, while lessening pressure on Wily Peralta and increasing the competition for the fifth spot. Young pitchers like Smith and Jimmy Nelson may be among the candidates. Milwaukee will have a familiar face in a new position when slugger Ryan Braun returns from his 65-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and gets acquainted to right field after years in left. Braun has tried to make amends all through the offseason. He says he’s also over the thumb injury that set him back last season, and vows to come back as good as ever. Milwaukee also hopes to get clarity in camp with its muddled situation at 1B, where veterans Overbay and Reynolds were signed to minor league deals to help fill a huge offensive hole.
Manager: Rick Renteria (first season).
2013: 66-96, fifth place.
He’s Here: RHP Jose Veras, LHP Wesley Wright, C George Kottaras, OF Justin Ruggiano.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Dale Sveum, OF Brian Bogusevic, RHP Marcos Mateo.
On Deck: The offseason was defined more by what the Cubs didn’t do than what they did. They fired Sveum and struck out trying to land manager Joe Girardi. He decided to stick with the Yankees, and when it came to the pursuit of prized Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, Chicago again was the second city with New York prevailing. Signing Tanaka might have at least signaled the Cubs were accelerating a painful rebuilding effort. Either way, they’re hoping Renteria can get the most out of young players such as SS Starlin Castro and 1B Anthony Rizzo after they struggled last season. In the meantime, Chicago is waiting for top prospects such as Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Albert Almora to develop in the minors. For now, the Cubs are selling hope. What choice do they have? They haven’t had a winning season since 2009, when they won 83 games under Lou Piniella. Since then, they’re 273-375 with at least 91 losses each of the past three years.