After two seasons of missing the playoffs, Cardinals fans are becoming increasingly frustrated. Every fan wants their team to succeed, but are we spoiled? Over the past decade, St. Louis has been in the playoffs practically every year, won a World Series, but it still doesn’t seem good enough.
But it can be…
2017 showed us the future certainly looks bright. Let’s take a look at what the offseason may have in store.
1. Paul Dejong
After Aledmys Diaz tore it up for the 2016 squad, many expected him to continue as the Cardinals’ shortstop for the foreseeable future. But, the only thing keeping him afloat in 2016 was his offense, and after struggling with both offense and defense in 2017, a change had to be made. Paul Dejong comes in as an upgrade on defense for sure, but the question was whether he could swing a hot enough bat to stay in the lineup. Well, after a torrid campaign: batting .285 and hitting a team-leading 25 homers (38 between majors and minors), it looks like the Cardinals have a new shortstop.
2. Luke Weaver
This kid has nothing else to prove. In his four minor league seasons, he sits at a ridiculous 1.99 ERA. He hardly walks anybody, and despite his frame, still manages to hit mid to upper 90s. Before a couple of rocky starts near the end of the season, Luke was cruising at a 2.05 ERA and a 7-1 record in the bigs. 2018 will most likely be his first full season in the Major Leagues, and he has an opportunity to be in the rotation to start the year.
3. Jose Martinez
Despite limited playing time, Jose Martinez showed he can play at the big league level. Only having 272 at bats, Jose hit .309 with 14 home runs. Sharing time at 1B and the outfield gives him more opportunities for playing time, but he will hopefully be given a more permanent position in the 2018 season.
4. Tommy Pham
Last but not least, we get to talk about the breakout season for Tommy Pham. At 29 years old, Pham seems to be a little late for a “breakout” year, but he took his opportunity and rolled with it. He had seen the big league stage before, but wasn’t able to stick around very long. Pham was fifth in the National league (seventh in MLB) with a 7.1 WAR. Not bad for a breakout year. The centerfielder hit 23 HR and also stole 25 bases. I expect a regression from Pham, but he has shown leadership in the clubhouse, and I fully expect him to be the starting CF for the Cards in 2018.
The Cardinals have four players who are free agents, and I want to look at who the Cardinals have a chance to re-sign this offseason.
Lance Lynn: What can we say about Lynn? He has been a serviceable starter for the Cardinals for a number of years. Coming off Tommy John Surgery, which made him miss the 2016 season, Lynn had a strong bounce-back season. From what I have seen, the Cardinals do not intend to pursue him, and unless the market for him completely falls off, I don’t see him returning. 10%
Juan Nicasio: With a workload of 76 appearances between three clubs, Juan showed how effective he could be. In the limited nine appearances as a Cardinal, Nicasio posted a 1.64 ERA and was 4-for-4 in save opportunities. I’d consider Nicasio to be the most likely candidate to return to the club. He did his job well for the team, and the Cardinals need to bolster the bullpen. 60%
Seung-Hwan Oh: After becoming the team’s closer in 2016, the offseason signing of Seung-Hwan Oh appeared to have paid off. But, after a disappointing 2017 season where the Cardinals deployed a “closer by committee,” the chances of Oh returning are slim. 20%
Zach Duke: Duke had a solid season with the Cardinals in 2016 coming via trade and throwing an impressive 1.94 ERA over 28 appearances. In 2017, he was marred with injury and only pitched in 27 games, allowing a 3.93 ERA over that time. Duke has expressed his interest in returning to the team, but unless the Cardinals are out of options, I don’t expect them to be a player on him. It seems they are looking for more of an upgrade. 25%
Free Agents to Pursue
This free agent class isn’t nearly as good as what is to come next offseason, but the Cardinals want to win now, so here are some ideas for free agent pickups.
Greg Holland: Once an elite closer with the Kansas City Royals, 2017 found Greg Holland coming off Tommy John surgery closing out games for the Rockies. 41 saves and a 3.61 ERA sounds pretty good, but if you take out the month of August where he had an abysmal 12 Earned runs over only 9.1 innings, his ERA drops to 1.69. Another full season from Tommy John should get him back to elite status, especially in a pitcher-friendly park like St. Louis. I like Holland over a guy such as Wade Davis, simply because he will be cheaper and probably just as effective.
Addison Reed: Over the past two seasons, Reed has a 2.41 ERA out of the pen. He does a great job at limiting baserunners by being efficient. If you haven’t seen a trend yet for the offseason, you will soon.
Pat Neshek: Remember when this guy was an All-Star for St. Louis and finished with a 1.87 ERA? He only walked nine batters over the course of 67.1 innings. Well, he hasn’t fallen off at all, only walking six in 62.1 innings in 2017 to the tune of a 1.59 ERA. Yeah, just sign the guy.
Eric Hosmer: Having by far his best year in the big leagues, Hosmer hit 25 home runs and hit .318 on the year. He isn’t the power threat you would expect from a 1B, but he has had a pretty successful career so far, hitting a career .284 with a .342 OBP. While he isn’t the best defensive 1B out there, he would be a valuable part of the club if the Cardinals were to push for him.
Jake Arrieta: Now, I know the Cardinals have already come out and said the rotation isn’t the top of their priorities, but hear me out. Over the past few years, the Cubs have taken a few of the Cardinals’ free agents and brought them over, and how fitting would it be to get back at them. Arrieta has a couple of more good years in him, and he showed some good things in the late part of last year. The Cards really only have three rotation spots lined up, with two spots likely going to younger guys. As of right now, here is the rotation:
I certainly wouldn’t throw a guy like Reyes or Flaherty in the rotation quite yet. Weaver has shown he can be a presence in the big leagues, but that still leaves an opening. But, if they don’t sign a starter, I have a trade idea in mind.
If you haven’t noticed, this free agent potluck I’ve drawn up is pitcher-friendly. I know, I know a guy like JD Martinez is out there, and he is just the guy the Cards need in the middle of the order, right?
Let me emphasize… No
While his offensive numbers have been impressive, his defense is well… non-existent.
Just take a look at the metrics… it’s pretty bad.
The Cardinals have been preaching they want to be a better fundamental team. Picking up a guy like Martinez will set your defense back for sure. (Side note: Also, play your guys at their rightful positions instead of platooning half the team may help… but I digress.)
One idea I can fully support on the offensive side is to pick up a guy like Hosmer, but that brings up more problems regarding playing time for guys like Carpenter and Gyorko.
Personally, I’d like them to wait until Machado and Harper are available next season, but it’s unlikely the Cardinals will push that kind of money toward the sweepstakes.
The first major trade that people bring up regarding the Cardinals is Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton had a major league-leading 59 home runs and is the favorite for the National League MVP. I’m hesitant to pull the trigger on a trade like this. Over his eight-year career, Stanton has only managed to play in over 140 games three times. He owns a career .268 AVG and a .360 OBP.
All I’m saying is if I’m going to give up prospects, I want to make sure I’m getting my money’s worth. I’m definitely in the minority on this topic, but over the course of the next few weeks, more people will get onboard. Another problem is Stanton has the ability to block any trade if he doesn’t want to go there. There are rumors he is not interested in St. Louis and would prefer to go out to the west coast. If that is the case, there isn’t anything the Cardinals can do about that.
With all that said, if Stanton is available, this is how I would do it.
1. Cardinals trade OF Randal Grichuk, RHP Jack Flaherty, SS Aledmys Diaz, and RHP Dakota Hudson to Marlins in exchange for OF Giancarlo Stanton
I don’t like the idea of trying to give up a guy like Reyes, although now is the best time to do it. He has way too much upside, and I’m not convinced we will get enough value. I understand he hit 59 home runs, but I wouldn’t want to give up the farm for him. Grichuk makes sense. He has shown promise, but maybe a change will get him to finally contribute at the big league level. With as many arms as the Cardinals have in the minors, there would be no problem giving up Flaherty and Hudson to gamble on Stanton. They would still have Reyes, Weaver, Alcantra and Fernandez waiting on their chance.
2. Cardinals trade OF Stephen Piscotty, LHP Austin Gomber, and C Carson Kelly to Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for SP Chris Archer.
The Cardinals have been linked to the Tampa Bay closer Alex Colome, and while I believe in his ability, the Cardinals may stick to the free agent market for relievers and try to bolster the rotation via trade if the market cools off. Archer is just the guy. He is signed through 2019 and has been underrated in his time with the Rays. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) has shown he consistently pitches better than the numbers are showing. He has averaged over 200 IP the last four seasons and could easily be a #2-3 starter for the Cards.
A National League lineup also might suit him well. It’s not 100 percent on whether or not Archer is available, but I’d love to see the Cards go after him. With the multitude of outfielders and the chance of getting Stanton, Piscotty is kind of an outcast and would benefit from the trade. Yadier Molina still has the fire to play everyday, and Carson Kelly deserves the opportunity to play everyday as well and could be a good piece to coheres the Rays into a trade. Gomber has shown some good things in his four minor league seasons, transitioning well between leagues. He has a good chance to become a #4-5 starter later in his career.
3. Cardinals trade 3B Jedd Gyorko, 1B Matt Carpenter, and RHP Sandy Alcantra to Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Josh Donaldson.
First off, I don’t think this deal will happen. It doesn’t seem like the Blue Jays are in rebuilding mode, but in order for it to happen, along with any free agent deal I have mentioned, we have to establish that someone is either A. Losing playing time, or B. Getting traded. This seems like a rather large package for a rental, but they are able to shed Carp and Gyorko from the platoon role, giving them a better opportunity to play. Carpenter had a down year in terms of average, but was one of the best in the league at getting on base. Gyorko was a plus defender at 3B and had a pretty great offensive first half. The Blue Jays will be getting value back in return for Donaldson, which makes this deal possible.
I can realistically see the Cardinals pulling off one of these moves. It has yet to be determined with Stanton, and I don’t really see any other middle-of-the-order guys becoming readily available on the trade market. I know Alcantra’s name has been floated around with the Stanton deal, but these are still preliminary talks and I fully expect the Marlins to ask for more.
Ideal Cardinal Lineup and Pitching Staff
Jose Martinez, Harrison Bader, Alex Mejia, Greg Garcia, (Catcher to be determined)
That is a scary lineup. Granted, a lot needs to happen for this to be a reality, but that is definitely the kind of lineup that will shake things up in the NL Central.
At some point, I truly believe Wainwright will most likely move to the bullpen to allow for Alex Reyes. It is unfortunate seeing somebody as dominant as he was struggle the way he has, but it is part of the game.
This offseason has the chance to be one of the craziest in recent memory. As a Cardinals fan, I would love to see them shake things up and really go for it. They aren’t known for really throwing out money at players, but the fanbase is ready for a change. We are spoiled and want to get back into elite status. And with a little maneuvering, the Cardinals can be elite in 2018.