The World Series is over. For the Houston Astros, it’s time for parades and parties. But for everyone else, including the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s time to go to work.
Teams are allowed to start signing free agents in less than a week, and just a few days after that, general managers of all the major-league clubs will meet to wheel and deal.
It’s been discussed over and over what the Redbirds need to do. They need at least one imposing slugger in the middle of the order. They need to improve defensively. They need to improve in the bullpen, especially in the late innings. And they need to re-sign or replace starting pitcher Lance Lynn or they will face a lack of depth in their rotation.
Here are some trade targets that could help the Cardinals in 2018:
The Cardinals don’t have a history of doing well in the bidding for high-end free agents. The team was connected by baseball pundits to Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Upton, Justin Turner and countless others over the past couple of years. While it’s landed middle-tier players like Dexter Fowler and Mike Leake, the team just hasn’t been able to close the deal on big-name players.
With that in mind, the easy way to go might be to try to make a trade with the Miami Marlins for Giancarlo Stanton.
The top young home run-hitter in baseball, Stanton has the kind of mega contract one might expect with $295 million owed to him over the next decade. The Cardinals aren’t likely to have to spend that sort of money on any of the available free agents.
▪ Why Stanton would be a bad idea: He’s got a huge contract and he’s had a history of being a bit fragile, playing as many as 125 games in only three of his eight seasons. If he ages poorly, the soon-to-be 28-year-old right fielder’s contract could become an albatross for St. Louis.
▪ Why Stanton would be a good fit: While he’s got a huge contract by today’s standards, MLB teams are flush with cash because of a wave of lucrative new local television contracts. I predict Stanton’s contract won’t seem like such a big deal at this time next year when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit the open market. I am willing to wager that, should he be healthy, Stanton’s contract will be a mirage because he will opt out when he is eligible to do so after the 2020 season. But because of the uncertainty about the contract, the Marlins are not secretive about their desire to shed his paycheck. So instead of trading a bunch of valuable young players, the Cardinals could flip a couple of lower-level prospects to Miami in exchange for assuming the responsibility for the pact, keeping the farm system intact.
When it comes to position players, the next guy on the shopping list is Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson.
The former American League MVP struggled with injuries last season. But he managed to hit 33 home runs in only 113 games.
▪ Why Donaldson would be a bad idea: He’s a good fielder, a feared slugger and, by all accounts, a great leader on and off the field. But Donaldson is only under team control for one more season and then he could potentially walk away as a free agent. He’ll be 32 before next season, and because the Cardinals aren’t fans of signing players beyond their prime, it’s very plausible that they won’t be able to strike a deal to keep him around for more than a single season.
▪ Why Donaldson would be a good fit: He’s definitely a lot cheaper than Stanton with the same sort of offensive production and he plays a position of need for the Cardinals. If St. Louis didn’t have to give up and arm and a leg in trade, Donaldson could be a great bridge player that would allow St. Louis to compete in 2018 while saving its big moves for next offseason when the free-agent market is deeper. But the rumor mill in Toronto is grinding out word that the Blue Jays want three top prospects for Donaldson if they’re going to part with him. And that’s too high a price to pay.
Another short-term trade possibility the Cardinals should look into is Washington Nationals starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez.
I’m not sure the Nationals would part with Gonzalez, who is on the books for $12 million in 2018 and has a $12 million option for 2019. But it’s worth a look. After a rougher-than-usual 2016 (in which he still made 30 starts and won 11 games), Gonzalez was 15-9 with a 2.96 ERA. He had a career low walks and hits per innings pitched ratio of 1.179 despite leading the National League in walks with 79.
▪ Why Gonzalez would be a bad idea: Because of his contract situation and the fact that the Nationals are a strong playoff contender, Washington might expect a high return in terms of prospects for their lefty hurler. He’s been pretty healthy over his career. But the southpaw has a lot of miles on his arm and is 32.
▪ Why Gonzalez could be a good fit: First, he’s done well under former Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux, who recently joined the Cardinals. Second, Washington doesn’t seem like it would be in a mode to sell. But the club will see fellow starting pitcher Steven Strasburg’s contract go from $15 million next year to a whopping $38.33 million in 2019. Same deal for Scherzer, who the Nationals signed in 2015. He makes $15 million in 2018 – and $37.4 million in 2019. If the Nats are going to make an effort to sign Harper before he hits the open market at the end of the season, that cash is going to have to come from someplace. If Washington decides to reprioritize its spending, Gonzalez could be a steal.