Needless to say, a team that can boast a World Series victory two years ago, a NLCS appearance a year ago, and a National League pennant this year, is in pretty good shape. There's no need to make any rash decisions for re-shaping the team. In fact, they could do absolutely nothing in the off-season and still field a pretty darn competitive team for next year.
However, here are the three roster questions I believe the Cardinals will be thinking a lot about this off-season.
1) Who plays right field next year?
Carlos Beltran was an incredible pickup in 2012. In two seasons he produced a 6.2 WAR and two All-Star appearances. I'm sure that higher ups in the Cardinals organization were hoping top prospect Oscar Taveras would be ready to join the Cardinals in 2014, but it appears he'll need some more time in AAA.
So what are the Cardinals options.
Option A) Re-sign Carlos Beltran
After two All-Star seasons, Beltran will probably get a lot of offers. If the Cardinals could finagle a one year deal for Beltran for a good price, they should do it. However, it appears he's performed well enough to deserve (and get) a two or three year deal from another team.
Option B) Sign a stop-gap right fielder for one year
There's plenty of outfielders that could be signed for one year at a cheap price until Oscar Taveras is ready. Chris Young is an outfielder that comes to mind. After a pretty awful 2013, he could have a rebound year.
Option C) Move Allen Craig to Right, put Matt Adams at first
Craig can play the outfield and Matt Adams has shown himself a capable starter. In limited playing time, Adams produced a .839 OPS in 2013. As a starter in September (after Allen Craig got hurt), he was incredible, posting a .952 OPS with 8 home runs.
What should the Cardinals do?
I think the Cardinals should take option C. Oscar Taveras seems to need a little more time at AAA. He very well could be available by mid-season so signing Carlos Beltran to a multi-year deal doesn't seem like the best option.
If Matt Adams is used for trade bait, I think the Cardinals should sign a cheap one-year stop gap solution.
For those wondering what happens when Oscar Taveras is called up, he will likely compete w/ Jon Jay for the centerfield starting position.
2) How do you handle David Freese, Matt Carpenter, and prospect Kolten Wong?
2011 World Series hero David Freese was an All-Star in 2012 posting a respectable 3.8 WAR. However, he was pretty bad in 2013. He posted a WAR of -0.3 and is entering his second year of arbitration. I'm not sure what Freese can command in 2014, but it'll probably be a small bump up to 4M.
Normally, a team wouldn't think twice of trading a player only one year removed from an All-Star season. However, the Cardinals are in the lucky (or unlucky?) situation that they have multiple infielders available to play third base and second base. This gives the Cardinals two options.
Option A) Trade David Freese, move Matt Carpenter to third, put Kolten Wong at second base
Option B) Keep David Freese at third, Matt Carpenter at second, and use Kolten Wong as bencher/trade bait
What should the Cardinals do?
It seems almost blasphemous to entertain the thought of trading a local St. Louisian World Series hero, but I think it's the best move long term for the Cardinals.
Freese is already 30 years old and has never been a strong defender at third base. 2012 All-Star Matt Carpenter is a few years younger at 27 and his natural position is third base. Prospect Kolten Wong appears to be ready to play second base.
While the Cardinals aren't going to get a grade-A prospect for Freese, they should be able to get atleast some low to mid-tier prospects in return. Freese still has two arbitration years left, and as I said, he's only 1 year removed from an All Star appearance. In addition, the third base free-agent market is very weak for 2014.
As an aside, according to Baseball America, these were the top ten prospects in the Cardinals organization going into 2013.
- Oscar Taveras
- Shelby Miller
- Carlos Martinez
- Trevor Rosenthal
- Kolten Wong
- Michael Wacha
- Matt Adams
- Tyrell Jenkins
- Carson Kelly
- Stephen Piscotty
The Cardinals farm system is far from weak, but it does take away some of the depth in the farm system. Some trades for prospects might be good to help re-fill the coffers.
3) Can the Cardinals upgrade shortstop?
Pete Kozma's overall WAR in 2013 was -0.2. While he did a good job defensively (1.3 WAR), his offense was quite bad (-0.9) and amongst the worst in the league. Casual searching shows he had the worst OPS (.548) amongst shortstops with atleast 400 at bats.
What are the Cardinal's options?
Option A) Play Daniel Descalso at shorstop
Daniel Descalso got some playing time at short towards the end of the year, presumably because Kozma was hitting so poorly.
Descalso is a little bit better as a hitter (.656 OPS) but a bit worse on defense. It's about a wash.
Option B) Sign a free agent
Johnny Peralta and Stephen Drew will headline the shortstop free agents out there. There will be decent demand for them, but either could be had for a non-ridiculous amount of money. Maybe several years for ~10-12M a year. Peralta normally would get more per year, but his PED suspension might lower the overall market for his services.
If they are priced out of the market, there are cheaper options, most notably Rafael Furcal. After being out all of 2013 with an injury, the Cardinals could sign him and give him another chance. He's another year older, but still performed admirably in 2012 when he was healthy.
One free agent that catches my eye is former Cardinal Brendan Ryan. He's a similar no-hit shortstop like Kozma, but is a better defender.
Option C) Trade for a shortstop
With so many major league ready players, a trade is certainly an option. If the Cardinals keep David Freese and sign a stop-gap right fielder, Matt Adams and Kolten Wong could be available for trade. One of the young pitchers, such as Carlos Martinez, could also be made available. Not-yet MLB ready prospect Stephen Piscotty's name has also been thrown around as trade bait. Some have even suggested Shelby Miller is tradeable, although I doubt it.
Troy Tulowitzki's name has been brought up at times and the Cardinals are one of the few organizations with the trade chips the Rockies would want. However, Tulowitzki is owed 130M over the next 7 years, which is probably outside of the Cardinal's comfort zone given Tulowitzki's injury history.
Jose Reyes' name was also brought up during the season as the Blue Jays began to fade. He has a more reasonable 80M due to him over the next 4 years.
Asdrubal Cabrera's name was also brought up during the regular season. He seems like a more likely target as the Indians won't command an arm and leg for him. However, he only has one year left on his contract, therefore he may not be a long term option at shortstop.
Not so long ago a rumor began that the Cardinals and Rangers were talking about swapping their top prospects, Oscar Taveras and Jurickson Profar, for no reason other than organizational needs at certain positions. It doesn't appear such a trade will occur.
What should they do?
I'm hoping the Cardinals will sign Stephen Drew or Jhonny Peralta. With Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, and Rafael Furcal's contracts off the books, there is more than enough money to sign one of them. Throwing a few million stretch dollars in there won't hurt the Cardinal's budget much. Even more money will be available assuming Carlos Beltran isn't resigned. This also allows the Cardinals to keep their prospects w/o trading them away.
I'm not hopeful a trade for Jose Reyes or Troy Tulowitzki will happen. The asking price from those teams will simply be too high. I'd rather keep the young top prospects.
A trade for Asdrubal Cabrera is certainly possible and the price may be reasonable given he's likely a 1 year rental.
With so much success in the last three years, the Cardinals don't have to make any rash moves. I think keeping and playing their young players is a smart move and will still keep the team competitive. They may even be able to lower their team salary a bit to prepare for free agents in 2015 (Asdrubal Cabrera is on my radar) or sign their younger players to contracts through their arbitration years.
I'd love to see this lineup in 2014:
3B Matt Carpenter
2B Kolten Wong
LF Matt Holliday
RF Allen Craig
1B Matt Adams
C Yadier Molina
CF Jon Jay
SS Stephen Drew (hopefully, but perhaps Furcal, else it's Kozma)
with a rotation with
Jaime Garcia (yes, he's due back)
and a bullpen with
Lance Lynn (back to the pen + sixth starter)
Carlos Martinez (setup man + occasional starts)
Trevor Rosenthal (closer)
John Axford (arbitration eligible)
Jason Motte (back from surgery - due 7.5M)
and a bench with
One additional bench player
Of course I'm hoping at some point Oscar Taveras is brought up, and he will replace Jon Jay in centerfield.