St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals will take big wish list to winter meetings

Free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler likely is on the Cardinals’ list of targets for the off season. He is expected to command $18 million annually.
Free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler likely is on the Cardinals’ list of targets for the off season. He is expected to command $18 million annually. Associated Press

The next big opportunity for the St. Louis Cardinals to fill their needs and make headway against their NL Central rivals will come at the 115th annual winter meetings.

The meetings will be held Sunday through Thursday, Dec. 4-8, in National Harbor, Md. Among the Cardinals’ objectives are finding a center fielder and perhaps a third baseman or shortstop that would provide a desperately-needed defensive upgrade.

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak could also attempt to bolster a rotation that still has adequate depth, despite the trade of Jaime Garcia, but lacks quality beyond Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes.

The priority

Switch-hitting Dexter Fowler, 30, is a must-sign for the Cardinals. He’s a center fielder whose ability to get on base and score runs would add versatility to the team’s long-ball lineup.

Fowler gets on base and can go first-to-third on a single, something that’s been out of style for the clunkily-running Cardinals. And his defense has improved over the past two years.

Fowler’s presence would enable Randal Grichuk to shift to left field, a more suitable spot.

The Cardinals will have competition for Fowler, who could command as much as $18 million per season. Fowler’s .393 on-base percentage helps make him one of the most attractive hitters on the free-agent market, so the Cardinals will have to be aggressive to get their man. But they have the resources to do it.

Remember: The Cardinals are an empire, not a business.

One of the negatives to signing Fowler is that the Cardinals would have to surrender a first-round draft pick to the Cubs as compensation, since Fowler rejected a $17.2 million qualifying offer.

Under terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams that sign a free agent who received a qualifying offer from his former team will receive a second-, third-, fourth- or fifth-round pick. But that won’t kick in until the free-agent frenzy next winter, so the Cardinals must determine whether they covet Fowler enough to lose a first-round pick this year.

Might that be impacted by possible MLB sanctions against the Cardinals related to their hack of the Houston Astros’ database? Maybe, but how exactly isn’t known.

Here’s saying the Cardinals should do whatever it takes to make sure Fowler wears red.

Third base

If the Cardinals can open third base by finding a taker for Jhonny Peralta, they must be all-in.

Peralta, a true professional and quiet leader, is a declining player at the plate and in the field.

The Justin Turner rumors have fizzled a bit, but Turner would represent a drastic offensive upgrade at third base and is a more polished defender than Peralta.

If Turner could be signed, the Cardinals would have eight infielders. The 34-year-old Peralta, who will earn $10 million in 2017, could be a one-year fix for an American League club if the Cardinals are able to pull off a bigger deal to add a starting pitcher.

The negative on Turner is he’s 32. How good will he look at 36?

Shortstop

Aledmys Diaz improved defensively in his first year at shortstop with the Cardinals, but he could be the long-term answer at third base if a shortstop could be found.

However, this won’t be a simple path for the Cardinals to take since there is zero quality among free-agent shortstops. Diaz still is young and could continue to improve in the field. Other needs are more glaring than finding a new shortstop.

Starting pitching

Martinez, Reyes, Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha are the remaining starters, with perhaps Marco Gonzales forcing his way into the mix. That’s seven men for five spots. Or seven for six, given that injuries are always looming, particularly for Wacha. Lynn is no slam dunk, either, after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2016.

Wacha, first baseman Matt Adams and a handful of highly-regarded prospects could be part of a larger deal to add another starter.

Chris Archer, 28, from Tampa Bay would upgrade the Cardinals’ so-so rotation and would come at a nice price ($4.75 million in 2017, $6.25 million in 2018, $7.5 million in 2019).

Adding a dominant starter like Chris Sale (gulp!) from the Chicago White Sox would springboard the rotation into one of the best in the National League. Like Archer, the 27-year-old Sale is affordable at $12 million in 2017, $12.5 million in 2018 and $13.5 million in 2019.

The Cardinals have the resources to hammer away at the White Sox about a trade for Sale, but Wacha and Adams would only serve as the appetizers.

David Wilhelm: 618-239-2665, @DavidMWilhelm

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