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VEB Offseason Wish List

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In which areas do you think upgrades are a necessity this offseason?

Cincinnati Reds v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

“We’re aggressive and we’ve got resources.”

That was a quote offered by Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. when asked by the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold about improvements for 2019. Granted, in that same interview DeWitt Jr. made sure to echo the same sentiments we’ve heard previously about the free agent market being high-risk, and that one must be “darn sure” of what a player has to offer before signing them.

In that respect, this offseason’s free agent class consists of some of the most reliable superstars we’ve seen in an offseason in a long while.

It isn’t just the star power, but the youth of those players. The two gems, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, will both be 26 at the start of next season. Both have established themselves as two of the game’s greatest talents. Both will command massive contracts.

The problem with those contracts in years gone by has always been the age of the player. The Angels locked up Albert Pujols through his age-41 season and he hasn’t posted positive WAR since 2016. The Mariners are paying Robinson Cano until he’s 40. Putting Harper or Machado on one of those mammoth 10-year deals would have them coming off the payroll at 35 years old.

There’s reason to be optimistic for those deals, if you’re in favor of them. Giancarlo Stanton had a gigantic deal of his own in which he was owed $25 million per season on average until he was 38. The Cards were willing to take on that contract, even when paying prospects to acquire him. The superstars will just cost money.

Granted, they’ll cost quite a bit more than Stanton did, but the risk is also reduced given their ages at the end of their deals.

Or, maybe you don’t want either of the big names. You could be in the camp of those wishing for minor upgrades, like an Eduardo Nuñez type, hoping guys like Tyler O’Neill blossom into those big-name players. You could prefer the addition of former big bats coming off down years, like Josh Donaldson. Maybe you’d prefer to prioritize pitching—with guys like Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez hitting the market, there are external options. That would free up some of the young pitching in the system to float in trades.

The point is, it’s a deep free agent class, and we’ll be talking about the possible options for a long, long time this winter. Opinions will differ. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a hyper-early look at the free agent market and the options within (and possibly some trade options as well), but I want to prioritize the series based on the consensus of VEB readers. Below will be some polls on which facets of the team you think are most important for the FO to upgrade this offseason.

Overall Upgrades

We’ll divide this first category into two oversimplified sections. Which do you think is the Cardinals’ biggest need this offseason: a bat or an arm?

Poll

Which is more important to add to the 2019 Cardinals?

This poll is closed

  • 81%
    Hitting
    (936 votes)
  • 17%
    Pitching
    (203 votes)
  • 1%
    None
    (12 votes)
1151 votes total Vote Now

Asking that question a bit differently, we can really break these out into four general categories. Which area of the field do you want to see prioritized in offseason upgrades?

Poll

Which area of the field needs the most improvement?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Infield
    (531 votes)
  • 7%
    Outfield
    (90 votes)
  • 2%
    Starting Pitching
    (33 votes)
  • 42%
    Relief Pitching
    (495 votes)
  • 0%
    None
    (4 votes)
1153 votes total Vote Now

Infield

Taking a closer look at the Cardinal infield, three of the five had players who registered 75 percent of the playing time: catcher, shortstop and second base. Shortstop, which had been a position in flux for so many years in St. Louis, had the highest percentage with Paul DeJong logging most of the Cardinals’ innings at the position. Without his hand injury early in the season, we would’ve barely seen anyone else playing short. The same can be said about catcher and second base, with Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong, respectively. Injuries cut into the playing time.

Yairo Muñoz picked up the largest amount of slack at the middle infield spots, with Greg Garcia trailing behind him. Something to consider: Do you feel Muñoz and Garcia are the best bench options the Cardinals could have at the end of free agency?

The corner infield spots were a bit more fluid. Matt Carpenter definitely commanded the most playing time at first base and was an absolute monster at the dish for a good part of the season. Split playing time between Matt Adams and José Martínez was pretty rough; while Adams struggled at the plate, Martínez had trouble with with his glove.

Jedd Gyorko grabbed the majority of the playing time at third base, but his power drought combined with a steady string of hamstring injuries left a lot to be desired in 2018. Patrick Wisdom took a large amount of the playing time at third at the end of the season and was pretty serviceable, picking up 0.4 WAR in 58 PA. Is Patrick Wisdom the guy you want to see starting at the hot corner on Opening Day 2019?

Beyond Gyorko and Wisdom, Carpenter and Muñoz filled out the bulk of the remaining PAs, with Greg Garcia getting a few starts as well.

Catcher is a position that doesn’t even need to be talked about in terms of acquisitions. For the sake of the poll it will be included, but we all know that’s Yadi’s spot—the only question is if Carson Kelly will be afforded a strong enough role next year.

Poll

Which infield position needs the most help?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    C
    (9 votes)
  • 5%
    1B
    (66 votes)
  • 2%
    2B
    (30 votes)
  • 88%
    3B
    (1013 votes)
  • 2%
    SS
    (24 votes)
  • 0%
    None
    (8 votes)
1150 votes total Vote Now

Outfield

What a whirlwind this outfield was. There was so much hype around Ozuna-Pham-Fowler going into the season, but only one of those remained taking consistent starts at the end of the year. With Pham gone to Tampa Bay and Fowler recovering from a fractured foot, we got a good look at some of the young guys—some of those looks longer than others.

Harrison Bader established himself as the (most recent) Center Fielder of the Future™, though it really looks like he has a chance to stick. Bader didn’t claim his spot on the back of a breakout offensive season; he flashed speed and elite defensive play, which is something one would expect to remain. Granted, he was no slouch at the plate, with 106 wRC+ in 427 PA. Bader was able to accrue 3.5 WAR over that short period and, if the bat continues to fill out, his ceiling is pretty high.

Ozuna struggled with a shoulder injury all season that was definitely to blame for some poor outfield throws and could easily explain a lot of his power issues this year. Ozuna was often driving the ball into the ground on the left side of the infield, but his exit velocity was still consistently high. The current word on Ozuna’s shoulder is that surgery is not in the future, but one has to wonder what that would mean for 2019. Additionally, unless he’s locked up to anything in the near future, Ozuna is a free agent after next season.

Right field was easily the biggest merry-go-round for the Cardinals and it’s the position the front office says is the most fluid headed into next season. While they’re still saying they stand by Fowler for 2019, it seems pretty obvious that they’ll float his contract around and see if they could get anything for him (even if it wouldn’t be an easy contract to move). In the stretch, José Martínez logged most of the innings in right field, but it definitely wasn’t due to his defense. Martínez was one of the best bats on the team and he was needed in the lineup; it still rings true that he is a picture-perfect DH, and he might not be wearing the birds on the bat even by the new year. Tyler O’Neill looked pretty solid in his appearances, posting 114 wRC+ in 142 PA, providing some defensive and offensive highlights along the way. It’s enticing to wonder what he could provide with steady playing time, but another uncertain going into the year may not be the best approach.

Poll

Which outfield position needs the most help?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    LF
    (58 votes)
  • 0%
    CF
    (11 votes)
  • 84%
    RF
    (968 votes)
  • 9%
    None
    (112 votes)
1149 votes total Vote Now

Pitching

This section is a bit more fluid. The pitching injuries the Cardinals sustained definitely crippled them, even if the young guys stepped up in the middle of the year. The staff collapsed a bit in September and showed their inexperience, something that may be a concern moving forward.

Next year looks a bit brighter to me. Miles Mikolas was a gem of a free agent signing last season and the Cardinals have one more year of control. Jack Flaherty looks to be a blossoming ace. Alex Reyes, Carlos Martínez and Michael Wacha will all be healthy headed into Spring Training. John Gant was able to hold his own in the rotation for the bulk of the season. There are some appealing free agent options out there, but the internal options don’t look too bad, either.

The bullpen is, again, a question mark. Guys like Austin Gomber, Daniel Poncedeleon and Dakota Hudson were big parts of the pitching equation from August through September but started to look worrisome headed into the end of the season. Jordan Hicks is clearly an option, but Bud Norris—who looked like trouble at the end of the year—is done with his one-year deal. Luke Gregerson looks to make a return and Dominic Leone will be healthy as well. There’s still the issue of Brett Cecil’s contract.

Moreover, paying for relief pitching is hit-or-miss. As we saw this past offseason, the large deals don’t always work out (i.e. Greg Holland). That type of thing happened all over the Majors, with high-dollar free agent relievers falling off. Is it worth it to pay for relief pitching? Is there a ceiling to how much one should spend on bullpen arms?

Poll

Which area of the pitching staff needs the most attention?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Starters
    (81 votes)
  • 91%
    Relievers
    (1052 votes)
  • 1%
    None
    (16 votes)
1149 votes total Vote Now