We all know that question #1 for the Cardinals is whether or not Albert Pujols comes back, and that will be keeping John Mozeliak’s attention for most of the next two months.
I expect it will be a long negotiation while he waits for the market to completely develop. I see Prince Fielder signing first, probably something around 5 year, $115 million (in my opinion in Texas or with the Cubs). Then Pujols will likely return to the Cardinals with about an 8 year, $190 million deal. Yes, I do expect that Pujols will return to the Cardinals next season, and I think it’s just a matter of time.
If I’m the Cardinals, I have Allen Craig penciled in at first and Lance Berkman penciled in in right field should Albert Pujols not sign. My backup plan is in place and all I need to really do now is solidify the holes on the team.
So what do I do if I’m the Cardinals GM and I’m busy twiddling my fingers waiting for Pujols to finally sign on the dotted line?
Solidify the Middle Infield Situation
The first thing I’m thinking about is finding a way to solidify the middle infield. Obviously last season’s decision to trade defense for offense was a bust. The Cardinals were at their best when we were getting good defensive play up the middle in center field, short stop, and second base. The trade for Rafael Furcal really strengthened the defense at short stop. Unfortunately it didn’t help the offense.
If it were up to me, Furcal would not be my first choice to play short stop. His injury history scares me off and his offensive performance leaves me wanting.
I would contact the agent for Clint Barmes. In Houston last year as their starting short stop, Barmes hit .244 with 12 HRs and 39 RBI. He was a +14 runs saved on defense at short stop, compared to Furcal’s +2. Barmes provides just as much pop, just as much bat, but a far better defender who is also two years younger and without the injury history. He made $3.93 million last year and will likely command a raise on top of that. I think something like 3 years, $15 million would get the job done to bring him in and surely he’d rather play for a World Series contender than Houston.
With his ability to play both second and short stop plus defensively, he also provides you some great flexibility if you decide that Ryan Jackson is deserving of an opportunity to play short stop in a couple years.
Next, I’m looking for a second baseman. Somewhere in all of this mess you have to find someone who can legitimately be considered a leadoff hitter for you. While Jon Jay might be able to fit that bill in center field, you want to have someone who can jump into that spot during his slumps. That brings me to my choice at second base, Jamey Carroll.
Carroll,at 37, has basically been a utility guy for most of his career. As a free agent the opportunity to play for a playoff contender could be interesting to him. Last season he hit .290 with a .359 OBP over his 146 games for the Dodgers. He was also a +2 runs saved at second base in 81 games there. Certainly a player that could be capable of leading off when you consider in 33 games as the Dodgers’ leadoff man, Carroll hit .315 with a .389 OBP. He hit .304 with a .388 OBP in 30 games in the second spot in their lineup. Something like 2 years, $4.5 million should get the job done.
That gives you two plus defenders up the middle who aren’t slouches with the bat. Offense and defense should trump the other by itself.
Find a LHP to compliment Rzepczynski in the bullpen
This is the hard one. The list of quality left handed relievers is very thin. Last fall I said the Cardinals should pursue a premier left handed reliever because our organization has been unable to develop one from within yet. You also had 4-5 of them on the market. Unfortunately, the Cardinals went and got Brian Tallet.
While I wouldn’t completely complain if the Cardinals chose to bring back Arthur Rhodes for this role, I’d like to see them invest outside of that option.
The two best that I see on the market are Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver, both coming off their seasons from Texas. Gonzalez held left handed relievers to just a .214 batting average while Oliver kept them at just .227. However, both will be pricey options that are liable to cost nearly $4 million a season.
If the team wants to save some money and perhaps have another Dave Duncan reclamation project, you could consider Damaso Marte, who missed the 2011 season after having shoulder surgery in late 2010. Before the surgery in 2010, he held left handed hitters to hitting just .146 with a .200 OBP. He could be a cheaper option as a guy who is trying to prove his health. You might be able to get him for closer to $2 million on a 1 year deal after the Yankees declined his $4 million option.
Find a right handed hitter who can play all 3 outfield positions
Okay, this one might be harder, but it isn’t as expensive. Unless the Cardinals believe that Allen Craig can play center field in roughly 10-15 games this year, I think they need to consider bringing in another outfield for the bench. All the internal options, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Adron Chambers, who are major league ready are left handed hitters. That hurts in a matchup against a tough left handed pitcher.
There was really nobody that I wanted to go after on the market as a good fit. However someone on the CardsClubhouse forum brought up Andruw Jones.
Jones has played just the corner outfield spots the last few years, but he is right handed and showed some bat last year. He hit .247 with a .356 OBP, 13 HR and 33 RBI in 77 games for the Yankees last year while making $2 million.
Jones picked up 222 plate appearances last year for the Yankees. With the Cardinals and Allen Craig likely getting the opportunity to play first and the corners ahead of him, Jones would likely end up with roughly 20 starts and maybe 50 pinch hitting appearances. That’s 130 plate appearances, assuming that everyone stays healthy (which is always a question in itself). Would Jones be happy with that or does he want more playing time?
Beyond those three things, the Cardinals can fill from within pretty well. Daniel Descalso can be the utility infielder with the potential of bringing a guy like Nick Punto back or giving guys like Tyler Greene or Pete Kozma a chance to earn that spot. Tony Cruz can be more than satisfactory as the backup catcher.
Kyle McClellan could be used as trade bait over the offseason. He wants a chance to start and won’t find that in St. Louis. Plus, I think he’s well liked enough that if he went to Mozeliak and said, “Hey, I think I’m good enough to start and I know that won’t happen in St. Louis, I’d like you to explore trading me” that I don’t think it would become as publicized as Colby Rasmus‘ request. Plus, moving him could help the team fill one of the above spots. Beyond that, the bullpen is pretty with plenty of good young arms and more on their way through the system.
Key improvements are all that needs to be made for the Cardinals. They are defending World Series Champions and they have Adam Wainwright returning from Tommy John. Needless to say they should be more than capable of returning, with or without Pujols. If they make some moves like this, I think they could really solidify their position.
What are your priorities in the offseason if you were the GM?
Over the next month and a half, the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing the UCB Round Table where one member a day poses a question to the rest of us and then it gets posted on the person’s blog. If you are interested in checking it out, you can find the schedule and links to the blogs located on the UCB’s website atunitedcardinalbloggers.com.