Author’s note: To the gentleman who emailed me the other day, asking I make my posts shorter so you can get through them, this one’s for you. — Aaron
The offseason officially begins today.
Okay, I admit that’s just a dramatic line; free agency doesn’t kick off for a little while longer, once MLB’s mandatory quiet phase comes to an end. But the World Series is now over — congratulations to Joe Kelly, who was a Cardinal, and David Price, who should have been (and don’t think I didn’t have tons of conflicting emotions watching Price win a World Series clincher last night) — the trophy has been awarded, we’ve had our first Scott Boras accidental-but-not-really messaging circus, and it’s time to begin the heavy thinking about what will happen between now and Pitchers and Catchers Report Day 2019.
So that’s what I’m going to do here today. I’m going to lay out my entire mental plan for how I would conduct my business in this coming offseason, were I magically inserted into the place of Michael Girsch or John Mozeliak. I will attempt to construct a 25 man roster I believe is capable of at least competing for the division next year, and with as good a chance as any club to make a deep run in the playoffs. Mostly, though, I’m trying to take an 88-win roster and see if I can goose it to 93+ wins. (And if 93 wins sounds too conservative to you, I mean on-paper talent wins, which is really difficult to push much beyond 90 wins.)
Now, one big caveat: this is not meant to be some sort of critique of the front office should they do things completely differently than what I’m going to lay out here today, nor is this really meant as a realistic, here’s-how-it’s-done kind of roadmap. I long ago came to understand that these sort of hyper-detailed exercises in rosterbation are frivolous at best. If nothing else, our mental roadmaps are always defeated by the simple fact there are other people involved in the real world, and you have to actually convince someone to accept your brilliant trade proposal. But what these sorts of things are good for, I believe, is to think through the whole process, to really consider the puzzle from as many sides and angles as possible, working your way mentally through the moves and non-moves, sacrifices and flyers, that building a roster requires. Rather than simply demanding improvement, or hollering about spending, or just saying they should go get such and such player and boom, instant championship, really going through the whole thing gives us an opportunity to consider the vagaries and complications of the roster building process as a whole, I think.
So is this a completely frivolous post that doesn’t reflect reality whatsoever? Absolutely. Does that mean there’s no value in trying to solve both the big and small problems that come with a 25 man baseball roster and putting it all to paper? Absolutely not. There was a reason your math teacher way back when made you show your work, as irritating as I always found that directive to be.
Okay. So here are my admonitions and directives for myself as I set out to build a working roster:
- I want at least one major offensive upgrade for the middle of the order;
- I want more firepower for the bullpen;
- I prefer not to sacrifice defense for offense, particularly in the starting lineup, unless it is necessary;
- I will maintain what looks like a reasonable payroll, below the luxury tax threshold;
- I would prefer to choose younger, more athletic players over older, declining or at risk of breaking down players if at all possible.
Now, those are not the only priorities I have; I wouldn’t mind adding a little more oomph to the starting rotation, and I personally tend to prefer lower-strikeout hitters in general. But those points above are my strongest guiding principles heading into this thought exercise. Oh, and I also will attempt not to denude the farm system if at all possible. As much as I know lots of fans are frustrated with the Cardinals good-but-not-great results the past few years, I am of the belief that contending every year is both an admirable goal and the best way to win titles, rather than cycling down deliberately and trying for a boom every so often. You have to be willing to sacrifice the present for the future if the present isn’t going well, rather than hanging on and hoping, but where the Cards’ roster is right now I don’t believe there’s any justification at all for calls to rebuild. Thus, keeping the farm system as strong as possible has to be a priority so as to stay in contention every year.
Okay, first things first: pruning. Before we can begin building something great, we need to trim a little dead wood and make some room.
First off, I’m making Carson Kelly my full-time backup catcher in 2019. Not signing anyone else to push and compete with him in spring training. Having one of the more advanced gloves at the catching position in the minors in your system and not using him at all is stupid. Now, it’s possible he’s more valuable to me as a trade chip, and I’ll leave that option open to myself at some point. But I’m going to actually use him, rather than waste him. Kelly and Andrew Knizner are essentially my two big trade chips during the season, and I would be willing to move either. I still personally prefer Knizner slightly over Kelly, but I think both are going to be very useful big league catchers in the relatively near future, and if another club is higher on one than the other I could go either way to get a deal done.
Second, I’m dealing Jose Martinez. Nothing against Cafecito himself, mind you; Martinez is a tremendous hitter, and a real bonus to have for most clubs. However, his defensive limitations really impact his value to an NL team, and particularly when looking at what the Cardinals could possibly have on the roster in 2019, I think Martinez makes the most sense elsewhere, returning value in trade rather than on the roster. Looking around baseball, I think the A’s present one of the better fits for Martinez. Khris Davis, despite having an outstanding season in 2018, is expensive, and I believe the Athletics will move on from him. Martinez has four years of club control left, and will be cheap for most of those years. A team always cutting it so close to the bone in terms of payroll as Oakland would seem to be an excellent fit once they have a DH and occasional outfield spot open.
As for a return, I’m pushing very hard for Jorge Mateo. The former future Yankee superstar had a dreadful season with the bat in 2018, and thus his value has fallen from where it was this time last year. However, he still has elite physical tools, and I would try to acquire him with an eye toward his taking over at second base down the road potentially when Kolten Wong reaches free agency. If the A’s absolutely balk at sending Mateo, I would maybe pivot to someone like Marcos Brito, an eighteen year old switch-hitting shortstop prospect, or Kevin Merrell, a bat-first middle infield type who could slot in as my second baseman of the future instead of Mateo. I also really like Carlos Ramirez, a position player to pitching convert, as a potential add-in if I could find a way to get him.
Third, I’m probably going to trade Jedd Gyorko. He’s been a great addition to the club, but I’m enough of a believer in Yairo Munoz as a utility player (and Andy Young coming up behind him in a potentially similar role), that I’m willing to sacrifice Gyorko’s versatility, and as a starting third baseman I feel like I can either do better for a moderate monetary increase, or roughly as well for cheaper. Gyorko is a pretty good player making a pretty large amount of money, and so I’m going to move him for the best pitching prospect I can get, from whatever player most covets his abilities. Who that is I don’t know, but that’s the direction I’m leaning.
Lastly, I have to figure out some way of moving Dexter Fowler and his contract. I was very excited when the Cards signed Dex; he seemed an ideal fit for the top of the Cards’ lineup as an on-base machine throughout his career. But the hitting hasn’t been enough to overcome the further deterioration of his defense, and he just looked old during the 2018 campaign. I liked the signing, but it hasn’t worked out. I think there’s a reasonable expectation Fowler bounces back to something close to a league-average player in 2019, or maybe just a touch below, but I also don’t think there’s much chance he’s good enough to justify a spot on the Cards’ roster. If there’s an outfield upgrade signed (which, spoiler alert, there is on my team), then Fowler isn’t cracking the top four spots in the outfield rotation. Even if there’s no other OFer signed, he really doesn’t justify a starting spot, and paying nearly $15 million a year for a backup outfielder is a poor use of resources.
Here’s the conundrum, though: how to get Fowler off the roster without having to just release him and pay his whole salary, which I don’t want to do? Well, there’s been a lot of debate around here about the value of bundling him with another, more valuable asset, and I think I’m maybe going to try to do that. Ordinarily, I would always prefer to just pay the money rather than use up talent, but I’m actually going to spend quite a bit of money, and in order to do so I’m going to simply treat talent as a form of currency in this case, make one of those NBA-style trades, and package Fowler with a prospect or asset in return for getting the bulk of his salary off the books.
What sort of asset? Well, that’s a tough one. I find myself wondering if it isn’t time to move on from Michael Wacha, who has had multiple injury-shortened seasons in his career, and has leveled off as a solid starter, rather than a star (which is not a bad thing, just a thing), and is only under contract for one more season. Maybe one year of Wacha at arbitration prices, plus the chance of a bounceback for Fowler, would be enough to entice a club to take on that $40 million over the next three years. Or maybe not. Maybe it would have to be someone like Austin Gomber to a young club in need of pitching, with a little better prospect coming back the other way.
Regardless, though, I feel it’s fairly important to move Fowler. I’m sure he would waive his no-trade clause for a chance at a better situation elsewhere; the challenge is just finding a club that believes the deal would be worth it for them. I feel like I could make that Wacha+Fowler deal if I kicked in, say, five million total over the course of the deal. So let’s pretend that happened. It hurts my starting rotation depth, yes, but I’m going to address that in a bit.
Going through the rest of the positions, I don’t think we need to cut much more. Shortstop is as solid as can be, center field I feel comfortable turning over to the elite glove of Harrison Bader, even if I expect the offense to regress, and Matt Carpenter at first base is a very good situation to have. I honestly do think there’s an argument one could make in favour of trading Kolten Wong coming off what might have been a career performance defensively, but I wouldn’t do that without an immediate upgrade available, and I don’t feel like I have an immediate upgrade or successor available to me. Now, if I were to pull a Kevin Merrell or someone from Oakland in the Jose Martinez deal, maybe that calculus changes in the relatively near future. But for now, I don’t see an easy path to replacing Wong if I were to move him, even if I think you could possibly maximise the return value dealing him now rather than later.
As for Marcell Ozuna in left, I’m not moving him. I’m tempted to try, but that’s admittedly a gut reaction thing to not enjoying watching him play rather than thinking I can do substantially better. He was close to a three win player this past season, as frustrating as it was to watch, and he could pretty easily be that good or better again in 2019. So I’m keeping Ozuna.
Okay, now that we’ve pruned and shaped the roster a bit, let’s start adding, shall we?
My first priority is to decide on that offensive upgrade, and the longer I look at the landscape the more I feel Bryce Harper makes the most sense. It’s going to be an enormous contract, but adding a left-handed power bat with a career .390 OBP is just too tempting for me to pass up, particularly at his age. Getting multiple years of the prime of Harper would immediately alter the fortunes of the Cardinal franchise, I believe. He immediately slots into right field in 2019, with Tyler O’Neill becoming the fourth outfielder behind Harper, Bader, and Ozuna. In 2020, I likely allow Marcell to depart via free agency, promote Bro’Neill to starting right fielder, and move Harper to left, where his no-longer-so-great arm plays best.
A lot of the money I cut from my budget above is going to be spent on Harper; I expect him to get something in the $37-38 million range annually, probably over the course of nearly a decade, and probably with an opt-out after three years or so. I’m fine with most of those things, and wouldn’t be devastated were he to leave after three, freeing up nearly $40 million a year for me to spend elsewhere than a 29 year old outfielder. Harper isn’t my only big cash outlay, but he’s definitely the biggest one.
A quick word on why I prefer Harper to Manny Machado: all things being equal, I might very well prefer Machado. But I have a feeling he’s going to end up in either Philly or wearing pinstripes, and I feel like Harper is a much more gettable player for the Cardinals. I also think Harper is arguably a better fit for the Cards’ lineup, though really either player fits what they need pretty much perfectly. So it’s basically a tossup, with Machado just seeming more likely destined for a couple specific teams, I believe.
Now, for my second really big cash outlay, in which I will be adding what I feel will be a huge value addition to my rotation. I’m going hard into the market after Yusei Kikuchi, the Japanese left-hander who will be posted this offseason by the Seibu Lions. I’m a big believer in Kikuchi’s stuff translating well to the big leagues, and I think he has a chance to be a number two starter here in short order. I’m sure there will be a lot of argument for Patrick Corbin here, so long as we’re making big investments, but Kikuchi is two years younger, throws much harder, and does not already have a Tommy John surgery in his health history. Also, even with the posting fee included, I don’t believe Kikuchi will command as large a contract as Corbin, who despite the yellow flags is probably going to get paid crazy money coming off a 6+ win season that I really question the repeatability of.
The addition of Kikuchi, while acknowledging I also likely moved Michael Wacha already, would make my starting rotation going into 2019 something like: Carlos Martinez, Miles Mikolas, Jack Flaherty, Yusei Kikuchi, and then something like an open competition for the fifth starter’s spot. John Gant certainly did enough this season to lay some claim to a rotation spot, while Luke Weaver still has enough pedigree on his side to at least get a shot. Austin Gomber is a possibility, if I don’t trade him, or maybe Dakota Hudson takes a step forward. Daniel Poncedeleon I really prefer as a reliever, but I would be open to him auditioning in spring training all the same. Really, I’m willing to let that fifth spot figure itself out among the various options I have, all the while hoping Alex Reyes might return at some point and lay claim to a starting spot, but understanding that’s very much a dream, rather than an expectation at this point.
Side note: should Tomoyuki Sugano, the righthanded starter from the Yomiuri Giants, be posted this offseason (he’s not expected to be, but the player himself has expressed a desire to come stateside, so it’s at least possible), I would immediately sign him as well as Kikuchi. Yes, he’d probably be expensive, and no, I don’t care. Give me a rotation with three Japanese imports and I’ll win you a championship, I’ll bet.
Oh, speaking of, I’m trying to sign Miles Mikolas to a contract extension this offseason. I forgot that earlier, but I would very much like to lock him in for a few more years. I wouldn’t trade him should he not wish to extend, but I’m going to put a four year deal in front of him and see if we can’t figure some way of keeping him in red for the next several years.
So far, I’ve added one big bat, essentially finalised what I want my outfield to look like, and added one high upside starting pitcher. How much has it cost me? Quite a lot, I would bet. I really have no clue what the contract for Kikuchi will look like, but he’s not going to be a Mikolas-sized bargain. I don’t care, either. I cleared out salary for a reason, and I plan on using it.
Now, moving on to the bullpen. I tend to believe that spending huge money on a ‘pen is a good way to waste a bunch of money, but I also can’t deny that the relief corps we saw the Cards run out in 2018 was sorely lacking. So I’m actually going to spend some money on the bullpen, as much as it’s not my favourite way to go about things.
I’m letting Bud Norris walk; two years in a row he has been brilliant early on, then completely wore out physically later in the year. I don’t want to pay him to see if it’s a trend or just two data points, honestly. Tyler Lyons was already granted free agency, which is fine, if a bit sad. Of the relievers I’m returning, I like John Brebbia a whole lot, I love the future of Jordan Hicks (I’m keeping him in a relief role because I don’t think there’s any way he holds up long as a starter), I still like Chasen Shreve, and I really like Giovanny Gallegos a whole lot going forward. Brett Cecil I wish would go away, but I don’t see much chance of that happening unless I just release him, and I’m willing to reserve judgment on a healthier season from Luke Gregerson. I feel like Adam Wainwright slots in best as a long reliever type for 2019 as well, so I’ll be including him in the ‘pen. A healthy Dominic Leone could be huge, honestly.
Matt Bowman I’m probably putting on the market very quietly, just to see if I get any bites. Some team will want him, and if not I don’t mind having him. But I also wouldn’t mind seeing him moved.
Looking at the names on the relief market, I can’t help but think Craig Kimbrel stays in Boston, even with some shakiness here and there. Andrew Miller’s multiple injuries this past season, including a shoulder issue, worry me. David Robertson is one of my favourite relievers, but I can’t believe he’ll leave New York again.
On the other hand, I could see an investment in Zach Britton turning out well for a signing team, considering he’s coming off a couple seasons where he hasn’t been the same as he was during that legendary ‘14 to ‘16 run, but the injury he suffered this past season was not arm-related, and he should be stronger a year out from an Achilles. Signing a Proven Closer is not usually my idea of a smart investment, but I really do believe Britton could have a couple more elite seasons in his arm, and I think you could get him for three years and $12 million a year. Maybe it takes a little more annually, but I’d be willing to go 3/$42 to avoid going any longer.
Now, I will say I think Adam Ottavino would be an outstanding alternate plan to Britton, and I’m very tempted to go in that direction. Even better would be signing Britton and Ottavino, but I think that could end up being too pricey. If you prefer Ottavino, I won’t argue with you. He had a magnificent season, and in general has been a strikeout machine for several years now. Only downside: Ottavino is almost 33 years old (two years older than Britton, which seems shocking), and has already had Tommy John. One could argue that’s actually a benefit for a reliever, since they throw so few innings as to not reinjure themselves as often as starters, but I’m still going to opt for the guy with no significant arm issues over the one who’s already had his elbow repaired.
So signing Britton and Ottavino both would be too expensive, at least to my eye, but I have to admit to being tempted by the prospect of another Cardinal reunion, by signing Joe Kelly this offseason. Kelly was always one of my favourite pitchers when with the Redbirds, and he’s been very solid for the Red Sox over the years. He’s not a star, and wouldn’t cost huge bucks like an Ottavino, but I just really like Kelly.
Problem is, the Cardinals simply have too many relief arms already, even if I only sign one reliever. Now, whether or not any of them are any good is a separate question entirely, but here’s the list, were I to sign Zach Britton as I’m at least tentatively planning:
- Zach Britton, LHP
- Jordan Hicks, RHP
- Dominic Leone, RHP
- Luke Gregerson, RHP
- Adam Wainwright, RHP
- John Brebbia, RHP
- Giovanny Gallegos, RHP
- Chasen Shreve, LHP
- Brett Cecil, LHP
- Mike Mayers, RHP
That’s already ten pitchers, and I haven’t even gotten to the pitchers who could lose out on the fifth starter competition. Luke Weaver, Daniel Poncedeleon, potentially Austin Gomber, those guys could all end up on the outside looking in when the rotation dust clears. But where to put them?
There’s also a concern, at least for me, with how many of those relievers are without options again this year. We’ve seen in the past how limiting it can be to have too many relief pitchers locked into spots without any way to move them, and of this group it looks like Britton, Leone, Wainwright, Gregerson, Cecil, Shreve, and Mayers are all out of options. Hicks has a full complement remaining, but you probably don’t want him in Memphis very much, if at all. Brebbia is on his last option year, I believe. Matt Bowman, if he’s on the team, has options. But I have concerns about the flexibility of this unit. Then again, when I release Cecil in spring training, that will help. Maybe I’ll trade Mike Mayers as part of some other package, as well. I don’t know. Bullpens are hard, everybody. And so, as much fun as it would be to have Joe Kelly back, I just don’t think I have room to bring him in. One big ticket item is all I can do here, and then hope for better health out of Leone and for the youth making its way up to bring some more relief upside.
I have to admit, I’m not thrilled with how my attempt to add more firepower to the bullpen worked out. I guess I could try to make some more moves, clearing out more spaces, but I’m also forced to acknowledge that the guys I really have no interest in seeing throw relief innings are Wainwright and Gregerson, and I’m pretty much stuck with both given the roster I’m inheriting from reality. So, on we move.
Now, we have one position open on the diamond without an obvious solution, and that’s third base. It’s an interesting spot, because several of the big bat options I considered as Harper alternatives played third base, such as Machado, Nolan Arenado, and Josh Donaldson. However, I already explained why I didn’t go with Machado, and I simply don’t believe the Rockies will trade Arenado coming off a season in which they made it to the postseason. A deal for Arenado might actually be my number one overall pick on my offseason wish list, but I simply don’t think it’s realistic. Thus, I have to go in a different direction.
Donaldson is an interesting case, as at times over the past couple years he’s still looked like a near-elite producer, and the Cardinals have long been rumoured to be in on him. However, he’s also going to be 33 before the end of the year, has missed large chunks of time the past two seasons with the same calf injury, and has seen his strikeout rate rise markedly over the past few years. I still like Donaldson, quite a lot, but I wonder what it would take to sign him. If I’m buying Harper at full market prices, and Britton at something approaching full price, I’m not sure Donaldson fits in my budget, honestly.
Looking at the trade market, though, there aren’t a ton of names that immediately jump out. I wrote recently about swapping bad contracts with Seattle and picking up Kyle Seager, but ultimately I just don’t think that’s very realistic, and whatever the Mariners want for Seager will probably be more than I’d be willing to give up. Jurickson Profar is currently slated to take over at third base for Adrian Beltre in Texas, but could probably be had in the right deal. He’s always been one of my favourites, and is coming off a near three win season. Anyone interested in Trevor Plouffe or Will Middlebrooks? Nah, I didn’t think so.
Maybe the Brewers could be convinced to part with Travis Shaw, given how many infielders they have, but I sincerely doubt it. Oh, come to think of it, Mike Moustakas will be on the market, but I am supremely uninspired by paying large money for league averageness. So no. And if you happen to think Mike Moustakas is really good, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
Yandy Diaz of Cleveland is intriguing, but I’m not sure betting on finally getting him to hit the ball in the air is the best use of resources. Joey Gallo could be interesting, but I don’t love the hitting profile, and he’s not a very good infielder.
As much as I hate to come back to Profar, he’s the trade target that maybe makes the most sense to me. He’s under club control for two more years, I believe, is a switch-hitter, which I like in helping to balance out the Cards’ lineup, and will play all of 2019 at 26 years old. He’s also still cheap. Now, all of those things could make the Rangers want to keep him, but they really need to rebuild, and I think he’s gettable. If you think it would be better to simply keep Gyorko rather than make a move to get rid of him and then another one to get a replacement, that’s fair, and I wouldn’t necessarily argue with you. However, my way gets a player over four years younger, who costs roughly a quarter as much, and who I personally think has 115 wRC+ potential going forward. But, it is more complicated, and probably doesn’t improve you that much.
In the end, I think Donaldson is really the best fit for the Cards at third, but my offseason plans may not afford me the financial room to bring him in, and I do find his recent injury issues to be a bit of a concern. Calf injuries don’t seem like a chronic thing, but he’s had multiple occurrences of the same sort two years in a row. Getting off the turf in Toronto would probably help, which is a point in his favour. I would be excited if the Cards signed him, but he’s not a great fit for my offseason plan. So, I’m going in a different direction and dealing for Profar, just to really drive home the fact I’ve become a self parody at this point.
So what that gives us for a starting lineup is something like this:
- Matt Carpenter, 1B
- Bryce Harper, RF
- Paul DeJong, SS
- Marcell Ozuna, LF
- Jurickson Profar, 3B
- Yadier Molina, C
- Harrison Bader, CF
- Kolten Wong, 2B
That’s...an interesting lineup. And honestly, it’s not the way I would arrange it; I would probably move Profar up closer to the top and try to split Harper and Carpenter up to avoid having lefties back to back, but I’m not sure about the best order for that group. I’m still tempted to get Carpenter out of the leadoff spot, honestly. Something like Profar/Carpenter/Ozuna/Harper/DeJong/Molina/Bader/Wong would actually be my preference, I think, but I’m not sold on that being ideal either.
On the upside, there’s a chance that could be a phenomenal defense. Harper’s numbers have been bad, which is obviously very concerning, but in center and left you’re looking at plus defenders. Profar doesn’t have huge samples anywhere on the diamond, but he came up as a shortstop, meaning I’m betting his tools could make him a good third baseman. I’m definitely taking a risk there, though. Everywhere else on the infield should be above-average, and catcher is obviously still a strength.
So let’s talk about the bench. We’ve got Tyler O’Neill already locked in as fourth outfielder, and Carson Kelly as the backup catcher. That leaves us with only two bench spots, since we’re carrying eight relievers and I don’t see any way of getting that down to seven, honestly, with so few guys in the ‘pen having options left. I would love to go seven relievers and five bench guys, but it doesn’t seem realistic, unfortunately. Thus, we’re stuck with just four hitting spots.
As much as I like Greg Garcia, the fact he’s out of options is concerning to me. Given the lack of flexibility I have on the bench, I feel like I really need guys who can be rotated a little. Munoz helps on that front, as do both O’Neill and Kelly, even if I don’t really see sending my backup catcher down during the season barring injury. What I would really like to do would be to get my bullpen down to seven men and stick Rangel Ravelo on the bench as a right-handed bat to take some ABs at first and pinch hit, but that’s tough. I considered keeping Matt Adams around to give me an additional left bat, but adding Harper and Profar along with Carp and Kolten Wong actually gives me enough lefties I will probably let Big City walk again. Makes me a little sad, honestly.
In the end, I probably just roll with the bench as is, bringing back Garcia and Munoz as my play-anywhere guys. Garcia has always gotten on base at a good clip — though he struggled in 2018, admittedly — and Munoz has enough athleticism and upside I’m not eager to move on from him. However, I have players coming through the system like Andy Young and Tommy Edman who could change my mind. For now, though, I think the bench probably stays roughly where it was.
So this is how my roster plays out, heading into 2019.
- Carlos Martinez, RHP
- Miles Mikolas, RHP
- Jack Flaherty, RHP
- Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
- John Gant, RHP (just guessing, subject to change)
- Zach Britton, LHP
- Jordan Hicks, RHP
- Dominic Leone, RHP
- Chasen Shreve, LHP
- Luke Gregerson, RHP
- Adam Wainwright, RHP
- Brett Cecil, LHP
- John Brebbia, RHP
Which, yes, leaves out Gallegos, and Mayers, and Bowman. Cecil probably gets released in spring, leaving me with Shreve as my only non-closing lefty, at which point Gallegos would probably be my choice to take his spot.
- Jurickson Profar, 3B
- Matt Carpenter, 1B
- Marcell Ozuna, LF
- Bryce Harper, RF
- Paul DeJong, SS
- Yadier Molina, C
- Harrison Bader, CF
- Kolten Wong, 2B
- Carson Kelly, C
- Tyler O’Neill, OF
- Yairo Munoz, UTI
- Greg Garcia, UTI
I’ll be honest: I still wonder about that lineup. I think Bader scares me the most, as he looks to be a heavy regression candidate in 2019, and I’m really tired of waiting for the Kolten Wong breakout season. Then again, there’s an almighty lot of left-handed thump in that lineup between Harper and Carpenter, and a return to form by DeJong could be huge for the lineup. Profar is, admittedly, a wild card in my plan, but as a short-term bridge to Elehuris Montero or Nolan Gorman I think he’s a very useful fit.
I will say this: if one wished to forego any big investments in the bullpen, you could probably afford Josh Donaldson and Harper, just barely. Maybe.
I feel like my club will get on base at a good clip. There’s enough power there, though they won’t compete with the Yankees for the MLB lead in home runs. The bench is on the weak side, but the outfield could be spectacular. Starting pitching will probably be my strongest advantage again, and the bullpen should be stronger. Defensively, the club could be fantastic, particularly up the middle, and run prevention may very well be the hallmark of my team despite a big bat being my biggest offseason acquisition.
So that’s my offseason plan, laid out in painful detail. I could have gone any number of different ways, and made just as rational arguments in favour of those directions as these. I’m sure you can, too. And again, this isn’t meant to be the end-all, be-all declaration of What The Cardinals Should Do; this is more of an extended exercise to work through all the issues on the Cards’ roster, one at a time, as we prepare for all the discussion and hand-wringing that the hot stove season entails. I hope going through this was worth the read, and that maybe you got some insight into the way a certain decision might be made along the way. Feel free to quibble with any or every decision I made, and tell me why yours is better. You could absolutely be right. But I think we should be able to agree on one thing, after looking at multiple permutations of offseason decisions.
Building a baseball team is hard. And building a really good one? It’s a hell of a thing.