Capsules of National League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:
2012: 97-65, first place (lost to Giants in division series).
Manager: Dusty Baker (sixth season).
He's Here: OF Shin-Soo Choo, INF Jack Hannahan, LHP Manny Parra.
He's Outta Here: OF Drew Stubbs, 3B Scott Rolen, INF Wilson Valdez, LHP Bill Bray, RHP Ryan Madson, C Dioner Navarro, INF Miguel Cairo.
Projected Lineup: CF Shin-Soo Choo (.283, 16 HRs, 67 RBIs, 21 SBs with Cleveland), 2B Brandon Phillips (.281, 18, 77), 1B Joey Votto (.337, 14, 56 in 111 games), LF Ryan Ludwick (.275, 26, 80), RF Jay Bruce (.252, 34, 99), 3B Todd Frazier (.273, 19, 67 in 128 games), SS Zack Cozart (.246, 15, 35), C Ryan Hanigan (.274, 2, 24).
Rotation: RH Johnny Cueto (19-9, 2.78 ERA, 33 starts, 2 CG), RH Bronson Arroyo (12-10, 3.74, 32 starts), RH Mat Latos (14-4, 3.46, 33 starts, 2 CG), RH Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.68, 33 starts, 2 CG, 1 no-hitter), RH Mike Leake (8-9, 4.58, 30 starts).
Key Relievers: LH Aroldis Chapman (5-5, 1.51, 38/43 saves in 68 games), RH Jonathan Broxton (3-3, 2.82, 4 saves with Reds; 1-2, 2.27, 23 saves with Royals), LH Sean Marshall (5-5, 2.51, 9 saves), RH Logan Ondrusek (5-2, 3.46), RH Jose Arredondo (6-2, 2.95), RH Sam LeCure (3-3, 3.14).
Hot Spots: The Reds settled their biggest issue of spring training when they decided to keep Chapman as the closer instead of moving him into the rotation. With Broxton on board, they'll have one of the top late-inning combinations in the club's recent history. Baker will have to decide how many days in a row to use Chapman -- the hard-throwing Cuban developed a tired shoulder last September. But the manager now has two proven choices to finish off games, which is two more than he had to start last season after the back end of the bullpen was wiped out by injuries.
Outlook: The Reds return their roster virtually intact from a 97-win season that was good enough to win a second NL Central title in three years. The goal is to get past the first round of the playoffs, something Cincinnati has failed to do. The rotation is one of the NL's best, and none of the starters missed a turn because of injury during the regular season. That ended when Cueto pulled muscles in his side during the first inning of his playoff start against the Giants. If the rotation can stay healthy again and Votto regains his power stroke, the Reds should be favored to reach the playoffs and advance this time. The lineup is solid with Choo -- acquired from Cleveland in a deal that included Stubbs -- giving them a sound leadoff hitter for the first time in years. Frazier, who got Rookie of the Year votes, takes over at third base for Rolen, who chose not to come to spring training. The most encouraging sign this spring was Votto's return. The 2010 NL MVP missed 48 games because of torn knee cartilage last season and wasn't fully recovered when he returned. Cincinnati's best hitter was back in form during spring training, hitting his first home runs since June 24.
St. Louis Cardinals
2012: 88-74, second place, wild card (lost to San Francisco in NLCS).
Manager: Mike Matheny (second season).
He's Here: LHP Randy Choate, INF Ty Wigginton, C Rob Johnson.
He's Outta Here: RHP Kyle Lohse, 1B Lance Berkman, 2B-OF Skip Schumaker, RHP Kyle McClellan, LHP Brian Fuentes.
Projected Lineup: CF Jon Jay (.305, 4 HRs, 40 RBIs, 19 SBs, .373 OBP), 3B Matt Carpenter (.294, 6, 46 in 296 at-bats), LF Matt Holliday (.295, 27, 102, 95 runs), 1B Allen Craig (.307, 22, 92 in 119 games), RF Carlos Beltran (.269, 32, 97, 13 SBs), C Yadier Molina (.315, 22, 76, 12 SBs), 2B Daniel Descalso (.227, 4, 26), SS Pete Kozma (.333, 2, 14 in 26 games).
Rotation: RH Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94 ERA, 184 Ks, 198 2-3 IP), LH Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92 in 20 starts), RH Jake Westbrook (13-11, 3.97), RH Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78), RH Joe Kelly (5-7, 3.53 in 16 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Jason Motte (4-5, 2.75, 42/49 saves), RH Mitchell Boggs (4-1, 2.21 in 78 games), LH Randy Choate (0-0, 3.03 with Marlins and Dodgers), LH Marc Rzepczynski (1-3, 4.24), RH Edward Mujica (0-0, 1.03 in 29 games), RH Trevor Rosenthal (0-2, 2.78, 25 Ks in 22 2-3 IP).
Hot Spots: Kozma had the inside track on the starting shortstop job after Rafael Furcal reinjured his elbow early in camp, and won it when veteran Ronny Cedeno was released on March 19. The former first-round pick had foundered in the minors before getting a late-season shot last year when Furcal was first hurt. Carpenter has added second base to his lengthy list of positions after appearing at five spots last year, but he'll begin the season at third with David Freese (.293, 20, 79) on the disabled list due to a back injury.
Outlook: After finishing nine games behind the division-champion Reds, the Cardinals were one win from a repeat World Series appearance before blowing a 3-1 NLCS lead against the Giants. Since then, they've lost 16-game winner Lohse to free agency, added no key pieces and been hit hard by injuries. Former ace Chris Carpenter's career is likely over due to nerve issues in his pitching arm. Furcal is out for the year after reconstructive elbow surgery. Freese and Motte (forearm) are both on the shelf to begin the season. Boggs is the stand-in closer. To top it off, Matheny missed a few days of camp due to back surgery. The Cardinals are banking heavily on Wainwright, just signed to a $97.5 million, five-year contract covering 2014-18, regaining his form as one of the NL's top starters in his second year back from elbow reconstruction. They're also counting on young arms Rosenthal, Kelly and Shelby Miller blossoming, Garcia avoiding another trip to the DL and Kozma settling in at the bottom of one of the league's best lineups.
2012: 83-79, third place.
Manager: Ron Roenicke (third season).
He's Here: RHP Kyle Lohse, LHP Mike Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, RHP Burke Badenhop, INF Yuniesky Betancourt.
He's Outta Here: RHP Shaun Marcum, OF Nyjer Morgan, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, LHP Manny Parra, 1B Travis Ishikawa, RHP Kameron Loe, RHP Jose Veras, RHP Fautino De Los Santos.
Projected Lineup: RF Norichika Aoki (.288, 10 HRs, 50 RBIs, 30 SBs), 2B Rickie Weeks (.230, 21, 63), LF Ryan Braun (.319, 41, 112), 3B Aramis Ramirez (.300, 27, 105), 1B Corey Hart (.270, 30, 83), C Jonathan Lucroy (.320, 12, 58), CF Carlos Gomez (.260, 19, 51), SS Jean Segura (.264, 0, 14 in 44 games with Brewers).
Rotation: RH Yovani Gallardo (16-9, 3.66 ERA), RH Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86, 211 IP with Cardinals), RH Marco Estrada (3-10, 5.69), RH Mike Fiers (9-10, 3.79), LH Chris Narveson (1-1, 7.00 in 2 starts) or RH Wily Peralta (2-1, 2.48 in 6 games, 5 starts).
Key Relievers: RH John Axford (5-8, 4.67, 35/44 saves), LH Mike Gonzalez (0-0, 3.03 with Washington), RH Jim Henderson (1-3, 3.52), RH Brandon Kintzler (3-0, 3.78), RH Burke Badenhop (3-2, 3.03 with Tampa Bay).
Hot Spots: Hart will begin the season on the disabled list after having surgery in late January to repair cartilage damage in his right knee. Hart is a quick healer -- he returned far faster than expected last offseason when he had surgery on the same knee for a torn meniscus -- but he's still expected to be out until sometime in May. That means Alex Gonzalez will likely move over to first base, and Segura will no longer have to look over his shoulder at Gonzalez while trying to nail down the shortstop position.
Outlook: Milwaukee traded pitcher Zack Greinke last summer but quietly made up for it by having one of the most productive offenses in the majors -- and that lineup returns almost entirely intact. Braun has put an offseason filled with questions about his connection to PEDs in his rearview mirror, and insists that his focus is solely on the upcoming season. If he can put together another MVP-caliber season, Gallardo and Lohse can anchor the pitching staff and Segura can live up to expectations in the everyday lineup, the Brewers could be in position to compete in the NL Central.
2012: 79-83, fourth place.
Manager: Clint Hurdle (third season).
He's Here: C Russell Martin, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Jeanmar Gomez, RHP Mark Melancon, LHP Jonathan Sanchez, 3B Brandon Inge, 1B-OF Brad Hawpe
He's Outta Here: RHP Joel Hanrahan, RHP Kevin Correia, C Rod Barajas, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Chris Resop, 2B Brock Holt.
Projected Lineup: LF Starling Marte (.257, 5 HRs, 17 RBIs, 12/17 SBs), 2B Neil Walker (.280, 14, 69), CF Andrew McCutchen (.327, 31, 96), 3B Pedro Alvarez (.244, 30, 85, 180 Ks), 1B Garrett Jones (.274, 27, 86), C Russell Martin (.211, 21, 53 with Yankees), RF Travis Snider (.250, 4, 17 with Blue Jays and Pirates), SS Clint Barmes (.229, 8, 45).
Rotation: RH A.J. Burnett (16-10, 3.51 ERA, 180 Ks), LH Wandy Rodriguez (12-13, 3.76 with Astros and Pirates), RH James McDonald (12-8, 4.21), RH Jeff Karstens (5-4, 3.97), LH Jeff Locke (1-3, 5.50).
Key Relievers: RH Jason Grilli (1-6, 2.91, 2 saves), RH Jared Hughes (2-2, 2.85 in 66 games), RH Chris Leroux (0-0, 5.56), LH Tony Watson (5-2, 3.38 ERA in 68 games), RH Mark Melancon (0-2, 6.20 with Red Sox).
Hot Spots: The back end of the rotation is in flux as the season begins. Liriano is likely out until May while recovering from a broken right (non-throwning) arm sustained in December. Karstens is dealing with arm issues as well, meaning the 25-year-old Locke will probably get a starting spot coming out of spring training by default. At 36, Grilli is a journeyman reliever who gets to close for the first time in his career. He sparkled as a setup man last year but now must fill the void left by the trade of Hanrahan, a two-time All-Star.
Outlook: It sounds almost bizarre, but it could very well be the playoffs or bust for this group of Pirates. Pittsburgh flirted with the postseason and the franchise's first winning record in two decades last summer before fading over the final six weeks. The roster returns pretty much intact. The addition of Martin should help shore up some of the defensive issues the team had last season. McCutchen became a true star in 2012, finishing third in the NL MVP race and making Pittsburgh relevant for the first time in ages. Burnett and Rodriguez provide some stability at the top of the rotation, and Alvarez harnessed his power into a career-high 30 home runs. Still, owner Bob Nutting wants more. He extended Hurdle's contract during spring training but says the team needs to take the next step or there could be wholesale changes both in the front office and in the clubhouse. Pittsburgh's biggest problem might be that the NL Central competition got better in the offseason while the Pirates mostly stood pat. A winning season isn't out of the question, but neither is a significant step back.
2012: 61-101, fifth place.
Manager: Dale Sveum (second season).
He's Here: RHP Edwin Jackson, RHP Scott Baker, RHP Scott Feldman, RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa, C Dioner Navarro, OF Nate Schierholtz.
He's Outta Here: 1B-RF Bryan LaHair, RHP Chris Volstad, C Anthony Recker.
Projected Lineup: CF David DeJesus (.263, 9 HRs, 50 RBIs), SS Starlin Castro (.283, 14, 78), 1B Anthony Rizzo (.285, 15, 48 in 87 games), LF Alfonso Soriano (.262, 32, 108), RF Nate Schierholtz (.257, 6, 21 with San Francisco and Philadelphia) or Scott Hairston (.263, 20, 57 with Mets), 2B Darwin Barney (.254, 7, 44), C Welington Castillo (.265, 5, 22), 3B Luis Valbuena (.219, 4, 28).
Rotation: RH Jeff Samardzija (9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 Ks), RH Edwin Jackson (10-11, 4.03 with Washington), RH Matt Garza (5-7, 3.91, 18 starts), RH Scott Feldman (6-11, 5.09 with Texas), LH Travis Wood (6-13, 4.27) or RH Carlos Villanueva (7-7, 4.16 in 38 games, 16 starts with Toronto).
Key Relievers: RH Carlos Marmol (3-3, 3.42, 20/23 saves), RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (2-2, 1.32, 24 saves with Hanshin Tigers in Japan), RH Shawn Camp (3-6, 3.59, 2 saves in major league-high 80 games), LH James Russell (7-1, 3.25, 2 saves in 77 games), RH Michael Bowden (0-0, 2.95 in 32 games with Red Sox and Cubs).
Hot Spots: Garza is expected to be sidelined until early to mid-May because of a strained left lat, a blow to the Cubs on two fronts. He's one of their best pitchers and one of their most attractive trade chips. Soriano's name also is a regular in the rumor mill, and Marmol's status as closer seems shaky, given the deal in place with the Los Angeles Angels for pitcher Dan Haren that fell through and the arrival of Fujikawa from Japan. Also, third baseman Ian Stewart is opening the season on the DL with a strained left quadriceps, and Baker will miss the start of the season after elbow surgery that forced him to miss all of 2012 for Minnesota.
Outlook: As they enter the second year of the Theo Epstein era, the Cubs remain in the early stages of a building process. They did, however, try to speed things along. They made a big play for Anibal Sanchez before he re-signed with Detroit and then signed Jackson to a $52 million, four-year deal, all after the Marmol-Haren trade fell through. Those were breaks from the smaller deals the Cubs had made to that point under Epstein. They still have a long way to go, though. This isn't about quick fixes. The Cubs are trying to build up their minor league system, hoping the payoff will be the club's first championship since 1908. Despite the record last season, they believe they're on the right path. They have six potential starters with Jackson, Garza and Samardzija leading the rotation, and they can boast a young All-Star shortstop in Castro along with a Gold Glove second baseman in Barney.