Column: Five players the Cardinals should have interest in this winter

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.

Jurickson Profar. 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.

Chris Sale and the White Sox should probably just move on from each other

I’ve now written two articles about the White Sox this season. If you had the over in Vegas, you’re a winner. Go collect your winnings. But it was something that I think needed to be said about this situation.

Let me start off by making it clear that there is no defense for what Chris Sale did. It was stupid. It was immature. There are better ways to deal with it than taking a knife and cutting up a bunch of jerseys.

But the White Sox aren’t innocent either.

Perhaps the White Sox are a victim of their own expectations. After all, when they made national news in March following the retirement of Adam LaRoche, they talked about making sure that their focus was 100% on winning.

As White Sox President Kenny Williams phrased it in March, “One of the things we said coming into this season is ‘let’s check all the columns’ with regards to our preparation, our focus, to give us every chance to win.”

So they told Adam LaRoche that his son Drake could no longer be around the team. LaRoche retired and after a profanity-laced tirade by the same Chris Sale directed at Williams during a clubhouse meeting, everyone seemed to move on and put that focus on winning.

The White Sox royally bungled how they dealt with that situation, but one can understand how a 14 year old kid in the clubhouse might be a distraction.

Unreported in Spring Training were the White Sox getting fitted for special jerseys, including the 1976 throwback uniforms they were set to wear the other night. Many players complained about not being comfortable with the way they fit since they were so different than what they were used to. Sale said that he went as far as to say that he didn’t want to wear them on a day he started because he was uncomfortable and it might change his mechanics.

Jon Heyman reported that the players believed that this particular throwback uniform had been cancelled. Furthermore, Sale has always been allowed the freedom to have a say in what uniforms the team wears on days he starts.

The night before the game, Sale was told that the 1967 throwback uniforms were being worn. He protested with the pitching coach. He protested with the manager. He protested with the equipment manager. But a business decision had been made to wear the jerseys and the team was not going to budge.

Frustrated by the team’s decision to put business ahead of winning — remember how important they made checking all the boxes of preparation back in Spring Training — he acted to ensure that nobody could wear the uniforms.

And right up until then, I can totally understand where he’s coming from. In the case of both Sale and the White Sox, actions speak louder than words.

So here’s an organization that’s let you have a say in what uniforms get worn on the days you start and started out the season telling you how important ensuring that you’re in the best position to win is, and then they put you in a uniform that players didn’t like because it wasn’t comfortable.

In other words, the White Sox decided that a throwback jersey night was more important than giving the team the best chance at winning.

At this point the problems between Sale and the White Sox are so deep that I think it’s probably best if they just broke up. And to bring this back around, I think it should be the Cardinals that go get him.

Sale is 27 years old and will be paid $12 million in 2017, the final year of his current deal. But that deal also includes a pair of team options, $12.5 million in 2018 and now $15 million in 2019 after he finished third in Cy Young voting in 2014.

There are many teams that should be interested in acquiring him. The Red Sox and Dodgers are reportedly interested. The Cubs should be considering they have just one starting pitcher on their roster under the age of 30. The Cardinals should be ready and willing and I’d let Alex Reyes go as the centerpiece of that deal.

The improvement on the field is obvious. Sale has a 3.18 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in his 19 starts this season. His 128 ERA+ would make him the second best Cardinals’ starter this season behind Carlos Martinez’s 143.

But one of my complaints about this team is the lack of intensity day in and day out. I think we could improve that with the ability of another fiery, outspoken, competitive starting pitcher named Chris.

That other one was Carpenter. And since his departure, the Cardinals have lacked that vocal, passionate leader in the clubhouse. We have a lot of guys who are good leaders, who know how to work, and can inspire that in others, but they aren’t the guys who will give your butt a verbal tongue lashing when you need it.

I had hoped we’d see Lance Lynn grow into that kind of pitcher. But with this year lost to Tommy John, and I fear next year lost to regaining his velocity as a result of Tommy John before he heads into free agency following the 2017 season, I doubt he will be that guy for the Cardinals. That’s part of the reason why I’d want them to take Lynn in the deal, unless Lynn is willing to work out of the bullpen to start the year.

There will be many who won’t want to “reward” Sale for his actions by trading for him and putting him on a winner, but I believe that Sale’s biggest issue is a lack of faith in the White Sox organization both to follow through on assurances they’ve made him and to make the decisions necessary to create a winner. His actions demonstrate to me a guy who is screaming to be dealt.

And who better to make his desire of playing for a winner come true than one of the best run franchises in baseball who has the best track record of winning in the league?