As he tends to do, John Mozeliak has most of the Cardinals roster set heading into the Winter Meetings. The trade for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden cleared up rightfield and solidified the back end of the bullpen. The Cardinals recent acquisition of Matt Belisle brings in another bullpen arm and solidifies Carlos Martinez' spot in the rotation as he heads into spring on the right side of a rigged competition. The Cardinals could move to spring with their current mix of players and some non-roster invitees, but the Cardinals do have one position currently unmanned: backup first baseman.
After trading Allen Craig away last season, the Cardinals went the rest of the season without a true backup first baseman, giving occasional starts to Mark Ellis, Yadier Molina, and Daniel Descalso. They called up Xavier Scruggs in September, but never gave him a meaningful chance at playing time. As the Cardinals head to 2015, a backup first baseman, particularly one who can hit right-handed opposite Matt Adams, and perhaps one who could play in the outfield occasionally should be of interest to the Cardinals.
The deadline to tender arbitration eligible players contracts went by on Tuesday night and saw the Cardinals let go of Daniel Descalso, but saw other teams move on from Kyle Blanks, Gaby Sanchez, and John Mayberry. All three are now free agents and can sign with any team. Sometimes, the players end up signing with the same team that refused to tender them a contract at a lower price than arbitration would have been. We saw this with Justin Smoak, who re-signed with the Blue Jays. Many players are let go, not because they are no longer skilled, but because the price in arbitation is higher than the team is willing to pay.
Kyle Blanks has already been profiled by Aaron Finkel. At the time Blanks was still in the A's organization and a potential trade target. This is what Aaron had to say (Click here for the full post):
The way I see it, Blanks actually makes some sense for the Cardinals. He's shown a lot of promise in hitting lefties, and he's talented enough to be a difference-maker when he's on the field. His extreme injury risk will make him easy for the Cardinals to acquire, and his contract (arb 3) is projected at just $1.3M. The Cardinals have plenty of room on the 40 man roster for Blanks, so there shouldn't be collateral costs, and unless the front office is really high on Corey Hart (who Ben Humphrey profiled here) or Mark Reynolds, acquiring Blanks wouldn't likely represent much of a lost opportunity elsewhere. Given his injury history, Blanks should not attract the interest of any team who needs him, but rather that of a team who could afford to give a roster spot to a wildcard, like the freshly beHeywarded Cards.
As for whether the Cardinals would be interested in Blanks, Derrick Goold indicates he could be a person of interest for the team.
Donaldson whopper could have fallout that entices #Cardinals. A's designated Kyle Blanks for assignment - a RHB 1B/OF like #stlcards want.— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) November 29, 2014
More recently, Goold shed further light on the Cardinals plans headed to the Winter Meetings.
Mozeliak says #Cardinals are "on the sideline" watching market for starting pitching develop. Still out looking for RH bat for 1B/OF.— Derrick Goold (@dgoold) December 3, 2014
John Mayberry is another player who fits that description. The soon to be 31-year-old debuted in 2009 for the Phillies, and had a mini-breakout in 2011, hitting .273/.341/.513 with a wRC+ of 132 in 296 plate appearances. Given ample playing time over the next two season, Mayberry could not take advantage, hitting .237/.294/.393 with a wRC+ of 87.
Despite terrible luck on balls in play in 2014, evidenced by a .229 BABIP, Mayberry still proved valuable in a bench role/for the Phillies and Blue Jays last season, hitting .212/.310/.425 with a wRC+ of 107 and 7 home runs in 168 plate appearances. Mayberry checks off a lot boxes for the Cardinals. He is right-handed, hits for power, has played in the outfield and at first base, and has performed well against left-handed pitchers throughout his career. In 490 career plate appearances against lefties, Mayberry has a line of .269/.324/.533 for a wRC+ of 130. The sample size per season is small, but since 2011 his wRC+ against lefties in those seasons is 157, 116, 106, 151. Being on the short end of a platoon is a tough role to accept, but Mayberry could be that guy for the Cardinals.
Gaby Sanchez does not fit as well on the Cardinals as the previously mentioned players as Sanchez has played just three innings in the outfield his entire career. However, if the Cardinals are interested in carrying a backup first baseman who cannot play the outfield, Sanchez could be a fit. After hitting a solid .254/.361/.402 with a wRC+ of 117 in 320 plate appearances in 2013, Sanchez had a disappointing year in 2014. This past season Sanchez hit .229/.293/.385 with a wRC+ of 93 in 290 plate appearances, leading the Pirates not to tender him a contract and hand over first base to Pedro Alvarez.
Sanchez, 31 years old, has always hit lefties well. In 609 career plate appearances, Sanchez has hit .291/.382/.481 for a wRC+ of 138 against left-handers. Despite his struggles last season, he still managed to hit better against lefties than righties, a 111 wRC+ compared to 74 against righties. Sanchez might get better opportunities elsewhere, and the Cardinals would need to exhaust other options with outfield experience before turning to Sanchez, making him a less likely match.
The Cardinals have little work to do to assemble a roster for the upcoming season, but it appears the Cardinals are still on the lookout for a right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder. Blanks, Mayberry, and Sanchez all had their paths to the Cardinals made easier on Tuesday when they became free agents. Mozeliak has shown he is willing to strike quickly if he wants a player. Whether the Cardinals end up with one of these three players or go with an in-house option is one of the few things left to watch on the Cardinals roster before spring.