By Rob Rains
With the World Series over and the start of the general managers meetings just 10 days away, it’s time for the Cardinals to get serious about their off-season plans to improve the team before the start of the 2020 season.
Unsolicited, here is a list of eight items which could and should be on that list:
1. Trade Dexter Fowler and cash to the Angels for a couple of mid-level prospects.
This should be the first step toward redoing the Cardinals outfield for next season. Yes, Fowler has a no-trade clause, but there are at least a couple of reasons why he would likely approve a trade to the Angels – it would reunite him with his buddy Joe Maddon and would let him be significantly closer to his home in Las Vegas.
The bigger question is how much of the $33 million remaining on his contract over the next two years the Cardinals would have to eat. The more money the team would be willing to pay, the better of a prospect or prospects they could ask for in return. The Cardinals also could sweeten the pot by including one of their prospects in the deal.
Fowler was better in 2019 than he was the previous season, but the way he played in September and the postseason – hitting a combined .151 (19-of-126) offers no reason for the Cardinals to expect any better results next season.
2. Trade Matt Carpenter and cash to the Royals for a couple of mid-level prospects.
The Cardinals should make this deal for basically the same reasons as moving Fowler to the Angels. A trade to Kansas City would reunite Carpenter with former manager Mike Matheny and give him the opportunity to play first or serve as the DH in a ballpark where he has had great success throughout his career.
Signing Carpenter to a two-year $39 million extension last April was a horrible decision by the Cardinals’ hierarchy and they will have to pay for that mistake by sending probably at least $20 million to the Royals along with Carpenter, and possibly a prospect, with the realization they likely will not get much in return. It still would be a positive move, however, like the Fowler deal, if the Cardinals want to take a step forward next season instead of treading water with both players.
It’s unrealistic to expect the Cardinals to invest millions of dollars in a free agent signing which could upgrade the offense, so that means a trade is much more likely and there is no better fit of available players this winter than Betts. It would basically be a repeat of last winter’s trade for Paul Goldschmidt as Betts is headed into the final season before he can become a free agent.
The Cardinals would have time to look into keeping Betts, 27, beyond 2020 but what is more important is the kind of immediate boost he could provide to the lineup.
Betts hit mostly leadoff for the Red Sox last year and had a .391 on-base percentage. Combined, the Cardinals’ leadoff hitters had a .308 OBP which ranked 29th in the majors. They were not much better in the second spot, where Betts also could be a fit. The performance, or lack thereof, in those spots was one of the reasons why only 20 percent of Goldschmidt’s at-bats came with a runner in scoring position.
The Cardinals could put together an attractive package for the Red Sox, which likely would have to be better than what they had to give up to get Goldschmidt. Trading Wong and Martinez basically would allow the Cardinals to off-set Betts’ $20-plus million salary.
4. Sign Mike Moustakas to a two-year contract.
If the Cardinals trade Carpenter and Wong, they would have openings at second and third. Tommy Edman slides easily into the starting second base role, and the best fit at third would be free agent Mike Moustakas.
A left-handed hitter, the 31-year-old Moustakas won’t command the lengthy, $200 million-plus that Anthony Rendon would require. He also can move into the cleanup spot vacated by Marcell Ozuna, and a two-year deal would be perfect timing to get Nolan Gorman ready to assume the third base job in 2022.
This deal, of course, would be predicated on Moustakas or the Brewers declining the mutual option he has on his contract for next season.
This decision is more up to Wainwright and if he wants to pitch one more season. The way he performed in the second half of 2019, however, should offer encouragement to both him and the Cardinals that he can be successful again in 2020. Wainwright might want more of a base salary than he took in his incentive-laden deal this year, and as long as it is not unreasonable, the Cardinals should give it to him.
Wainwright’s value to the Cardinals and their young pitchers such as Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson can’t be measured by his own statistical performance. Giving those starters and the team’s other young pitchers another season to be around Wainwright would produce nothing but positive results in 2020 and for years to come.
6. Re-sign Matt Wieters to a one-year contract.
Wieters proved to be the best backup catcher the Cardinals have had in the Yadier Molina era, and it makes sense to bring him back for another year even if, like Wainwright, they have to pay him more than he received in 2019 to entice him to return.
Why bring back Wieters instead of giving the backup job to Andrew Knizner? Even though Knizner is ready for the role, there is no reasonable expectation that Molina will play less, or deserves to play less, than he did this season. That means if Knizner is the backup, he would sit on the bench and play maybe once every three weeks. That is what happened to Carson Kelly, and his skills eroded because of it until he finally got a chance at regular playing time this year in Arizona.
Even though Knizner has nothing left to prove in Triple A, it would be better for him to go there again and play almost every day instead of rotting away on the Cardinals’ bench. Should Molina become injured, Knizner would be only a phone call away.
7. Find a quality backup infielder who can play shortstop.
One of the biggest mistakes the Cardinals made this season was not giving Edman some games at shortstop as he was moving around the field, starting games at third, second and in right and center field. That resulted in having no one who could give Paul DeJong a break, and the results showed in the second half of the season.
If Edman becomes the regular second baseman in 2020, he won’t have much of a chance to play shortstop again, so the team needs to find somebody who can play that role. The bigger priority has to be defense, which is why Yairo Munoz can’t be counted on for that assignment.
8. Release, trade, designate for assignment or non-tender John Gant, Dominic Leone, Mike Mayers, Tony Cingrani and Joe Hudson to open spots on the 40-man roster.
The Cardinals roster is overloaded with right-handed relievers and the fact that Gant, Leone and Mayers were not on the post-season roster means they are expendable. There is a month to see if they could be traded for a prospect who does not have to go on the 40-man roster.
Cingrani was acquired from the Dodgers for Jedd Gyorko simply because Los Angeles needed to move his salary to stay under the luxury tax cap, so letting him become a free agent is an easy decision. So too is the case with Hudson, who was only added to the 40-man roster in September when Wieters was hurt.
The Cardinals need to open spots on the 40-man roster for prospects Jake Woodford, Elehuris Montero and Alvaro Seijas, and they also have to move Lane Thomas and Jordan Hicks back onto the roster from the 60-day injured list.
The other player on the 60-day injured list is Brett Cecil, another of the failed Cardinals’ free agent bullpen signings in recent years. It would be easy to say it’s time to just eat the last year of his contract but if the Cardinals have to include millions of dollars in the deals to move Fowler and Carpenter, it’s probably not realistic to expect them to eat Cecil’s remaining millions now.
What would all of these moves mean? This could be the Cardinals’ opening day lineup next season:
- Tommy Edman 2B
- Mookie Betts RF
- Paul Goldschmidt 1B
- Mike Moustakas 3B
- Paul DeJong SS
- Dylan Carlson LF
- Yadier Molina C
- Lane Thomas CF
- Jack Flaherty P
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports