By Rob Rains
For the past several years here at STLSportsPage.com, we have begun the off-season with a list of the top 10 items the Cardinals needed to do before the next spring training began.
With there being nothing normal about 2020, however, we have done away with that list this winter. In reality, there can only be one primary item on a list prepared for John Mozeliak and his associates that needs to be done before the team, hopefully, assembles in Jupiter, Fla., next February.
Knowing what needs to be done is easy. It’s how to accomplish it that will be the hard part.
The marching orders are simple – find more offense.
With the expectation that because of financial restrictions it’s unlikely the Cardinals will throw millions of dollars at the top free-agent hitters available, unless one someone falls in their lap, the second-best option for adding a hitter or two probably will come through the trade market – or maybe going back to the Far East, where the Cardinals have found pitching in the past, but this time they need to come back with a hitter.
Here are 10 possible trade targets for the Cardinals this winter who could upgrade their outfield for 2021, and beyond, ranked in preferential order:
Aaron Judge, Yankees. If the Cardinals really want to hit a home run, they should swing for the fences and find out if the Yankees would consider moving Judge. Is it possible the Yankees would say yes to a deal? Probably not, but it should be the first phone call that Mozeliak makes as he surveys the outfield landscape. Judge, 28, averaged 35 home runs a season the last three full years and was set to make $8.5 million if 2020 had been a regular year. He has two years remaining in his arbitration eligibility before he can be a free agent. Why would the Yankees possibly consider a deal? First, they are desperate to add starting pitching and also need help in the bullpen. Second, even though they would miss Judge, offense is not the team’s problem and they would still have more than enough power without Judge, especially when they have said one of their goals for next season is to become less dependent on power and rely more on contact hitters. In case anybody might have forgotten, one of the items on our to-do list last winter was trading for Mookie Betts. The team that actually did that just won the World Series.
Michael Conforto, Mets. Judge is not the only outfielder currently playing in New York who should be of interest to the Cardinals. Across town, where the new owner of the Mets could be looking to make a splash this winter, is Conforto, who averaged 29 home runs in the last three full seasons. He has just one year left before hitting free agency after next season, so the Mets might be willing to listen to offers if they don’t expect or think they will be able to re-sign him. The Mets are said to be looking to upgrade their outfield defense, to add a lefthander to their bullpen and young pitching depth, all of which a trade with the Cardinals could provide.
Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox. The Cardinals loved Benintendi going into the 2015 draft but the Red Sox selected the Arkansas outfielder before the Cardinals had a chance to get him. He is signed for $6.6 million for 2021, and then will have one year of arbitration left before hitting free agency. Benintendi, 26, was limited to 52 plate appearances this season because of a rib-cage injury, but could be a player capable of 20 home runs as well as 20 stolen bases when healthy. The Red Sox, who could be looking to make changes after finishing last in the AL East, need pitching, pitching and more pitching.
Joey Gallo, Rangers. As with most of the teams on this list coming off bad seasons, Texas’ biggest need is pitching. Would they part with the 26-year-old Gallo to get it? Some people around the Rangers are not sure what to make of his tough 2020, when he hit only .181, which dropped his career average to .208. Gallo might be the most “true outcome” player in the game today. He has averaged 41 homers a season with 230 strikeouts, which equals more than half of his annual at-bats. Gallo, a left-handed hitter, has two years of arbitration remaining before he can become a free agent. He was set to earn $4.4 million this year before the pandemic.
Clint Frazier, Yankees. If the Yankees say no to trading Judge, Mozeliak should ask about Frazier before he hangs up the phone. Even though Frazier has yet to have Judge’s success in the majors, the asking price probably would be just as high based on his age, 25, and the fact that he would not become a free agent until 2025. As is the case with Judge, the Yankees would have enough offense without Frazier, especially if they could fill their need for pitching. In exactly 162 major-league games, spread across the last four years, Frazier has hit 24 home runs.
Hunter Renfroe, Rays. The Cardinals could benefit from the postseason performance of Randy Arozarena, which might make the Rays consider moving Renfroe in a trade this winter. The 28-year-old Renfroe would come with three years left before he becomes eligible for free agency after he was set to make $3.3 million this year. Renfroe, whom the Rays acquired in the deal that sent Tommy Pham to San Diego, has averaged 28 home runs in his three full seasons. His average fell to .156 this year with eight homers, and he added two home runs in the postseason. Declining Mike Zunino’s option for next year left the Rays in need of a catcher.
Mitch Haniger, Mariners. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto loves to make trades, and Haniger is a player who could interest the Cardinals if they are convinced he is healthy. The 29-year-old Haniger, an All-Star in 2018 when he hit 26 home runs, missed all of the 2020 season because of injuries that resulted in three different surgeries. He has two years of arbitration left before he can become a free agent after the 2022 season. He was set to earn $3 million this season. The Mariners need bullpen help, and a possible deal acquiring an outfielder for a pitcher might turn out to the reverse of the Tyler O’Neill-Marco Gonzales swap a couple of years ago.
David Dahl, Rockies. Dahl tried to play through an injury to his right shoulder this season but had to stop and have surgery after 24 games. A high ankle sprain ended his 2019 season after 100 games in which he hit 15 homers and posted a .302 average and an OPS of .877. Dahl has three years of club control before he can become a free agent. The Rockies struggled offensively in 2020 and are said to have prioritized adding an offensive-minded catcher this winter – and the Rockies always need pitching help.
Brandon Nimmo, Mets. As is the case with the Yankees having two outfielders who might interest the Cardinals, if the Mets don’t want to talk about trading Conforto, maybe they would listen to offers for Nimmo, who will be 28 next spring. A left-handed hitter, Nimmo hit eight homers in the shortened 2020 season and hit 17 in his only full season, in 2018. He has two years of team control before he can become a free agent. It’s also possible a deal with the Mets could be expanded to include J.D. Davis, who would be a right-handed alternative to Matt Carpenter at third base.
Mark Canha, Athletics. At 31, Canha is the oldest player on this list and his status as one of the highest paid players on the budget-conscious Athletics could make him available. He was supposed to earn $4.8 million in 2020 and can be a free agent next winter, which is another reason the A’s might move him this winter so they could get something in return. He hit a career-best 26 homers in 126 games in 2019. Acquiring a player with a year left before free agency could appeal to the Cardinals, who figure to be in a much better financial position next winter because of some of the current contracts that will expire after this season. Oakland’s biggest needs could be determined by which of their free agents they are able to re-sign.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains