With 2017 wrapping up, and the offseason coming, there is a lot of questions posed for the Cardinals. Who’s coming, whose going, and who is going to be thrusted into a new role? It seems more and more likely that the Cardinals are going to have a big offseason, and that the team will look totally different in 2018.
First off, looking at who the Cardinals will be potentially losing to Free Agency. The big two expected to hit the market are closer Juan Nicasio, and starter Lance Lynn. Nicasio and the Cardinals seem to have a pretty good relationship, though not much at all has been talked about as far as an extension, or bringing him back this offseason. Lynn, on the other hand, has said multiple times that there has been no talks as far as an extension or a new contract. This, meaning, more than likely, he will be playing for a different team in 2018. Losing Lynn might seem pretty detrimental at this point, but the amount of young talent coming makes the blow a lot less tough, and that could be a reason why the Cardinals haven’t had much conversation with him about his future in St. Louis.
The other two Cardinals set to hit the open market are relievers Zach Duke and Seung-Hwan Oh.
Duke, who was picked up last July in a deal that sent outfielder Charlie Tilson to the White Sox. Duke was very reliable last season, but over the winter had Tommy John surgery, and ever since coming back in August, he hasn’t been the same, posting a less than stellar 4.41 ERA.
Oh, who was lights out last season, has been no where near the same this season. Oh has pitched to the tune of a 4.10 ERA, which on paper, doesn’t seem that bad, but any Cardinal fan would know, that it’s been just the opposite of average, he’s been awful.
There has been no clear sign if the Cardinals will attempt to retain any of the four. Though, only 4 are leaving for sure, there’s always the possibility of certain minor league free agents departing, and the December non-tender deadline always sees a few players from each team hit the open market, like last year, the Cardinals non-tendered Seth Maness.
Now, looking at what the Cardinals could go after this offseason. Many people speculate that the big offseason target is a big bat, and a big time reliever, among a few other things, such as a few other relievers, maybe a bench option, and of course the occasional minor league free agent signing.
The one thing to watch the Cardinals play for though, is a veteran starter, and possibly even two. The locks for the rotation right now seem to be Carlos Martinez, Luke Weaver, and Michael Wacha. You could make a case for Alex Reyes or Adam Wainwright as well, but Wainwright seems to be moving to a bullpen role full time. Alex Reyes on the other hand, has also been rumored to have a possible moving to the pen, though in his case, it’s not as for sure. Jack Flaherty and John Gant have also made spot starts this season, but Flaherty has not proven himself ready yet, and Gant is more of a long reliever type, as he only went 3 innings in his first start. Guys on the market this winter that could fit really well on the Cardinals are Scott Feldman, who eats innings, and has been decent when he has good offenses behind him. Doug Fister could also be a very good fit on a one year contract. Fister used to be a dominant pitcher, but has fallen off as of late.
Now, looking at the bullpen needs. Right now, the 2018 bullpen would look a little like Matt Bowman, Tyler Lyons, Brett Cecil, Adam Wainwright and John Brebbia. That leaves us with two or three open spots, depending on if Matheny wants to carry four or five on the bench. You could turn to in house options, more than likely Sandy Alcantara and, or, Sam Tuivailala. Both have come up and done solid, but both have had their struggles.
As for the market, what seems like the obvious first choice would be to try to retain Juan Nicasio. If that fails, Addison Reed is also on the market, and he has proven himself to be a very good reliever the last few years. A cheaper, but still very effective option, could be a reunion with Jason Motte, or Peter Moylan, a submariner, like former Cardinal Pat Neshek was, Neshek could also be an option for St. Louis. More than likely, if Nicasio or Reed were to sign with St. Louis, they would more than likely slide into the closer role.
Finally, for the offense, potentially the most interesting part looking forward to next season. It has a chance to be very explosive. Looking at it now, a potential infield of Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, Paul DeJong, and Kolten Wong, an outfield of Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, and Stephen Piscotty, and Yadi of course, behind the plate. An offense that is pretty good now, could be even better though. The Cardinals have been rumored to be interested in trading for or signing an impact bat this offseason. They’ve been linked to Josh Donaldson from the Blue Jays, and Giancarlo Stanton, on the Marlins, the most. Stanton, however, would be a very difficult trade, as he has an astronomically large contract.
As for the free agents, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Zack Cozart, and Logan Morrison are all power hitters on the market. Any would be a pretty good fit in the middle of our order, especially with a lineup that would more than likely already feature Carpenter, Gyorko, and DeJong. Of course, with a team already deep, the team would more than likely have to surrender some sort of major league talent in a trade.
It seems likely that Randal Grichuk could be the odd man out, with demotions in the last two seasons, and unlike Stephen Piscotty, who’s also gotten demoted this season, Grichuk hasn’t signed any sort of extension. There is also a good chance that some of our outfield depth in the minors will go as well. Nick Martini and Anthony Garcia could be trade chips, as they are very, very blocked within the organization. Finally, although he has been no doubt the team MVP this season, Tommy Pham might be in a different uniform in 2018. The Cardinals were reportedly shopping him around the deadline, and could continue to look to trade him this winter.
As for the minor league signings we could see, it’s rather hard to predict. It would make some sense for the Cardinals to sign some pitching depth, and some infield depth, and maybe a catcher. Signing a catcher would make lots of sense. If Yadi or Carson Kelly, go down, Alberto Rosario has not proven himself near enough to come up and play, and there are no other catchers that have proven enough to be with the big club. On the other hand, if Kelly struggles, and needs to be optioned down for some seasoning, then the Cardinals would have a backup catcher with at least a little bit of experience in the majors. Obviously, the answer to this is not Jonathan Lucroy, but a player like Hank Conger, a third reunion with Eric Fryer, or Josh Thole would be good for the role.
As for the pitching depth, you can never have enough of it. Right now, the Cardinals are short about 2-3 pitchers that can come up and pitch when someone is injured or struggles. That’s why guys like Josh Lucas were thrusted into coming up, and struggling, but staying up because they were the only real option. Current Giants reliever Matt Reynolds could fit that role, as he’s been up and down from the minors and back, a AAAA player as they call, his whole career, and has showed some promise doing it, pitching to the tune of a 3.80 career ERA. Finally for infield depth, it seems to be the thing we need the most. When Aledmys Diaz was optioned, the Cardinals had no real option to go to other than Alex Mejia. Mejia has done well while he was here, but wasn’t having the best of seasons in the minors in Memphis. A good solution to that is signing a guy like Gordon Beckham, Reid Brignac or Steve Lombardozzi, who like Reynolds, have spent their whole careers up and down, and are used to the job, and again like Reynolds, have shown decent results.
With all the minor league signings, and what the Cardinals have now, you could be looking at a possible 2018 bench of Jose Martinez, Greg Garcia, Carson Kelly, Aledmys Diaz, and what would almost seem like an off season acquisition of some sort, or possibly Luke Voit.
Of course, this is all speculation, but it’s baseball, no one ever knows, however the Cardinals off season will almost certainly be very eventful, no matter what moves we make. The off season is arguably one of the most exciting part of the year, and it will be very, very interesting to see how John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch construct the 40-man roster, and eventually the opening day roster for 2018.