The World Series no sooner ended late Wednesday night before the necessary offseason tinkering with the St. Louis Cardinals roster began.
Manager Mike Matheny received a three-year contract extension through 2020 and left-hander Jaime Garcia’s $12-million option for 2017 was exercised Thursday (sigh), the same day the Cardinals made official their decisions to decline options on left fielder Matt Holliday ($17 million) and injury-riddled reliever Jordan Walden ($5.25 million).
On Friday, the Cardinals decided against making a $17.2-million qualifying offer to outfielder/first baseman Brandon Moss, instead making their second-leading home run-hitter a free agent. Since they did not make a qualifying offer to Moss, the Cardinals will not receive a draft pick from the team that signs the 33-year-old, who slumped badly in September.
Also Friday, lefty reliever Dean Kiekhefer was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Mariners and outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker went to the Arizona Diamondbacks, also on a waiver claim.
We’ve only just begun. The Cardinals have much more work ahead.
With Holliday and Moss out of the picture, it appears evident that Randal Grichuk, for the time being, is targeted to move from center field to left.
Grichuk is athletic and posseses enough speed to control the position. He was a bit shaky in center and his arm isn’t strong enough to be an everyday center fielder.
But even with the move to left, Grichuk still is a bit of an unknown. He has to become more consistent at the plate. The strikeouts must be reduced or he will continue to be prone to extended slumps that result in a question mark hanging over his head.
The Cardinals could change course and pursue free agent Yoenis Cespedes, 31, to play left field, thus making Grichuk available in a major trade for starting pitching (see below).
That seems a long shot, however, as Cespedes is sure to demand a gargantuan contract after opting out of a three-year, $75-million deal he signed with the New York Mets in January.
One thing the Cardinals have is a surplus of starters. But there isn’t enough quality.
Carlos Martinez, 25, and Alex Reyes, 22, are the present and the future of the rotation. Beyond them, there’s 35-year-old Adam Wainwright, a brittle Michael Wacha, a still-recovering Lance Lynn, the enigmatic Garcia and the hittable Mike Leake.
Martinez and Reyes are potential aces, but the Cardinals might have to turn to the trade market to land another big arm, even if that means making available one of their cherished prospects or players from the major-league roster.
Carpenter can play first, second and third, Peralta can handle shortstop and third, Gyorko can play all four positions and Garcia is a backup option at second, shortstop and third. Second baseman Wong is the only above-average defender in the group, yet he will not be guaranteed anything when spring training opens in February.
Sale, who had issues with Chicago White Sox management this season, is only 27 and is 70-48 with a 3.04 ERA with 1,133 strikeouts in 1,015 2/3 innings in the last five seasons, making the American League All-Star team each year. He has a club-friendly contract that pays him $12 million in 2017 and $12.5 million, with a club option, in 2018.
Archer is 28 and was just 9-19 with a 4.02 ERA this season for the lowly Tampa Bay Rays, but he has a big arm that recorded 233 strikeouts in 201 1/3 innings and 33 starts. Archer will earn $4.75 million in 2017, $6.25 million in 2018 and $7.5 million in 2019. There are club options on Archer for 2020 and 2021. It’s difficult to envision the Rays trading him unless a team overwhelms them, and the Cardinals could be capable of doing that.
There’s no logical avenue to upgrade the Cardinals’ rotation through the free-agent market, unless you’re crazy about 36-year-old Rich Hill. He is a leading candidate to be a bust for any team that feels the urge to sign him.
If Grichuk moves to left, or another left fielder is added, there is a glaring opening in center field. There are no in-house options for the Cardinals. The Tommy Pham Love Affair is over.
Switch-hitting Dexter Fowler, an on-base and run-scoring machine at the top of the Chicago Cubs order for the last two seasons, could be available.
Fowler scored 102 runs in 2015 and 84 this season despite missing 37 games. He had a .393 on-base percentage this year and owns a career OBP of .366. He would be an ideal table-setter at the top of the Cardinals order and would provide desperately needed speed.
The Cubs are expected to make Fowler, who has filed for free agency, a $17.2-million qualifying offer. Fowler is expected to reject it. Any team that signs Fowler will have to surrender a draft pick, but Fowler would fill an obvious void in St. Louis.
How would he look in red?
The Cardinals are one of the most conservative organizations in baseball, which greatly irritates their legions of fans.
But, hey, it’s November and it’s time to dream. If the Cardinals want to make an impactful move and lengthen their bullpen, how about a run at free-agent closer Aroldis Chapman?
The Cardinals are an empire, not a business. They have the ability to dig into their vast treasure chest and and sign a difference-maker, which is exactly what Chapman is.
Last offseason, the Cubs plucked two key players from the Cardinals: pitcher John Lackey and right fielder Jason Heyward. Adding Fowler and Chapman would return the favor and dramatically improve the look of the Cardinals heading into 2017.