Hall of Fame baseball writer Rick Hummel quickly sizes up the competition in the National League Central division:
Kwang Hyun Kim might be the sleeper free-agent acquisition of the offseason. Until the opposition draws a better bead on him, there will be an awfully lot of bad-looking swings at the lefthander who throws four pitches. He should start the season in the rotation but could move to the bullpen, if needed.
If the Cubs start badly, the Kris Bryant trade rumors will intensify. With a starting staff long in the tooth and little behind it in the minors, the Cubs’ window for a championship with this group may be slamming shut. Theo Epstein is on the clock.
Ryan Braun’s contract expires after this season. Now a 36-year-old outfielder/first baseman/DH, Braun, who hit .285 last year, is in his 14th season with the Brewers and will have made $140 million by the end of the season. There is a $15 million option for 2021 with a $4 million buyout.
Joey Votto also is 36 and in his 13th season in Cincinnati. He is fading, having hit just 27 homers total the past two seasons and driving in only 47 runs in 2019, when he batted .261. Unlike Braun’s expiring contract, the Reds are on the hook for $107 million for Votto through 2023, with an option for 2024.
No team has gone longer without a division title than the Pirates, who have had 27 consecutive years without one. The Colorado Rockies and Florida/Miami Marlins also haven’t won a division in 27 years — the entire existence of both franchises — but the Marlins have two World Series titles.