The Cardinals front office, led by John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch, have a pivotal offseason ahead of them. Mozeliak acknowledged that it’s the most pivotal offseason for the franchise since 2011 when they lost a Hall of Fame manager and a lineup anchor that will join him one day. While a lot has been written about who the Cardinals should acquire (and I’ll get to that in a later post), I don’t think enough attention has been given to the state of the organizational depth chart.
The front office has done a tremendous job replenishing a farm system that was depleted after graduations to the big leagues and, of course, the death of Oscar Taveras. That being said, they’ve created a logjam in some areas and a scarcity in other. So, let’s go position-by-position through the depth chart, and let’s see if we can find some improvement there.
Here’s the current catcher depth chart:
Yadier Molina is the starter, Alberto Rosario will only see MLB time in the case of an emergency, Lino is an organizational depth piece, and Ortega is too far away. So let’s focus on Carson Kelly and Andrew Knizner.
Carson Kelly is legitimately a plus defensive catcher who had a solid offensive season at Double-A in 2016 and a breakout performance at Triple-A in 2017. While the organization has said the right things about giving more starts to the backup catcher, their actions haven’t matched up. Kelly played in 34 games in 2017, but only started 14, and eight came after Molina suffered a season-ending injury on September 23. Coupled with the fact that Molina signed a three-year extension last Opening Day and continued his offensive revival that began at the All-Star break in 2016, it doesn’t look like Kelly will be getting tons of starts going forward, barring an injury.
Knizner is the negative of Kelly. He can hit but didn’t start catching until he was in college. He’s hit over .300 both years in the organization and has TORN UP the Arizona Fall League. He’s not as good a framer as Kelly, but he has a strong arm as evidence the fact that he’s thrown out 45 percent of baserunners in the minor league career.
Verdict: There’s no need to let Kelly or Knizner waste in the minors. They’re too good. Trade one of them or move Knizner to first base, where incidentally he’s seen some time in the AFL. Hmmm.
Matt Carpenter is entrenched as the starting first baseman, at least for 2018. He was as productive as ever in 2017, even though he took an alternate route to get there. Hampered by a shoulder injury for much of the second half, his slugging decreased from .505 to .451. He compensated that by walking more, but I don’t think you bank on a bounce-back season for Carpenter. He’ll be 32 next season, and players simply haven’t been able to sustain production into their mid-30’s like they did during the steroid era.
Jose Martinez had a solid rookie year, but he’s 29 too. Voit has power, but I think he’s a threat for a homer off the bench more than anything else. The rest of the names are either non-prospects or too far away to matter until at least 2020.
Verdict: Stick with Carpenter for 2018, but make a position change for the future (looking at you, Tyler O’Neill).
According to Fangraphs, only two Cardinals players were net-positives on offense, the bases, and defense. Want to see the list?
While the time Wong missed with injury left some production on the table, Wong certainly represents the athleticism management has talked about in recent years. I’m cautiously optimistic about Wong being able to replicate his offensive production that benefitted from a BABIP of .331, but he’s the best option for sure.
Notice Jedd Gyorko and Aledmys Diaz as next two on my list. In my opinion, that’s exactly where they belong. I think Diaz is somewhere between his 2016 self and 2017 one, and that’s a useful role player. Gyorko can and should inherit the “super-utility” role imagined for Zobrist, and can certainly provide more production than Greg Garcia, who had that role last season.
Verdict: Wong earned the starting job going into 2018, but Gyorko should get plenty of time there as part of his super-utility role. Unfortunately, that’s dependent on the situation at…
If there’s an area where the Cardinals can take a giant step forward, it’s third base. Gyorko was great in the first half but faded down the stretch. Carpenter isn’t a legitimate option to play there every day because he is a defensive liability. They could stick with Gyorko, but I don’t think they’d be maximizing their roster. To do that, I think they have two options.
- Acquire an everyday third-baseman who boosts the lineup (options include, but are not limited to, Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas).
- Acquire a better defensive shortstop than Paul DeJong and make him the third baseman.
It’s hard to pick the better option at this point because it’s dependent on so many other factors. Suppose the Cardinals acquire Giancarlo Stanton. That eliminates the need to improve the offense via third base. In that case, I would prefer Option 2.
Beware, beware of the tale of 2017 Aledmys Diaz. Coming off a magnificent rookie season, Diaz regressed hard in his second year despite optimistic outlooks going into the season. That’s why, in my opinion, optimism is tempered for Paul DeJong this season and I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for the club to pursue a plus-defensive shortstop. Zach Cozart and Alcides Escobar are free-agents, but both come with significant risk.
Once again, like the lineup revolves around the nucleus, the Cardinals’ offseason revolves around where they find that nucleus. If they are still mired in a situation that requires them to maximize offense at all nine positions, you have to stick with DeJong. If not, things get a lot simpler.
Verdict: Acquire a bat and a shortstop. DeJong to third base.
Let’s just start by assuming Fowler will play center, as sub-optimal as that is.
Tommy Pham earned the right to be the starting left-fielder, plain and simple. Tyler O’Neill isn’t quite ready for the Show yet, so he needs to start in Triple-A. Randy Arozarena has had a great performance in the Mexican Winter League, so theoretically he could start in Triple-A as well. I see no need to rush, though. Start him in Double-A, let him keep the momentum going, and be promoted after a month or two.
The Cardinals can turn this into a strength relatively easily. Arozarena is pushing O’Neill hard. I would suggest moving O’Neill to first, where his power profile would fit tremendously well.
Verdict: Phammer time, with O’Neill getting plenty of starts at first for Memphis.
If I could swap Pham and Fowler defensively, I would.
Randal Grichuk is an interesting trade piece, and if the right deal comes along, I would certainly pull the trigger.
Magneuris Sierra’s value will never be higher after excelling in his short stint in the big leagues, and I have questions about his long-term value as a hitter. If those two deals are made, they are down to Fowler as the starter, Bader as his backup with Mercado in Triple-A.
Verdict: It’s time the Cardinals liquidate some assets, and Grichuk and Sierra are prime candidates that could fetch some really useful bullpen pieces.
If only there was a power-hitting right fielder on the market this offseason. There’s no more obvious place defensively for the Cardinals to place the type of hitter that strikes fear into opponents and around which the lineup revolves. Such a move would allow them to make Jose Martinez and Stephen Piscotty role players, and extremely good ones at that.
Verdict: It’s just too bad that player isn’t being shopped. Sigh.
If the season started tomorrow and the Cardinals don’t acquire another starter, I think that’s your rotation. Among all the other Cardinals pitching prospects, I think there’s only that would be close to ‘untouchable’ and that’s Jordan Hicks. In my view, Alex Reyes and Austin Gomber are the sixth and seventh starters and Dakota Hudson starts the season in the bullpen. Speaking of the bullpen…
As it currently stands, the Cardinals have no relievers with experience in high-leverage situations. That’s a problem. Matt Bowman has been overused like Kevin Siegrist was a few years ago, Brebbia’s success might have been misleading, and I don’t feel good about Sherriff or Tuivailala.
I think the young guys, Alcantara, Hudson, and Reyes, will be good if you acknowledge that there will be ups and downs as with any young player. They need quantity, but most importantly they need to go outside the organization to find someone that will lock down the ninth inning and then build the bullpen backward from there.
Verdict: Find a closer first, then another late-inning guy.
Needs: Power-hitter (preferably 3B or RF), glove-first shortstop, starting pitcher, closer, set-up man
Tradeable Assets: Carson Kelly or Andrew Knizner, Jose Martinez, Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk, Magneuris Sierra, Stephen Piscotty, Pitching Prospects
Other Assets: $1 billion television deal and a fan base that turns out to the tune of 3.4 million tickets sold annually.
Thanks for reading! Let me know if you think there are more pressing areas of concern than I laid out here. I hope to take a look at who they should target from outside the organization next week.