Black Friday is quickly approaching, which sits as the unofficial start to the Christmas buying season, but for the Cardinals, the seasonal shopping is well underway. With the addition of Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden, the St. Louis Cardinals have addressed two of their biggest outstanding needs in the young offseason already: an all-around upgrade in the everyday lineup and a back of the bullpen arm (that is a ‘break in case of emergency’ closing option as well). However, their work is not complete yet. In an offseason that is sending out vibes from the front office of being a very active one, where else could the team look to improve? And more so, what are the best possible routes to do so through?
Here’s a look at the team’s current build and where it could be headed to address its most pertinent needs.
Issue #1: Reinforcing the infield
Situation: There is bound to be some turnover in the infield in at least two locations: finding a right-handed bat that is capable of playing the corner infield positions and upgrading up the middle. John Mozeliak has hinted at the team wanting to upgrade on the role that Descalso plays, and has even gone as far to name him directly as a candidate not to return. Meanwhile, Adams’ struggles to progress against left-handed pitching (.197 career mark in 203 plate appearances) has reached a point where he is almost a platoon candidate.
Solution: With Ellis out the door and Descalso potentially following him, it is a good situation for Kozma, who is more than capable when cast as a defensive reinforcement at second base and (more invaluably) at shortstop. That leaves open one more position that could be addressed through free agency, although the middle infield crop is not as impressive.Kelly Johnson and Alberto Callapso are versatile options on the open market, while Clint Barmes is a more limited possibility positionally, although he is close to Kozma in usage.
The best answer is likely Greg Garcia, who has been solid in his cups of coffee visits to the big league club. With the ability to play either spot up the middle, he can be a versatile option that could be a low-cost upgrade directly in Descalso’s lane.
The other infield issue is not as easily solved, as there is not an absolute successor in the system to step up and assume as large of a role as a potential first base platoon option could be. Add in the idea that such a player should also be able to play some third, and it becomes completely apparent that some shopping must be done to fill this role.
Once again, the open market is not very accommodating for this need this year. Mark Reynolds could be a player in this scenario, although he has not played third base since his Arizona days. Otherwise, there is not an easy fix here, so either a trade may have to be maneuvered or a pure first baseman will need to be acquired such as Reynolds, Corey Hart or potentially Mike Morse—if the team is really dedicated to spending and creating a true time share—at the spot. Otherwise, the team may have to continue to bear Adams’ struggles and perhaps give Xavier Scruggs a further look in the spring as well.
Prediction: Kozma sticks, Garcia is promoted and a first baseman is signed. Third base backup remains a slight issue entering camp.
Issue #2: Left-handed bullpen help
Situation: With the injury-filled (and slightly regressed) year of Kevin Siegrist, the clubs left-handed bullpen options where limited. With Randy Choate being a pure specialist, the reliance fell on the shoulders of Sam Freeman to do much of the heavy lifting, which he was able to do in stretches last year. However, a more resolute option is desired, that can be more versatile than Choate, while still being able to overpower opponents like Siegrist. Mozeliak has said he will look to deal Choate in the name of freeing up a spot for such a left-handed option.
Solution: This is an issue that can be handled on the open market as well, it just depends to what extent the club wants to invest in it. Andrew Miller is the top lefty available, but also one of the most sought after properties overall, so his price is likely to be at a premium. After fellow southpaw reliever Zack Duke received three years and $15 million from the White Sox this week, it is fair to say that Miller should easily receive twice that value on at least as many years. That may be too rich for the Cardinals blood, but there are other routes as well.
Craig Breslow and Sean Burnett are two further options that could interest the team. The 34-year-old Breslow is coming off a career-worst campaign in Boston, where his ERA spiked up to 5.96 over 60 appearances. But in the six years previous to 2014, his career ERA was 2.82 over an average of 65 games per year.
Burnett has been injured for much of the past two years, but represents a reclamation project of sorts. He was the other left-hander on the market when the team picked up Choate two years ago, but has never got going full-speed since.
Prediction: Mozeliak sounds determined to make the team better there after the role collapsed on the team in October. There is a chance that they could decide to make the large commitment to woo Miller, whose recent success is breeding a larger payout than his long-term numbers say he should, but there is the path of less resistance as well.
On that road, they go out on faith that Siegrist is healthy and ready to resume his former stopper role, while exploring the trade market for the type of versatile, power arm they desire. If all else fails, go to the non-roster invite well late in the winter and continue to depend on Freeman and bounce back candidate like Breslow, who is capable of pitching in a variety of situations. It would seem the latter is more feasible than the former.
Issue #3: A Major Boost To The Rotation?
Situation: After dealing Shelby Miller, an opening was made in the rotation. Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales were brought forward as the options to battle for the newly open spot, which is a very feasible and even envious position to be in. However, it appears the team may want to do more, as they are in the rumor mill for the services of Jon Lester as well.
Solution: Signing Lester would obviously be a huge game changer to the expectation for the club, which is already to be back atop the NL Central and on the World Series shortlist. Putting Lester in a rotation with Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, John Lackey and Lance Lynn gives the Cardinals the best rotation in perhaps all of baseball, which is an obviously intriguing carrot to chase.
Club President Bill DeWitt has said the team is willing to add payroll this year, so getting competitive for Lester may not be as daunting of a proposition as imagined. He is likely in line for a payout of around $18 to $20 million annually, which would make him the highest paid player on the team, but there is a clear opening if wanted to fill it in such a way.
Prediction: Behind former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Lester is the most sought after premiere option on the market this year, and potentially is the best value of all as well. If the Cardinals’ interest is indeed sincere, they could get well into the mix for bidding for him, but there is a huge chance that another more desperate team offers up an insane amount of money (think C.J. Wilson in 2011), along with an extra year or so to land him in their city. It seems the Cardinals may pursue slightly, but not chase intently, and Lester ends up elsewhere while the Cardinals go to camp with their two young guns vying for the fifth rotation spot.