This weekend Cardinals’ fans were able to give thanks that most of their team’s offseason shopping list were checked off thanks to the brilliant moves of John Mozeliak. Rather than slow playing the offseason, Mozeliak struck quickly as he dealt David Freese and Fernando Salas, acquired Peter Bourjos, and signed Jhonny Peralta.
So what now?
The moves that Mozeliak made were huge for the Cardinals organization as far as the team they put on the field for 2014. While the 2013 edition of the Cardinals got some coverage for being the best defensive team in the National League, they came up short in the range department. Carlos Beltran was limited in right field. Jon Jay just wasn’t the same this year. Matt Carpenter was playing a whole new position. And Pete Kozma is, well, Pete Kozma.
The moves that he made allow Matt Carpenter to move to third base where he is a better defender than Freese. The move opens up second base for Kolten Wong, who should have the tools to be a gold glove candidate in the future. They also acquired Peter Bourjos who is the best defensive outfielder in baseball and you can make the case for best defensive player in baseball since he arrived in 2010.
They also significantly upgrade offensive production at shortstop. If Wong can outperform Freese’s 2013 season (.262/.340/.381) and Adams can outperform Beltran’s 2013 season (.295/.339/.491), then we’ll have upgraded the offense too. All without touching our most valuable asset.
Now Mozeliak’s eyes can turn to the bench. A bench that will no longer have Matt Adams, who was the team’s sole above average bench hitter last season with his 131 OPS+. In fact, Shane Robinson was the team’s second best bench hitter with his 87 OPS+ and the odds are slim that he’ll be back on the roster in 2014.
The current bench makeup looks to feature Tony Cruz as the backup catcher, Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma as utility infielders, Jon Jay (assuming Peter Bourjos is the starting center fielder), and another outfielder. That fifth outfielder could go several different ways as I could see situations where Oscar Taveras, Mike O’Neill, Stephen Piscotty, and Joey Butler all make the trip to St. Louis with the team.
The team seems happy with Tony Cruz serving as Yadier Molina’s backup catcher. I would like an improvement in as far as I’d like a guy I’m comfortable handing the reigns over too if Molina were to go down for a month. Rob Johnson would be that type of guy, but I don’t foresee the team bringing him back, so Cruz it is.
In the infield, I’d like to see the Cardinals add a right handed infielder. I think this will be Mozeliak’s next move considering how important he considered it that the shortstop acquisition be right handed. The starting infield has Adams, Wong, and Carpenter. The bench has Descalso. That would leave Peralta and Kozma as the only right handed infielders on the roster.
There are a few options the team could take. I’ve heard the name Jeff Baker floated as someone the Cardinals may be interested in, and yes he would fill the hole well. Baker is coming off a career year for the Texas Rangers where he hit .279/.360/.545 over 175 plate appearances. He played every position except for shortstop and center field last year. He also kills left handed pitching to the tune of .298/.353/.522 over his entire career.
Personally, I’d rather see a guy like Mark Ellis, though convincing him that he doesn’t need an everyday job and the 300-400 plate appearances I can get him in St. Louis will be enough will be tough. The advantage to Ellis is that if Kolten Wong does flop, you have a player in house who can step into the role and not embarrass himself and at worst will be a plus defender. He can play second and third so he can spell both Wong and Carpenter against lefties when needed.
Another guy worth taking a look at may be Willie Bloomquist. The advantage to Bloomquist is that he is an experienced Major League utility guy who has hit .300 the last two seasons while coming off the bench. He also has over 100 games of Major League experience at every position except first base and catcher.
Right now, I see Kozma remaining with the Cardinals and being Peralta’s primary backup. It is one of those moves where, even though I’m not thoroughly convinced he’s the best option, he’s an option I’m familiar with and I know he can man the position well enough. When you compare him with Descalso, he will cost half as much, can play all the same positions, and neither is superb at the plate.
In the outfield, Jon Jay will be a lock as the team’s fourth outfielder if he’s not in a platoon situation with Peter Bourjos. It’s the fifth outfielder spot on the roster that becomes interesting as many figure top prospect Oscar Taveras is a lock for that spot, which I continue to doubt.
Many people around the team talk about Taveras’ bat and how it plays now in the Major Leagues. I agree. But there’s a reason he didn’t make the team last year out of Spring Training despite hitting the cover off the ball all March. He still needed to work on his defense. He spent the majority of last season dealing with a nagging ankle injury, which should delay his expected arrival in St. Louis. Why? Tell me how he’s supposed to learn how to play outfield when he’s splitting time with Allen Craig and Jay?
After his strong Arizona Fall League stint, Stephen Piscotty should get a good look in Spring Training with the big club, though he remains off the 40 man roster. Mike O’Neill was added to it and looks like a Matt Carpenter type hitter as he has quietly hit at every level and posted a fine .400+ OBP to go along with it.
But the surprise player may be Joey Butler who the team picked up off waivers in the offseason. He may be simple depth for the Cardinals, but from what I read, he can hit left handed pitchers and while he is best suited for the corner outfield spots he can play center in a pinch. I wouldn’t rule him out just yet.
So as we head into December, it will be interesting to see where Mozeliak goes with the makeup of the club. A right handed infielder seems to be the target. Knowing him, he’ll find someone that nobody ever considered and he’ll be the perfect player for the role. That’s what he does.