NL Central Off-Season Grades – A Redbird Rant

Two writers' NL Central Hot Stove grades push Brian Walton over the edge.

It's that time of year when there is no real baseball news to speak of. To fill the space and time, anyone and everyone is assessing and scoring every team's off-season to date, as if each of them invented the tired idea. Still the format is simple and allows each writer to expound on their personal biases in what appears to be a subjective manner.

Usually, at best, I give these pieces a cursory view, however, on Friday, two of them caught my eye and raised my ire. The first was written by Tracy Ringolsby from the Rocky Mountain News. Normally, I am fine with Ringlosby's stories, but this one is causing me to shake my head. In fact, I am doing more than shaking my head, hence this piece.

link to Rocky Mountain News

But, even before I finished writing this article, I came across the second, a report from Sports Illustrated's John Donovan. He started with the National League East, where he established his credibility by rating the fire-sale gutted Florida Marlins' winter as a "B".

In case you forgot the Fish, they are the team that divested itself of at least ten name players, stars like A.J. Burnett and Carlos Delgado, and signed in their place Joe Borowski and Pokey Reese. And they are a "B"? Honest. That is what he says.

Sure, the Marlins received prospects in return, but they will be lucky to get back to being a .500 team by 2008. Read it for yourself.

link to Sports Illustrated

But, that is not even why I am upset. In summary, here is how Ringolsby and Donovan ranked the off-seasons of the National League Central teams:

Team

Ringolsby Grade

Donovan Grade

Cubs

"B"

"B"

Houston

"D"

"C"

St. Louis

"C-minus"

"C"

Milwaukee

"B"

"C"

Pittsburgh

"B-minus"

"B"

Cincinnati

"D"

"D"

Ringolsby scores the Cubs' off-season a "B" and the Cards' a "C-minus"? He notes Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders are gone, but no corresponding mention of Nomar Garciaparra's bat leaving Chi-town and he strongly implies outfielder Corey Patterson's departure is simply addition by subtraction.

The latter is eerily similar to what the scribes wrote about the Cubs dumping malcontent Sammy Sosa on these same Orioles last year. We know how that worked out for all parties involved, don't we?

Even so, let's rub it in one more time. The Cubs finished in fourth place, four games under .500. The Orioles finished in fourth place, 14 games under .500. Sosa hit .221 with 14 home runs and is currently unemployed.

And apparently, unproven youngster Matt Murton in left field is less of a risk than Larry Bigbie. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Donovan also conveniently forgets that Nomar ever existed, but at least he noted that then-free agent Rafael Furcal stiffed the Cubs. But, he sees their fielding, hitting and bullpen all improved.

Yet, Donovan is not particularly impressed with the Cards moves in the least; hence his right down the middle "C" score.

(As a reference point, that is the same as he graded the Houston Astros, an old team who did almost nothing other than get a year older. OK, they did add Preston Wilson, but also may have lost Roger Clemens.)

Am I overly biased or are the off-seasons of these two clubs – St. Louis and Chicago - pretty comparable so far? Each team added a couple of outfielders – a Juan and another (Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones vs. Juan Encarnacion and Larry Bigbie). And, they each signed a lefty-righty tandem of short relievers (Scott Eyre and Bobby Howry versus Ricardo Rincon and Braden Looper).

Both tried to add a marquee name to the lineup and failed. Actually, each reportedly tried for two (Miguel Tejada and Furcal versus Brian Giles and A.J. Burnett).

Even with a built-in - no, make that a bred-in bias – there is no way I can legitimately call the differences as great as "B" versus "C-minus".

Bonus coverage: Pirates improve more than Cardinals?

Just one more point before I hop down from the soapbox. In addition to his absurd ranking of the Marlins, Donovan is all starry-eyed over the Steel City's addition of tired iron like Jeromy Burnitz (age 37 in April), Roberto Hernandez (41) and Joe Randa (a babe at 36).

As noted above, Donovan not only gives those Pittsburgh Pirates a "B" score, he pegs them as a .500 or better team this coming season. What is this guy thinking? All the Bucs need is Sosa to score an "A" and win 90 games, I bet.

Ringolsby liked the addition of Manager Jim Tracy and at least noted that the Pirates lost versatile Rob Mackowiak. He dropped them all the way down to a "B-minus" as a result. Give me a break!

Only Fox' Ken Rosenthal seems to have his head screwed on straight about the Buccos. Said he, "A warning to Pirates fans who are excited by the acquisitions of first baseman Sean Casey, third baseman Joe Randa and right fielder Jeromy Burnitz: Casey ranked 37th in on-base/slugging percentage last season among the 67 N.L. players who had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, while Randa was 40th and Burnitz 50th."

Enough of this, already! Cardinals fans will apparently have to wait to receive their satisfaction once the season begins.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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