Each and every off season I like to ask myself what I would do if I were the GM of the St. Louis Cardinals. I look at what I perceive to be the team’s weaknesses and find ways to go about reinforcing those weaknesses.
Going into this offseason, I see two main priorities for the Cardinals as they attempt to return to the World Series for the third time in four years. First, find a starting shortstop. Second, remodel the bench.
FIND A STARTING SHORTSTOP
I know it’s joked that I must be Clint Barmes’ agent, because nobody has ever campaigned harder for their team to acquire him than me. I’ve banged his drum the last couple times he’s been a free agent as I looked for ways for us to improve at shortstop. Coming off a rough year with the Pirates, Barmes still was impressive defensively at shortstop, which is enough for me.
When we look at the position, the importance of defense at shortstop cannot be understated. Offensively, an improvement would be fantastic, but we have to remember that we made it to the World Series with Pete Kozma as our starting shortstop. Barmes may be roughly equal offensively, but he is far better defensively and has the track record to prove it.
He’d also be an inexpensive addition to the roster, coming off a two-year deal where he was making roughly $5 million per year.
RENOVATE THE BENCH
Last year when the season wrapped up these were the options off the bench for the Cardinals. Daniel Descalso hitting .238, Shane Robinson .250, Tony Cruz .203, Kolten Wong .153, and Adron Chambers .154. Certainly nobody scary there. And considering the expectation that David Freese will be dealt and Wong starting at second base on Opening Day, there is nobody on the bench I expect to be much of an improvement over that next season.
My first bench addition would be finding a way to convince Mark Ellis that he wanted to platoon with Wong and spend time as a utility infielder for the Cardinals. Ellis has spent the last two years with the Dodgers, starting over 100 games in each of those seasons, so he may take some convincing in the way of a premium to accept the role.
The advantage of a guy like Ellis is that if Wong does fail to take hold of the second base position, like many of us expect, he is capable of playing the position every day and being respectable doing it. He plays plus defense at second base and third base, so even if he struggles to hit like Ty Wigginton did, he is still a plus defender in a worst case scenario.
My next move is to find someone who can split time in the outfield with Jon Jay. Rajai Davis seems like a perfect candidate for that job. Davis has said he wants a starting job, but with what he’s shown, he won’t warrant one. What you can offer him is a chance to earn his way into a starting job where the hot hand plays. Davis has excelled hitting against left handed pitchers, posting a .779 OPS against LHP as opposed to a .650 OPS against RHP.
Then I’d really like to not have Descalso or Kozma on the bench next season, so I’d go acquire a guy like Willie Bloomquist (I’d have preferred Nick Punto who has really been the answer to our bench issues since he left, but he just signed last week with Oakland). Bloomquist has over 100 games of experience at every position on the diamond except first base. He has been a super utility guy the last two years and has hit over .300 while doing it.
The next move is for someone who has a track record of being a successful pinch hitter. That guy would be Reed Johnson. Johnson is a right handed hitter who has played all three outfield positions in the past. Due to age, he might be limited to the corners now, but that’s now why I’m getting him this offseason. The last two years he has hit over .300 as a pinch hitter.
A bench of Ellis, Bloomquist, Davis, and Johnson is greatly more concerning to an opposing team than Descalso, Kozma, Robinson, and Chambers.
While there isn’t much of a difference between a great bench and a good bench, a poor bench can make all the difference in the world. It limits the late game moves you can make and it takes some strategic decisions away from the manager. I know I criticize Matheny for some of his late game moves, but when you’ve got bad, badder, and worst sitting on your bench, it’s hard to come up with a winning strategic move.
WHO STAYS AND WHO GOES?
In this scenario I would need to find a taker for David Freese by trade. I would also attempt to deal Descalso. I lean towards releasing Kozma, but with Bloomquist your #1 option if Barmes goes down with injury, I’d consider using that last option to keep him in Memphis this year as a worst case scenario.
I’d also love to see an upgrade at the backup catcher position. Release Tony Cruz and bring back Rob Johnson as Yadier Molina’s backup. I think Johnson can do a better job handling the staff and as a backup to Molina, Cruz’s potential with the bat is going to go unused anyway.