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Cardinals Offseason Outlook

Cardinals Offseason dustinphillips/ via Flickr.com

MLB

This Cardinals offseason should be a very busy one.  Whether it will be or not, is up to Bill DeWitt, John Mozeliak, and the rest of the front office.

Cardinals Offseason Agenda

There are plenty of holes in the Cardinals’ roster to be filled, and now is the time to start filling them.  The biggest deficiency is in the middle of the lineup.  They lack one or two hitters that strike fear in opposing pitchers and produce at high levels all season.  This is the most obvious need, and to address it, the team has several different possible routes.

The bullpen is another area the Cardinals should focus on this offseason. Again, they have multiple options, and need to take advantage of them, if they want a chance to win next season.  The other big need is for starting pitching.  This is where things get a little tricky.  There do not seem to be any sure fits in the free agent market, and it is hard to say who will be made available via the trade.  However, if the Cardinals can address the two former issues, they should get back to the postseason in 2018.

Middle of the Order

The Cardinals organization and its fans have been aware of this need all season.  However, it was not taken care of at the trade deadline, and still looms as a major problem.  Fortunately for the front office, there are options available this offseason.

Giancarlo Stanton

Stanton’s name was thrown around a lot during the season.  The Marlins, under their new ownership, are looking to become profitable again, and they are going to start by dumping Stanton’s huge contract. St. Louis’ plethora of young outfield talent, and available payroll, make them a good trade partner for the Marlins.

Giancarlo would definitely fit in the middle of the Cards lineup.  He hit 59 home runs in 2017, drove in 132 runs, and slashed .281/.376/.631.  His OPS+ was 165, and he finished the year with a WAR of 7.6.  Stanton though, comes at a large cost.  If the Cardinals want the Marlins to eat some of his contract, it will cost them extra prospects.  If they do not want to give up the extra players, it will cost them the entire remaining amount of money on that massive contract.

J.D. Martinez

Another guy that was talked about around the trade deadline, was J.D. Martinez.  He will be a free agent this offseason, and at 30 years of age, could be a good fit for the Cardinals.  He actually average fewer at bats between home runs than Stanton, but he played in 40 fewer games.  Despite the limited number of games played, Martinez hit 45 bombs, drove in 104 runs, and slashed .303/.376/.690.  He also had a higher OPS+ than Stanton at 166, and he had a WAR of 4.1.

He will probably command 5-6 years for around $110-$130 million.  This could be affected by the next player listed, but even on the high end, it would be a contract the Cardinals’ could comfortably afford.

Justin Upton

Justin Upton has a player option for 2018, and is expected to exercise it, making him an unrestricted free agent.  Upton is a proven power hitter, like Martinez and Stanton, but, unlike Martinez, he is not a liability in the outfield.  This season, Upton hit 35 homers, drove in 109 runs, and stole 14 bases.  He slashed .273/.361/.540, had an OPS+ of 135, and a 5.6 WAR.

Upton is also 30, and will likely sign for a similar contract to Martinez.  Whoever signs first will probably set the bar, but the Cardinals will be able to afford either of them, regardless.

Josh Donaldson

The former AL MVP, Josh Donaldson, is another guy who the Cardinals have been rumored to be interested in getting via the trade.  He would come at a considerably lower cost than Stanton.  Also, the Blue Jays are in need of young outfielders, of which the Cardinals, as was mentioned, have plenty.  Donaldson would bring Gold Glove caliber defense at third, along with his powerful bat.  He hit 33 home runs, in just 415 at bats, and slashed .270/.385/.559.  His OPS+ was 144, and his WAR was 4.8.

Donaldson has just one year remaining on his contract.  He will make around $14.5 million.  Even if the Cardinals were not able to bring him back after one year, he would be a good bridge to Machado, should the Cards decide to pursue him in two years.

Help for the Bullpen

The addition of Juan Nicasio, in early September, helped to solidify the back end of the pen late in the season, but he will be a free agent this offseason, and Rosenthal is not coming back until next August.  This leaves the Cardinals with no closer, and no setup guys on the roster.  However, there are a few guys on the free agent market that could fill those roles nicely, one of which, is Nicasio.

Juan Nicasio

Nicasio has expressed his desire to come back to St. Louis next season, and the Cardinals have expressed some desire to bring him back.  They should be able to work out a 2-3 year deal for a reasonable cost, and get the big righty back for 2018.  Juan had a nice year, and showed the ability to close down games in his short time with the Birds.  He posted a 2.61 ERA 76 appearances, over 72.1 innings.

Addison Reed

Addison Reed had another impressive year, and will be a free agent this offseason.  Reed was traded to Boston at the deadline, but between the two leagues this season he put up a 2.84 ERA, in 77 games.  He is only 28 years old, and has shown the ability to close in the past, when he had 101 saves from 2012-2014.  He will likely be more expensive than Nicasio, but cheaper than the nest pitcher listed.

Wade Davis

Davis is the best closer available on the free agent market.  He will also be the most expensive. Davis has saved 76 games over the past three years, and has plenty of postseason experience with the Royals, and now with the Cubs.  Though definitely worth a look, he may not be worth the price, given the other options.

Starting Pitchers

There are not any obvious candidates for helping solidify the Cardinals rotation, though it will need solidifying.  The two big free agents, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, will probably sign for 5+ years, which could potentially get in the way of the Cards young prospects down the road.  This leaves the trade market.  It is hard to deduce who is really available, and who is not.  This is something Mo and Girsch will need to find out as the offseason gets into full swing.

A guy that comes to mind, is Marcus Stroman.  The Blue Jays may not want to part with him, but the Cardinals have enough young prospects to potentially build a package for Stroman and Donaldson, especially given the relationship between the two organizations.  Hopefully the starting pitching market becomes more clear as the offseason moves along, and we can get a better idea of what the possibilities look like.

What Should they Do?

Not Just One, but Two Big Bats

The Cardinals will want to get the most bang for their buck when it comes to the middle of the order.  That does not necessarily mean Stanton.  They could get close to 80 home runs, and 200 RBI for almost the same cost as Giancarlo.  It starts by acquiring Josh Donaldson, which would cost the prospects and $14.5 million.  Then, they have to spend some money on either Martinez or Upton.  If they do that, they will have their 3 and 4 hitters set, and almost twice Stanton’s production, for roughly $9 million more next season.  $9 million is the estimated cost of 1 WAR.  Should they acquire both Donaldson and Upton, they would be gaining nearly 3 WAR more than if they only acquired Stanton, for the cost of just 1 WAR.

Another 2 for 1 in the Pen

Similar to the power bat situation, the route that seems to make the most sense, is to acquire two quality players, for the price of one.  Assuming Wade Davis gets paid close to his $15 million AAV, the Cardinals can pick up Nicasio and Reed for nearly the same amount.  Nicasio could probably be brought back for around $5 million.  Reed, who made just under $8 million this year, will likely bring near $10 million.  If you do not want to do the math, that’s Wade Davis for $15 million, or, Nicasio and Reed for $15 million

Unclear About the Starting Staff

As you have read, the market for starting pitchers is slim, and the trade market is not all that clear to this point.  However, the Cardinals do need at least one more front of the rotation starter.  Hopefully that type of pitcher will become available and the Cards will pull the trigger.  Regardless, Mo and Girsch have their work cut out for them this offseason.  The roster holes covered in this article are just the beginning. These are just the ‘musts,’ should they want to reclaim the division next season.  One thing is for sure, though, if these major issues go unattended too, the Cardinals will be watching, rather than playing October baseball for the third straight season.