The calendar has turned to December, meaning the top executives from each organization and the top agents from around the league gather for the winter meetings. These meetings could determine the shape of the league for years to come. At this year’s meetings in Nashville, teams will go in with a specific goal that they believe will improve their team in 2024 or the future.
Here is each NL Central team’s winter meetings goal with the full AL and NL East already done.
The Goal For Each NL Central Team at the Winter Meetings
Milwaukee Brewers: Trade Willy Adames and Corbin Burnes
This probably won’t be popular among Milwaukee Brewers fans, but the reality is for a small market team like the Brewers to sustain success they have to churn the roster and build from within. The Brewers have been very effective at doing this which is why they have been one of the most consistent teams in baseball over the last five years. Now, with both shortstop Willy Adames and ace Corbin Burnes entering their walk years, it’s time to churn again.
Burnes is already one of the most sought-after trade candidates in the league, arguably at the top of an already robust starting pitching trade market. Adames hasn’t been as prevalent in trade rumors thus far but would also be a valued addition to what is a thin-position player market. They could be dealt either in separate deals or as a package for what would be a massive prospect return. Since they are still competitive in a very winnable division and already have a young core in the majors, the Brewers will likely seek a package for either young major leaguers or prospects who are near the big leagues.
Chicago Cubs: Sign a top starting pitcher
The Chicago Cubs had a very successful 2023 season, winning 83 games and finishing second in the division. Now, during the winter meetings the Cubs are looking to build on that progress by adding to what was their biggest weakness in 2023, the starting rotation. Since they are just at the very beginning of their competitive window they’re unlikely to offload prospects or young players who could be building blocks for their future. Instead, they will look to the free agent market for top-quality pitchers.
With the payroll flexibility the Cubs have, the most obvious fit seems to be reigning NL Cy Young Blake Snell or Japanese phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto. If they would rather spread the money around, Jordan Montgomery, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Marcus Stroman would be potential targets. Either way, the Cubs look to leave Nashville with at least one impact starting pitcher.
Cincinnati Reds: Sign veteran relievers and bench players
With Nick Martinez and Emilio Pagan already signed to short-term deals, the Cincinnati Reds have already started to sign support for what is right now a very young pitching staff. With those additions the Reds now have a pretty solid starting five but the bullpen remains thin, bringing in some veteran relievers would go a long way to getting the Reds back into the postseason.
The other area of need for this Reds club is the bench, with all those young and talented position players they certainly don’t need an impact player but a depth piece or two could help keep the offense consistent and not too reliant on guys who haven’t played a full season yet.
The Reds are an extremely young, ahead-of-schedule team that definitely will not sacrifice anything in the future for this season but signing short-term contracts in free agency will only help the young guys on the team. For relievers, Andrew Chafin and Michael Fulmer seem like good fits, or if they decide to spend a little more perhaps Jordan Hicks or Robert Stephenson could be on their radar. As for the bench, defensive versatility would be an important attribute so players like Whit Merrifield and Kike Hernandez would work well with their roster. Overall, the Reds aren’t looking to do anything drastic but will still leave Nashville with some guys who will help them win baseball games.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Keep building for the future
The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ rebuild has taken much longer than people would have expected and it still doesn’t seem like it’s that close to being over. That’s a frustrating reality for a fan base that hasn’t seen a competitive team since 2015 but there isn’t a way that the Pirates can turn it around at this year’s winter meetings. With that said they currently have the best farm system they have had in a long time ranking ninth according to Fangraphs’ rankings.
Normally a team in this position would be inclined to make trades to improve the system but the Pirates haven’t shown any urgency or willingness to do that. However, if they did decide to make some trades they have pieces that would garner very solid prospect returns. All-star outfielder Bryan Reynolds and ace Mitch Keller would generate the most interest but they could also get a solid package for closer David Bednar. No matter what direction the Pirates decide to take, the only thing on the minds of the front office will be the future, and it can’t come soon enough.
St. Louis Cardinals: Trade one of the outfielders for pitching
After one of the worst and most disappointing seasons in the last century, the St. Louis Cardinals got off to an early start this off-season. They brought in three veteran starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson to solidify the rotation and bring the team back to relevance in 2024. The problem is of those three pitchers, only Sonny Gray put together a good season in 2023 with Lynn seemingly beginning to decline in his mid-30s and Gibson eating innings with limited effectiveness for the Baltimore Orioles. With a rotation now built on volatile veterans the Cardinals will still look to improve the pitching staff with some more reliable arms.
Luckily the Cardinals have a surplus of outfielders they can deal from. They have been listening to offers on both Tyler O’Neill and Dylan Carlson as they have more than enough outfield depth to comfortably absorb the loss of both. If they could deal either of those outfielders for some solid young pitching the Cardinals could avoid a major rebuild and return to competitiveness as soon as next season, especially considering how wide-open the NL Central is starting to look.
This week all 30 teams descend upon Nashville in an attempt to position themselves for a World Series run, whether that be now or in the future, and fill any holes there may be in the roster. Each team will enter the winter meetings with a goal they believe will put them in the best position for success and in a wide-open division like the NL Central, what happens in December could decide who plays into October.
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