Big money, big players don’t change NL Central

After a busy offseason and ongoing roster changes, the Milwaukee Brewers are still proving money can’t buy everything in the NL Central, while the Cubs hope Craig Kimbrel can prove otherwise.

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Big money, big players don’t change NL Central

The Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez hits a two-run home run in first the inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Friday, June 7, 2019. The Cubs won, 3-1. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez hits a two-run home run in first the inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Friday, June 7, 2019. The Cubs won, 3-1. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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The Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez hits a two-run home run in first the inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Friday, June 7, 2019. The Cubs won, 3-1. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

TNS

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The Chicago Cubs' Javier Baez hits a two-run home run in first the inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Friday, June 7, 2019. The Cubs won, 3-1. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Pete Mills, Assistant Sports Editor

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Money changes hands very quickly in the NL Central, with major acquisitions and trades continually making it one of the most competitive divisions in the MLB. With the 2019 season nearing its midpoint, the top teams are still mere games apart.

The Central has consistently been one of the best divisions in baseball, having been represented in each of the last eight National League Championship Series. More specifically, fans of the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals have grown accustomed to success over recent seasons.

Nearly all of the teams have added big names to try to keep up with the escalating level of play. The Reds picked up Yasiel Puig in a trade in December 2018, and the Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt — one of the best first basemen in the majors — just a few weeks later. The Cubs followed suit, picking up a $45 million tab on former Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel on June 7.

Although the teams have made many moves in the last several months, the current NL Central standings are identical to where they ended up last year.

Because of all these high-profile signings, fans of the big-brand franchises are anxious. Chicago spends the second most in all of Major League Baseball on payroll but is still virtually tied with Milwaukee, even though the Brewers check in at the No. 17 payroll spot.

Cubs upper management repeatedly said during the offseason that it would not sign any big names — rumors of Bryce Harper wearing a Chicago uniform, for example, never came true. The sentiment that the organization had the tools it needed lasted until last week with the signing of Kimbrel.

Injuries in the Cubs’ bullpen — and obvious underperformance — brought the Red Sox gunslinger to Chicago. As one of the best closers in the game, the right-hander posted 42 saves and a 2.74 ERA in last season’s All-Star campaign.

It’s a move that may evoke some positive memories for Cubs fans. In late July 2016, the Yankees sent closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs. He was Chicago’s go-to arm out of the bullpen for the remainder of the season, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. Of course, that signing helped the team to an eventual World Series win. Cubs fans hope Kimbrel can be that X-factor in the same way.

Meanwhile, festering frustration has not been eased in St. Louis. The Cards have the seventh-most expensive roster in the league after that move to gain Goldschmidt, but the team has been hovering around the .500 mark for most of the season. Matt Carpenter has cooled off after a bombastic second half of last season.

With all these moves around the division, Milwaukee has remained steady. Last year’s NL MVP Christian Yelich — along with the rest of the Brewer bats — have picked up right where they left off. Yelich currently leads the majors in both homers and slugging percentage, and he’s been backed up nicely by Mike Moustakas and Jesus Aguilar in the infield.

The acquirement of Kimbrel — who is expected to begin appearing in games in just a few weeks — may push Chicago past its foes in the NL Central. But for now, the Brewers are proving that money can’t buy everything.

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