The Hot Stove is heating up! The offseason is starting, and there are moves to be made. But teams don’t need to spend tens of millions of dollars to really change their team.

Bautista, Encarnación, Céspedes, Chapman, Trumbo, Turner. The Cardinals have money, but these guys are going to cost upwards of 80 million dollars (Chapman wants $100 million).

These are all good players. Granted, this year’s free agent class is on the older side, with the premier power bats Céspedes at 31, Bautista at 36, Trumbo at 30, and Encarnación at 33. However, with their hefty price tags, even the more youthful free agents seem less attractive.

The smaller names on the free agent list can be priceless. Whether it be their locker room presence, ability to come off the bench, mentor young players, or play multiple positions, they can fill many roles on a roster. Investments in these players can bring strong returns at the deadline (see the Braves signings of Colon and Dickey), or can energize a team down the stretch (see David Ross). With this year’s free agent class classified as weak, there is reason to save money for next year and make some crafty moves.

With that, here are my thoughts.

Position Players

Gregor Blanco

If the name sounds unfamiliar, you might remember this catch

Blanco is coming off a down year and will be a very cheap addition. With his ability to play all outfield positions well, and the potential for his 2015 season of a .291 AVG with 19 2B, he is an addition that the Cardinals could use, especially with the uncertainty in this upcoming year’s outfield situation. He’s never made more than 3.9 million in a season, and will have lost value after hitting .224 this year. He is the perfect experiment for the Cardinals.

Jeff Francouer

Not to harp on the outfield, but Jeff Francouer is one of the best available free agent outfielders available. On top of his ability to crush LHP, he is one of the best clubhouse guys available in the market. His demeanor has made him one of the most respected players in baseball, and his talents have allowed him to get traded at the deadline for guys like Dylan Moore (2016 Braves-Marlins), who has hit .353 with a 1.039 OPS in the AFL. A guy like Francouer can help with morale in an often drab clubhouse, and could be a valuable asset.

Sean Rodriguez

Rodriguez hit 18 HR this year with hitting .270. After his greatest accomplishment was brutally attacking this cooler, Rodriguez actually made a name for himself this year*.

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While his value will increase, likely to the 5-7 million dollar range, his super-utility ability makes him even more useful for the cardinals. He’s definitely a guy the Cardinals could use, filling in at multiple positions or potentially winning the starting 3B job.

*Despite that outburst, Rodriguez is a good guy who is very involved in promoting autism research.

Bullpen

Yes, there are bullpen options not named Jansen, Melancon, and Chapman. And they’re not too shabby. There are your gambles, and then there are your reliables.

Gambles

  • Luke Hochevar
    • Let me do the cons first: Boras guy and might not have a fully functioning elbow.
    • Pros: He had a 1.92 ERA in 2013, and had two mediocre years (3.73 and 3.86 ERA) following his Tommy John surgery.
    • With a fresh start, he could regain his pre-surgery form, and he won’t be that expensive. If he has a good first half, he could be a great trade piece if he is on a 1-year deal or a valuable bullpen arm.
  • Blaine Boyer
    • In 2015 with MIN, Boyer was dominant, with a 2.49 ERA. He regressed after signing with the Brewers, posting a 3.95 ERA. However, he would be going for about 1 million dollars, which is worth the risk in my opinion. If he rediscovers his old success, he could be a valuable 7th inning pitcher.
  • Eric O’Flaherty
    • The Cardinals need a lefty, and I’m not saying this is likely. But O’Flaherty was great up until 2015. A fresh start could benefit him, and the Cardinals could at least give him a shot. When successful, O’Flaherty was one of the best lefty relievers in baseball. He is only 31, and has time to figure it out. He’s worth a shot for cheap.
  • Tommy Hunter
    • He rediscovered his abilities this year. After a terrible 2015, Hunter showed he still has it. There are still trust issues with Hunter, so his price will be around 2-4 million this year. He could prove valuable.
  • Shawn Tolleson
    • He stunk this year. No other way to put it. But he was very, very good in 2014 and 2015, and has playoff experience. He can only go up from last year, and if I were a GM, I’d definitely look into it as a steal.

Reliables

  • Marc Rzepczynsky
    • It is time for a reunion. There aren’t many better fits for the Cardinals this year. He is a proven, dominant lefty who has deadline value and is very successful. He will be going for 3-5 million, and the Cardinals would be crazy to not at least pursue it.
  • Brett Cecil
    • He has been great for the Blue Jays, and although it is likely he will want to go back, he is another LHP that can help. He had a down year this season, and that will lower his price tag, so it is worth considering.
  • Household Names
    • There are some established relievers to consider too
      • Papelbon
      • Uehara
      • Ziegler
      • Joe Smith
      • K-Rod
      • Romo
      • Boone Logan
      • Jerry Blevins
    • The Cardinals have experienced relievers available. It just depends how much money they would like to spend.

The Cardinals don’t need to spend big to improve the team. Let’s see how crafty John Mozeliak gets this offseason. However, I wouldn’t complain if #52 was roaming the outfield next season.

COVER PHOTO: Mark J. Rebilas USA TODAY Sports

3 thoughts on “Small Move, Big Impact: Cheap Free Agents

  1. You left off the left handed F/A reliever that the Cardinals are going to sign, in my opinion. Travis Wood.

    1. I would hope the Cardinals could get him, but I think he’ll be hard to take from the Cubs. It would be tough for them to let him go to a division rival, especially after the season he had and the possibility of Montgomery joining the rotation. I think some reliable lefties out there who I left off, Boone Logan whose ERA has been inflated by Coors Field and Jerry Blevins.

  2. They do need someone who could hit lefties on a consistent basis seeing hardly anybody on this team for the last few years has been able to. The thing is can Francouer play center?

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