Random thoughts and notes: NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals: With the trade of Shelby Miller, will they go after another starting pitcher? Right now, they're relying on Adam Wainwright, who will be coming off minor elbow surgery; Michael Wacha, coming off an injury; Lance Lynn; veteran John Lackey; Jaime Garcia, who hasn't made it through a full season since 2011; plus youngsters Marco Gonzalez and perhaps Carlos Martinez, who made some spot starts in the rotation but may be best suited for relief work. ... Basically, outside of Lynn, all come with potential question marks. ... They've been rumored to be in on Jon Lester. ... Right now, their estimated payroll is right at 2011-2014 levels, so maybe there's room for to add him to the payroll, especially if it's backloaded past 2017 after Matt Holliday comes off the payroll. ... Will be interesting to see how Mike Matheny views the lineup; there's been talk of moving Matt Carpenter out of the leadoff spot. Maybe Jason Heyward goes there, or maybe Kolten Wong, but he'll have to improve that .292 OBP. ... Steamer projects Wong at .263/.312/.387. I like his chances to do a little better than that. ... Did Lynn have one of the most under-appreciated 2014 seasons? He was the same 15-10 as in 2013, but with an ERA more than a run lower. ... Heyward doesn't necessarily solve the team's power issues (last in the NL in home runs), but the Cardinals being the Cardinals, it wouldn't be a surprise if they unlock that 27-homer season he had in 2012.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Losing Russell Martin is a huge blow, but the Pirates will at least be strong defensively behind the plate with some combination of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez. ... Still, Martin's .404 OBP was a major reason the Pirates scored 48 more runs than in 2013. ... Is it just me, or is the Pirates' rotation rather unimpressive right now? Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke? Charlie Morton will miss some portion of the regular season after hip surgery in late September. ... The Pirates' rotation ranked last in FanGraphs WAR in 2014, and Burnett is really just a replacement for Francisco Liriano or Edinson Volquez, not an upgrade. ... Josh Harrison is listed as an outfielder on the Pirates' website, but I'll guess he ends up starting at third base with Pedro Alvarez moving to first base. ... Can't wait for a full season of that Starling Marte-Andrew McCutchen-Gregory Polanco outfield. ... Let's be honest: Marte probably should be the center fielder. ... Can Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes all post ERAs under 2.00 again? ... McCutchen, early favorite for 2015 MVP? I'd say yes.

Milwaukee Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy versus Buster Posey versus Yadier Molina: Who ya got? ... Even lacking a No. 1 or even No. 2-type starter, Brewers aren't that far away; need much bigger seasons from Ryan Braun and Jean Segura. ... Bullpen is now down Zach Duke, who was terrific and signed with the White Sox, and possibly Francisco Rodriguez. ... Hard to know whether Jonathan Broxton would be a reliable closer; good ERA in 2014, but pitched just 58 innings and his K rate is nowhere what it once was with the Dodgers. ... Braun still has at least six more years on his contract; wonder how that's going to look in a few years? He was valued at 1.0 WAR in 2014. ... Scooter Gennett, the new Jim Gantner. ... Adam Lind should be a solid addition, and the Brewers definitely needed another left-handed bat in the lineup. ... Brewers fans, are you going to miss Marco Estrada's home runs? ... No idea if Mike Fiers is for real, but he's defied predictions all along. ... Braun's Steamer prediction for 2015: .278/.345/.480, 21 home runs. OK, but a 150 points of OPS lower than his 2011-12 MVP peak.

Cincinnati Reds: Reports out of Cincinnati say Reds owner Bob Castellini is not going to have a fire sale, even though starters Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon and Mike Leake are all free agents after the season. ... And why should he? Try to win. Imagine that. ... Anyway, if you get bounce-back seasons from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, both reasonable expectations, the Reds will score more runs. Add in improvement from Billy Hamilton and a new left fielder (Marlon Byrd?) and the Reds should get back in the playoff hunt in what could be a wide-open division. ... Of course, potentially replacing four-fifths of a rotation doesn't sound like much fun. ... J.J. Hoover went 1-10 in relief. I was surprised to find that 23 pitchers since 1980 have lost at least 10 games while wining one or fewer. Only Hoover, Bobby Ayala (1998 Mariners) and Gary Lucas (1982 Padres) spent the entire season in relief, however. ... That's a long way of saying Hoover won't go 1-10 again. ... I'll take the over on Votto.

Chicago Cubs: Does Anthony Rizzo have more growth in him after hitting .286/.386/.527 with 32 home runs? I think he does, which would make him an MVP candidate on a contending team. ... I'll still predict that Starlin Castro doesn't get traded this offseason. ... MLB Trade Rumors lists Travis Wood as a possible non-tender (deadline is Dec. 2), but with a projected salary of $5.5 and an otherwise low payroll, I think the Cubs bring him back and hope for a happy medium between that 3.11 ERA of 2013 and 2014's 5.03. ... Steamer projection for Javier Baez is a fun one: .226/.280/.420, 29 home runs, 1.7 WAR. ... It has him cutting his strikeout rate from 41.5 percent to 29.3 percent, which puts him in B.J. Upton territory, still near the worst in the league (although not quite at the Chris Davis/Chris Carter level). ... Definitely believe Jake Arrieta is the real deal; next step is simply to see if he can handle 200 innings. ... Jorge Soler will be a beast if he stays healthy. ... Here's a question: Who would you rather have, Soler or Baez? Tough call in my book. ... Everybody seems to think the Cubs will get Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, but I'm not so sure. ... Could just save their money for David Price next offseason. ... Can't wait to see Kris Bryant get 500 at-bats.