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:
Manager: Joe Maddon (third season).
2016: 103-58, first place, World Series champions.
Training Town: Mesa, Arizona.
Park: Sloan Park.
First Workout: Feb. 15/18.
He’s Here: RHP Wade Davis, OF Jon Jay, RHP Koji Uehara, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Eddie Butler, LHP Brian Duensing.
He’s Outta Here: CF Dexter Fowler, OF Jorge Soler, LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Jason Hammel, LHP Travis Wood, C David Ross, RHP Trevor Cahill, OF Chris Coghlan, RHP Joe Smith.
Going campin’: There are a couple of intriguing questions, but the Cubs are a legitimate threat for baseball’s first repeat World Series winner since the New York Yankees won three in a row from 1998-2000. NL MVP Kris Bryant leads a deep lineup that could be even better if Kyle Schwarber can put together a full season. The rotation also is in good shape, led by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks, just 24 years old and coming off a breakout season. Chapman left in free agency, but the Cubs bolstered the back end of their bullpen by trading for Davis and signing Uehara to a $6 million, one-year contract. There is an opening in center field, where Jay and Albert Almora Jr. could split time after Fowler signed with St. Louis. Mike Montgomery is the favorite to jump into Hammel’s slot in the rotation. The leadoff spot in the lineup also is worth watching, but the Cubs begin spring training in great shape for their title defense.
St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Mike Matheny (sixth season).
2016: 86-76, second place.
Training Town: Jupiter, Florida.
Park: Roger Dean Stadium.
First Workout: Feb. 14/17.
He’s Here: CF Dexter Fowler, LHP Brett Cecil.
He’s Outta Here: OF Matt Holliday, OF-1B Brandon Moss, LHP Jaime Garcia, RHP Seth Maness, RHP Jerome Williams, OF Jeremy Hazelbaker.
Going campin’: The Cardinals missed the postseason for the first time since 2010 last year, the first time that’s happened under Matheny. Seeking a return to October, St. Louis signed Fowler to an $82.5 million, five-year contract — weakening NL Central rival Chicago in the process. Fowler’s arrival is expected to provide stability at the top of the order and in the outfield, as well as bring some much-needed athleticism to a lineup that was last in the National League in stolen bases last season. With Matt Carpenter expected to move to first base in the spring, and St. Louis committed to Kolten Wong at second, expect a competition for playing time at third base between veterans Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta. Right-handed starter Lance Lynn returns after missing last season following elbow surgery. Lynn and hard-throwing rookie Alex Reyes are expected to bolster a staff that saw its ERA rise from an NL-best 2.94 in 2015 to 4.08 last season. Cecil joins the bullpen from Toronto after signing a $30.5 million, four-year contract in the offseason.
Manager: Clint Hurdle (seventh season).
2016: 78-83, third place.
Training Town: Bradenton, Florida.
Park: McKechnie Field.
First Workout: Feb. 14/17.
He’s Here: RHP Daniel Hudson, RHP Pat Light.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Jeff Locke, RHP Ryan Vogelsong, RHP Neftali Feliz, INF-OF Sean Rodriguez, OF Matt Joyce, INF Jason Rogers, C Eric Fryer.
Going campin’: The Pirates fell off the pace in 2016 following three straight playoff appearances but did little in free agency to try to close the gap on St. Louis or the World Series champion Chicago Cubs. Pittsburgh re-signed pitcher Ivan Nova to a three-year contract and brought in Hudson to work near the back of the bullpen, but otherwise the group that arrives in Bradenton will look an awful lot like the one that finished a distant third in the NL Central last fall. The team’s most notable move was one it didn’t make — holding onto star center fielder Andrew McCutchen after exploring trade options in December. McCutchen tried to brush off the prospect of leaving and even agreed to slide over to right field this season, part of a retooled outfield that puts Gold Glove winner Starling Marte in center and Gregory Polanco in left. The outfield, however, is the least of Pittsburgh’s concerns heading into camp. The starting rotation behind Nova, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon is wide open, with five pitchers competing for two spots. There’s still a chance the Pirates bring in another arm or two before opening day, but it’s more likely the last two spots will emerge from the group of Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison, Tyler Glasnow and Trevor Williams. Tony Watson was solid but not spectacular after taking over the closer role when Mark Melancon was sent to Washington at the trade deadline. The job is Watson’s for now, though Hudson and Felipe Rivero are contingency plans. Pittsburgh expects third baseman Jung Ho Kang to be in camp following his offseason arrest in Korea on DUI charges, the latest off-the-field issue for Kang, who remains under investigation for an alleged sexual assault in Chicago last summer. The rest of the infield returns intact, though promising first baseman Josh Bell’s status early in camp is uncertain after he underwent knee surgery on Feb. 1. Bell’s development will be vital, particularly if Pittsburgh ends up finding a trade partner for McCutchen.
Manager: Craig Counsell (third season).
2016: 73-89, fourth place.
Training Town: Phoenix.
Park: Maryvale Baseball Park.
First Workout: Feb. 15/18.
He’s Here: 1B Eric Thames, 3B Travis Shaw, RHP Neftali Feliz, C Jett Bandy, LHP Tommy Milone.
He’s Outta Here: 1B Chris Carter, RHP Tyler Thornburg, C Martin Maldonado, RHP Blaine Boyer.
Going campin’: The rebuilding project appears to be moving along on schedule entering the second full season under general manager David Stearns. Ryan Braun has the largest veteran contract left to move, though the slugger making $20 million this season is also content in Milwaukee. He’s says he’s looking forward to working with the next generation of Brewers. Slick-fielding Orlando Arcia, the first key piece to arrive in the majors, enters his first full season as the starting shorstop. A new-look infield will also feature Thames at first and Shaw at third, two left-handed hitters who provide balance to the lineup. The bullpen needs a closer with Thornburg shipped to the Red Sox in the offseason for Shaw. Feliz and holdover Corey Knebel are the likely top candidates. In the rotation, Wily Peralta hopes the improvement he showed over the final 10 starts of 2016 carries over to this season, while Junior Guerra and Zach Davies look to build off solid rookie campaigns.
Manager: Bryan Price (fourth season).
2016: 68-94, last place.
Training Town: Goodyear, Arizona.
Park: Goodyear Stadium.
First Workout: Feb. 14/17.
He’s Here: RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Drew Storen, RHP Austin Brice, OF Desmond Jennings.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Dan Straily, C Ramon Cabrera, RHP J.J. Hoover, OF Steve Selsky, RHP Alfredo Simon, RHP Ross Ohlendorf, RHP Keyvius Sampson.
Going campin’: The Reds have stabilized after two years of trading away core players as part of a massive rebuild. They opened last season with five starters on the disabled list, and their decision not to sign an experienced closer turned out to be ruinous. Once their starters got healthy, they became competitive, going 36-37 after the All-Star break. The bullpen was one of the worst in major league history, so the Reds signed Storen in the offseason to bring in an experienced closer. They traded their top starter in Straily to the Marlins for prospects and replaced him in the rotation with Feldman. There will be an open competition for the fifth spot. The Reds think they can be competitive this season if starters Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey are healthy and the bullpen becomes respectable — there’s plenty of competition for relief roles. Bailey, however, just had surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow and is expected to start the season on the disabled list. Former All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco is expected back from his second hip operation, and the everyday lineup is anchored by Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton. After losing 98 and 94 games in the last two years, the Reds are hoping they’ve bottomed out.