Here are 4 questions for the Cardinals and GM John Mozeliak as the hot stove begins to heat up:
Now that 10 qualifying offers have been extended across the league, the MLB off-season has kicked into full swing. Yesterday, the General Managers meeting began and will last until Thursday. As of this morning, all eligible players have become fully-free agents, ending the 5 day period in which players could exclusively talk to their former team.
1) Will there be an early market for Jamie Garcia?
This year’s free agent market for starting pitching is, to put it nicely, disappointing. The best starting pitchers available are Jeremy Hellickson, Ivan Nova, Rich Hill, and Jason Hammel. Hill and Hammel are 36 and 34, respectively, and their futures are questionable. Nova hasn’t had a season with an ERA under 4.17 since 2013. And Hellickson had a fine season, but wasn’t even the ace of his 71-91 Phillies. Compared to last year in which Zach Greinke, David Price, and Jordan Zimmermann were up for grabs in the free agent market, this year GM’s will have to keep an eye out for trades to bolster rotations.
Thanks where Jamie Garcia comes in. Although his 2016 season was the worst of his career, Garcia is a lifetime 62-45 starter with 162-game average stats of a 14-10 record, 3.57 ERA, 200 innings, and 161 K’s. If clubs look past his 2016 campaign and focus on his career, Garcia would easily be the best starting pitcher available in this market.
The Cardinals just picked up Garcia’s 2017 option for $12 million, which, keep in mind, is $4 million less per year than the contract Mike Leake inked last offseason. With such a weak market of starters, and the likelihood that those available will be signed early in the offseason, shopping Garcia would be a great move for the Cardinals. Now, if only Mozeliak is able to plant the idea to the 29 other clubs that Garcia is a top option, a bounty of rich prospects might be making their way to St. Louis in the next few months.
2) Will there be enough Outfielders on the market for the Cardinals to find a new starter?
With the loss of Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss, the Cardinals will have a hole to fill in their outfield. Luckily, this year’s free agent class contains many top outfielders, including Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista, Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, and Mark Trumbo, all of whom received qualifying offers.
Although giving up a first round draft pick in order to sign one of those players with qualifying offers is harmful, it might do more good than harm for the Cardinals. 1) Other teams will be equally hesitant, bringing down the value of the offers given to the players. And, 2) The Cardinals have a solid farm system, and potentially even more prospects if they can shop Jamie Garcia, so losing one pick won’t be detrimental to the Cardinals future.
For those two reasons, I think the Cardinals will be able to sneak in and grab a star outfielder without breaking the bank, potentially someone like Dexter Fowler or Carlos Gomez.
3) Will the Pirates do enough to make up ground in 2017?
After a 98 win season in 2015, the Pirates were extremely disappointing in 2016, finishing 78-83. But with a lot of the talent still on the team that led them in 2015, a little resurgence by some new blood this offseason can push them to playoff contenders once again.
The biggest needs that the Pirates will be addressing are starting pitching. Both Ivan Nova and Ryan Vogelsong, two starting pitchers for the Pirates, are heading to free agency, as well as reliever Neftali Feliz.
But don’t expect the Pirates to be major players this offseason. I could see them signing either Edinson Vozquez or Andrew Cashner, cheap inning-eaters.
4) Will the Cubs be able to push even further ahead?
Although it seems that the Cubs’ lineup couldn’t be any more perfect, the Cubs will be a player in this years free agent festivities. The Cubs will be a few major contributors to their bullpens success, Aroldis Chapman, Travis Wood, and Joe Smith. With a hefty relief pitcher market including Kenley Jenson, Mark Melancon, Greg Holland, and Neftali Feliz, and the obvious desire of any free agent to join a star-packed team coming off a world series, the Cubs should have no difficulty finding a replacement.
And although Dexter Fowler is also a free agent, as ludicrous as this sounds, the Cubs may not even need their All-Star center fielder. Kyle Schwarber made an admirable return from the DL in the World Series, and adding him alongside Jorge Soler and Jason Hayward should make up the Cubs outfield in 2017.