2017 NL Central Preview

March 1, 2017

Chicago Cubs — The World Series champions replaced one All-Star closer with another, signing Wade Davis to replace Aroldis Chapman. Davis has been one of the best relievers in the league recently, and should see a lot of save chances for an excellent Cubs team. Hector Rondon will likely be the first option if Davis struggles or gets hurt. Rondon closed most of last year, but struggled late in the season. Although Rondon seems to have Joe Maddon’s confidence, the Cubs are spoiled for choice. Newly acquired Koji Uehara and returning setup man Pedro Strop will push Rondon for vulture saves, but perhaps the most intriguing option is C.J. Edwards. With a high-90s fastball and impressive stats in his brief career, Edwards could emerge as a viable late-inning option — but he will have to work hard to crack the stacked Cubs bullpen.

Starting 2017 hierarchy: Davis | Rondon | Strop.
Holds candidates: Uehara, Edwards, Strop, Justin Grimm.

Cincinnati Reds — The worst bullpen in MLB never did find a consistent closer last year, and Bryan Price has already announced that they’ll start out in a committee. Price also wants to use his relievers for multiple innings at a time in a reboot of an older strategy. If you’re up for a gamble, though, Raisel Iglesias is your best bet. Iglesias finished 2016 as the de facto closer and filled that role in his Cuban career as well. Another option is top offseason signee Drew Storen, who has stated openly that he wants the job. Converted starter Michael Lorenzen will also serve in the committee, while Tony Cingrani could see action based on matchups, but is a stronger candidate for LOOGY holds.

Starting 2017 hierarchy: *Iglesias | Storen | Lorenzen.
* = closer-by-committee
Holds candidates: Storen, Lorenzen, Cingrani, Blake Wood.

Milwaukee Brewers — The Brewers traded the bulk of their bullpen at the deadline last year, and brought in Neftali Feliz to fill the void this year. Since Milwaukee appears to be rebuilding, Feliz could be a prime trade target if the team struggles out of the gate. Corey Knebel was lined up for the job before Feliz was signed, and will serve as the primary setup man. Veteran Carlos Torres should take the seventh inning. The 34-year-old was versatile last year, and could be the most stable part of the Brewer bullpen.

Starting 2017 hierarchy: Feliz | Knebel | Torres.
Holds candidates: Knebel, Torres, Michael Blazek.

Pittsburgh Pirates — Tony Watson will close again in Pittsburgh, although he’ll make $400,000 less than he hoped after losing an arbitration hearing. Behind him will be Daniel Hudson and Felipe Rivero, both solid options to fill in if Watson needs a day off. Clint Hurdle tends to stick with particular roles for his relievers so, barring injury or a trade, you can expect stability for the Pirates bullpen — making Watson a bit more valuable than his stats might suggest.

Starting 2017 hierarchy: Watson | Hudson | Rivero.
Holds candidates: Hudson, Rivero, Antonio Bastardo, Jared Hughes.

St. Louis Cardinals — “Final Boss” Seung Hwan Oh has made the closing role his own, taking the job and running with it after he deposed the ineffective and injujured Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal is young and still has lights-out stuff, but may get a shot in the rotation. If he does, it will leave Kevin Siegrist competing with newcomer Brett Cecil for the setup role. Siegrist has been a reliable source of holds, and will probably take the eighth inning out of the gate — but he has also struggled with shoulder tightness early this spring. Cecil signed a four-year deal, so the Cardinals see him as a valuable asset going forward. Jonathan Broxton is also in the mix, but will have to regain his form before truly becoming a factor.

Starting 2017 hierarchy: Oh | Siegrist | Cecil.
Holds candidates: Siegrist, Cecil, Broxton, Matt Bowman.