St. Louis Cardinals

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

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USA TODAY

Marcell Ozuna signing with Braves rules out potential suitor for Kris Bryant

When former Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson signed with the Twins last week, one thought was Atlanta could pivot and try to acquire Kris Bryant to fill the void in their lineup.

That possibility looks less likely now, as the Braves announced Tuesday they’ve signed former Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna to a one-year, $18 million deal.

The Braves didn’t have a dire need for a third baseman — 22-year-old Austin Riley, a former top prospect, is waiting in the wings — so much as they needed a bat to replace Donaldson. Bryant would have checked both those boxes, but the path to acquiring him is more difficult.

Bryant has been fixated in trade rumors this winter, but any extensive negotiations won’t occur until his service time grievance case is resolved. NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan reported last week Bryant trade rumors this winter have been “greatly exaggerated” because the lingering grievance.

The Braves have been named a potential Bryant suitor as they hold the top prospects the Cubs would seek in return for Bryant. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman threw cold water on that notion recently.

There’s also the possibility the Cubs don’t move at all Bryant this offseason.

"No, we're not in a position where we *have* to do anything,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there.

“We’re not at all in that position but looking at the longer time horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long-term and a little bit less for the short-term, but that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody."

Ozuna joining the Braves means the Cardinals lost one of their most productive bats from the 2019 division championship club. Like the Cubs, St. Louis' offseason has been marked by low-key moves, outside of the Cardinals acquiring pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore from the Rays, a deal which sent Cardinals slugger Jose Martinez to Tampa Bay.

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The Cubs' main rivals just keep getting better and better

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USA TODAY

The Cubs' main rivals just keep getting better and better

Less than an hour after the Cubs finally made a move at the MLB Winter Meetings, GM Jed Hoyer held court with reporters and teased a potentially busy stretch of action around the game.

This week hasn't been filled with megadeals for the game's top players, but Hoyer was true to his word in that several free agents have gone off the board and it just so happens every team around the Cubs has improved their roster in the last 48 hours.

The Brewers added a decent bat to their lineup Monday afternoon and even if they probably paid a bit too much for Avisail Garcia, it's still an upgrade over their previous outfield.

Later Monday night, the Reds continued to fill out what is probably the best starting rotation in the National League Central, inking veteran southpaw Wade Miley to a two-year, $15 million deal.

Then, Tuesday afternoon, the Cardinals found their fifth starter in the form of Korean left-hander Kwang-hyun Kim.

Meanwhile, the Cubs have yet to make a significant move, though there's plenty of offseason left and they figure to be more active on the trade market, not in free agency.

At the moment, the Cubs look like an inferior team compared to the Reds and Cardinals. Sure, there's still a lot of talent on the Cubs roster, but that was the case last season and they wound up winning only 84 games and eliminated from postseason contention with almost a week left in the regular season.

The Reds have added a much-needed bat (Mike Moustakas) and diversified their rotation with the acquisition of Miley. It gives Cincinnati a lefty on an otherwise-right-handed-heavy starting staff and provides depth by moving Tyler Mahle out of the rotation and either into the bullpen or the minor leagues.

Miley, 33, rejuvenated his career in the NL Central with the Brewers in 2018, sporting a 2.57 ERA in 16 starts. He cashed in on that success by signing with the Astros last offseason and wound up making 33 starts for the powerhouse AL West squad, going 14-6 with a 3.98 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. He has typically done a solid job of keeping the ball in the ballpark, so his move to Great American Ballpark shouldn't be too much of an issue.

In 2018, Miley went 2-0 against the Cubs with a 2.45 ERA in two starts. Over his career, he has permitted just a .214 batting average against the Cubs (10 starts).

The Reds don't need Miley to be anything more than a No. 4 starter, since they already boast a powerful three-headed combo atop the rotation in Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer. Miley's addition is one more reminder the Reds are making a strong push for the division in 2020.

The Cardinals — the reigning NL Central champs — made it just a few wins away from the World Series this past fall and responded by re-signing veteran Adam Wainwright to the rotation. They added to that with the Kim move Tuesday with a two-year, $8 million deal:

Kim, 31, has spent his entire professional career in the Korean Baseball Organization, where he's worked almost exclusively as a starter. He went 17-6 with a 2.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 in 31 outings (30 starts) for the SK Wyverns in 2019.

He has a career 3.27 ERA in Korea and has steadily improved his walk rate in recent seasons. Kim would probably slot in as the Cardinals' fifth starter, behind Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Wainwright.

St. Louis still needs to find a way to replace Marcell Ozuna's bat in the lineup, but their pitching is in better shape now than it was to begin the offseason.

The Cubs insist they'd be comfortable heading into 2020 with a "status quo" roster, but they also desire major change in the clubhouse mix and will almost assuredly trade a player or two to help meet their short- and long-term needs. 

Despite the plan to potentially take a step back next season, Theo Epstein and Co. are not in the midst of a full-on rebuild and plan to be a contender in 2020 once again. But regardless of what their roster looks like, the Cubs should face some steep competition in the NL Central next season in what is shaping up to be a fascinating four-team race. 

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Cardinals meet with Keuchel and Ryu as they look to fill out rotation, per report

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USA TODAY

Cardinals meet with Keuchel and Ryu as they look to fill out rotation, per report

The Cardinals met with the representatives of free agent starters Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu at the Winter Meetings this week, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi.

St. Louis has an opening in their rotation, as longtime Cardinal Michael Wacha agreed to a one-year deal with the Mets Wednesday. They could address that vacancy internally, with candidates including Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon. Each comes with questions, however.

Martinez has dealt with shoulder problems the past two seasons and underwent a "small procedure" to address soreness in October. He moved to the bullpen in August 2018 as a result and was the Cardinals closer last season.

Reyes was once a top Cardinals prospect, but he’s pitched in just 17 games (six starts) since his 2016 — his rookie campaign. He underwent season-ending surgery in 2017 (Tommy John) and 2018 (torn lat).

Gomber posted a 4.26 ERA in 11 starts in 2018 while making 18 more appearances in relief. He didn’t pitch in the big leagues last season. Ponce de Leon started eight of his 13 appearances last season, posting a 4.15 ERA out of the rotation.

Keuchel or Ryu would be an upgrade over the uncertainty that comes with the four aforementioned candidates. Keuchel isn’t an annual Cy Young Award contender, but he holds a 3.77 ERA in 102 starts since winning the award with the Astros in 2015.

Ryu won the National League ERA title (2.32) with the Dodgers last season and holds a career 2.98 ERA in 126 games (125 starts). He’s dealt with a fair share of injuries in his career and underwent surgery on a torn left labrum in 2015. Teams will be wary of Ryu’s injury-riddled past, but he’s a frontline starter when healthy.

The Cardinals rotation is currently made up of Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, Adam Wainwright and Dakota Hudson.

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