Unless the Cardinals throw us a curveball, followed by an unexpected changeup, they seem set to have a relatively quiet offseason.
The plan is to improve from within, give young players an opportunity, and count on bounce-back 2020 seasons from declining veterans.
If you were hoping for massive free-agent spending or the headline-grabbing, buzz-generating, excitement-building trades — well, you’ll probably be frustrated, disillusioned, outraged.
Even if you’re counting on an incremental signing — say, a LH-hitting outfield platoon bat such as Kole Calhoun — you probably won’t get Kole, either. But you may, metaphorically speaking, end up with coal in your Christmas stocking.
(Ouch. How bad was that pun? My apologies.)
For now, I’ll just take the Cardinals at their word. And I’ll assume that it will be a boring offseason … until they give me, and us, a reason to declare otherwise.
And that would be fine with me. For entertainment purposes, I like signings and trades. Even the dumb moves give us something to talk about.
But there WILL be an offseason. Yes, even if the Cardinals sit it out.
With that in mind, here’s my Guide to the Cardinals’ Boring Offseason as the 30 MLB teams prepare to convene for the annual Winter Meetings.
1. About the payroll. Surely this team HAS to spend more money, right?
Well, even with the grow-from-within and hope-for-the-fossils-to-regenerate strategy, the Cardinals have reinforce some roster spots, and address some voids. So at least some funds will be allocated for these worthy causes.
They’ll search for value buys and dumpster dives. Large expenditures are highly unlikely.
♦ Judging by the heavy flurry of news releases from the team, ‘tis is the offseason of Ballpark Village. Cardinals ownership has some luxury high-rise residences to sell you. Hey, did you know that the new luxury residential tower overlooks Busch Stadium? And that the building features, among other amenities, a fitness center, valet dry cleaning and laundry services, a sommelier, and personal concierge service.
I think it’s awesome that residents will be able to peer into Busch Stadium and see the offense struggle. At least they’ll be able to deal with the lineup-related angst by calling the sommelier to order a fine bottle of wine.
♦ Cards had a player payroll of just under $163 million last year; that ranked 6th among the 30 MLB teams.
♦ With some hefty new contracts for veteran players kicking in, the Cardinals already have $161 million guaranteed payroll dollars committed for 2020.
♦ And keep in mind that $138.7 million of that payroll is allocated for only nine players: Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Miles Mikolas, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Martinez, Andrew Miller, Kolten Wong, and Brett Cecil.
As we’ve noted many times before: the Cardinals spend plenty of money and have no need to apologize for carrying the sixth-highest payroll in the majors. The problem is, they’ve spent unwisely in too many instances and it’s created a top-heavy salary clog that limits any real payroll growth.
You can be mad over the reluctance the team’s reluctance to spend more. But given the shaky track record in payroll decisions, you might want to be just a tad thankful that they WON’T be spending more.
2. What’s up with Carlos Martinez?
Of course, he had a “minor procedure” on his right shoulder. This is open to interpretation. Because I remember when Mark Mulder and other STL pitchers had so-called “minor” procedures that reduced the effectiveness of the pitching to the batting-practice level.
If Martinez is fully healthy and viable and ready to roll by the opening of spring training with no real restrictions, the team will exhale and make a choice: does the surgically repaired El Gallo go back into the rotation, or will he be deployed as the closer until Jordan Hicks (elbow surgery) returns later in the season?
A healthy Martinez is a weapon, in either role. He could be the fifth starter. He could be the closer. This is all good. But an unhealthy Martinez creates another troubling void.
3. OK, who will be the fifth starter?
Could be Martinez. Could be Ryan Helsley, or Austin Gomber. Could be Jake Woodford, Daniel Ponce de Leon, or Genesis Cabrera. Could be — longshot — Alex Reyes. Or maybe a value-signing free agent … think Tanner Roark, Wade Miley, Jordan Lyles, Homer Bailey, Ivan Nova, etc. I’m not predicting it will be one of those guys. Just giving an example of the likely category and caliber of starter we’re talking about here …
Depending on how the market plays out, Dallas Keuchel could be targeted. There’s no draft-pick compensation for signing the veteran LH … Cardinals fans put themselves into a state of delirium Thursday when the predictable rumor mill — which flings out 5,000 names per day — mentioned how STL was in on Madison Bumgarner, along with several other teams. The MadBum rumor also speculated that he was in line to sign a contract for $100 million or slightly more.
So … if you happen to think the Cardinals are going to go to $100 milly or more for Bumgarner?
4. What’s going on with Alex Reyes, anyway?
After having three seasons virtually wiped out by a sequence of devastating injuries — only seven innings pitched at the MLB level since the end of 2016 — Reyes is on a “normal” offseason routine. Which, I guess, means he will be ready to resume his career without initial physical restrictions or a cautious program. All we can do, sincerely, is say a little prayer to be the baseball gods … Reyes, a special talent, is still only 25 years old. He’s overdue for good pitching health and luck.
I don’t understand the folks out there who want to peg Reyes into a specific role. Um, can we wait just a bit to see if he’s actually capable of staying healthy before we start handing out assignments? First things first, OK?
5. If you could add one incremental (read: bargain) piece for the offense, what would it be?
My opinion: a LH bat that can play corner outfield. I’m partial to Corey Dickerson. He clobbers RH pitching; this was a weakness for the Cardinals in 2019. And at 27 percent above league average offensively in park adjusted runs created (wRC+), Dickerson had the best wRC+ among the many free-agent outfielders on the market. Yes, better than Marcell Ozuna. Over the last three seasons Dickerson has a .292 average and .513 slugging percentage vs. RHP and is 21 percent above league average in his hitting performance vs. righties. Again, there are other candidates. I’m just naming an example of a hitter who fits.
6. Don’t the Cardinals need a backup shortstop?
Yes, because there’s no reason for Paul DeJong to collapse from exhaustion and and have to check into a hospital. But the Cardinals have a legitimate in-house option in prospect Edmundo Sosa, who turns 24 in March. He’s an above-average defender. He can also play second base and third. Had an underrated 2019 campaign offensively at Triple A Memphis, batting .291 with an .801 OPS and extra-base pop in the form of 17 homers, 18 doubles and five triples. This offseason Sosa has been ripping the ball in the Dominican Winter League.
7. How will the Cardinals sort through their outfielders?
A really lame answer here … but how the hell should I know? This is a classic “to be determined” outlook. The Cardinals have too many outfielders. And even though Ozuna will leave as a free agent, the Cardinals — at least publicly — are enthusiastic in their support of center fielder Harrison Bader and veteran Dexter Fowler. If two spots already are occupied (at least for the most part) … then please explain something to me: how can the Cardinals adequately give opportunities to young outfielders?
That list would include Tyler O’Neill, Randy Arozarena, Lane Thomas, Justin Williams — and about 5,000 other dudes.
And when top prospect Dylan Carlson moves into the lineup at some point in 2020, the outfield will be even more crowded.
And Jose Martinez — comically overrated hitter, poor fielder — is still around.
What a mess.
8. Is there an obvious trade candidate?
I don’t know if it’s obvious, but Harry Bader would look damn good on a team that has a loaded offense, a big home ballpark, and not enough outfielders who can go fetch the ball. Such a team would be happy to sacrifice offense for defense. And they would be pleased to give a home to Harry B — even if he can’t hit breaking pitches or offspeed offerings.
I’ll address some other Boring Offseason matters next week.