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Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. An Oakland A's fan, Matt has been obsessed with baseball since 1998 and started writing about the sport in 2006.

Offseason so far: NL Central

Next up in our offseason round-up, we move onto the home of the National League champions.

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals showed their strength in depth whilst making it to another World Series appearance last season and they look set to be strong contenders in the National League again this year.

They acted quickly in November to plug a hole in the infield by signing free agent Jhonny Peralta on a four-year contract (despite him recently serving a drug suspension) and made a trade with the Angels to sign Peter Bourjos in the knowledge that Carlos Beltran was likely to leave as a free agent (sure enough, he’s now a Yankee).

David Freese went to the Angels in that trade, Chris Carpenter has retired and Edward Mujica has signed with the Red Sox, but the losses will be balanced out by their farm system products, with full seasons from Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong in prospect.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates finally made it back into the playoffs last year, which was a source of great joy in Pittsburgh. However, that shouldn’t be an end in itself and Buccos fans will be disappointed that so far this offseason their team has failed to build on the promise of 2013.

The biggest unknown is A.J. Burnett, who was terrific for the Pirates last year but may well decide to retire (there’s no definitive word on that as yet). They’ve brought in Edinson Volquez on a one-year contract but shouldn’t be too optimistic he’ll bounce back the way that Francisco Liriano did in 2013.

The only other Major League addition made so far has been signing back-up catcher Chris Stewart from the Yankees, after Jack Buck moved on to the Mariners.  With late-season pick-ups Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau also leaving as free agents, there’s certainly plenty of room for improvement in the period up to Opening Day.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are in a similar position to the Pirates: a fan base hoping for positive moves and being left underwhelmed.

The main concern for their 2014 prospects will be found in the lead-off spot. Shin-Soo Choo proved to be a fantastic one-year addition from the previous offseason, but now that he has signed a seven-year deal with the Rangers, the Reds look like leaning on young speedster Billy Hamilton. Choo was instrumental in the Red’s offence last year in getting on base and whilst Hamilton will put up large stolen base numbers, there are doubts as to whether he will get on base enough to be a Major League regular, never mind getting close to Choo’s .423 mark of last season.

Brayan Pena has joined the catching crew with Ryan Hanigan moving on to the Rays and Skip Schumaker will be their new utility man, but new manager Bryan Price is probably hoping his Front Office will give him a bit more help before the season starts.

Milwaukee Brewers

The most newsworthy name on the Brewers’ lineup this season will be that of Ryan Braun, the ex-MVP who is trying to rebuild his career with the team following a shameful drug suspension after previous vehement denials.

There’s not much chance of other matters putting his return into the shade as it’s been a quiet offseason in Milwaukee, with the most notable move being their decision to trade away useful outfielder Norichika Aoki to the Royals for pitcher Will Smith. Corey Hart, out for all of 2013 with a knee injury, has left the team to join Seattle, whilst Mark Reynolds has been added to the Brewers’ roster recently in the hope of adding some power to the lineup.

Chicago Cubs

The north-siders are still in something of a holding pattern as their rebuilding process continues to gradually add a group of impressive young talent to the Major League roster over the next couple of seasons.

They have added a few players with Major League experience in closer Jose Veras, Ryan Roberts and Justin Ruggiano this offseason, but the big news may still be to come. The Cubs reportedly are making a big push to sign Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka we may find out at the end of this week which team has come out on top in the race to sign him.

It could be difficult to tempt him to join a rebuilding project ahead of the dollars on offer from the Dodgers and Yankees, but it’s good to see the Cubs trying to add a player of his calibre and he would certainly be a nice joining present for new manager Rick Renteria.

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