I think you all know where I stand on the Cardinals need for a top tier slugger for the middle of the lineup. In case you missed it: I am overwhelmingly in favor of adding that player regardless of the cost. They need a franchise player.
That said, what if that player just isn’t out there now or even this offseason?
What if Giancarlo Stanton won’t waive his no-trade clause?
What if the Marlins don’t want to trade controllable assets like Marcell Ozuna or Christian Yelich?
What if Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado, etc. are all staying put or being traded to other teams?
What do the Cardinals do?
Here’s the answer: follow the pattern of the 2014-2015 Royals.
Shore up the defense (especially in the infield), load up the bullpen and improve the team’s overall speed and athleticism.
Given the number of quality prospects the Cardinals have these things are all possible. In fact, it might be easier to string together a series of moves that would accomplish these goals than it would be to acquire that mid-order Bat.
So what would it take to shift the roster in that direction?
Here are some thoughts…
You won’t be getting much of a bat here, but if you’re going defense and pitching then you can’t have a question mark at this position.
In free agency this offseason you’d have the options of Zack Cosart, who may be a late bloomer offensively, and Alcides Escobar. I doubt either of them are going to break the bank, but it would probably take a 3-4 year commitment at open market prices to land one of them. They’re both vastly superior defensively than anyone currently within MLB hailing distance for the Cardinals and both are known commodities. They’re flawed in some ways but they’re known.
As far as trade candidates are concerned you could call about guys like Jose Iglesias (would likely be available at a fair price), Andrelton Simmons (seems unlikely to be moved but it can’t hurt to ask), Marcus Semien (Franklin Barreto is a top prospect) or Freddy Galvis (has some pop and the Phils will likely turn to top prospect J.P. Crawford sooner rather than later). Again, all flawed in some way and some will likely cost more than others but they’d all be defensive upgrades over what the Cardinals currently have.
The Cardinals simply have too many second and third base types. Moving Jedd Gyorko or Kolten Wong would likely result in a decent return in prospects – or they could be a piece going the other way in a trade for a shortstop – and it would allow the younger, cheaper Paul DeJong to play either second or third base. If you’re really shooting for the defense-speed-athleticism type team then keeping Wong and moving Gyorko would make the most sense.
Dexter Fowler is locked in but you might have to have a serious conversation with him about possibly moving to LF. If that won’t fly then surrounding Fowler with the most athletic corner outfielders around would be the next best course of action. In this scenario they’d be looking at guys who get on base and/or put the ball in play…So that would mean moving on from Randal Grichuk.
I’m not ready to give up on Stephen Piscotty yet and I wouldn’t want to cast Tommy Pham aside either but in this scenario I’d find a role for Magneuris Sierra. The 4-man outfield rotation would give the Cards much needed speed and athleticism, plenty of rest and some pop too.
Even if Lance Lynn leaves via free agency during the offseason the Cardinals would still have Carlos Martinez, Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha under contract. Plus they have a host of top prospects: Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Zac Gallen, Sandy Alcantara, Austin Gomber, etc.
Some of those guys could be traded but the rest would be good candidates to battle for the 5th spot in the rotation AND provide depth all season long.
None of that includes Alex Reyes coming off Tommy John surgery. He may not be ready to begin the season as a full-fledged Major League starter but at some point in the second half he could impact the rotation.
I’m open to keeping guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist, Matt Bowman and Brett Cecil for 2018 but I think they’d need two more proven, top end relievers to replicate what the Royals had in 2014-2015. Replace the likes of John Brebbia and Tyler Lyons with elite back of the bullpen arms and you won’t be blowing as many of these close games late.
The top free agent relievers out there will be Wade Davis, Greg Holland (if he opts out of his deal with Colorado, which I think he will) and Addison Reed from the right side and guys like Jake McGee and Tony Watson from the left side. With Cecil and Siegrist there is no “need” for a lefty unless you want to move them for a lefty that actually has favorable splits against lefties. That would be fine with me.
I’d call other teams about Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Dellin Betances, A.J. Ramos and Brad Hand, among others. And there would be many others depending on how creative you’re willing to get.
The Cards typically don’t invest a lot in the bullpen but if you can’t get a big time slugger and you’re going with with the Royals’ model then it might be time to change that up.
I’d also like to see the Cardinals bolster their bullpen with one or two of their top prospects that don’t make the rotation. Hudson and Alcantara, in particular, could be massive weapons in the bullpen. Hudson has mid-to-upper 90’s fastball with a plus slider. Alcantara throws 100 MPH with a decent change and developing curve. Better to have them helping in the big leagues than pitching another 150 innings in the minors.
Keep in mind that my preference would be to land a legit three-hole hitter for this team and handle the rest from there but if that’s not possible, if there are no game-changers available to the Cardinals, then it’s time to go full speed ahead on pitching and defense.