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Gird your loins – we’re going to be navigating positions battles in each division. Today I’m talking about the NL Central, which loses the Astros this year, so you can basically knock off five wins from each team’s 2012 win total. It feels like this could be a close race for the first couple months until the Reds replace Dusty’s toothpick with bubblegum at the trade deadline. There’s also a good amount of both young and rebound pitchers spread out across the division, so this could be a boon for late round draft picks in mixed leagues. Am I telling you to draft a pitching staff solely from the NL Central? Those are your words, not mine. Although I kind of wish they had been my words (you quick thinker, you). You can also read about the position battles for the NL East and the AL Central. Anyway, here are some of the position battles to watch in the NL Central:

Chicago Cubs

  • Closer: Carlos Marmol is the undisputed closer for now. I want to emphasize “for now” because I don’t see Marmol remaining on the Cubs much longer. When he gets traded, Kyuji Fujikawa should take over and could be a solid closer this season, based on his dominant performance across the other pond.
  • Third Baseman: Ian Stewart vs. Luis Valbuena. This is an awkward situation because the Cubs wanted to give Stewart the job. Then he got injured. Now, they still want to give him the job – no offense, Luis (which is the problem). Valbuena is a defense-first player who would only be relevant in NL-only leagues. Stewart has power potential, but his persistent injuries are likely to give Valbuena a good amount of at bats.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Aroldis Chapman: He is at the center of the battle for closer and fifth starter. He is unquestionably better than the other candidate in each battle (Jonathan Broxton for closer, Mike Leake for fifth starter), so this will sort out depending where the team chooses to slot him. Crazy ol’ Dusty wants to keep him as closer, while everybody else in the world wants to give him a shot as the fifth starter. I’m guessing that he makes the rotation, but I worry that Dusty will make him throw 300 innings out of spite.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • First Baseman: From what I can tell, the Brewers don’t really have many position battles, if any. Corey Hart, whom I covered earlier, will come back in May. Mat Gamel finally had a shot to tear it up, but then he did just that to his knee and will be out for the season. The club has said Alex Gonzalez should start the year at 1st.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Fifth Starter: Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke are fighting for the rotation spot that Francisco Liriano vacated until May, when he recovers from his broken humerus (not funny!). I’m guessing that McPherson wins the job and he should be a solid option in NL-only leagues. Once Liriano returns, he should continue to be the consistently inconsistent player that we’ve grown to expect.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • Fifth Starter: Trevor Rosenthal is now out of the picture and will be housed in the bullpen. The remaining candidates are Joe Kelly (who has experience) and Shelby Miller (who has potential). I’m thinking that Kelly gets the job initially and Miller gets the call in a couple months, but I could see the Cardinals going with Miller out of the gate too. When he gets to the majors, Miller has the potential to be immediately relevant in mixed leagues.
  • Second Baseman: Matt Carpenter appears to somehow be the front-runner. Maybe the Cardinals are going to follow in the footsteps of the Tigers and punt defense? Anyway, this really helps fantasy baseball owners, as Carpenter should be a solid middle infielder. Meanwhile, Daniel Descalso has seen his stock fall from potential second baseman to likely utility fielder. Kolten Wong is the heir apparent, but will simmer in the minors for a couple months or until September, depending on Carpenter’s performance.
  • Shortstop: Rafael Furcal was the shortstop but, on cue, he got injured. Now there’s going to be a battle between Ronny Cedeno and Pete Kozma. Should you care? Probably not. Kozma was fantastic at the end of last year, but it looked very fluky. I’m guessing they go with Kozma initially, but this could constantly change throughout the season, depending on who has been hitting lately.
  1. Jim says:
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    I thought Gonzalez won the gig in Milwaukee at 1B.

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      Agreed, I fixed it…

      • Tom Jacks

        Tom Jacks says:
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        @Grey: Thanks Jim and Grey.

  2. jeff resnick says:
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    What do you all think about Carpenter’s offense this year? He’s available in my NL only 4×4 league at $6 from an owner looking to deal…I’ve already got Laroche at $8 and was going to spend a chunk of change going for Ike or Zimmerman or Pablo, all of whom are available…and then use loose change for an end of auction corner….Carpenter could be that guy. Thoughts?

    • Grey

      Grey says:
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      I’d take him, but I don’t know what you’re giving for him…

      • jeff resnick says:
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        Not sure yet what I have to offer up, but thanks. Unrelated – $7 Storen or $5 Clippard – which one would you keep if you had to keep one?

        • Tom Jacks

          Tom Jacks says:
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          @jeff resnick: I believe Storen will be next in line for saves, so I’d go with him.

  3. Big AL says:
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    Gird your loins ? If anyone is girding there loins it should be the Astro’s. You think last year was bad wait till they go through the AL West. There putting up see through mesh on top of the fences to protect there loins from incoming bombs from the AL West teams.
    What’s the over gonna be on visiting teams scoring 10 or more run-in a game.I’m saying 15. Let’s do a Razzball contest on it. Razzball shirt with a Astro launch pad 2013 contest winner.Instant collectable. Have a good one boy’s and gird them loins.

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @Big AL: Ha! That should definitely be a contest. If we’re talking about just their home games, then 15 sounds about right. Run differential of 1,000 for the season???

  4. DriveForFive says:
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    What to make of the Pirates RF/LF – definitely Marte and Snider, or too uninteresting to even cover?

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @DriveForFive: I thought it was definitely Snider and Marte.

  5. birrrdy! says:
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    Why does Cincy leave Bronson Arroyo in the rotation? I would think he should be competing for a spot as well, and I would argue that Leake should win out over him. Is it a contract issue? A righty/lefty thing? The fact he gets lucky against the Giants?

    All I know is that Bronson should have a permanently stiff neck by now since he keeps whipping it backwards so fast to look at the trajectory of the balls hit against him… so fun to watch his little blond mullet fly up in the air!

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @birrrdy!: All of the above are probably factors. Dusty also likes his pitchers that can go 200+ innings, regardless of performance. Maybe they like his covers of 90s alternative rock…

    • bobcat says:
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      @birrrdy!:
      maybe its the average of 13 wins and 213 IP per year since coming to the reds.

  6. yeahcheese says:
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    Brewers Position Battles

    You’re right that there aren’t many position battles on the Brewers, beyond SP slots (covered in Brewers’ round-up) but an interesting note on the competition for final RP spot – fantasy relevant because of the potential successors to Axford. Michael Olmsted is turning a lot of heads right now and has a good shot at making the team. He was Red Sox minor league fodder for awhile, Brewers Waiver Pickup, but He’s definitely got impressive future Closer stuff. Someone to keep an eye on. Also Scooter Gennet is definitely making some waves at 2B, while he won’t supplant Rickie Weeks, if Weeks struggles this year, don’t be surprised to see that kid. All Scooter does is hit hit hit!

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @yeahcheese: Thanks for the info! Those guys weren’t on my radar.

  7. djhogness says:
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    I’ve heard reports that phil irwin is turning heads in Pirateville.

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @djhogness: Interesting… I don’t know much about him other than he’s a minor leaguer. Would he be a potential guy for their pen or is he actually making a run at 5th starter?

  8. Jon says:
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    Re: Pirates, Marte is definitely a lock for LF. Tabata is possibly making a run at the RF job but everyone with the Pirates has said Snider will be the guy to start the year. A platoon, though, is possible if Tabata keeps showing signs of life.

    Assuming Karstens is healthy in the 4th spot, I actually think Locke will start the year in the 5th starter role since the Pirates would prefer McFear get more time in AAA. If both Liriano and Karstens are injured to start the year (which is possible), then it’ll be Locke and McPherson getting starts behind AJ, Wandy and JMac.

    I don’t see Irwin breaking camp with the big league club despite the nice spring he’s having, but he could see starts in PIT at some point this year. From what I know about him, he has a Karstens-type upside (which is not particularly good). Low 90s fastball, good control, not a ton of stuff.

    • Tom Jacks

      Tom Jacks says:
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      @Jon: Thanks! A Snider/Tabata platoon makes sense. I could also see them keeping Kyle (we’re on a first name basis now) in the minors for a little longer since he doesn’t have too much time in AAA.

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