Baseball’s Winter Meetings open Sunday in Las Vegas and the St. Louis Cardinals, fresh off their acquisition of all-star Paul Goldschmidt, still have work to do.
During the news conference Friday at Busch Stadium to introduce Goldschmidt, St. Louis President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said the team was still looking to improve the bullpen, add a left-handed bat, and find a backup catcher.
“When you look at our every day lineup right now, we’re pretty excited about it,” Mozeliak said. “I think when you’re looking at the roles we still could fit, it would seem to be more of a utility-type player that would make more sense for us.”
And while Mozeliak emphasized that the team would be active at the Winter Meetings, he did say the team wasn’t necessarily in a hurry to fill those spots.
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“We’re not on the clock to say we have to have our team ready by the time we get back from Vegas next week,” Mozeliak said. “We’re going to take our time, we’re going to be diligent on what we think can help us get better ... we are not saying that by next Friday we are done with that.”
Here’s a preview of the possible moves Mozeliak and the rest of the Cardinals front office could make during the Winter Meetings, which last until Dec. 13.
Options for the bullpen
The Cardinals could stand to improve at two key spots in the bullpen: closer and lefty reliever.
St. Louis tried a number of pitchers at closer in 2018 and found little consistent success. Bud Norris earned 28 saves but ultimately lost the job after he struggled in the second half. Opening Day starter Carlos Martinez finished the season as the closer. And the man St. Louis brought in to be the closer, Greg Holland, failed to record a single save before he was released on Aug. 1.
The Cardinals do have some in-house options for closer. Jordan Hicks, who three 39 of the 50 fastest pitches in all of baseball in 2018, including two that reached 105 mph, could be targeted for the position.
Or, the Cardinals could stick with Martinez as the stopper. Martinez recorded five saves in 2018, all in September. Then there’s Alex Reyes who, if healthy, could also find a home in either a setup or closer role.
But if the Cardinals choose to look outside the organization for a closer, there are several available on the free agent market.
Craig Kimbrel is the top available free agent closer. Kimbrel had a dominant regular season in 2018 saving 42 games, but struggled in the postseason. While he managed to save 7 games and help the Red Sox win the World Series, he gave up 9 earned runs in 9 appearances during the 2018 postseason. He’s said to be seeking a six-year contract, and, because he rejected Boston’s qualifying offer, would force St. Louis to give up a draft pick and international signing bonus money.
The Cardinals could also target Andrew Miller. Not only does Miller have ample closing experience, he’s also left handed. Once one of the most dominating relievers in all of baseball, he’s coming off a year in which he struggle through knee and shoulder injuries. And while he says he is completely healthy now, it’s likely any team that signs him will still have questions about his durability. But, St. Louis wouldn’t necessarily have to sign him to be the closer. Instead, they could use him as left-handed reliever out of the pen.
Other available relievers with closing experience include David Robertson, Ryan Madson, and Zach Britton.
Of those, Britton would be the most intriguing, again because he is left handed, the other area of need in the bullpen.
The main Cardinal lefties in 2018 were Brett Cecil and Tyler Lyons, both of whom struggled mightily. Chasen Shreve joined the bullpen, coming over from New York in the Luke Voit trade, and right now he’ll be the main lefty out of the bullpen in 2019.
Given that St. Louis still owes Cecil $15 million through the 2020 season, he will likely have a spot in the pen as well.
But if St. Louis wants to find another lefty, there are a number on the market including Aaron Loup, Oliver Perez, and Tim Collins, among others.
Options for a lefty bat
The biggest left handed bat on the market belongs to Bryce Harper. But given Mozeliak’s belief that the team’s starting eight position players are already on the team after trading for Paul Goldschmidt, it’s unlikely St. Louis will still target Harper.
Another top free agent, Michael Brantley, also bats left handed. Earlier this offseason, it was rumored that St. Louis had interest in Brantley, but signing him again seems doubtful. Brantley would be a starter in the outfield and would require the Cardinals to make other moves, mainly in deciding what to do with Dexter Fowler.
During the Goldschmidt news conference, Mozeliak did express that the type of player they’d be looking for is a “utility-type player.” That would seemingly make Marwin Gonzalez a target. Gonzalez played every position except pitcher and catcher for the 2018 Astros. He’s played 291 games at shortstop, 159 in the outfield, and hasn’t played fewer than 93 games at any infield position. Gonzalez is a switch hitter, but he’s stronger as a left-handed hitter than as a right-handed hitter.
If Gonzalez is too expensive for St. Louis, they could also look at former Miami Marlins utility player Darren Dietrich. Dietrich has played every outfield position and has significant experience at both second base and third base, and would likely be less expensive that Gonzalez.
Options for a backup catcher
Yadier Molina is the Cardinals catcher, which means a backup catcher won’t expect to play often. St. Louis knows it doesn’t need to spend a ton of money or prospect capital on Molina’s backup, but there are a handful of interesting names on the market.
Matt Wieters struggled during his time with the Nationals — so much so that Washington didn’t even consider bringing him back, instead signing Kurt Suzuki and trading for Yan Gomes in an effort to upgrade the position. But he could make a perfect backup. As someone who may only play in 40 games if Molina is able to stay healthy, he brings a veteran bat and solid defense to the position.
Or the Cardinals could focus on Martin Maldonado. Maldonado won a Gold Glove while with the Angels in 2017, but has struggled with the bat. While the only rumors involving Maldonado show him as a plan B for the New York Mets, he would make a reliable backup in St. Louis.
St. Louis could also turn to a metro-east product in Josh Thole. Thole, who graduated from Mater Dei Catholic High School in Breese, is best known for catching Johan Santana’s no-hitter against the Cardinals in 2012 and being RA Dickey’s personal catcher during a stint with the Toronto Blue Jays. Thole would be a cheap option for St. Louis, but they’d likely need to find a stronger replacement should Molina suffer an injury that would keep him out of action for long.
Other possibilities include Jarrod Saltalamacchia, AJ Ellis, and bringing back Francisco Pena, who started 30 games for St. Louis in 2018.