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NL Hot Stove preview (cont.)

Posted: Friday November 10, 2006 12:19PM; Updated: Friday November 10, 2006 4:29PM
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NL Central

Aramis Ramirez opted out of the final two years of his contract, leaving the Cubs with their customary hole to fill at third base.
Aramis Ramirez opted out of the final two years of his contract, leaving the Cubs with their customary hole to fill at third base.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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Chicago Cubs
Team Needs: Third baseman, outfielder, starting pitching
As if the Cubs didn't ramble through enough bramble to their last-place finish in 2006, now they have to either kiss off the rose that was free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez or outbid the Western Hemisphere for him. Putting that aside, there's the issue of the Chicago outfield, where Jacques Jones hit 27 home runs last season and all others Cubs outfielders hit 24. And while Carlos Zambrano certified himself as a horse in the rotation and Rich Hill offered something, with Mark Prior in his ongoing injury limbo, the Cubs might want more than Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Angel Guzman or Juan Mateo to round out their rotation.

Cincinnati Reds
Team Needs: A superstar
The Reds surprised by leading the NL wild-card race much of 2006 and contending to the season's final weekend, minimizing the holes in their lineup and starting rotation. But the team could really use a guy who's the epitome of something -- a mega-anything. We're not talking about a mere name from the past like Ken Griffey Jr., but a real, contemporary hammer. Unfortunately, it's not in Cincinnati's modus operandi to do more than dream of such a stud. Instead, the Reds are more likely to try to solve their problems in the bullpen with more investments in relief pitcher flotsam.

Houston Astros
Team Needs: Outfielder, starting pitching
Houston has the opposite problem from Cincinnati. First baseman Lance Berkman was a smash, but there were often three automatic outs in the lineup in with good-field, no-hit shortstop Adam Everett and and catcher Brad Ausmus, followed by the pitcher. The Astros enter the offseason with a number of unanswered questions about what they should expect from a collection of inconsistent youngsters, injury-plagued vets, and free agents (most notably pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte). It's safe to say that Houston wouldn't spit at a rock-solid bat in the outfield (especially if Ausmus and Everett are locked in the batting order) or a front-line starting pitcher (especially if Clemens or Pettitte ride off).

Milwaukee Brewers
Team Needs: Outfielder, starting pitching
Despite a disappointing finish to 2006, the Brewers have the makings of a contender in 2007. Some are saying that the team's top priority should be to boost its offense, and certainly, there's room for improvement in a lineup that was in flux last season, when only four starters played 120 games or more with the team. The Brewers might consider focusing on an arm to fill out their starting rotation. Ben Sheets hasn't been all that healthy lately, and Doug Davis isn't all that intimidating. It's funny, though, you wouldn't think it would be so hard to determine an obvious need for a team that finished 75-87.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Team Needs: Power
This one's pretty simple. The Pirates finished last in NL home runs and slugging percentage last season. The outfielders alongside Jason Bay in particular need an upgrade.

St. Louis Cardinals
Team Needs: Starting pitching
Four men who made at least 15 starts for the 2006 world champions are eligible for free agency: Jeff Weaver and Jeff Suppan, Mark Mulder and Jason Marquis -- each about as much a risk to retain as to let go. The quandary is soothed somewhat by Anthony Reyes' promise and daydreams of moving postseason closer Adam Wainwright to the rotation, but still, you can't ask Chris Carpenter to start 90 games.

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