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FIRST LOOK: NL Central teams at the start of spring training

FIRST LOOK: NL Central teams at the start of spring training


A team-by-team look at the National League Central entering spring training, including key players each club acquired and lost, and dates of the first workout for pitchers and catchers, and the full squad:

Chicago Cubs

Manager: David Ross (second season).

2020: 34-26, first place, lost to Marlins in first round of playoffs.

Training Town: Mesa, Arizona.

Park: Sloan Park.

First Workout: Feb. 17/22.

He’s Here: OF Joc Pederson, RHP Zach Davies, RHP Trevor Williams, RHP Kohl Stewart, C Austin Romine, OF Jake Marisnick (deal pending), OF Phillip Ervin, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Robert Stock, INF Sergio Alcántara.

He’s Outta Here: RHP Yu Darvish, OF Kyle Schwarber, LHP Jon Lester, LHP José Quintana, OF Albert Almora, Jr., C Victor Caratini, 2B Jason Kipnis, RHP Tyler Chatwood, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, OF Cameron Maybin, OF Billy Hamilton, OF José Martínez.

Going campin’: Ross was impressive in his first year as manager, guiding Chicago to the NL Central title during the pandemic-shortened season. But it doesn’t get any easier in 2021. Retooling under top baseball executive Jed Hoyer after Theo Epstein stepped down, the Cubs traded Darvish and Caratini to San Diego and waved goodbye to Lester and Schwarber — two key players from the team’s 2016 championship. Davies steps into Darvish’s spot in the rotation and Williams likely fills another opening, but pitching depth is a big concern. The Cubs also are hoping Kris Bryant and Javier Báez bounce back after struggling last year. Bryant hit .206 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 2020, and Báez batted .203 with eight homers and 24 RBIs. Bryant, Báez and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are eligible for free agency after the upcoming season, and it remains to be seen how their contract situations might affect their production.

St. Louis Cardinals

Manager: Mike Shildt (third season).

2020: 30-28, second place, lost to Padres in first round of playoffs.

Training Town: Jupiter, Florida.

Park: Roger Dean Stadium.

First Workout: Feb. 17/22.

He’s Here: 3B Nolan Arenado, 3B Jose Rondon.

He’s Outta Here: 2B Kolten Wong, OF Dexter Fowler, LHP Austin Gomber, RHP John Brebbia, C Matt Wieters, 1B Rangel Ravelo.

Going campin’: The Cardinals were quiet all offseason before re-signing longtime workhorse RHP Adam Wainwright in late January and then pulling off a blockbuster trade with Colorado for Arenado, instantly improving their offense and defense at third base. He also should provide some lineup protection for 1B Paul Goldschmidt. Wong created the only major hole when he signed with the Brewers in free agency; Tommy Edman will likely replace him at 2B. The trade of Fowler to the Angels clears not only salary but also a spot in the outfield for one of the Cardinals’ glut of young position players, including top prospect Dylan Carlson. The biggest remaining question ahead of spring training was whether C Yadier Molina would return for his 18th season with the club, and that was answered Tuesday when he signed a $9 million deal for the upcoming season.

Cincinnati Reds

Manager: David Bell (third season).

2020: 31-29, third place, wild card, lost to Braves in first round of playoffs.

Training Town: Goodyear, Arizona.

Park: Goodyear Ballpark.

First Workout: Feb. 18/22.

He’s Here: RHP Noe Ramirez, LHP Sean Doolittle, SS Kyle Holder, OF Scott Heineman, INF Dee Strange-Gordon.

He’s Outta Here: RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Raisel Iglesias, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, SS Freddy Galvis, C Curt Casali.

Going campin’: More than $160 million in free-agent signings before last season didn’t bring the immediate results the Reds hoped. Now, NL Cy Young Award winner Bauer has moved on, and closer Iglesias was traded away. With no everyday player hitting better than .255 in the virus-shortened 2020 season, the Reds will need more offensive punch to compete in the NL Central. They’re again counting on 1B Joey Votto and 3B Eugenio Suarez, and last year’s free-agent acquisitions, 2B Mike Moustakas, OF Nick Castellanos and OF Shogo Akiyama. The departure of Galvis leaves Bell without an everyday shortstop, and the Reds missed out on the top free agents this winter. Holder has a slick glove and could get some playing time there. The outfield is crowded, with last year’s DH and best hitter Jesse Winker thrown back into the mix. Without Bauer, the starting rotation will be built around Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle. With Iglesias gone, Amir Garrett or the 34-year-old Doolittle could be in line for the closer’s job. A limited number of fans will be allowed to watch spring games at Goodyear Ballpark.

Milwaukee Brewers

Manager: Craig Counsell (seventh season).

2020: 29-31, fourth place, wild card, lost to Dodgers in first round of playoffs.

Training Town: Phoenix.

Park: American Family Fields of Phoenix.

First Workout: Feb. 18/23.

He’s Here: 2B Kolten Wong, C Luke Maile, INF Daniel Robertson, RHP Jordan Zimmermann.

He’s Outta Here: OF Ryan Braun, LHP Álex Claudio, OF Ben Gamel, 1B/3B Jedd Gyorko, RHP Corey Knebel, INF Eric Sogard.

Going campin’: The Brewers have reached the playoffs for three straight seasons, a first in franchise history. But they’re coming off a 2020 campaign in which they were never above .500 and made the postseason only because of baseball’s expanded playoff format. The Brewers scored just 4.1 runs per game last season to rank 27th out of 30 MLB teams. They’re hoping 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich returns to form after a disappointing 2020. Yelich batted just .205 after winning NL batting titles in 2018 and 2019. His slump drew much of the attention, but many other hitters such as 1B Keston Hiura, C Omar Narváez and OF Avisaíl García also are attempting to bounce back from disappointing seasons. Milwaukee also should benefit from a full season with CF Lorenzo Cain, who played just five games last year before opting out. One story to watch this spring is Hiura’s move from second base to first, a position he’s never played before. The team is shifting Hiura after signing Wong, the former Cardinals second baseman who has won consecutive Gold Gloves. The Brewers enter camp with uncertainty at third base and a variety of options at catcher, where they got little production last season. If they don’t add a third baseman before the start of the season, their most likely candidates to fill that spot are Luis Urias and Robertson. The other big issue surrounding Milwaukee’s lineup is the future of Braun, who has a franchise-record 352 homers. The Brewers declined a mutual $15 million 2021 option on Braun, who has been pondering retirement. The pitching staff features two potential aces in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes and a pair of dominant relievers in 2020 NL Rookie of the Year Devin Williams and Josh Hader. The depth of the rotation will depend on whether the Brewers get improvement from the likes of Josh Lindblom and Adrian Houser.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager: Derek Shelton (second season).

2020: 19-41, fifth place.

Training Town: Bradenton, Florida.

Park: LECOM Park.

First Workout: Feb. 17/22.

He’s Here: RHP David Bednar, RHP Wil Crowe, RHP Sean Poppen, RHP Miguel Yajure, C Michael Perez, INF Wilmer Difo, LHP Chasen Shreve, C Tony Wolters, OF Brian Goodwin.

He’s Outta Here: RHP Jameson Taillon, RHP Joe Musgrove, RHP Trevor Williams, 1B Josh Bell, RHP Keone Kela, INF/OF Jose Osuna, LHP Derek Holland, LHP Nik Turley, RHP Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP Nick Burdi.

Going campin’: The Pirates are building from the ground up, a process focused on stocking the minor league system with prospects. To that end, general manager Ben Cherington spent the offseason trading veterans Bell, Musgrove and Taillon for younger (and yes, far less expensive) players the club hopes will be part of a foundation that could return the Pirates to contention in a few years. It’s a long-term vision that will likely require a lot of short-term patience and pain, at least at the big league level. Pittsburgh finished with the worst record in the majors in 2020 and enters 2021 with a less-experienced roster and major holes, particularly in the rotation. 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes, LF Bryan Reynolds, RF Gregory Polanco and C Jacob Stallings enter camp as the only real locks. Colin Moran figures to get the first shot at 1B following Bell’s departure, but everything else is up in the air. There’s a logjam up the middle defensively, with Adam Frazier, Erik Gonzalez, Kevin Newman and Cole Tucker in the mix. Tucker moonlit in the outfield last year, an experiment that might have to continue in 2021. Spring training could offer a glimpse at what is in the pipeline. First-round draft picks Quinn Priester (2019) and Nick Gonzalez (2020) received invites to big league camp, and while their arrival in Pittsburgh (particularly Priester’s) is likely measured in years and not months, their presence at least will offer a peek into their development. Towering infield prospect Oneil Cruz — all 6-foot-7 of him — will also get a long look, though the team likely needs to figure out some sort of pecking order in the infield at the major league level to figure out what to do with Cruz if/when he makes it to Pittsburgh. The starting rotation is a crapshoot beyond Mitch Keller. Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault figure to have the inside track on two spots, but after that the list of potential starters is long and relatively undistinguished. The Pirates are planning to allow fans at LECOM Park, with capacity capped at 25%. Those who do make their way through the turnstiles will likely need a program and maybe a smart phone to sift through the sea of young faces.

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TOP PHOTO: FILE – Polish Sausage (2) wins the sausage race between innings of a spring training baseball game between the Los Angeles Angels and the Milwaukee Brewers, Sunday, March 8, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

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