Drastic times call for drastic measures.
When the St. Louis Cardinals miss the postseason for two consecutive years, times indeed are drastic from a baseball perspective.
The Cardinals not only yielded another NL Central title to the Chicago Cubs, but they were overtaken by the Milwaukee Brewers. Both are formidable foes for the future.
So how do the Cardinals bridge the gap? How do they recapture their mojo? How do they avoid being left out of the postseason party in 2018?
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This is not an offseason that calls for conservative measures by John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch — or team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. That approach no longer will work.
It’s time to disengage from business practices of the past. It’s time to escape from the comfort zone.
The Cardinals have a number of problems. But everyone agrees on their No. 1 shortcoming. It’s an offense that is built around good players, but no great ones.
Where’s the intimidation factor in their lineup? Who strikes fear into the opposing manager’s heart? Matt Carpenter? Randal Grichuk? Dexter Fowler? Jedd Gyorko? Hardly.
Yes, Tommy Pham, Paul DeJong and Yadier Molina enjoyed fine offensive seasons. But can they carry the Cardinals for extended periods of time?
There’s at least one player who can, and he should be the Cardinals’ top offseason target. Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is a massive man with an equally massive contract, but the Cardinals’ clubhouse and payroll can accommodate both.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Stanton, who turns 28 in November, led the major leagues with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs. He is the definition of pure power, a player who seldom comes along. The Marlins are paying him as such; they owe him $285 million through 2027.
Stanton can opt out of the contract after 2020, but what right-thinking athlete would be crazy enough to do that? Of course, if he’s still with the Marlins, a team seemingly stuck in mediocrity mode, it might be an attractive strategy.
The Cardinals’ financial resources, already formidable thanks to their dedicated fan base, will be enhanced by $50 million in 2018 when the new TV deal with Fox Sports Midwest begins. The 15-year agreement will add more than $1 billion to the coffers through 2032.
Stanton, therefore, is plenty affordable, even at $25 million for 2018, $26 million for 2019 and 2020, $29 million for 2021 and 2022, $32 million for 2023, 2024 and 2025, $29 million for 2026 and $25 million for 2027.
For the Marlins, Stanton is not affordable. They are certain to shop him around in the offseason. For the Cardinals, it’s a matter of meeting Miami’s demands. Every player on the roster, save Molina, should be on the table.
The Cardinals have a glut of outfielders. Pham. Grichuk. Fowler. Stephen Piscotty. Magneuris Sierra. Harrison Bader. Prospects Tyler O’Neill and Jose Garcia. Even Jose Martinez. That’s a lot of traffic. Way too much.
Pham and Fowler are likely to return in 2018, with Pham the early favorite to play center field as Fowler shifts to left. Grichuk, despite his power potential, probably has played his last game for St. Louis. Both he and Piscotty could be included in a deal that lands Stanton, who would profoundly boost the Cardinals’ offense.
The Cardinals also must be willing to deal some of their pitching prospects. Luke Weaver. Jack Flaherty. Dakota Hudson. Sandy Alcantra. All should be made available in a deal for Stanton.
Painful? Yes. It wouldn’t be easy for the Cardinals to deal young talent, but prospects don’t win pennants. Proven players like Stanton make the difference.
Fans could be shuddering over Stanton’s price tag. But the Cardinals in recent years have handed large free-agent contracts to far lesser contributors Fowler (five years, $82.5 million), reliever Brett Cecil (four years, $30.5 million) and right-hander Mike Leake (five years, $80 million).
Stanton could be the biggest catch for any team this offseason. He would create more excitement at Busch Stadium than the fans have seen in years.
But for the Cardinals, Stanton wouldn’t be enough. They still would need another bat. Why not look west on Interstate 70 and make a play on Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer, a pending free agent?
Hosmer, almost 28, would provide stellar defense, a power bat and needed clubhouse leadership. He batted .318 with 25 homers and 94 RBIs this season for the Royals, a team that can’t afford to re-sign him and its other free agents — third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Alcides Escobar and pitcher Jason Vargas.
Hosmer’s presence would move Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez off first base. Carpenter isn’t a third baseman, either, so it’s time to trade him to an American League team that could utilize his power and on-base skills without having to expose him in the field. It also would put Fowler back at the top of the lineup, which was the reason the Cardinals signed him in the first place.
Martinez was lauded for his .309 average, 14 homers and 46 RBIs, but for the Cardinals to believe that merits a full-time job in 2018 would be reverting to previous habits.
It doesn’t make sense for the Cardinals to bring back many of the same players that were responsible for an 83-79 record. Why repeat the offseason of last year?
This is no time for the Cardinals to be cautious. It’s time to roll the dice.
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm