Just as the San Diego Padres have made a splash in the NL West, it’s a team that was nowhere near contending in the NL Central in 2014 that has made the most noise in the off-season so far.
The Chicago Cubs have added a high-profile manager in Joe Maddon, a top-shelf free agent pitcher in Jon Lester, and some other useful players (Jason Hammel, Miguel Montero) to their batch of young players and generated a mountain of expectation for 2015.
However, history has shown that ‘winning the off-season’ doesn’t guarantee you will win much when the games come around. Although all teams start on 0-0 in a new campaign, that doesn’t mean the previous season counts for nothing. The Cubs have made eye-catching moves, but they did lose 89 games in 2014.
In contrast the reigning champions the St. Louis Cardinals haven’t made much of a splash, the main roster move being the trade for Jason Heyward in part in response to the tragic death of Oscar Taveras. Yet this was a team that won 90 games in 2014 and whilst players do get older (to state the obvious), this isn’t a roster chock-full with players in their mid-thirties that could all be about to get injured or have poor seasons.
The Pittsburgh Pirates also haven’t done a whole lot after finishing two games behind the Cards. Francisco Liriano has been re-signed and A.J. Burnett is on his way back after a year in Philadelphia, but otherwise the roster is essentially as it was in 2014 minus the not inconsiderable loss of catcher Russell Martin, who has joined the Toronto Blue Jays.
Putting the Milwaukee Brewers to one side (Adam Lind being the only addition to a middling 2014 team) and the Cincinnati Reds in the ‘ who knows’ box (traded away Mat Latos, but still have some quality players), that does create space for the Cubs to make a charge, emboldened by a wave of optimism and perhaps a couple of the young prospects dazzling in their first full year.
As things stand right now, the Cardinals and Pirates still lead the way without having made signings that clearly improve them from 2014. Some strong individual performances (Michael Wacha returning to health and form, for instance) would keep the Cubs at bay, yet so far it’s still possible that either one or both could fall back just enough to give Chicago a sniff.