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Another View to Make the Cardinals Competitive for 2017

There is more than one way to build a championship ball club. The St. Louis Cardinals are under some pressure to refine and improve their formula after the Chicago Cubs ran away with the National League Central Division on their way to the World Title in 2016.

An approach championed by some, including Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is as the columnist describes, “Go Big”. The feeling is that the only way the Cardinals can be competitive with the Cubs is to make a number of significant roster changes, increasing the payroll to at least $170 million.

Ortiz’ plan has evolved in recent days. An earlier proposal, presented to readers on November 20, would have put the Cardinals into the $200 million annual payroll range.

By impartial industry estimates, the Cardinals would have committed over a third of a billion dollars to make those four moves happen – plus the cost in players to acquire Sale.

As the Cardinals and the rest of MLB head into Baseball’s Winter Meetings, Ortiz is back with a modified “Go Big” plan.

The columnist offers no explanation of why he thinks this is enough to overtake the Cubs. He decides that getting just one of the three means the Wild Card is the best the Cardinals could do in 2017 and that is what he expects will happen.

fowler-cubs-h-200I continue to favor a different, less dramatic, approach. It is focused on position players, not pitching.

I would like to see a better center fielder, but I am not locked in on Fowler. I question his price in dollars, years and draft pick loss and suspect there are better options out there. Ideally, the new center fielder would be a leadoff man, enabling the Cardinals’ best hitter, first baseman Matt Carpenter, to be moved to a spot from where he could drive in more runs. If it came to that, I would not be crushed if the Cards instead went for an athletic left fielder and kept Randall Grichuk in center. It all depends on what is available.

I would like to see the Cards acquire a better third baseman (ideally hitting and fielding) or perhaps shortstop. This would be helped if new homes can be found for Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta. Hopefully, this would be a middle-of-the lineup hitter and would not be cheap to acquire.

In both cases – outfield and the left side of the infield – I am not hung up on specific names. My experience with the Cardinals is that they often pull off a deal for a player not on the conventional radar screens. There is no reason to believe it could not happen again.

Adding another ace pitcher would always be nice, but probably not at the price it would take. I am not unhappy with the rotation as is. Lance Lynn and Alex Reyes are a couple of pretty nice additions for 2017, with Luke Weaver as the number six in Memphis. And that does not even include Michael Wacha and Trevor Rosenthal in yet-to-be defined new roles.

I believe that five years and $90 million or thereabouts for a closer is a bad use of money. Incumbent Seung-hwan Oh is very good at his job. Further, the 2017 pen already has a lot of different set up options just ahead, potentially including Wacha and Rosenthal and even Weaver, John Gant and Marco Gonzales if needed.

The financial and player resources proposed to acquire another ace and “elite closer” should be used elsewhere, in my opinion. The Cardinals continue to do a great job developing pitching and have a surplus there. They need help on offense and defense, and lack impact hitters anywhere close to the majors, so that is where they should place their immediate focus on roster improvement.

I am not going to share the names yet, but in The Cardinal Nation Top 50 Prospect Rankings for 2017, which is currently being unveiled at the rate of one player per day, the strength of the system is clearly pitching. To be more specific, eight of our top 12 Cardinals prospects are pitchers, and one of the four hitters, teenager Delvin Perez, is still years away from St. Louis.

Because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and specifically, the compensation rules and the questionable quality of this year’s free agents vs. asking prices, some clubs may wait until next year or the year after to “Go Big,” at least in the free agent market.

If the Cardinals end up following that approach, some who don’t understand or don’t care about the business side or just like to stir the pot will accuse the team of tanking or at least not fully trying to win – a major oversimplification of a complex situation. These are tough decisions with long-term implication that have no clear answers, despite how simple some paint it to be.

Bottom line, even if the Cardinals did nothing at the winter meetings this coming week, which is not what I expect, I do not think hope for 2017 would be lost.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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15 Responses to “Another View to Make the Cardinals Competitive for 2017”

  1. blingboy says:

    Substantial improvement will be difficult, IMO, given what I think was a totally dysfunctional active roster last year. It needs a total tear down and rebuild, not because it was really bad, but because it has no chance of being really good. That is not going to happen.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Love Jansen and chapman, but not for five year contracts, especially with mad Mike still calling the shots on use of relievers. Would they last any longer than Duke or the reliever from Atlanta?
    Also don’t like giving up a pick for fowler, nor his price tag.
    Would like to add Sale via trade. If we can’t land him, then stick with what we have.

    Simple is an apt word.

  3. blingboy says:

    How much WAR does Holliday have to produce to equal $13M?

  4. jbravo1980 says:

    Cards don’t necessarily have to break the bank to “go big”. Picking up Turner and dumping Peralta somewhere, hence committing Carpenter to first base, would add a huge boost to the lineup and would upgrade the defense. In my opinion…we can contend for the division again in this scenario. Might not catch the Cubs, but can be close to certain locking down the wild card (barring what San Francisco does…as usual). Especially if Reyes comes along like everyone expects him to, if Waino can get it together again and just pick up a couple more wins, and Lynn returns with similar results as he’s had in the past. LOL! That’s a lot of “IFs” on the rotation, but it’s really the only plausible route I can see to where you add one player and it makes the most impact. I don’t see Mo signing Encarnacion or Trumbo. They have been preaching athleticism and defense since the end of the season…neither one of those two come with either and are more DHs than anything. My perfect 2017 Cards starting roster would look like:

    1B – Carpenter

    2B – Wong/Gyrko

    SS – Diaz

    3B – Turner

    LF – Grichuk

    CF – Fowler

    RF – Piscotty

    SPs – Martinez, Wainwright, Reyes, Lynn, Leake

    • Brian Walton says:

      Welcome, jbravo. I agree that neither Encarnacion and Trumbo fit the new Cardinals mold. For that reason, I was very surprised when their names were floated by the Post-Dispatch. Though re-reading the article, all they said was this:

      “…They could become more aggressive than previously believed, turning toward free-agent sluggers Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as possible pursuits.”

      “Could” and “possible” may just be someone thinking out loud.

      Considering the price and years it would take for Turner, he would definitely be a big ticket item. MLB Trade Rumors estimated he will get a five-year, $85MM contract. Any cost of dumping Peralta (minus his salary) would apply to year one.

      ESPN’s Mark Saxon recently said he checked twice and was told that the Cardinals are not interested in Turner. Now, the GM says not to expect additional major moves. I don’t think hope is enough to change that.

      For me, the only realistic scenario would be if the bottom of the market completely drops out and one of the three falls into the Cardinals lap late in the winter – and I consider that to be very low odds.

      • jbravo1980 says:

        Thanks for the welcome! I agree that Turner would be a big ticket pickup for sure, but if the market somehow got to a point where you could get him for say 4 years and around 60-65mil…that wouldn’t be so bad in my opinion. It’s probably in the ballpark of what you’re going to pay for Encarnacion or Trumbo anyway.

        I’m a fan of using the farm system as much as possible and not breaking the bank on one or two players, but with getting Fowler for pretty much “even money” after letting Holliday go, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cards pick up another great WAR player for 15-18mil a year.

        The rotation isn’t going anywhere and Mo doesn’t want to part with a bunch of prospects, which counts us out on dealing for any of the White Sox players on the block. Quintana is really the only player on that team I’d like to see come to STL anyway. Dewitt has to cough up some change if we are going to get anywhere close to competing for the division in the next few years though. I’m hoping that billion dollar media deal injects some money into the payroll to at least make it interesting.

        • Brian Walton says:

          For what little it is worth, I am already on record saying I wanted to see the Cards address CF and 3B, the latter with a run-producing, middle-of-the-lineup hitter. However, reading the tea leaves of what the team seems to be planning to actually do the rest of the way leads me to doubt them doing anything more of major significance.

          • jbravo1980 says:

            You’re completely right. The cards will end up riding out Peralta/Gyorko at 3B next season. It would have been nice to pick up an upgrade at 3B, but it was just wishful thinking.

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