The NL Central has become a three-horse race with gap ever-widening between the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals and the trio of sub-.500 clubs at the bottom of the standings.
Cincinnati has run out to a three-game lead over the second-place Pirates on the strength of a recent 10-game winning streak, while Pittsburgh continues to hold onto a Wild Card berth and St. Louis pushes to make up ground in spite of injuries.
Before Tuesday’s deadline, the battle lines had been pretty clearly drawn. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis would play potential buyers, while the Brewers (15.0 games back), Cubs (18.5 games back) and Astros (28.0 games back) would look to shed salary and build for the future.
For the most part, that is exactly what took place.
In a mostly quiet deadline, Pittsburgh proved the NL Central’s loudest team on deadline day, while the Astros and Cubs both made roster dumps aimed at restocking the shelves.
Trade Grades for all six NL Central clubs:
1st NL Central (62-41)
The Reds sit in a fairly comfortable first-place position following the deadline. At 62-41, they hold a 3-game lead over Pittsburgh and have won 11 of their last 12 games. They are the only Central club to sport winning records both at home and on the road, and with a solid lineup made few moves in July. Cincinnati moved SS Paul Janish to the Braves for fringe starting pitcher Todd Redmond early in July, and made their big move by acquiring set-up man Jonathon Broxton from the Kansas City Royals for prospect pitchers Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran.
It’s not a trade, but Cincinnati will also get the de facto late-season gem when 1B Joey Votto returns from the disabled list. The Reds improved upon an area of strength, but with one of the Majors’ best records they’d have been hard-pressed to find a weakness to address.
Grade: Not broken. Not fixed. B+
2nd NL Central (59-44, 3.0 GB)
Pittsburgh has seemingly been the center of trade chatter since June, when the team jumped out to a double-digit lead on the ghosts of sub-.500 seasons past and established themselves as contenders. Though they didn’t land names like Justin Upton or Carlos Quentin, the Pirates were able to address several areas of need without mortgaging their farm system.
Wandy Rodriguez was acquired from Houston for three prospects, Travis Snider arrived from Toronto in exchange for Brad Lincoln, Gaby Sanchez and Kyle Kaminska were picked up for Gorkys Hernandez and the team’s 2013 Competitive Balance Pick and Casey McGehee was then sent to the Yankees for struggling reliever Chad Qualls. All told, the Bucs added four MLB players and a prospect for two major leaguers, the team’s fifth outfielder in Gorkys Hernandez, three prospects and a pick. None of the deals shift the balance of power in the Central, but the Pirates quietly upgraded positions of need by dealing from areas of strength, with perhaps the biggest payoffs in seasons to come.
Grade: Small market transactions by the numbers with future potential. A-
St. Louis Cardinals
3rd NL Central (54-48, 7.5 GB)
St. Louis, falling further behind the Pirates and Reds each day and missing some top-notch talent in SP Chris Carpenter, acquired only middle reliever Edward Mujica from the Miami Marlins for prospect IF Zack Cox. Mujica will bolster the Redbirds’ bullpen but won’t help the team’s starting rotation which, following Lance Lynn and Kyle Lohse, is short on quality pitching.
St. Louis ranks in the top-five in MLB in runs, batting average and on-base percentage, and their team ERA is 9th out of 30 teams at 3.72. The numbers suggest the Cardinals’ record should be better than it is, but it won’t be improved by their acquisitions at this deadline.
Grade: Nothing done to replace injured Carpenter, help struggling Wainwright. C-
4th NL Central (47-56, 15.0 GB)
Milwaukee entered this deadline season as sellers for the first time since 2008. After losing Prince Fielder to free agency over the offseason, Ryan Braun and Zack Greinke were the team’s cornerstone pieces. Braun is under contract for another decade, and so the Brewers tried to secure Greinke as their ace by offering him more than $100 million to remain in Milwaukee.
Having declined that, Greinke was dealt to the LAA Angels for SS Jean Segura, RHP Johnny Hellweg and SP Ariel Pena. Segura had been the Angels’ top position prospect and Hellweg and Pena joined him as three of the the Angels’ top ten prospects. Milwaukee also dealt catcher George Cottaras to the Oakland A’s for RHP Fautino De Los Santos. De Los Santos has struggled in AAA recently and Cottaras had been DFA’d prior to being sent to Oakland.
Milwaukee did what it could to retain Greinke, but received a solid package of prospects once he declined to re-sign.
Grade: Solid move for Greinke, but only one deal for prospects at 15.0 games back? De Los Santos a throwaway. C
5th NL Central (43-59, 18.5 GB)
One of the big rebuilders this season, it was assumed before the year began that first-year Cubs GM and former Red Sox executive Theo Epstein would be breaking this team down in order to build it as he and his front office team saw fit. After compiling a 28-49 record through June, the rebuild was set to begin. And while the names most targeted to be moved were obvious—Alfonso Soriano, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and others—the Cubs remained almost entirely intact up until the deadline.
During their July 30 bashing of the Pirates, the Cubs sent away three players in-game. Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson were shipped to the Atlanta Braves for prospect pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman, and C Geovany Soto and P Ryan Dempster were moved to the Texas Rangers for prospects P Jacob Brigham, 3B Christian Villanueva and P Kyle Hendricks.
The moves added five prospects to Chicago’s farm system and stripped tens of millions of salary from the roster. However, Dempster’s wavering on a deal that would have brought better prospects from the Braves, in addition to being unable to move expensive veterans Soriano and Garza, left the Cubs acquiring only one can’t-miss prospect in Vizcaino with assets still left to be dealt.
Grade: Total rebuild year didn’t begin with total teardown of current roster. C-
6th NL Central, (35-70, 28.0 GB)
In their final season in the division, the Astros seem bent on taking an entirely different club to the AL West in 2013 than the one that began 2012 in the NL Central. After posting a 32-46 record by the end of June, the Astros cemented their seller status by losing 24 of 27 in July. No team had a more clear rebuilding mission than the Astros.
The moves began early. On July 4, the Astros sent Carlos Lee to the Miami Marlins for prospects 3B Matt Dominguez and LHP Rob Rasmussen. The biggest shipment of talent came on July 20, when the Astros shipped pitchers Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ and David Carpenter to Toronto for P Francisco Cordero, OF Ben Francisco, C Carlos Perez, RHPs Asher Wojciechowski and Joe Musgrove and LHP David Rollins. The nine-player deal brought six assets to the Astros. P Brett Myers was then sent to the Chicago White Sox for P Matthew Heidenreich and P Blair Walters.
3B Chris Johnson was sent to Arizona in exchange for prospects Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss, and P Wandy Rodriguez, the last remaining member of the 2005 World Series team, was shipped to the Pirates for prospects OF Robbie Grossman, P Colton Cain and P Rudy Owens.
All told, the Astros acquired 15 prospects and a PTBNL for seven outgoing MLB players.
Grade: Astros committed to rebuild and added 16 assets while surrendering seven. A