Two years ago, the Cardinals' major need was a starting shortstop, and they signed Jhonny Peralta before Thanksgiving. One year ago at this time, they had already identified and traded for a starting right fielder and bullpen help in Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. With their shopping completed before Black Friday, the Cardinals avoided the rush of moves following Thanksgiving and into the winter meetings. This year will be different. The Cardinals need a bat, and they might need a pitcher, and in the early going, they are being associated with some of the biggest names available.
When Lance Lynn's status for 2016 was determined with Tommy John surgery set to force him to miss all of next year, a spot in the rotation opened up behind Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Jaime Garcia. Pursuing David Price is not a knee-jerk reaction to Lynn being gone as any pitcher commanding more than $20 million per season and at least six seasons is hardly a fill-in. If the Cardinals are interested in Price, it likely would have meant a trade of one of their other pitchers prior to Lynn's surgery. The fit is there now for Price to step in and anchor a rotation that is incredibly talented, but does have some questions due to injuries.
John Mozeliak recently told Jim Hayes that the Cardinals were looking for a pitcher and hoped to have one in the next couple weeks. It is difficult to see the Cardinals approaching the potential $200 million price tag, and Joe Schwarz was cautious about the fit for a big name starting pitcher, but the Cardinals have had interest in Price before and this time he comes without being forced to give up any prospects. Ken Rosenthal reports that the Cardinals are among the teams with the biggest interest.
Two heated rivals in the NL Central want him. So do two in the NL West. So does another team from his old AL East that is widely expected to be the high bidder.
The essential dynamics, though, remain unchanged -- the teams with the most interest in Price, in no particular order, are the Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants and Red Sox, according to major-league sources.
The Cardinals are clearly interested, but until the teams start figuring out dollars, and more importantly, years, it is difficult to gauge how much they want David Price. Signing a pitcher like David Price is a big decision, and Nick Lampe discussed those implications recently. Do the Cardinals want him at six years and $144 million? What about seven years and $210 million? Are they willing to put in an opt-out clause after two years? Those are questions that need answering as Price's market develops.
In theory, Ben Zobrist would be a great fit on the Cardinals. He can play multiple positions all over the field and should be able to get starter repetitions by spelling the entire infield and corner outfield positions. The problem, as Ben Humphrey noted earlier this month, is that Zobrist will have better opportunities to easier playing time given his skills and production.
With Heyward as their priority and an already stuffed outfield and infield, the Cardinals are unable to guarantee Zobrist the type of playing time other teams can. And that's why the Cardinals aren't sure if they'll be able to get Zobrist to sign a multi-year deal to wear the birds on the bat. He's a free agent who understandably wants to play everyday and is good enough to do so. He might not be able to do that in St. Louis, as the Cardinals' roster is currently composed. So Zobrist might not accept the role the Cardinals have envisioned for him in 2016 and beyond.
Cardinals in Free Agency
Cardinals in Free Agency
Even without factoring in money and years for the 34-year old Zobrist, the fit on the Cardinals could be a tough sell. In the article linked above, Ben noted reports from Derrick Goold and Buster Olney indicating the Cardinals interest in Zobrist. Jon Heyman is now reporting on that interest as well.
While there are said to be as many as 20 teams in the mix, they are believed to be among the more interested teams, as they love his versatility, especially on the infield.
Zobrist's versatility is fantastic, but Mike Matheny has not shown a great propensity to balance playing time, preferring instead to ride one starter at every position. Derrick Goold, in response to Heyman's report noted the difficult sell ahead for the Cardinals.
Zobrist is still a very good player, and if he prefers a more standard, everyday role, he has earned the right to pursue those opportunities. The money and years are also likely to be a major factor with Zobrist as he would be 38 years old when a four-year contract ends. Whether the Cardinals would pay $20 million per season to an aging Zobrist is still up in the air.
While there is nothing new to report on the Cardinals' interest in Heyward (likely still very high), the Cardinals' rivals that already knocked them out of the playoffs also want the Cardinals' best player.
More Cubs stuff- indeed looking at upgrading catcher spot but not sure they can move Montero. Cubs like Heyward a lot. Lackey a possibility.— David Kaplan (@thekapman) November 23, 2015
This is in addition to reports that the Angels could get involved as well. The market for Heyward will be robust. Joe Schwarz discussed the possibility of the Cubs outbidding the Cardinals based on the fit with Chicago.
What makes Heyward such an ideal fit for the Cubs is that he fills one of those aforementioned holes. While his bat was quite valuable this season, he is primarily known for being one of the game's premiere outfield defenders, with a strong (and accurate) arm, consistently efficient route running, and a vacuum disguised as a glove. The fact that the Cardinals used Heyward in center field during their most important series of the season makes his resume even more appealing.
Heyward's talent, youth, and production makes him a fit on almost any team, and any team with money (like the Cardinals) could get involved. While Zobrist and Price are good players and would make excellent additions to the Cardinals, Heyward should still be the top priority.
As fans do their shopping today and in the next month, the Cardinals will do the same. Combining the shopping lists of fans and teams provides entertaining results.