With the signing of Brett Cecil to shore up a bullpen that had been expecting Zach Duke to play a key role before his Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals kicked off what I consider to be an important offseason for them. Last season, the organization was caught with a cluttered roster that limited their ability to move. This winter, John Mozeliak has a chance to fix that.
Even now the organization finds themselves in a tight roster crunch as they released backup catcher Brayan Pena to make room for Cecil on the 40 man roster. That roster is currently full to protect a handful of players from the Rule 5 draft, so any moves at this point become potentially painful decisions for the organization to make outside of a trade.
As the offseason picks up steam heading into the winter meetings next week in Maryland, here are the five players that I believe the Cardinals should have on their radar as they look to improve their 2017 team.
OF Marcel Ozuna, Marlins
The Marlins are reportedly shopping some of their offensive parts in an effort to recover the pitching depth that they lost following the untimely death of Jose Fernandez in September. Because of that, I feel like the Marlins and the Cardinals would be a great match on the trade market.
I spoke often last year that the Cardinals still feel the loss of Oscar Taveras on the organization. It’s really not my intent to reduce the loss of Taveras to the Xs and Os of baseball, but it’s a fact that Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak had essentially cleared a path for him to the majors only to have it never come to fruition. As a result, the team is missing a middle of the order bat. And that’s where the Marlins and Cardinals could help each other out.
The Cardinals need a hitter to help fill the void left by Taveras. The Marlins need a pitcher to help fill the void left by Fernandez. The Marlins have hitting, the Cardinals have pitching. It seems like a good match.
After a slump in 2015, Marcell Ozuna rebounded in 2016, backing up his 2014 campaign with near identical numbers, hitting .266/.321/.452 with 23 home runs in 148 games. When the topic of trading Ozuna came up last season, both manager Don Mattingly and hitting coach Barry Bonds spoke highly of Ozuna, claiming that they believed he could be a 30/30 guy if he was given the opportunity.
Defensively, he may not be the player who would be able to move Randal Grichuk out of center field, but I don’t think that’s an absolute must for the team. Ozuna’s tools include speed, which means his defense comes down to instincts and reactions. Much of that can be taught if he’s willing and the Cardinals have some excellent center fielders who could help him out.
What would Ozuna cost? It’s a good question. At age 26 with three years of team control ahead, he would not be a rental, which I believe is important to Mozeliak as he surveys his options this winter. But I would think that Jaime Garcia or Michael Wacha and a lower level, high ceiling pitching prospect would be a great starting point in those talks.
OF Carlos Gomez, Free Agent
I was the driver of the “Carlos Gomez to St. Louis” bandwagon last summer after the Astros designated him for assignment. He would end up going to Texas as the Cardinals stood pat and Gomez would rebound hitting .284/.362/.543 over 33 games with the Rangers. Wouldn’t that have been nice to have?
But one of the biggest reasons I find Gomez an attractive option is because of the outspoken fire he brings, a fire that the Cardinals severely lack in my opinion. As I said in August, he would either light a fire under the team or burn it all down, and either way that could be a good thing.
Now I’ll admit that there’s a little more risk involved now because the deal would be for more than a month and a half, but I think Gomez can provide a good value signing. He hasn’t been the consistent 130 OPS+ hitter and plus defensive center fielder he was in 2013 and 2014 for the Brewers, but I think he can be again. Bring him to the NL Central against teams and pitchers he knows well and I think you have a winner of a deal.
MLB Trade Rumors projected him to get a 3 year, $36 million deal this winter, which I think is a steal of a deal for the potential that Gomez brings.
3B Justin Turner, Free Agent
The Cardinals have Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta as options at third base going into next season, but if Mozeliak is serious about improving the team’s defense, he needs to reconsider those options. Peralta has a big question on his defense, even if I do believe that his offense will return. And I don’t believe Gyorko is a rounded enough player to be an everyday guy. His best role is to be a super sub kind of player.
Justin Turner would be the best option on the market at third base after hitting .275/.339/.493 with 27 home runs last year for the Dodgers. Defensively too, he’s generally plus, posting a +18 defensive runs saved over the past three seasons at third base. He was also a +17.2 UZR/150 over 1200 innings this past season, his first playing it every day.
MLB Trade Rumors projects him to get a 5 year, $85 million deal, which feels a little risky to me, but I think he’s definitely worth taking a run at and he would improve the team’s performance on both sides of the ball. And absorb some of the power lost by Brandon Moss’ departure.
LHP Chris Sale, White Sox
Say what you will about Chris Sale, the guy is fiery. Like another tall, lanky starting pitcher named Chris that all Cardinals fans know and love. He’s also a guy capable of being your ace and that’s something that every team needs. Couple him with a Carlos Martinez, who I feel is about ready to come into his own and be the Cardinals’ ace, and you’ve got a potent 1–2 combination with Adam Wainwright behind them.
Sale was 17–10 last year with a 3.34 ERA over 227 innings in 32 starts. He threw 6 complete games. And he’s owed a complete steal of $38 million over the next 3 seasons.
He won’t come cheap, but the Cardinals have the assets to bring a guy like Sale in if they want to. Given how much Mozeliak sounded like he knew a lot about Sale’s contract, I’d bet that they’ve talked to Chicago about it at least once before. It’s time to pull that trigger and I’d even offer Alex Reyes.
IF/OF Jurickson Profar, Rangers
It sounds as if the Rangers would listen on offers for Jurickson Profar, which I think would be fitting considering the favorite hypothetical a few years back as whether you’d trade Profar for Oscar Taveras straight up.
Injuries kept Profar off the field for two years, but he returned this year and hit .284/.356/.426 with 5 home runs over 42 games for Triple-A Round Rock before being called up in late May. He would go on to hit .239/.321/.338 with 5 home runs over 90 games for the Rangers while playing all four infield positions and left field. And while it feels like he’s been around forever, the former #1 prospect is still just 23 years old too.
I see Profar as an intriguing option as a guy who could legitimately play any position. He would also be a quality backup option for Aledmys Diaz as needed. And if he even partially begins to deliver on the promise of being the player everyone believed he’d become while flying through the minors, he could be the guy to shift Diaz to second or third base in the future.
Obviously, if the Rangers are asking for the moon, you hang up, but I think it’d definitely be worth putting your feelers out. My understanding is that the Rangers would like to add some starting pitching this winter, and I believe the Cardinals have some available.