The Cardinals are in the position of being a solid overall team, yet a team that needs to improve in order to be a true World Series contender. They are likely in good position to make the postseason in 2020 with their current roster, but they need improvements if they want anything more than that. Nonetheless, with an already good lineup and decent depth accompanied by a self-imposed budget limit, it appears that it will be challenging for the Cardinals to substantially improve.
While many Cardinals fans yearn to see the front office spend money to better the club, it makes sense for the team to be patient — even though it can be frustrating. There are not any glaring needs on the roster. Sure, there is a hole in left field right now, but it could be filled by any of the organization’s young outfielders. An additional starting pitcher could also boost the rotation, but, likewise, there are internal options that could reasonably fill that role. Because the Cardinals have such a solid all-around team, it can be hard to provide a somewhat significant improvement at a reasonable price, which appears to be the only price the front office is comfortable paying.
The Cardinals were never going to outbid teams like the Yankees or Nationals for the top names on the market. It would have been unrealistic to expect this based on the front office’s current philosophy. There are a few middle-tier options available at either position that could provide a strong presence in either the rotation or the lineup, shall the team want some external help. Players such as Avisail Garcia, Yasiel Puig, Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson are corner outfielders who have yet to sign contracts and would provide a reliable presence in the outfield. In terms of starting pitching, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, and Dallas Keuchel are a few of the available hurlers.
Additionally there are plenty of prospects that the Cardinals could trade in order to add to their roster. Because there are so many available options, whether via trade or free agency, the Cardinals have the flexibility of being able to wait out the market. If the market continues to move quickly, then the Cardinals could explore trade opportunities. If it slows down, then there is a chance the Cardinals could land a coveted player at a discounted rate.
Not only is the market allowing the Cardinals to be patient, but their own farm system is as well. With a bevy of MLB-ready (or near ready) prospects, especially in the outfield, it makes one wonder if an external acquisition would be any better than some of the internal options. Obviously there are question marks with unproven players, but they cannot prove themselves until they get a chance. Regardless, with so many options, the Cardinals can afford to wait out the market and find a player at a price they like, especially if he will only be a marginal improvement over someone like Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, or Tyler O’ Neill.
While this might not be ideal, the Cardinals are financially hampered by the contracts that they gave out to Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Paul Goldschmidt, and Yadier Molina. With what seems to be a self-imposed limit on spending, it would be unrealistic to expect the Cardinals to hand out another large contract this offseason — or for them to do anything more than add depth pieces or maybe a starting-caliber player. Since this appears to be the case, it is smart that the team is being patient. While this patience can be frustrating, it is unrealistic to expect the Cardinals to substantially increase their payroll. However, they do need to be willing to spend in the future, when these lengthy contracts start coming off the books.
When that happens, spending money will be the correct (and, hopefully, more common) course of action.