Finally, we've reached the end of the month-long United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable. If you've not been reading the transcripts, you can find the links over here at the official site
. Lots of great question were asked during this process, which means that going last adds a degree of difficulty when you try to come up with something not touched on already.
To wrap up this year's discussions, I thought I'd see what the thought was for 2011. Would the Cardinals bounce back? Was this still the Reds' division? What would the rest of the standings look like?
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: Take out your crystal ball and let's look a bit into the future. Give me your projections of what next year's NL Central will look like.
Assume anything (reasonable) you want in the way of free agent signings, trades, etc. Do the Brewers trade Prince Fielder, get back a lot of young talent, and make a step up in the division? Will the Cubs respond to Mike Quade or has their window closed? Will the Astros build on their late season success?
Where do the Cardinals fit into the equation? Do they need to sign Westbrook to hold off Cincinnati, or will the Reds naturally come back to the pack?
: Division Winner - Cardinals. With a few upgrades, I have the Cardinals projected as a 93-95 win team in 2011 based on what I consider a slightly disappointing 2010. While I don't expect them to necessarily repeat the success that they had against really good teams, I do expect them to improve their record against sub-.500 teams/division rivals.
2nd - Reds. I expect a slight decline from 2010 and a ceiling of around 90 wins. May be asking a lot to expect Votto, Rolen, Stubbs, and Bruce to duplicate the numbers they collectively put up in 2010. Given that the Reds have to give pay raises to Phillips and Votto, it's unlikely that they can add an impact player via free agency without sacrificing a significant contributor from the 2010 division winner.
3rd - Astros. Projected 80-82. Losing Bagwell as their hitting coach may actually help. This team is young and promising, and they need coaches who are young and actively engaged in what they are doing in Houston. If the Astros ever decide to get serious about payroll, the NL Central could become interesting for a long time to come.
4th - Cubs. Projected 76-86. 2011 looks to be business as usual for a team that has $100m committed in payroll before it spends 5 minutes in arbitration with Carlos Marmol.
5th - Brewers. Projected 72-90. The Brewers would project higher based on their 2010 record (77-85) and solid offense (750 runs scored), but the likelihood of a Prince Fielder trade puts a damper on this one. If the Brewers can obtain pitching in return for Fielder, they could become a factor or at least a spoiler in the division by the end of 2011.
6th - Pirates. Projected 63-99. I'm being kind here, but that's only because the Pirates are projected to hit a payroll number around $50m. If they dump both talent and contracts, then I'm wishing another 100+ loss season on them again.
Mark: A Cardinals team, motivated by the 2010 underachievement, wins the NL Central title. David Freese stays healthy and plays a key role in run production from the No. 6 spot while steadying the left side of the infield. Allen Craig surprises with an 80-RBI season. Jake Westbrook blossoms Woody Williams-like in a full season with Dave Duncan. Jaime Garcia looks like the NL version of Cliff Lee. Jason Motte emerges as the closer.
The Astros are the surprise challenger to the Cardinals in 2011. Brad Mills fields an energized, enthusiastic unit that stresses fundamental baseball. Hunter Pence, Chris Johnson and former St. Louis prospect Brett Wallace become exciting young stars.
The Reds finish third. An inconsistent closer, steep declines from veterans such as Jonny Gomes, Orlando Cabrera, Bronson Arroyo and Scott Rolen, plus the erratic antics of Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips, plague Cincinnati.
The young talent of the Pirates finally starts to take root. Pittsburgh makes a bid for .500 and finishes a strong fourth.
The Brewers, a team of boppers and little else, decide to try a rebuilding effort around Ryan Braun. It's a steep uphill climb.
Poor Mike Quade cannot squeeze any consistent performances from Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and a toxic mix of old-guard veterans. Cubs fans start screaming for Ryne Sandberg in May. Ozzie Guillen taunts the Cubs daily from the South Side. Tony La Russa revives Showergate, saying the Cubs purposely deprive visiting teams of soap and hot water. UCB bloggers donate Ivory bars to Tony. Dominant closer Carlos Marmol is the only bright spot for the Wrigley Field gang.
Dustin: 1st- St. Louis Cardinals: The key to success next season will be not getting dominated by pitchers such as Dave Bush, Jeff Karstens, Bud Norris, Chris Narveson, etc. I look for the Birds bats to come alive along with more solid pitching and have 90+ wins and take the division.
2nd- Cincinnati Reds: I'd love to say last year was a fluke but the truth is they have a pretty solid team. I'm not going to say they played over their head but I do think they performed at their peak last season. They took care of the sub .500 teams and played well enough against baseball's best. I look for a slight decline as teams will not overlook them this next season. They go down kicking with 85 wins
3rd- Houston Astros: I was actually pretty impressed when they moved Oswalt and Berkman and how they acquired Happ and Wallace. I have no idea why they didn't take us up on our offer of Miles, Winn and Mather for Oswalt. Whatever I guess. I think they're a couple pieces away from really contending. Look for them to give the Reds and Cardinals a lot of trouble and finish right there in the mix. 83 wins
4th- Milwaukee Brewers: I look for fairly similar results as last season. Like Dennis mentioned if the Brewers decide to move Fielder, which they should, I would hope they would be looking to add pitching in the deal. They'll score some runs, but their pitching is still very suspect with Gallardo as the bright spot, an aging Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson and not much else. 75 wins
5th- Chicago Cubs: How Jim Hendry still has a job is beyond me. Some of the contracts that front office has orchestrated have been laughable. A high payroll with low results as usual. L flags flying high! 74 wins
6th- Pittsburgh Pirates: Pretty cool city, good NFL and NHL teams, nice stadium, no willingness to acquire and keep talent. No reason why the organization can't front some money and construct a game plan to make the team competitive. The NL Central is not that tough of a division to compete in. Sucks to be a Pirates fan. 53 wins maybe
Pip: I feel disabled without the crutch of 2011 player projections! As things are today -- without any changes to the teams -- I think that the Cardinals and Reds are roughly even. Yes, the Reds had a super season, and almost all of their 2010 team will be back. But remember that this is a team that won only 78 games in 2009. Bill James told us that "when a team improves sharply one season they will almost always decline in the next." I think they're better than their 2009 squad, but not as good as what we witnessed this past season.
As for the Cardinals, they had 90 Pythagorean wins in 2010, and in 2009 they had ... exactly the same. Yes, they have some holes, but even with the current roster (extended to Memphis), I think they're good enough to at least contend next season.
As for Milwaukee, they're the real wild-card of the division: Going into this offseason, they have the second-lowest amount of committed money to players, so they can afford to be flexible. For that reason, I imagine they'll keep Fielder and maybe grab a free agent. Their rotation needs help, which is why I can't understand why they waste guys like Carlos Villanueva (3.39 xFIP in 2010) and Manny Parra (3.95) in the bullpen.
Chris: 1. St. Louis Cardinals - I believe the front office when they say they plan on "going for it." I think, for good or ill, we're going to see the real David Freese this year. I think Skip Schumaker will snap back into form offensively, but I believe his role may be quite different. It really wouldn't take that many changes to make this a 95 win team. The big questions that will need to be answered are the latter 2/5 of the rotation, middle infield productivity, third base stability, depth, and of course health. (96 wins)
2. Cincinnati Reds - They'll be my pick for the Wild Card this year, but it will be a challenge. I think they regress, but only a little. They have a lot of talent and not many holes, which means they may not make major moves to drastically improve the team. Of course, with Jocketty at the helm a key midseason acquisition is always in play. (91 wins)
3. Chicago Cubs - They've been craving a lefty power bat for a long time, and a couple that play 1st base (another need) will be available in 2011. My money is on Adam Dunn. I don't see them getting in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, so they won't have enough pitching to contend. But if they get another bat they'll score some runs and make things interesting. (79 wins)
4. Houston Astros - I think the Astros could easily flip-flop with the Cubs (or maybe tie them) for third place this year. They're young, but a lot of their guys already have some MLB experience. If they add the right pieces this offseason and next, a return to contention won't be far away. (78 wins)
5. Pittsburgh Pirates - As their rebuilding project approaches two decades, the Pirates may find a way to put things together enough to lose less than 90 games. But they have to figure this out soon. They're wasting more talent every year and it's really getting old. Have they never heard of the Tampa Bay Rays? Holy blueprint, Batman! (70 wins)
6. Milwaukee Brewers - They still have no pitching, so it will be interesting to see who they pick up this offseason. But the big distraction will be the future of Prince Fielder. If they trade him before opening day, it may allow them to start the recovery early. But if he becomes a deadline trade, nothing will go right for the Brewers until the inevitable trade takes place. By then it will be too late. (65 wins)
Tom: 1. Cincinnati - they are just "that" good
2. St Louis - seems to be comfortable with big crowds and very little upgrade
3. Houston - made some nice strides
4. Chicago - dismal GM and idiotic fans
5. Milwaukee - no emergency to get better it appears... years away
6. Pittsburgh- they are just " that" bad. (should be contracted)
Erik: 1. St. Louis
I really don't understand why everyone is jumping on the Astros' bandwagon, they might be the most overachieving team of 2010. I don't think very much seperates Cincy and St. Louis. Cincinnati may be a more balanced team; they have contributors across the board, while the Cardinals have more star power and I think some of the underachievers - Ryan, Schumaker - should bounce back.
The division overall remains pretty weak. I'm curious what Milwaukee can do to address their pitching this offseason.
Dennis: I'm sure that someone will blog about this before the 2011 season starts, but I'm on the Astros bandwagon for a number of reasons. They managed to go 76-86, even though Oswalt only went 6-12 while he was still in Houston. They also took care of business pretty well within the Central division by beating teams they should have beaten and only overachieving against 1 team (Stl). vs Chicago 11-7 vs Milwaukee 8-7 vs Pittsburgh 11-4 vs St. Louis 10-5 vs Cincinnati 5-10. That accounts for 45 of their wins.
Considering the Astros only had a winning record against 2 other NL teams outside the NL Central (Philly and Colorado) and a 3-12 interleague record, I don't think it's a stretch for them to improve 4 wins to the 80 win mark that I projected. Throw in the fact that they have less than $40M in committed payroll right now, and they could pick up another starting pitcher and a bat. I project them out to an opening day payroll of about $95-97M, unless they make a significant free agent signing. If Carlos Lee ever invests in a treadmill, they could start making some legit noise in the division.
Nick: As is figuratively the case with each and every new season - this division is now the Reds' to lose.
As for projections - I believe it's a two horse race. The Cardinals will (hopefully) give the Reds the challenge many expected in 2010, again doing it mostly with pitching and an upgraded defense.
Schumaker will no longer be the team's starting second baseman, automagically making the defense better up the middle.
I don't think Mozeliak will bend this year and give Tony any handcuff for Rasmus in center field, so Colby will finally be playing every day.
Add a 265/15/70 guy at any position on the field that could be upgraded (2B, SS, 3B, RF) - and that guy may well be on the roster already (looking at you, David Freese) - and the offense will be fine. Do not downgrade the defense anywhere and the pitching will maintain.
I'm looking forward to a Cards/Reds race late into September 2011.
I do appreciate all of the great comments coming from these talented bloggers. As for myself, I do think the Cards are still the class of the division, with Cincinnati right there with them. You have to figure Rolen will slip some, but that could be offset by steps forward by Bruce and Votto (though Votto's numbers should come down a little).
After that, it's really a free for all. I thought Pittsburgh was ready to take their step last year, but they didn't and I don't quite see them ready to do it in 2011, though they shouldn't be a 100 loss team. As for the the other three, well, you could probably draw them out of a hat and have just as good a shot of predicting it right.