The NL Central is far from the same division it was in October. Bill Brink looks at the changes.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein inherited a tough situation when he took the job in October, but he and new manager Dale Sveum can build a team around young shortstop Starlin Castro. They began by sending starter Carlos Zambrano to Miami for pitcher Chris Volstad and acquiring a potential first baseman of the future, Anthony Rizzo, from the Padres.
The Reds had one of the most successful offseasons in baseball. They acquired young starter Mat Latos -- at the expense of promising prospects Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal -- and signed closer Ryan Madson for a bargain price of $8.5 million. Those players will join Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips on a team in position to contend for the division title.
New owner Jim Crane and new GM Jeff Luhnow will oversee a period of change for the franchise, which eventually will move to the American League in 2013. The team will likely field a lineup of young players such as Jimmy Paredes and Jose Altuve. They signed former Pirates catcher Chris Snyder to join Jason Castro, coming off knee and foot injuries, and Humberto Quintero.
The 2011 division champions lost star 1B Prince Fielder in free agency and may lose NL MVP Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the season if Braun is suspended for using a banned substance. Their pitching staff returns mostly intact, however, and they signed free agent 3B Aramis Ramirez to replace a portion of the power they lost when Fielder left.
The driving force of the World Series champions, Albert Pujols, signed with the Angels, and manager Tony La Russa retired. New manager Mike Matheny will guide the Cardinals, who signed OF Carlos Beltran and re-signed SS Rafael Furcal. Former 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, who missed all of 2011 because of Tommy John surgery, should rejoin the rotation this season.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG.