Over this week I’ve discussed the Cardinals’ pending free agents, their salary arbitration cases, and the needs that the roster faces next season. To finish out my offseason outlook series, I’m going to discuss how I would approach this winter if I were the chief decision maker in the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals were closer to the Cubs than you think they were. If you take away the head-to-head games both teams went 78-65 last year. But the Cardinals went 5-14 against the Cubs and that is where the division champions made up their entire 9 game lead. And seven of those losses to the Cubs came by just one run.
I think it’s interesting to note how many fans think that those 9 games are the equivalent of being light years behind the Cubs, but just ask yourself: How many games do you think the Cardinals lost because Mike Matheny made the wrong bullpen decision? If the club, with their hiring of Mike Maddux, reduces that number, that’s an improvement.
The Cubs have their own remodeling to do this winter as well, so the gulf between the two organizations is not that wide and could stand to flux quite a bit this winter. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, instead of just needing to add a bat, they need to find a way to deal with the losses of Trevor Rosenthal and Lance Lynn. This winter can’t just be another step in the right direction, it will require a series of steps.
Trim the fat. I argued last winter that the Cardinals needed to “trim the fat” from their roster. Guys like Jhonny Peralta and Jonathan Broxton didn’t need to be brought back. The odds of either playing a large role in the team’s successes in 2017 was always exceptionally slim. In Peralta’s case, his playing early in the season kept either Jedd Gyorko or Kolten Wong out of the lineup. Both players had career years in 2017.
If they had trimmed the fat from their roster last winter, they would have created opportunities for players to step in and contribute. If the club wants to go young, creating those opportunities is the team’s biggest thing to keep in mind and it should inform all their decisions.
This requires that the front office take a hard look at what they have and make some bets and then hedge them. The biggest part of trimming the fat this winter is trading Stephen Piscotty and probably Jedd Gyorko as well.
As far as Piscotty, the Cardinals have a glut of outfielders who are ready or near ready. Having Dexter Fowler and Piscotty on long-term deals takes away the opportunities of these young players. My starting outfield next season with be Dexter Fowler, Tommy Pham, and Randal Grichuk with guys like Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, and others getting their opportunities as the team’s fourth outfielder.
For Voit, like Adams before him, his future here in St. Louis is non-existent as long as Matt Carpenter is St. Louis. There’s also Jose Martinez who is looking to improve his abilities at first base, a position I think he is far more suited for that the outfield.
And then Gyorko, my plan is to bring in a starting infielder, which would mean that playing time for Gyorko would disappear and beyond that Wong has shown what he can do when he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder. With Gyorko on the bench, Wong would be.
Go big or go home. For the Cardinals this winter, they need to add a big bat in the middle of their lineup, a closer, and a starting pitcher. But they need to add all three. Adding one, or even just two, leaves the team exposed and really reduces the benefit of going after what you added. After all, what’s the point in adding a guy like J.D. Martinez if your pitching staff can’t hold up it’s end of the deal?
Personally, I don’t pursue Martinez and the main reason why is that the Cardinals already have a half dozen outfielders who profile as starting outfielders. Perhaps if the front office thins the outfield pool to bring in other needs, but I don’t see that happening. Another reason is that Martinez has never been a feature hitter in a lineup. In Detroit, he hit behind Miguel Cabrera. In Arizona, he hit behind Paul Goldschmidt. Pardon my pitching parlance, but I would be reluctant to give ace money to a guy who may just be a very good #2. We’ve already got that problem with Matt Carpenter.
However, the Blue Jays may be interested in trading Josh Donaldson and they need outfielders. Donaldson is a rental, but he is also the only player over the last few years who has been able to consistently hold a candle to Mike Trout for the discussion of the most valuable player in baseball. You acquire him and he bridges the gap until next winter when there is a stellar free agent class and then you react to your needs then.
In the trade with the Blue Jays, you may also be able to get them to send you J.A. Happ, who would provide the Cardinals with a rental starter who can bridge the gap through to Alex Reyes being ready to join the rotation in 2018.
In the bullpen, the Cardinals are searching for a closer. Here, I would make re-signing Juan Nicasio a priority. I would also engage the Rays in trade talks about Alex Colome. Colome will be arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and has 84 saves over the past two seasons. He and Nicasio at the back end of the bullpen with Tyler Lyons, Matthew Bowman, John Brebbia, and Sam Tuivailala along with Sandy Alcantara and eventually Alex Reyes, should be enough back there.
Squeeze the lineup. One of the things that Mike Matheny has struggled to do over the past few seasons is optimize his lineup. It was telling last season that whenever there was an injury that forced Matheny to shuffle his lineup that the team flourished, but when everyone was healthy enough to return to the lineup he returned to his standard lineups and the team once again struggled.
One of the things I’ve realized while watching the playoffs this October is that while Matt Carpenter may be a great leadoff hitter, he is not a “spark plug” type of player that you want to have at the top of your lineup. The two guys the Cardinals have who could be that kind of player are Tommy Pham or Kolten Wong in my opinion. And I lean towards Pham more because of his attitude on the field.
That would make my Opening Day lineup look like this,
That lineup is deeper throughout. You have two speedy OBP guys in front of Donaldson who can mash them in. Carpenter can play both on base guy to move along the guys in front of him or to get on for DeJong’s power. Then you’ve got another OBP/SLG pair in Wong and Grichuk.
The Cardinals have an opportunity this winter. I am hopeful with the departure from their standard operating procedures that pursuing Mike Maddux seems to be, that it signals a departure when it comes to free agent pursuit as well.
If the Cardinals want to win the division and then set their eyes on a World Series, they need to make a series of changes. Just getting one or the other won’t be enough.