The St. Louis Cardinals’ offseason remains—to this point— defined more by subtraction than addition, at least when talking about the big names. Perhaps they are simply waiting for players’ markets to continue to develop. But in the meantime, are they missing out on what could be key contributors?
There still is a lot of time left before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. The Cards did decide to bring back shortstop Rafael Furcal, adding him on a two-year deal that will hopefully bring stability to the position in the short-term. They also signed lefty J.C. Romero this week, solidifying that side of the bullpen.
Nick Punto will not be returning to the Cardinals for 2012; he signed with the Boston Red Sox this week. “The Shredder” made an impact on the 2011 team, and not just in the laundry room. Punto is definitely a positive personality in the clubhouse, and a defensive beast on the field. With the re-signing of Skip Schumaker and the emergence of Daniel Descalso, Punto would have again been a bench player in St. Louis. But that’s also the role he will likely play in Boston. So why was he not brought back? This may be a bigger loss than the Cards realize. It’s tough to understate the value of a 5th or 6th infielder, but a positive clubhouse presence coupled with veteran leadership is never unwelcome on a major league roster. Punto will be missed.
This likely means the Cardinals are looking more to the outfield for roster additions. Carlos Beltran remains an interesting possibility, but as players like Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer get snatched up the price will only go higher for a hitter like Beltran. He will turn 35 not long after the 2012 season starts, and has been making about $19 million per year for a while now. What will he be looking for? Five years? $15 million, or more? If the Cardinals had a problem paying Albert Pujols for 10 years, they certainly shouldn’t seriously consider paying Beltran for five.
According to reports from Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the team may also have an interest in upgrading the rotation and Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook are still in play. These are all intriguing possibilities; meanwhile, the number of viable players is starting to dwindle. Are the Cardinals going to make a “big splash?”
Signing Pujols would have been the biggest deal—in more ways than one—in franchise history for the Cards. But he’s gone now. So is a different big deal necessary, or even desirable? The Cards do get Adam Wainwright back at some point in 2012, presumably early in the season. Allen Craig may be down for a while as he recovers from offseason knee surgery, but does the team want to block him by adding a long-term solution in right field? Sure, there can always be mixing and matching in the outfield. But adding another long-term veteran when capable young players are beating down the door certainly doesn’t seem like the best idea in the world.
But that’s not to say the Cards are without needs for 2012. Can Wainwright really be effective, especially early in the season? How will Jon Jay’s numbers play out as the everyday center fielder? Who will fill in while Craig is recovering, and where will that player go once Craig rejoins the big club in St. Louis? Do the Cards have enough pitching? Who is the backup catcher? How is the organizational depth in case the injury bug hits the team? These are not easy questions to answer, but they need to be addressed regardless.
The Cardinals have a good team returning for 2012, but they need more. The Brewers, Reds, and Cubs are salivating no that Pujols is gone. His productivity will be impossible to replace, but several really good acquisitions can certainly help. If this team has any designs on being the first repeat World Series Champion since the 99-00 season, they are going to have to be over-the-top good.
Chris Reed is a freelance writer who also writes for InsideSTL Mondays and at Bird Brained whenever he feels like it. Follow him on Twitter @birdbrained.