To the disappointment of many, the July 31st trade deadline came and passed without a single move by the St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, it was the first time since 2005 that they did not make a trade between the dates of July 24th and 31st. They did make a low-key trade the previous week, sending Marco Gonzales to Seattle for AAA OF Tyler O’Neill. While O’Neill has exciting potential, it was not a trade with Major League impact. In the days since, the Cardinals brass, namely GM Michael Girsch, have expressed that the work done now may set up for moves in the offseason. I, for one, was disappointed with the deadline results but not overly upset. Personally, I had resolved to the fact that a bullpen upgrade was likely the ceiling for a move, there was no big bat on the way this July. I still think they should have added a bullpen arm, even a rental, considering that one probably could have been had for a Juan Yepez-level prospect. But, it is what it is. My belief was that the serious moves would be saved for the offseason, and that appears to be the case.
So what could these offseason moves look like? What directions could they go? Well, as I wrote a few weeks ago, they are flush with controlled assets, so they really can go any direction they please. I decided to stew on the subject for a while can come up with some specific moves that I could envision the team making. Be aware that this is first and foremost an opinion piece, you are free to strongly agree or disagree. I am not implying that the Cardinals need to make ALL of these moves or even several, but rather just moves that I would not be surprised to see. Finally, I’m not just throwing darts. You’ll see the format as we move along, but I’m going to lay out the move, why it’s plausible, possible cons, and an if/then scenario for follow up/corresponding moves that it would force. Now, let’s have some fun. We’re fans, this is what it’s all about.
- Commit to Tommy Pham. Not contractually, but simply when you are constructing the 2018 roster, consider Pham and Dexter Fowler to be 2 of your 3 starting outfielders. As simple as that. He’s earned it. That talent is no fluke, this is what he was always capable of. It was a matter of getting his vision straight and breaking free of nagging injuries. So what if he’s 29, this is a 5-tool talent under team control (cheap) through 2021.
- Find a Middle of the Order Bat. This one has been discussed and is pretty obviously the organization’s biggest need going forward. They have several support players that would look great pushed down a spot or two in the lineup. I’m already hearing people say that they should just let Tyler O’Neill play in 2018 and be that guy. First, he will be 22 on Opening Day 2018, so give him time. Second, is there anything wrong with having more than one middle order bat?
- Commit to defense at Shortstop. I love what Paul DeJong has done, don’t get me wrong. He is a fine backup plan for the starting shortstop position in 2018. But realistically, with a groundball inducing pitching staff, they need a sure glove there.
- Solidify the Bullpen. Simple. Obvious. Important.
Sign J.D. Martinez in Free Agency
Pros/Plausibility: This is the exact bat that they have been craving and he comes simply at a monetary cost, rather than the complicated trade market of the past couple years. He hits everybody, including a .536 SLG vs. Corey Kluber, a 1.319 OPS vs Clayton Kershaw (10 PA’s) and a .387 OBP vs new-Cub Jose Quintana. This move makes sense because it doesn’t cost prospects, it fills a huge need, and this franchise is very strong financially and can afford it. (By the way, Adam Wainwright‘s 19M comes of the books after 2018). Also when you assess the risks involved with Martinez they echo those associated with Giancarlo Stanton, but on a much lesser deal with less time commitment.
Cons: He isn’t a great outfielder. Defensive metrics can be hit an miss. Martinez throws well but is a big body that moves a little slow. He is a left fielder in every definition of the word. Having he and Fowler locked into long-term deals limits the defensive ceiling of your outfield.
If/Then: If you sign Martinez, then you must trade one or two of your outfielders, likely Piscotty or Grichuk as well as a minor league OF.
Sign Zack Cozart in Free Agency
Pros/Plausibility: Like Martinez, this simply costs money. Around the All-Star break Mo stated that shortstop would be a possible position to upgrade and that they would likely refocus the priority on defense at that position. Cozart has that covered as a very good defensive shortstop. Adding him on a 3-4 year deal lines up well with the projected ETA of 2016 1st round pick Delvin Perez.
Cons: Coming off of a career year and being a good glove at shortstop, he probably costs alot. He isn’t the middle order bat that they need, but a rock solid 2 or 6 hitter that lengthens the lineup. At his cost, is it worth signing a non-3/4 hitter?
If/Then: If you sign Cozart, then you don’t have to make any corresponding moves. Gyorko stays at third, DeJong becomes a super-utility infielder.
Sign Mike Moustakas in Free Agency
Pros/Plausibility: Moustakas is a middle order bat and a left-handed hitter, which is a change from some of the other options. He has come into his own as a hitter or the past few years, when healthy, and is also a good defender at third base. Again, he only costs money, not prospects.
Cons: He has had a couple solid year with batting average (.284 in ’15, .274 this year) but has otherwise been a sub-.250 hitter with an OBP around .300, which sounds alot like a left-handed Jedd Gyorko (projected). He could cost a lot for a lateral move.
If/Then: If you sign Moustakas, then you have to either trade Jedd Gyorko or move him into a utility role to start a similar offensive player over him.
Sign Eric Hosmer in Free Agency
Pros/Plausibility: Another middle-order, left-handed hitter. He has finally started to hit the ball in the air and is there for maximizing his offensive potential. He is a great defender at 1B. As a free agent, it’s just a matter of financial commitment.
Cons: 2017 has been his career year, so there is a little trepidation signing him to a major deal with the chance that he may revert to past form. His offensive profile is also very similar to Matt Carpenter, so at best he is a marginal upgrade.
If/Then: If you sign Hosmer, then you must shift Carpenter back to 3B and trade Gyorko or demote him to a utility role. Or you have to trade Carpenter.
Trade for Christian Yelich
Pros/Plausibility: He is a left-handed #3 hitter and a good defensive outfielder. He also has a very team friendly contract that runs through 2022. Miami has expressed interested in fielding offers for their outfielders and the Cardinals have a strong farm system. The move would make sense.
Cons: The cost of acquisition will be high. Adam Eaton had a very similar contract and is a similar player, so the Marlins would likely ask for a prospect return similar to what Washington gave up last winter. Yelich is a great hitter, but he is more like Matt Carpenter rather than being a big bopper. There is a strong argument that pure power is the higher priority to supplement this cast of characters. Also, Miami’s next owner may choose to stand pat for a year or so, attempt to acquire pitching and see if they can turn things around. With his great contract, Yelich may not even be available.
If/Then: If you trade for Christian Yelich, then you have to move at least one of your major league outfielders. Perhaps that happens in the Yelich deal itself. Considering that Miami will likely desire top pitching prospects, you may also need to re-sign Lance Lynn as Weaver or Flaherty may not be available to inherit his rotation spot.
Trade for Giancarlo Stanton
I’m not going here, but I know alot of you were thinking about him. 1) He may not be available, for the reasons I mentioned with Yelich. 2) He has a no trade clause and has publicly expressed a desire to stay in Miami, and its believed he would hold out for a West Coast team (he’s a California native) in order to waive his no trade clause. Let’s call it quits on this one.
Trade for Andrelton Simmons
Pros/Plausibility: He fits the idea of refocusing on defense at shortstop as he is the definition of an elite glove. Mike Trout is in his prime and the Angels have to become relevant contenders while he is still around. The Cardinals are deep with complementary pieces that would look good around Trout and pitching that LAA desperately needs. Simmons will be under contract for 2 more years.
Cons: Simmons isn’t much of a hitter, so adding him to an offensively challenged club isn’t ideal. Also, only having him for 2 years means you are returning to the shortstop market sooner than you would like to.
If/Then: If you trade for Simmons, then you MUST acquire a big time power hitter such as J.D. Martinez, otherwise you are moving backwards offensively.
Trade for Brad Hand
Pros/Plausibility: He was being shopped at the deadline but it is believed that San Diego was simply asking for too great of a return. Perhaps they will be more realistic in the offseason. This is a very good lefty (1.96 ERA with 72 K’s in 52 IP) with the ability to close as well. Rosenthal is under team control for 2018 and then becomes a free agent. With Scott Boras as his agent, it could be his last tour in St. Louis. Hand is under control through 2019, so he is a post-Rosenthal option at closer, and a dominant setup man in 2018. Again, with a deep system the Cardinals could make a deal happen and I’m sure a conversation starting with Magneuris Sierra would at least catch their attention.
Cons: The Padres probably want a hefty return for him. Relief pitching is fickle so pouring too much investment into it is risky. They already have 3 lefties under team control (Cecil, Siegrist, Lyons) for 2018.
If/Then: If you trade for Hand, then you have to move Lyons and possibly Siegrist as well.
Re-Sign Lance Lynn
Pros/Plausibility: Lance Lynn is a high-end #3 starter/ low-end #2 starter that eats huge innings and backs it up with above average strikeouts and ERA. His is a known commodity and has clearly expressed a desire to stay here. I don’t have to sell Cardinals fans on Lance Lynn.
Cons: He will cost alot, I imagine him getting a contract in the ballpark of 5-years/$100 million. That’s a lot of investment into a rotation that already includes Mike Leake at $15M+ for 3 years, Wainwright at $19M in ’18, and a reasonable but increasing salary for Martinez. He is 30, so you would be signing him through age 35. His signing would block prospects such as Weaver and Flaherty in the system.
If/Then: If you re-sign Lance Lynn, then you must move another starting pitcher. Be it Weaver, Wacha, or Leake, someone would have to be traded.
Trading Mike Leake or Michael Wacha
First, it opens you up to re-sign a very good pitcher in Lance Lynn. With Mike Leake, he will have 3 years left on his contract and is being paid market value for his performance and durability. That 3-year commitment may look attractive to some teams. He would be inclined to accept a trade to a West Coast team (maybe the Angels) but probably wouldn’t bring back much return. The value in trading Leake is the ability to essentially swap his salary with Lance Lynn. For Wacha, assuming he continues his strong season, he will be a good looking starting pitcher with 2 years of team control remaining. His value would likely be at it’s peak and there for it is plausible that he could be moved.
Trading Stephen Piscotty
Ken Rosenthal reported after the trade deadline that the Cardinals had jumped in on the Sonny Gray sweepstakes. His report said that the offer consisted of Piscotty and Weaver or Flaherty. Rosenthal is a reputable source, so I’m inclined to believe in it’s accuracy. It doesn’t tell me that the Cardinals have given up on Piscotty, as Adam Butler mentioned in a recent episode of the Bird Law podcast, they have shown no waiver in their belief in him, but it does show a willingness to move him in order to improve the team. If he moves it is likely in a corresponding move following the acquisition of another outfielder.
Trading Jedd Gyorko or Matt Carpenter
Moving these two players came up in some of my if/then scenarios. I don’t see either as likely, but if the Cardinals have the opportunity to add a major offensive weapon at either of their positions, I don’t think it’s entirely out of the question.
To Wrap This Up
First of all, thanks for hanging with me through this wordy monster. Second, just for fun I’ll finish up by throwing out the combination of moves I would like to see, if I had my druthers. 1) Sign both J.D. Martinez and Zach Cozart 2) Move Piscotty in a deal for Brad Hand. 3) Move Leake in a money saving move and re-sign Lance Lynn. You then enter 2018 with a rotation of: Martinez, Wainwright, Lynn, Wacha, Weaver. And your lineup is something like: Carpenter 1B, Fowler CF, Pham RF, Martinez LF, Gyorko 3B, Cozart SS, Molina C, Wong 2B. Pretty solid and not totally unrealistic, at least on the offensive side. Still a long way off, but I’m excited about what the winter will bring.
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