The Cardinals need to make adding some team speed to their offensive arsenal the top priority of this offseason.
While the Birds' bats can be downright prolific when they're hot. But the offense proved to be very one dimensional and when the longballs weren't flying, the Redbirds didn't put many runs up on the board. They need to put themselves in a position to be able to score in multiple ways and to be able to manufacture runs in close games.
I mentioned a while back when the Rangers brought up their young top prospect toward the end of the season that the Cardinals ought to inquire about the availability of shortstop Elvis Andrus.
Only 23, Andrus has swiped 30 or more bases in three of four major league seasons. Last year he only managed 21 swipes. But his success rate has remained consistent, so it's likely that the Rangers' strategic decisions were more likely responsible for the drop off than a deterioration of skills. And did I mention that Andrus is only 23?
While he doesn't have a lot of miles on his legs, Andrus represents a great mix of skill and youth. He's played in two World Series already as a starter.
Texas, more than anything, could use pitching help. And if there is a strength from which the Cardinals could afford to deal, it's young power pitchers. I would be unwilling to give up Trevor Rosenthal or Joe Kelly. But if I was the St. Louis general manager I would be much more willing to listen to overtures that included Lance Lynn. Mitchell Boggs or possibly Jason Motte.
I got the impression that manager Mike Matheny was unhappy with Lynn and the way he pouted after being bumped from the starting rotation late in the season. Say what you want about wins and losses not being important. But it would have to open up some eyes in Texas to be able to add a low cost starter who won 18 games in 2012 with a 3.78 ERA.
Boggs and Motte were both very effective pieces in 2012 -- which is what makes them valuable in trade -- but they're both headed toward big raises in arbitration and eventual free agency. So they might be at the peak of their power to get a significant return for the Cardinals. If the Rangers wanted two of the three, the remaining guy could take a significant role in the back of the bullpen as either the set up man or the closer. And Rosenthal could fill the other spot.
Or maybe the Rangers would be interested in Shelby Miller.
I'm not itching to give him away. But, despite his strong showing after being called up in September, let's not forget that he slid several notches down the depth chart with a poor minor league system. If the Cardinals believe the guy he was for the first five months of the 2012 season, they might want to dump him while his prospects are still high. If they believe he was the guy we saw in the last month who pitched with poise in the majors, he'll likely be off the table.
Pete Kozma made large strides -- after nearly being released during the season -- in reclaiming his prospect status with the Cardinals thanks to his strong play after being made the starting shortstop in Rafael Furcal's absence. But he showed during the NLCS that he is still a raw talent. And that makes me unsure that he's going to be able to be the starting shortstop in 2013 if Furcal can't recover from arm problems.
If Furcal does rebound, he could be a part of the second base mix. Andrus would represent the first reasonable, long term solution at short since Edgar Renteria left in the winter after the 2004 season.
The other improvement in the starting eight I would like to see the Cardinals make this off-season is to follow through on the plans to try to fit Matt Carpenter into the mix at second base.
Carpenter ought to be more adaptable to the spot than Skip Schumaker was before him because he's already established as a corner infielder at the MLB level. The only big question is whether he can cover enough ground to play up the middle. But I suspect, with the ability for second basemen to play deep and make a shorter throw, that he can handle the job.
Adding Andrus would give the Cardinals a speed threat in the seventh or eighth spot in the order that could help disrupt things and give the low men a better chance to make things happen. Carpenter looks pretty good in the second spot in the order where his ability to get on base at a good clip and to hit with gap power should make the order more consistent on days Carlos Beltran can't play.
When Beltran is in the order, Carpenter might make a nice sixth or seventh place hitter.