With no real hot-stove action or even good rumors to follow, St. Louis Cardinals fans are resigned to speculating about what the club might or might not do this off-season to improve its offense for 2015.
Some of the excitement was tempered by comments made by general manager John Mozeliak from this week’s MLB General Managers Meeting in Arizona. Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reported the following.
“For us, I feel we could just play with what we have,” Mozeliak said. “But that puts you in a pretty fragile state if something were to go wrong. That’s something we’re working through now in the market and with different trade possibilities, too. The thing that is tough is addressing that without taking away opportunities for certain players. If we were to go all-in on something it might change the situation (or block) another player.”
With me being a “prospect guy” and all, you might think I would be delighted by that comment. If so, you would be wrong.
Now, I understand why Mozeliak would not want to put all of his cards on the table. Maybe he really is deep in the market for offense, but does not want to appear desperate.
However, at this point, I have to take his comments at face value. As such, I find his stance concerning.
Let’s be specific. The Cardinals need help offensively with right field primarily and first base secondarily standing out as the neediest candidates.
Overexposed in a full-time role in the post-season, Grichuk struck out in one of every three plate appearances and batted .171. Over the long haul of the 2014 regular season, Adams batted just .190 against left-handed pitchers.
At this point, even while squinting, it is tough to see any hitters close to the majors who would be ready and able to step into the void. The late Oscar Taveras offered the best chance, but without him, there are no good immediate options. Stephen Piscotty could use more seasoning. It is difficult to envision Tommy Pham as an every-day player. More likely, his best fit is as a less-expensive fifth/sixth outfielder replacement for arbitration-eligible Shane Robinson.
Which brings us back to the free agent and trade markets.
To have the best chance of winning in 2015, the Cardinals would seem to need to add an external bat, probably a regular right fielder. Even though it would overlap Grichuk, a right-handed hitter may be preferable given so many left-handed hitters in the lineup already.
Yet, at face value, Mozeliak’s comments seem to indicate a greater concern about protecting the future than necessarily putting the best possible team on the field for Opening Day next season.
This does not have to be an “either-or” proposition, in my view.
I do not think the team should commit tens of millions of dollars over many years in a bad contract for an aging veteran near the end of the line, but I think there are deals that could be made for a productive major league hitter. The club has pitching to potentially trade or could ante up for a free agent.
What may appear to be Mozeliak’s “worst” case, in reality is one which I do not think is so bad at all.
For immediate help in 2015, let’s say the Cardinals have to acquire a right fielder (via trade or free agency) with a three-year contract. In 12 months from now, that outfielder is deemed redundant because Grichuk or Piscotty or Mr. X has demonstrated he can handle right field offensively and defensively.
Then trade this 2015 acquisition to another club next winter. As long as the contract is not stupid and the outfielder is still productive, there will be takers for a two-year commitment for a known hitter. One thing that is clear in this market is that offense is in demand. It is almost assuredly going to be the case next winter, too.
Mozeliak needs to act with at least some urgency.
While the expectation is that the Cardinals will compete each and every year indefinitely, the competition in the division is getting tougher. The club has a very stratified roster with a number of older players, many younger players, but few in the middle.
The three that I consider to be veteran core of the team – Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Matt Holliday – will be 33, 32 and 35 years of age, respectively, next season. All three are showing signs of wear.
There is no reason the Cardinals should not figure out a way to improve the offense this winter and give this core – along with the other 22 players – their best shot at another ring in 2015.
In doing so, put the potential problem of blocking hitting prospects on the back burner for another year.
After all, as we saw in 2014, these perceived jams tend to work themselves out.
A Cardinals club rich in starting pitching ended up feeling the need to acquire two veteran starters at the trade deadline. One, John Lackey, had special appeal as a proven October performer. He remains in the 2015 rotation, despite his continued presence likely blocking very promising youngsters such as Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez.
Now, the Cardinals need a “John Lackey” right fielder.
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