Baseball’s labor negotiations have entered the Hoth realm, and the hope is that there are enough warm tauntauns to keep the messages and proposals flowing between the owners and players.
But just because it’s going to be a while until the two sides hammer out some sort of resolution, that doesn’t mean we have to stop discussing what might/should happen when the sport eventually resumes.
MORE: What are the post-lockout priorities for NL East teams?
Because when it does, and teams are allowed to sign free agents and make trades again, you’re going to see a flurry of activity. It will probably be a lot of fun, honestly, to see free agents ink contracts and to see teams make trade after trade. After all, what else are front office types going to do during the lockout other than plan their back-in-the-saddle strategy?
So we’re taking a division-by-division look at what’s on the docket for all 30 teams. Today, it’s the NL Central.
Pre-lockout recap: They lost their most productive hitter when Avisail Garcia — who had team-highs of 28 homers and 86 RBIs — signed with the Marlins, but replaced him with Hunter Renfroe in a trade with the Red Sox that sent Jackie Bradley Jr. and his 34 OPS+ back out to the East Coast. The loss of Manny Pina, who had basically been the club’s backup catcher for six years, is going to sting.
The very first thing to do: The NL is almost certainly going to add the DH for the 2022 season. Are the Brewers prepared to give most of those ABs to Rowdy Tellez or Keston Hiura? Tellez was a shot in the arm last year, but Hiura has just a 70 OPS+ in 120 games since the start of the 2020 season. Basically, the Brewers need to figure out a way to bring in another big bat — the DH would allow the flexibility to put someone at third, first or the outfield — and a guy like Kyle Schwarber makes sense.
Also on the list: There were whispers about the possibility of trading closer Josh Hader, the lockdown lefty who has two more years of club control and would bring back a significant amount of talent. It’s a discussion worth having.
St. Louis Cardinals
Pre-lockout recap: The Cardinals signed Steven Matz to what could wind up being a very club-friendly four-year deal. At the very worst, if everything goes wrong, that $44 million spread over the four years isn’t going to be an impediment to other upgrades. The club took care of two pieces of business — re-signing Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright — before the World Series ended.
The very first thing to do: What they probably should do — upgrade at shortstop — and what they will likely do — not upgrade at shortstop — are two different things. Paul DeJong is on a contract that’s team-friendly if he produces like he did as a rookie in 2017 (.857 OPS) or even in 2019, when he hit 30 homers. But in 158 games over the past two years, he has just a .673 OPS, including a .295 on-base percentage. Carlos Correa is out of the picture and Trevor Story might be too — he’s a bit more risky for a longer-term deal anyway — but finding more than a .673 OPS shouldn’t be too difficult.
Also on the list: The bullpen could use a few more arms, though it’ll be interesting to see how spring training goes — whatever form it takes, depending on how long the lockout lasts — because the plan is for both Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks to be stretched out as possible starters. Joe Kelly is a name that’s been tossed about, though maybe just because of his ties to the club.
MORE: Five teams, five players stuck in lockout limbo
Pre-lockout recap: Avert your eyes, Reds fans. The white flag was raised in Cincinnati mere moments after the World Series trophy was raised by the Braves in Houston. The club traded longtime fan favorite — and clubhouse favorite — Tucker Barnhardt to Detroit and then let reliable veteran starter Wade Miley walk on waivers. Nick Castellanos opted out of his contract, but that wasn’t a reflection on the club; he stands to land a rather large deal before the start of the season.
The very first thing to do: At this point, spend the lockout talking with teams about Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo, then make a deal that brings back MLB-ready talent to keep the fans from having to watch a 100-loss team in 2022.
Also on the list: There aren’t many pitchers whose first choice to reestablish value will be pitching in Cincy’s bandbox, but finding buy-low, sell-high players after the lockout could be good for both the players and the Reds.
Pre-lockout recap: Marcus Stroman is an outstanding pitcher and will make the Cubs a better club, but his signing was a bit unexpected. The Cubs traded away most of the remaining icons from the 2016 World Series team — Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Kris Bryant — during the season, after letting Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester leave last offseason. At least Stroman makes the Cubs better every fifth day. Wade Miley was a nice signing, and adding Yan Gomes gives them the flexibility to trade Willson Contreras. And, yeah, Clint Frazier seems like the perfect change-of-scenery candidate.
The very first thing to do: Figure out the catching situation. If they’re happy with Gomes and want to deal Contreras, make that happen immediately after the lockout ends. Bring in MLB-ready talent and maybe a prospect or two. Or maybe state definitively that Contreras — who is a free agent after the 2022 season — is the starter and Gomes is the backup. Either way, the Cubs can’t let that issue fester.
Also on the list: If the Cubs really believe they can compete again in the NL Central — and maybe an expanded playoff field? — they did solid work before the lockout. They have payroll and were linked to Carlos Correa; might they shock everyone and sign him?
MORE: The MLB lockout, explained: What you need to know
Pre-lockout recap: The biggest move was trading Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings; impossible to know definitively about the return, but the Pirates got good initial grades. They added veterans Jose Quintana and Roberto Perez and brought back Yoshi Tsutsugo, who had eight homers and a 136 OPS+ in his 43 games with the club last year.
The very first thing to do: Bryan Reynolds hit 24 home runs last year; that’s more than the combined total of the next three returning players — Tsutsugo (eight), Ben Gamel (eight) and Ke’Bryan Hayes (six). So, yeah. Adding a bat would be necessary even if the NL doesn’t add the DH. But when that happens — and it will happen — the Pirates will really need another potential thumper in the lineup.
Also on the list: Pitching, of course. Adding a veteran bounce-back candidate to the rotation would be worth the risk. Same with the bullpen.