BERNIE BITS: 

It’s time to check in and update the NL Central as the member teams desperately spend money and make trades and disregard all discipline in the ravenous attempt to win it all… 

No, wait, that would be the NL East. 

Or just the rambunctious San Diego Padres all by themselves. 

But let’s go to the tote board: 

As of noon Tuesday STL time, here are the major league free-agents signed by NL Central teams: 

Cubs: relief pitcher Jonathan Holder, 1-year, $875,000.

Brewers: utility infielder Daniel Robertson, 1-year, 900,000. And backup catcher Luke Maile, 1-year, $825,000.

Cardinals: Zero. 

Reds:  Zero. 

Pirates: Zero.

Total money spent on MLB free-agents by the five NL Central juggernauts: $2.475 million. But the teams realized immense savings by offloading contracts through trades, decisions to decline options, or letting their players walk to free agency without making an offer. 

It’s a lengthy list of notables that includes Yu Darvish, Trevor Bauer, Kyle Schwarber, Joe Musgrove, Raisel Iglesias, Jon Lester, Kolten Wong, Archie Bradley, Ryan Braun, Josh Bell, Jose Quintana, Anthony DeSclafani, Freddy Galvis, Brett Anderson, Albert Almora Jr. and John Brebbia. 

Keeping this within the National League … 

NL East: teams have invested $127.1 million in free agents. That includes Mets starting pitcher Marcus Stroman, who bypassed a shot at free agency to accept the team’s qualifying offer of $18.9 million for 2021. And this does not include the Mets trade for Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, who avoided arbitration by signing a $22.3 million contract for 2021. 

NL West: The free-agent buying has been pretty calm except for San Diego guaranteeing $28 million to coveted Korean infielder Ha-seong Kim. Total amount of free-agent dollars spent in the division is $50.25 million. That includes Giants starting pitcher Kevin Gausman choosing to take the team’s qualifying offer of $18.9 million for 2021. But the Padres have gotten a lot done in the form of rotation-boosting trades for Darvish, Blake Snell, and Musgrove. (The Musgrove went down late Sunday; the tanking Pirates parted with their underrated starter and received four prospects in a three-team deal. The Padres also added a solid backup catcher-1B in Victor Caratini. 

Patience, John Mozeliak says. 

During the Cardinals’ Winter Warmup Mozeliak suggested that teams could wait until spring-training camps open to add talent. 

“It wouldn’t shock me to see some of that happen this year,” Mozeliak said in one of many Zoom conference sessions over the weekend.. “People get into camp.People look at what they have. Maybe reassess and do something different. The more time you can buy, to when you understand when you can open up your gates, and how many people you can have come to your stadium, is going to drive a lot of this. Each team is its own entity. Each team has its own rules. But a lot of this is based on state and local government, on what you can and cannot do. We are not all playing from a level playing field this year. I think that has created some of this slowness this offseason.”

OK, I’m about to be a smart-arse here, because I do understand Mozeliak’s point… well, at least to a point. 

But it sure is funny how these state and local governments work. 

If the Padres want to go for it, no problem. Same with Atlanta, Washington and the New York Mets. And the NY Yankees and Chicago White Sox, and even the Canadian-based Toronto Blue Jays. Miraculously none of these teams encountered governmental interference or suppression in making roster moves. Come to think of it, the other team in Missouri, the Kansas City Royals, have been aggressive this winter — surprisingly investing $55.7 million in free-agent contracts. 

But I suppose all of the NL Central teams are worried about the local governments and how their Covid-19 decisions will impact home attendance in 2021. Other teams around baseball are doing their business, putting together rosters. But the NL Central franchises have Big Brother Government looking over their shoulders and are very, very concerned about spending a little cash money on players. That must be it. 

I don’t think The Government is preventing the Cardinals from making deals with Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina.

READING TIME 5 MINUTES

Congrats to Ladue native Becky Sauerbrunn for being named captain of the U.S. women’s national soccer team. If you think about it, Sauerbrunn is one of the most accomplished athletes to represent St. Louis in any sport. She’s already been a key piece of U.S. teams that won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal — with another chance for Olympic gold coming this summer. Sauerbrunn, 35, has played 178 games for the national team. A St. Louis Sports Legend. 

Tennessee has fired another football coach? Yes, Jeremy Pruitt was removed after a university-led investigation uncovered serious recruiting violations. Not counting two interim coaches, the Volunteers will be looking for their fifth head coach since 2009 — following (in order) Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones, and Pruitt. Tennessee’s comical inability to fix a sleeping-giant football program is very good for Mizzou. As long as Mizzou can take advantage of the dysfunction in Knoxville. Pruitt, 46, had a three-season record of 16-19, including a 3-7 mark in 2020. The Vols have had only five winning records over the last 13 seasons. 

When the Cardinals talk about being built around pitching and defense, I get the logic, I’ve repeatedly praised the performance, and I’ve seen the results.The Cards have made the playoffs for two consecutive seasons on the legitimate foundation of pitching and defense — strengths that compensated for an impotent offense in both years. But the “We Live On Pitching and Defense” platform lacks some credibility this time around. Because if pitching-defense (and base running skill) are so substantial in the Cardinals’ winning formula, then why did the club decline the $11.5 option on second baseman Kolten Wong? Since the start of the 2019 season Wong is only one of four MLB full-time second basemen to accrue at least 5.0 WAR. Wong built that WAR on gold-glove defense and speed. Among Cardinals position players, only first baseman Paul Goldschmidt had more WAR (5.1) than Wong (5.0) over the last two seasons. Moreover, Wong pumped energy into a lethargic offense with his .358 onbase percentage over the last two seasons. The only regular Cardinal with a higher OBP since the start of ‘19 was Goldschmidt (.360.) 

The esteemed Baseball America is out with its new Top 100 Prospects for 2021, and the Cardinals have three players on the list: outfielder Dylan Carlson (No. 9), lefthanded pitcher Matthew Liberatore (No. 46), and third baseman Nolan Gorman (No. 54.) Several other Cardinals received at least one vote but didn’t make the 100 cut: third baseman Elehuris Montero, catcher Ivan Herrera, corner infielder Jason Walker and lefty pitcher Zack Thompson …

Thirteen organizations had more players on the Top 100 than St. Louis, led by the Padres (7), Braves (6), and Marlins (6). Ten teams had fewer Top 100 prospects than the Cardinals three including the division-rival Cubs (2), Brewers (2) and Reds (2). The other NL Central club, Pirates, had four on the 100 list ,,, by the way, among the 15 international signings made by the Cardinals so far, only one, shortstop Adari Grant, was ranked on the Baseball America list of top 50 international prospects. Grant, 18, is from the Bahamas. He’s ranked 47th.  

Random NFL notes and opinions: Of the 108 teams to have advanced to the Super Bowl, only 10 were wild-card teams. Only four of those wild cards got to the Super Bowl after winning three three consecutive road games in the conference playoffs. The Tampa Bucs are trying to become the fifth but must go through Green Bay to get there … Cleveland Browns coach Kevin Stefanski is terrific, but he had a bad fourth quarter in Sunday’s loss at Kansas City. Wasting timeouts, not going for it on 4th and 9 with his Browns running out of time. Unfortunate … the Baltimore Ravens lost at Buffalo (17-3) despite holding the offensively-charged Bills to 220 yards and 10 points on offense. The Ravens led the league in bulk rushing yards but were dead last in passing. We’ve seen this all before, and we will see the Ravens check out of the postseason early again unless the coaches can develop Lamar Jackson as a passer and make changes in the passing-game approach … God bless Drew Brees, but Brees and coach Sean Payton couldn’t win a second Super Bowl. If Brees retires as expected, he’ll leave with four losses in his final six postseason games … Andy Reid is superb. He’s even turned the pedestrian Chad Henne into a quarterback that can jump in make plays should Patrick Mahomes leave because of an injury. With the Chiefs trying to hold off the Browns, Henne came through with the knockout blow on a dramatic third-down scramble followed by a fourth-down completion for a 1st down. Game over. 

Early odds to win the NL Central from BetOnline.ag:  Reds (9/4), Cardinals (5/2), Cubs (11/4), Brewers (11/4), Pirates (33/1.) The Cincinnati Enquirer asked: why the Reds? Adam Burns, sportsbook manager at BetOnline, told the newspaper:  “The reason why we put the Reds ahead of those teams, was pretty much my baseball guy who works with me feels the Reds had sort of a weird ending to last season. They have a pretty decent team. A team that didn’t do a big overhaul like some of the other teams. If they can kind of keep that going, we feel like they might have a better team than the Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers.” One more note: Tony La Russa’s Chicago White Sox are a 4/5 favorite to win the AL Central. 

According to The Athletic, former Houston Astros general manager and Cardinals’ draft-development director Jeff Luhnow is pursuing the purchase of a professional soccer club in Mexico. (No specific franchise was cited.) Luhnow was born and raised in Mexico City. 

 Our Town’s Jayson Tatum has missed two games while quarantining under the NBA’s Covid protocols, But the fourth-year Celtic, averaging 27.9 points per game, has a chance to return for Friday’s game at Philadelphia. Tatum offered a tribute to the late Dr. Martin Luther King in advance of King’s annual day of national honor on Monday. Tatum expressed the importance of King’s legacy during these troubling times in America. “I think this year it’s even more important that we honor that day, that we raise awareness and bring attention to that, just with everything that’s happened, really in the last six-to-12 months,” Tatum said via a short clip shared by the NBA on Saturday.

On this day in St. Louis sports history: In 2013 the one-and-only Stan Musial died from the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease at age 92. Losing The Man was inevitable, but we could really use him now. For the smile, the kindness, the grace, the wonderful sense of humor, and his innate ability to walk into a room or a ballpark and make everyone happy to be alive. 

Thanks for reading The Bits… 

–Bernie 

Listen to Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS, weekdays from 3-6 p.m. Listen online or download the show podcast at 590thefan.com … it’s available in your app store.