Friday, December 11, 2015

What should the Cardinals do this 2015-2016 offseason after losing John Lackey and Jason Heyward

One year ago I wrote about the Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward trade.

In it, I posited that it was a huge cost to give up a young starter with 4 years of team control for just one year of Jason Heyward.  However, it was a risk the Cardinals took to make a run at a World Series title.  There were several reasons I felt they had to make that push:
  1. John Lackey was only under contract for 2015
  2. Matt Holliday, Jhonnny Peralta, and Yadier Molina were getting older
  3. There were no prospects with Oscar Taveras's ceiling in the minors
So 2015 might have been the small window the Cardinals had to try and win a World Series before a small rebuild would have to occur.

In the end, the trade perhaps worked out as well as you could have hoped with the exception of the early playoff exit.  The Cardinals won 100 games and Jason Heyward had a marvelous season where he ended up with a 6.5 WAR and was 15th in MVP voting.

However, a number of things I cited as issues in that post a year ago became true.
  • Matt Holliday played only 73 games and had a .804 OPS, both worsts in his career
  • Yadier Molina posted a .660 OPS, his worst since 2006
  • Jhonny Peralta posted a 1.8 WAR vs 5.7 in 2014

So the question is, do the Cardinals think they have more playoffs runs in them with this current staff?

On the one hand, their young players played really well.  Rookies such as Thommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, and Stephen Piscotty  all played very well (all with OPSes in the .824-.877 range).  Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez also played well, with the latter getting an All Star nod.

On the other hand, the Cardinals lost Heyward, Lackey, and also Lance Lynn to Thommy John surgery.

So the Cardinals probably need a starting pitcher to round up the team for a playoff run and it would be nice to get a big bat.  However, the pickings are a little slim right now, with mostly "Plan B" type players left in the free agent market.  Players such as Mike Leake, Justin Upton, and Chris Davis probably highlight the remaining free agents.

However, I think the biggest thing the Cardinals need to consider in their offseason plans is contending with the Cubs in their division.

The Cubs were a 97 win team in 2015 and they only seemed to have gotten better with the addition of Ben Zobrist, John Lackey, Jason Heyward, and whatever other offseason moves they will make (they will likely trade Jorge Soler since Heyward now has his position).  Not to mention hopeful improvement from their rookies Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber.

Winning the NL central is going to be really hard.  So a Wild Card is probably the best bet for the Cardinals.

If a Wild Card is the goal, there's no reason for the Cardinals to go nuts in free agency.    It would take a lot to keep up with the Cubs.  The Cardinals could shore up their pitching staff with a someone like Mike Leake, who shouldn't be too expensive.  However, they should show restraint and not overpay for a Chris Davis or Justin Upton.  This team is good enough for a Wild Card run already.

Perhaps mid-season if a Wild Card looks out of the picture, the Cardinals could try and trade Matt Holliday and/or Peralta for prospects.  I'd even consider trading Molina if the right deal comes along.

For the longer term outlook, Matt Holliday's contract will be up after 2016 and Peralta & Molinda's will be up after 2017.  A new TV contract begins in 2018 for the Cardinals, which may be the time they can begin a new round of playoff pushes with a new crop of young players and money to spend on free agents.

In addition, by the time 2018 rolls around, the Cubs may also be weaker.  John Lackey's contract will be up.  A number of younger players will become arbitration eligible and no longer cost peanuts.  Jon Lester will also be entering his mid-30s.  Jake Arrieta will be a free agent.  That may be the time for the Cardinals to strike.

Update 12/22/15: 

Looks like the Cardinals did shore up the pitching staff w/ Mike Leake.


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