The off-season isn’t over, exactly, but it’s close enough. Players have reported and we have several weeks of spring training games in the books. The only reason I won’t commit to the off-season as being complete is that there’s still some cromulent talent left unsigned. Granted, only four exceed a projection of 0.8 fWAR (depending on whether or not Maikel Franco signs between the time I wrote this and the time it publishes), but there are some helpful pieces available. We’re close enough to the end of the off-season to do what I want to do today, particularly since the Brewers picked up Jackie Bradley, Jr. last week. Let’s evaluate how the Cardinals fared in relation to their National League Central peers.
We’ll collect every player acquired via free agency and trade, and every player departing via free agency and trade, for each NL Central team. From there, we’ll look at their ZiPS projection for fWAR in 2021. Finally, we’ll use the total fWAR gained and lost (this is the plus-minus from the article headline) to graph everything out. Obviously, ZiPS is contingent upon playing time, but this method should at least give us an idea about which teams added or lost the most potential production for 2021 in the division.
Before we get to the fancy graph (ok, not that fancy), let’s give a full list of what each team gained and lost. That’s up to and including a lot of minor league talent that won’t have ZiPS projections for 2021 (looking mostly at you, Pirates). Brace yourself... it’s a lot. Note that the list of players lost includes some players who are still free agents. It’s possible, albeit unlikely, that Ryan Braun and Jedd Gyorko could re-sign with the Brewers, for instance.
Gained: Nolan Arenado, Jose Rondon, Tyler Heineman, Max Moroff, Matt Szczur, Ali Sanchez, Johan Quezada
Lost: Kolten Wong, Austin Gomber, Nabil Crismatt, Ricardo Sanchez, Brad Miller, John Brebbia, Mateo Gil, Tony Locey, Jake Sommers, Rangel Ravelo, Ryan Meisinger, Rob Kaminsky, Matt Wieters, Dexter Fowler, Elehuris Montero
Gained: Joc Pederson, Trevor Williams, Matt Duffy, Jake Marisnick, Jake Arrieta, Kohl Stewart, Austin Romine, Jonathan Holder, Abiatal Avelino, Rafael Ortega, Travis Lakins, Adam Morgan, James Bourque, Brandon Workman, Nick Martini, Shelby Miller, Casey Sadler, Owen Caissie, Ismael Mena, Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana, Jake Jewell, D.J. Snelten, Michael Hermosillo
Lost: Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber, Jose Quintana, Victor Caratini, Jon Lester, Tyler Chatwood, Steven Souza Jr., Jason Kipnis, Jhonny Pereda, Jharel Cotton, Jose Martinez, Jeremy Jeffress, Clayton Daniel, Pedro Strop, Ryan Tepera, Cameron Maybin, Billy Hamilton, AJ Ramos, Albert Almora, Ryan LaMarre, Josh Phegley
Gained: Kolten Wong, Travis Shaw, Jackie Bradley, Derek Fisher, Daniel Robertson, Hoby Milner, Blaine Hardy, Jordan Zimmermann, Pablo Reyes, Luis Perdomo, Zach Green, Leo Crawford, Brad Boxberger, Dylan Cozens
Lost: Jedd Gyorko, Jake Faria, Corey Knebel, Alex Claudio, Shelby Miller, Ryan Braun, Eric Sogard, Ben Gamel, Justin Smoak, Keon Broxton
Gained: Jeff Hoffman, Cionel Perez, Cam Bedrosian, Sean Doolittle, Noe Ramirez, Tyler Naquin, Hector Perez, Case Williams, Brandon Bailey, Art Warren, Dwight Smith Jr., Dee Gordon, Edgar Garcia, Nicky Delmonico, Kyle Holder, Scott Heineman, Scott Heineman, Leonardo Rivas
Lost: Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Archie Bradley, Freddy Galvis, Curt Casali, Matt Bowman, Jay Jackson, Nate Jones, Robert Stephenson, Christian Colon, Jameson Hannah, Luke Berryhill, Jose Acosta, Nick Williams, Matt Davidson, Brian Goodwin, Tyler Thornburg, Travis Jankowski
Gained: Tyler Anderson, Miguel Yajure, Dustin Fowler, Todd Frazier, David Bednar, Wil Crowe, Chasen Shreve, Tony Wolters, Endy Rodriguez, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Roansy Contreras, Maikol Escotto, Omar Cruz, Drake Fellows, Hudson Head, Eddy Yean, Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo, Chase De Jong
Lost: Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, Josh Bell, Socrates Brito, Keone Kela, Pablo Reyes, Montana DuRapau, Derek Holland, Nik Turley, Nick Burdi, Jose Osuna, Dovydas Neverauskas, J.T. Riddle, Miguel Del Pozo, Jason Martin
Here’s how the plus-minus looks for each team. We’ll use a population pyramid, and list the net at the bottom:
After the Arenado trade, there were a lot of articles about how the Cardinals were the lone aggressive team in the division. A lot has happened both right before that trade and since then. The Brewers have added Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Kolten Wong. The Cubs had just signed Trevor Williams and Joc Pederson. Once you see the net gains, the Cardinals off-season suddenly looks a little less impressive. There are caveats throughout the entire division, though.
For instance, the Brewers’ additions include Derek Fisher, who ZiPS projects for 1.1 fWAR. That alone seems suspect. Even if you believe Fisher is a 1.1 fWAR player, though, that reality seems mutually exclusive with the addition of Jackie Bradley, Jr. and his projected 1.5 fWAR. Those two players aren’t going to get enough playing time to both reach or exceed their projections, particularly not in an outfield that already has Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Avisail Garcia.
The Cardinals get dinged for losing Nabil Crismatt and Ricardo Sanchez and their ZiPS projections of a 0.8 and 0.7 fWAR, respectively. With all due respect to Misters Crismatt and Sanchez, those projections seem a little unlikely, and neither were likely to have a major role with the 2021 Cardinals anyway. Losing Kolten Wong hurts, particularly since he went directly to a division rival. However, the graph above doesn’t account for the fact that the Cardinals have Tommy Edman (1.6 ZiPS fWAR) as a ready-made replacement for Wong’s departing 2.2 projected fWAR. When you factor in the mechanics around Fisher, Crismatt, Sanchez, and going from Wong to Edman, the Brewers still hold an edge, but it’s considerably smaller. Depending on how you think of Edman, the gap goes from a 5.9 fWAR edge for Milwaukee down to anywhere from 1.7 to 3.0.
Folks thinking of the Cardinals as favorites in the NL Central, heavy or otherwise, would be wise to look at that graph above. Here are some takeaways:
1. The Brewers didn’t have the big, loud move of adding a player like Nolan Arenado. Instead, they removed Ryan Braun, Eric Sogard, Ben Gamel, Justin Smoak, and Keon Broxton from the roster (projected fWAR: -0.8 collectively), amongst others, and swapped them out for Wong (2.2), JBJ (1.5), and Travis Shaw (1.8) and several other part-timers with reasonable and modest projections. When you add it all together, it was a quiet but impressive off-season.
2. The Cubs took a lot of heat for subtracting Yu Darvish, Kyle Schwarber, Victor Caratini, Jose Quintana, and Jon Lester. Some of that was deserved (Darvish is good!), some was overstated (Schwarber’s a fat lump whose defense robs him of his perceived offensive value; Lester at 37 is close to cooked like a Christmas ham). At the end of the off-season, though, guys like Trevor Williams, Zach Davies, Joc Pederson, Jake Marisnick, and the withered husk of Jake Arietta can probably approximate what the Cubs lost. The Cubs are still likely to take a step back- their Base Runs record was three games worse than their actual- but they’re approximately the same talent level.
3. The Reds’ plus-minus is a little unfair. It includes Leonardo Rivas, who projects for a -1.1 fWAR. His last in-game action was in high-A in 2019. There is zero chance he’ll see enough playing time, if any, much less enough to run up a -1.1 fWAR. Still, the Reds had a terrible off-season. Jeff Hoffman is the only player of note that they added and they lost Trevor Bauer, Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Archie Bradley (admittedly a late season acquisition), and Freddy Galvis. That’s not to overstate the contributions of some of those players, but that’s a lot to lose when the replacements aren’t inspiring.