The National League Central has been fairly competitive with the Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals within two games of each other. The Reds led the division by one game over the Pirates going into Monday. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros will sell at the deadline, and the Milwaukee Brewers are on the fence.
The Cubs are on pace to achieve their worst record in franchise history. They have clearly been sellers as they stand 15.5 games out of first with a 24-48 record. Many Cubs players have been mentioned in rumors, such as right-handed starters Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, right-handed closer Carlos Marmol, left fielder Alfonso Soriano, center fielder David DeJesus, right fielder Bryan LaHair, second baseman Darwin Barney, and catcher Geovany Soto.
Team president Theo Epstein has already talked with Dempster about trading him. Dempster will be in a different uniform by the trade deadline. The question is, what uniform will he be in? Over 10 teams, including the Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Kansas City Royals have inquired about him.
Dempster was placed on the 15-day disabled list June 19 with tightness in his right lat muscle. He is second in the National League for earned run average at 2.11 and has pitched at least six innings in 11 of his 12 starts. He has not given up an earned run in June.
Dempster would best suit the Braves, who lost Brandon Beachy for the season, the Dodgers, or the Royals, who are in need for a starter who can go at least six innings. The drawback of acquiring Dempster is that he is not under contract beyond the 2012 season.
Starter Matt Garza has also drawn a lot of interest, but it is unclear if the Cubs are willing to part ways with him. The Braves, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Royals, and Tigers have shown the most interest in him so far. Unlike Dempster, Garza has a contract through 2013. Therefore, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer’s asking price will be higher for Garza than Dempster, and common sense says he will want a package of young arms coming to Chicago.
There have been rumors that a few teams are interested in Marmol and Soriano, but the Cubs would have to send money with any deal involving Soriano, who has another three years and $57 million left on his contract. Marmol has been inconsistent with 23 walks, 23 strikeouts, and a 5.85 earned run average in 20 innings pitched.
The Pirates reportedly contacted the Cubs about the availability of LaHair, and Anthony Rizzo’s success in triple-A may make LaHair more expendable.
The Royals may pursue DeJesus to enhance their offense. The White Sox are also said to have interest in him.
Barney and Soto have been mentioned in a few rumors. The Washington Nationals could be a potential landing spot for Soto, and Barney might be a part of a package deal.
Trade rumors have caused some turmoil in the Cubs’ locker room. Barney recently showed his displeasure with being mentioned in trade rumors, while players like Dempster stated their openness to a trade.
The Reds have lived on solid pitching performances by their starting rotation and bullpen. They rank eighth in earned run average, ninth in quality starts, sixth in walks plus hits per inning pitched, and 13th in opponent batting average.
Their hitting has been decent, ranking fourteenth in runs, 17th in batting average, 18th in on-base percentage, and eighth in slugging percentage. First baseman Joey Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips have continued to have success at the plate.
The Reds have a nearly set lineup after signing Votto to a 10 year, $225 million contract and Phillips to a six year, $72.5 million contract during the offseason. Furthermore, right fielder Jay Bruce is in the second year of his six year, $51 million contract. The Reds also acquired right-handed starter Matt Latos from the San Diego Padres and relief pitcher Sean Marshall from the Chicago Cubs during the offseason.
Needless to say, the Reds do not have much room in their payroll to make major changes, but their offense may improve with Scott Rolen returning from a shoulder injury. Rolen was 7-for-18 in his past six games.
The Astros will be sellers at the deadline. They have been marketing left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez, who has drawn much attention from the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, and Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox, White Sox, Dodgers, and Orioles also have shown some interest. Rodriguez has two years and $26 million left on his contract.
The Tigers have strongly expressed their interest in shortstop Jed Lowrie and would move him to second base a trade goes through. However, the Astros might hold onto Lowrie and use him as a cornerstone as the organization rebuilds.
First baseman Carlos Lee was mentioned in rumors revolving the Miami Marlins and Pirates. Lee is in the last year of his contract and has a trade clause that enables him to veto trades to 14 teams.
It is unclear whether the Brewers will be buyers or sellers at the deadline. They were only 6.5 games out of first Monday morning. If they decide to sell, right-handed starters Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum may find different homes. If they decide to buy, they need to bring in more pitching. They rank twentieth in earned run average, ninth in quality starts, twenty-seventh in walks plus hits per innings pitched, and twenty-seventh in opponent batting average.
The Pirates need hitting badly. They are only one game out of first place and that is merely because of their pitching. Their pitching ranks third in earned run average and eighth in opponent batting average, whereas their hitting ranks 29th in runs, 28th in batting average, last in on-base percent, and28th in slugging percent. They pursued third baseman Kevin Youkilis, but the White Sox acquired him Sunday. Now, they might pursue Carlos Lee, third baseman Brandon Inge, utility man Ty Wigginton, center fielder David DeJesus, or third baseman Chase Headley.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have one of the best offenses in the league even without Albert Pujols. Their offense ranks third in runs, second in batting average, second in on-base percent, and fifth in slugging percent. Lance Berkman’s return to the lineup will improve their offense even more.
As for pitching, right-handed starter Chris Carpenter just returned from the disabled list. But do not be surprised if the Cardinals decide to add more depth to their rotation. They have contacted the Cubs about Matt Garza, but it is unlikely that the two teams would trade being that they are in the same division and have an extended rivalry.
John Dykstra is a summer intern from Wabash College and an avid baseball fan. He will be submitting a rundown on all the divisions prior to the trade deadline which is July 31.