Let's continue our tour of the rest of baseball by stopping in to see the Astros old digs.
1) Do the Pirates have the best outfield in MLB?
That's the question Jayson Stark posed earlier this
One of them, McCutchen, is a bona fide superstar. Another, Polanco, is a top prospect who could easily turn into a star. A third is a young player who is signed to a team-friendly extension.
Together, though, they represent the core of Pittsburgh's offense. All three can hit for power and run the bases. They all get on base at a nice clip and can play pretty good defense.
There aren't many outfields who can boast that kind of corner-to-corner talent. Maybe Mike Trout and two other guys
If the Pirates dethrone the Cardinals at the top of the division this year, it'll be because this outfield clicks into the best in the league.
2) Winter's best FA signing
That would be Francisco Liriano, who the Pirates kept around on a three-year, $39 million deal that included a $2 million
That comes after he pitched two years for the Pirates for $9 million total after finishing his injury-plagued final years in Minnesota.
Since hitting the Three Rivers, Liriano has thrown 160 innings each year with an ERA under 3.40. He's rediscovered his elite strikeout rate, topping 25 percent in each of his two Pittsburgh seasons.
Add all that up and
That's not a bad bargain, especially when you consider that Ervin Santana signed with the Twins
3) The cardinal rule is pitching
If the St. Louis Cardinals top the NL Central again, it'll be on the strength of their pitching staff. Under general manager John Mozeliak, the Cards
That depth is why Mozeliak felt confident enough to spin one of those pieces (Shelby Miller) to Atlanta for soon-to-be free agent slugger Jason Heyward.
It's a risky move, because Heyward could walk after this season for the $200 million contract that the Cards probably won't be able to give him. But, St. Louis also didn't lose much out of its staff. They've still got Adam Wainwright at the top with Lance Lynn just behind him. John Lackey, a nice
Then, the Cards have three guys competing for the fifth
That's enviable depth and should provide a bedrock for the St. Louis climb to
4) Kolten Wong=bae
One of my favorite draft prospects finally has a spot locked up in the regular lineup. Hawai'i's favored son Kolten Wong will be the Cardinals starting second baseman. He should be a pretty good one, too.
Wong's projected to hit
Wong struggled to make consistent contact last season, managing just a
5) No one rebuilds like the Cubs
Theo Epstein appears to have worked his magic with the Cubs. The perennial sad-sack franchise
But, for all that hype, the Cubs have seen some of their high-profile prospects struggle already. Javier Baez has really had trouble making contact in the majors while Arismendy Alcantara doesn't have a set
Add in stalwart performances from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and the Cubs should make it over
6) Three teams for Brother Lester
Jon Lester may have been the most coveted pitcher on the free agent market for one reason: he didn't come with draft pick compensation. The left-hander was traded from Boston to Oakland
Thus, he was free of any restrictions to sign with any team that wanted him.
That team turned out to be the Cubs, where his former boss Epstein works now.
It's a bad contract, just because any contract that runs that long and for that much money is bad. But, Lester should be able to give the Cubs a top-of-the-line arm for their rotation, while they usher some of the younger players up the ladder.
7) Something Brewing
Where are the Brewers? Are they rebuilding or contending?
The team itself doesn't seem to know. After winning 82 games last season, Milwaukee didn't do a whole lot to improve the 2015 product. They traded for Adam Lind, signed a few minor league free agents, sent rotation mainstay Yovani Gallardo for prospects and then picked up closer Fransisco Rodriguez after flirting with a Jonathan Papelbon trade.
By FanGraphs Base Runs projections, the Brewers improved by minus-3 wins. That's right, they got worse.
There are nice pieces here. Jean Segura is a very good, young shortstop. Khris Davis provides some pop in left field. Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun are stars and Jonathan Lucroy could be the best all-around catcher in baseball.
But, the rotation is fronted by Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, the bullpen has been pieced together and there's little help on the farm.
So what do the Brewers do? With that second wild card spot, it's easier than ever to make a playoff run. Should the Brewers tear things down and go all-in on a rebuild? They still have a few stars in their prime. Shouldn't they make a run?
It's a fascinating place to be and a fascinating team to watch. I just wouldn't want to be a Brewers fan. Reminds me too much of the 2006-08 Astros.
8) The Red Menace
It's easy to see what the Reds are doing.
They have exciting young players like Devin Mesoracom, Aroldis Chapman and Billy Hamilton, but they've also actively acquired older,
With all that, they must recognize that this is a bit of a transition year. They have some nice talent, but Joey Votto may not be as transcendent a player as he was, Brandon Phillips could be washed up and Jay Bruce may be past his prime. By taking a step back and giving some younger players a chance to establish themselves.
It also means that it could be a long season for Reds fans. This division is pretty deep and the Reds could be at the bottom for much of the year.
9) Prospect to watch
The baseball world doesn't get shocked by much. It's seen some things, man. Like, heavy things.
When the A's flipped Addison Russell to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija, though, it shocked plenty of people. Teams in this day and age just don't flip super prospects at all, much less for players with little control left.
Yet, that's exactly what happened. Russell immediately gave the Cubs the best farm system in baseball and adds more infield depth to a team loaded with position players.
Russell doesn't excel in any one area, but he should give the Cubs a well-rounded player who can hit for average, play good defense and run the bases. He doesn't have a spot yet, and the Cubs could bring him along slowly to allow them time to sort out who's playing where