Major League Baseball’s offseason is affectionately known as the Hot Stove. It’s that wonderful time of year where rumors abound as teams begin wheeling and dealing with either sign or trade moves for the missing pieces to make them into champions. Fan bases either get excited or frustrated depending on what their favorite teams do or don’t do to improve. Even in the year of the pandemic, there has already been a big shakeup across the league.
The biggest surprise so far this offseason has to be the big shakeup happening in the National League’s Central Division. One of the most competitive divisions in baseball has become the Walmart of player acquisitions so far. Player after player has either been let go by their team or has been traded away. The result will likely turn one of the best divisions in baseball into one of the worst. Here’s what’s happened so far.
Cubs Breaking Up
It may seem hard to believe a team that looked poised to have a run of championships only managed one World Series in a window that should have yielded them more than just a single appearance on the game’s biggest stage. That’s exactly what has happened, though. If it wasn’t enough that manager Joe Maddon left after the 2019 season, the Cubs have now lost president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and traded away star pitcher Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini to the Padres.
The hits keep on coming too. They also released World Series hero Kyle Schwarber. They may not even be finished yet as catcher Willson Contreras is said to be on the trading block as well. Call it the Great Chicago Fire of 2020.
Cardinals Going Broke
According to Cardinals owner Bill Dewitt, Jr., baseball isn’t that profitable an enterprise. To an extent, he’s actually right. The case is definitely true for many smaller market teams. Teams like the Cardinals are mostly dependent upon turnstile income. The coronavirus pandemic has left many small-market teams in a tough spot financially as several are letting go of good ballplayers to trim costs. The Cardinals are no exception.
The Redbirds are in a more complex situation than most fans realize. They do have a billion-dollar television deal. They are also burdened with bad contracts for aging veterans who have left the team with much less financial flexibility than in years past. Couple that with the pandemic and the loss of income that comes with three million ticket sales per year, and that’s a big hit. It should come as no surprise then that the Cardinals let go of two-time Gold Glove winner Kolten Wong, reliever John Brebbia and are poised to lose franchise icons Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina if they can’t find a way to make it work.
Despite their run of losing over several decades, the Pirates remain a profitable franchise. However, to turn things around, the Pirates appear to be entering full-on rebuild mode. After trading recent stars Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte over the last few years, the Bucs continued the trend by trading All-Star first baseman Josh Bell.
The Pirates aren’t finished either. General Manager Ben Cherington said that this likely isn’t the last move of this kind either. The Pirates are open to dealing with just about anyone off of their Major League roster. If ever there was time to go after some Pirate plunder, now is it.
Cincinnati hasn’t been exempt from bleeding players either. In a surprise move, they traded dynamite closer to Raisel Iglesias to the Angels.
They also let go of reliever Archie Bradley and are reportedly open to dealing with star pitcher Sonny Gray. That’s not to mention losing ace Trevor Bauer to free agency.
All of this has turned a surprisingly competitive team into a rebuilding one. Reds pitchers aren’t the only ones at risk. Eugenio Suarez is said to have been the object of trade talks as well. This has to be frustrating for a fan base that viewed their team as being a team on the rise.
Brewers Still Brewing
Milwaukee appears to be the NL Central’s outlier. Sure, they traded former closer Corey Knebel, to the Dodgers. However, Knebel has struggled since his return from Tommy John surgery. It has also been rumored that Josh Hader is a potential trade candidate, but not for prospects. The Brewers see this as an opportunity to sell high to upgrade their offense. They have also made minor moves to add players rather than subtract them. In a division full of player and salary dumps, the Brewers look like the only team actually trying to win.
One Man’s Trash...
The pandemic has become many a team’s excuses to trim payroll and cut costs wherever they can. There are very few teams taking advantage of the opportunity to win, while so many others are content to be there. For every team like the Padres and Mets that are trying hard to get better, at least five others are complaining it’s just too difficult or complicated a situation right now.
All of this should come as no surprise with the way team owners and executives tried to get out of paying player salaries in a shortened season of their own making. While other major sports leagues found a way to make it work, MLB owners found a way to drive a wedge between themselves and the players while leaving fans out to dry.
Everything up until this point has culminated in turning one of the most competitive baseball divisions into a veritable dumpster fire. As NL Central teams continue to add fuel to that fire, other teams around the league benefit from its heat. With the current CBA set to expire soon, things may only get worse after this season.