As the Cardinals watch the NLCS between the Mets and Cubs and prepare for the off-season, they have major moves to make to insure they’ll be a playoff-quality team in 2016, and a team capable of winning in the playoffs.
While the series against the Cubs revealed some minor deficiencies, there are also some major issues that need to be addressed this off-season.
The top priority needs to be re-signing Jason Heyward.
Even though he isn’t a major run producer, Heyward is, at worst, a terrific four tool player that has the ability to hit, run, field and throw with the potential to hit for power. The value and durability he brings to the club make him a commodity that would be difficult to see walk away.
While most players that don’t hit home runs or drive in a lot of runs don’t find themselves among the game’s highest paid players, Heyward has worked his way into that class. At the end of the day, the Cardinals are probably looking at a six-or-seven year deal at an average annual value of $20 million. And perhaps to make that deal more palatable, it would seem that an opt-out after the third or fourth year would make sense.
That’s a Scott Boras maneuver, but with a 26 year old, giving him another bite at the free agent apple by the time he turns 30 would be attractive.
Also, in no particular order, the Cardinals need to…
– Find a suitable backup for Yadier Molina. Molina has missed significant time in each of the last two seasons, each with thumb injuries. More importantly, he’s been diminished in the post-season.
Yadi got hurt in game two against the Giants in the NLCS in 2014, then was knocked out for good…while playing hurt…in game three against the Cubs. We all know how valuable Molina is to the Cardinal pitching staff, and the dropoff to Tony Cruz just doesn’t provide enough ammunition to win.
In the last two years, Molina’s catcher’s ERA’s have been 3.19 and 2.79, while Cruz has turned in 4.07 and 3.48. Molina has thrown out 44% of runners trying to steal in the last two years, while Cruz has been at 20%. A free agent like Toronto’s Dioner Navarro has traditionally handled pitching staffs pretty well. He’s a veteran, he has a decent bat (although that shouldn’t be a factor here) and more often than not has been above or near the league average for throwing out runners. A veteran like Navarro would be a huge benefit for a team like this.
– Find a player to defray the innings of Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong. Peralta was an All Star, and Wong was borderline to make the team in July. Before the break, Peralta hit thirteen homers and he had an .828 OPS. Afterward, he hit four home runs with a .631 OPS. By October, he was gassed.
Wong hit .280 with a .777 OPS before the break, and .238 with a .614 after. He had 29 extra base hits before and fourteen after. A guy who has successfully played both second and short and has a history of being a capable offensive performer is a necessity.
Even though they might have to pay for a starting quality player, I would hope the Cards would have interest in Tampa Bay’s Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s played both second and short well, and he carries a quality bat. If the Cardinals could give a guy like that 100 games and 400-plus at-bats, it would be huge.
Pete Kozma and Greg Garcia just don’t provide the offensive thump necessary to fill in reasonably well for the middle infielders.
Peralta and Wong would be much better off at this point playing 120 games each, and Cabrera could also fill in nicely at third when Matt Carpenter needs a rest.
– Find better offensive production from the first base position. Cardinal first basemen had 54 extra-base hits with a .702 OPS in 2015.
During the season, General Manager John Mozeliak said he didn’t want to block the injury prone Matt Adams, who played in sixty games this season, and had 54 extra base hits and a .779 OPS in 2014. Adams was a promising slugger in 2013, but hasn’t lived up to the hope at this point.
Brandon Moss was a slugger in spacious Oakland Coliseum in 2013 and 2014, but it would be hard to count on him, especially when he’ll command $7.5 million in arbitration. Mark Reynolds isn’t that slugger.
The Cardinals need a productive first baseman. I don’t know who it is, but they need a slugger that can deliver extra base hits in the middle of the lineup.
– Come up with a plan for Stephen Piscotty. This guy looks like a potential star, but my preference would be to have him be a fourth outfielder/extra first baseman next year before taking over for Matt Holliday in left field in 2017.
He could move all over like Albert Pujols did in his rookie year.
Albert played 39 in left field, 39 in right field, 55 at third and 42 at first. Piscotty has the ability to be a super utility guy, and with the fragile nature and declining production of Holliday, the uncertainty at first base, and not knowing if Randal Grichuk is a durable, everyday player, Piscotty could play left, first, and right with Heyward moving to center if Grichuk is out.
If Heyward is overwhelmed financially by someone else, Piscotty is your right fielder.
Tommy Pham was also a revelation, so he must also be in the outfield mix.
– Figure out who their fifth starter will be. I would be comfortable heading into next year with a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn and either John Lackey or Jaime Garcia, with Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons waiting in the wings.
However, if the Cardinals pursue and get a front line free agent starter like David Price or Jordan Zimmermann, who am I to complain?
– Solidify the bullpen. Trevor Rosenthal, Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist are fine. It would seem there should be a place for Sam Tuivailala and either Gonzales or Lyons, so that gives them five of the seven.
Miguel Socolovich could be back, and if they get a free agent starter, Lynn or Martinez could return to the bullpen. And few GM’s do a better job than Mozeliak of picking up guys like Matt Belisle, Carlos Villanueva, Jonathan Broxton ($9 million option) and Steve Cishek (made $6.65 million and is arbitration eligible).
The Cardinals can still compete at a very high level, but they need to be fresher when they get to October.
Too many players were cooked by the time the Chicago series started. It might cost a few more dollars than it has in the past, but the Cardinals need to upgrade their bench dramatically to stick with the good young teams in the NL in the future.