The offseason is coming, so it’s time to figure out what the Cardinals will be targeting.
The World Series is coming to a close today, but that only means the hot stove is just getting warmed up. After a season where the Cardinals missed the playoffs on game 162, it felt like they were only a couple of pieces away from making the playoffs. Now that our positional reviews are wrapped up, let’s look at which needs the Cardinals should address in the offseason.
The bullpen was probably the brightest spot for the Cardinals this year. Behind solid years from Kevin Siegrist, Matt Bowman and Zach Duke the bullpen was solid but relatively shallow. However, with the return of Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons and Marco Gonzalez from seasons lost to injury, the bullpen should be set for next season. No changes need to be made.
Last week I wrote about the perplexing nature of the Cardinals infield. Even though I presented a couple options that they could consider, the infield is definitely one of the stronger aspects of this Cardinals team. With Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, Aledmys Diaz, Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina, the starters are all solid to above average across the board. Add Jedd Gyorko, Matt Adams and Brandon Moss off the bench and the infield has both depth and talent. The jury is still out on whether or not the infield will compete with other top tier infields this year, but the Cardinals would be fine without any major tweaks.
After a historic 2015, Cardinals pitching took a step back in 2016. Much of that was due to injuries to various starting pitchers, but the Cardinals were also hurt by a lack of depth. The bullpen was solid but starting pitching struggled especially down the stretch. Besides Carlos Martinez, there were no pitchers the Cardinals could consistently rely on to completely shut down the opponent. Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia were all underwhelming throughout much of the season. What can the Cardinals do to upgrade the rotation for 2017?
Short answer: Not a lot, but they also don’t need to. As you may have heard, the free agent market this year is historically weak, especially for starting pitching. To go from on offseason with prizes such as Johnny Cueto, Zach Greinke and David Price to a free agent market where the big fish is 37 year old Rich Hill does not help the Cardinals in their pursuit to improve starting pitching. There is also the option of a trading for a starting pitcher, but the thin free agent market means these pitchers will demand a lot of good prospects.
It would probably be wise for the Cardinals to sit out on improving the starting pitching this year. Ultimately, the Cardinals pitching wasn’t bad enough to merit any knee jerk reactions. Luke Weaver, Alex Reyes and Lance Lynn could all be added to the rotation in 2017, and those additions should be plenty to bolster the rotation. Plus, there are a lot of signs the rotation was hurt more by the defense than anything else.
Cardsblog has written a lot about the state of the outfield this offseason and that is no accident. The defense was abhorrent no matter who Matheny threw out there. According to Baseball-reference, the outfield cost the Cardinals a total of 26 runs this season. The significance of losing 26 runs in a season the Cardinals missed the playoffs by one game should not be understated. Between an aging Matt Holliday and the youth of Grichuk and Piscotty, there was not a lot of outfield defense to go around, especially at home. What should the Cardinal’s do about their outfield defense?
This is probably the question of the offseason, and there is no simple answer. GM John Mozeliak has his work cut out for him to solve this puzzle. Since Matt Holliday is on his way out, the most simple solution would be to sign a free agent. Unfortunately, we run into the same issue as the starting pitching, a complete lack of viable free agents. Cespedes, the big prize, is prohibitively expensive. An option like Ian Desmond may sound intriguing, but again the slim pickings mean his price will probably be inflated. Plus, Ian Desmond’s defense has never been stellar, so that issue would still be present.
What about trades? In this instance the Cardinals run into the exact same scenario for starting pitching. A tight free agent market results in inflated prospect prices for trades. The Cardinal’s aren’t known for wheeling and dealing with prospects, so they’ll probably stay quiet on the outfield trade market this season as well.
Unlike starting pitching, this is a problem the Cardinals cannot afford to leave alone. Their defense cost them a lot of games last year, and it hurt their starting pitching too. There aren’t any outfield prospects showing up any time soon, and nobody is returning from injury to save them. As demonstrated by the Cubs and Indians, deep playoff runs are built off of defense and pitching. In order for the Cardinals to compete, they’re going to need a significant upgrade on the defensive side of the ball.
We can only dream.
You’ll probably hear this a lot this offseason, but the Cardinals are one move away from contention. It’s pretty clear to me that the move should be in the outfield. A lot of their supposed pitching struggles could be explained by poor outfield defense. Plus a lot of their struggles in general came from the outfield. Solving this problem will be another project entirely. The slim yet expensive free agent and trade markets will make an acquisition difficult, but if the Cardinals want to compete with teams like the Cubs, Indians and Dodgers, they’ll have to find a way to upgrade the outfield.
Photo Credit: Scott Rovak- USA Today