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.
- Sign Dexter Fowler.
- Sign Yoenis Cespedes or Edwin Encarnacion.
- “Make a run” at Kenley Jansen.
- Acquire Chris Sale in trade.
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.
- Acquire Chris Sale or Chris Archer in trade. Anyone except Alex Reyes is fair game to be included.
- Sign Dexter Fowler.
- Sign Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman.
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.
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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