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St. Louis Cardinals getting the attention of NL Central foes with aggressive offseason

What a difference a few days can make for anxious St. Louis Cardinals fans.

At this time last week, we were all licking our wounds after being spurned by former Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton who dug in his feet and decided there was nothing the Redbirds front office could do to convince him that he wanted to play for at least the next three years in St. Louis. Stanton, after holding his breath, convinced Miami to deal him to the New York Yankees. But a couple of days later, Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak picked up another slugger from the Marlins, left fielder Marcell Ozuna, to add the middle of the order bat this team needed.

Ozuna isn’t Stanton, the most feared power bat in the game. But he just might be a better all-around player. Ozuna won a gold glove last year for his defense. He’s not going to make anyone forget about Willie Mays — or Willie McGee, for that matter — in the outfield. But he covers a reasonable amount of ground for a big guy, catches the balls he gets to and he has an accurate and effective throwing arm. While Ozuna hit 37 home runs last year to Stanton’s 59, Ozuna batted .312 compared to Stanton’s .281. Over the course of their careers, Ozuna is a .277 hitter while Stanton bats .261.

Stanton was the flashy, big prize of the off-season. At least so far. But Ozuna was certainly a solid pickup for the Redbirds, even if St. Louis did have to give up prized young pitcher Sandy Alcantara and speedy outfielder Mags Sierra to get him. You have to give up something to get something. And the Birds certainly have plenty of young hurlers and fly chasers remaining in the system. Some as trade pieces and some as building blocks.

Speaking of trade pieces — and following up on my assertion that Stanton was the biggest get so far — the Cardinals don’t seem to be done yet when it comes to acquiring substantial pieces. The team seemed to be well on its way to making a deal for a second big bat in Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria in a package that could include closer Alex Colome and maybe even starter Chris Archer when the Baltimore Orioles decided maybe they would consider trading slugging infielder Manny Machado.

Hold the phone, Mabel.

Machado is one of the best five players in the game, combining Gold Glove defense at third base or shortstop with 30-plus homer power and excellent speed. He’s getting ready to play his last season under arbitration and then he could be one of the hottest free agent commodities on the market. But, if the Cardinals can get him for a reasonable price, he’s well worth the gamble that he’d play in front of 3.5 million rabid Redbirds rooters every day on a team with a loaded offense ready to dethrone the Chicago Cubs from their short stay at the top of the National League Central Division Standings and decide he wants to stick around for $325 million or so over the next 12 years.

A couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamed about landing Machado because he’s so good that the competition for him is ridiculous. But some things have happened to cause the national media to justifiably speculate the Redbirds are the favorite spot for Machado to land.

Why? Peter Angelos, the owner of the Orioles, absolutely HATES the Yankees. So, not only does he not even want to hear the Yankees’ offer for his best player, he doesn’t want to trade him to a team that might allow Machado to end up with the Yankees at some point in the future. The Chicago White Sox, who are in the middle of a rebuilding program that is expected to take a couple of years to mature, have been aggressively seeking out Machado. Reports out of Baltimore indicate Angelos is afraid Chicago would trade for Machado — and then flip him to the Yankees for prospects. Because of this, Angelos’ reported preferences are to send his superstar to a team that is a contender, preferably in the National League and that would make a huge effort to re-sign Machado.

Are the Cardinals a contender? Well, if they weren’t before, Ozuna sure helps to make that case. If they added Machado, too, there would be no doubt that the Birds are making every effort to be competitive. I’d like to see them land some starting pitching and a closer. But with Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Adam Wainright, Alex Reyes, Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas vying for spots in the rotation, St. Louis will at least have a decent rotation.

If I was in charge of the Cardinals’ Machado wooing efforts, I would try to get him to come to St. Louis at the time of the Winter Warm Up. On Saturday afternoon, I’d schedule an introductory press conference at home plate in Busch Stadium so he could see about 40,000 screaming Redbirds fans show up on a freezing cold day to chant his name and cheer their heads off. As soon as the press conference was over, I would offer him $325 million for 12 years with an opt out after the fourth season.

I’m excited to have Ozuna on board. But a second hitter would really make this club a strong threat for the post season. Adding Machado would give the team a franchise player it hasn’t seen since Albert Pujols departed six years ago. That would benefit the club in many ways. It would help it win. It would help keep interest and ticket sales strong — and it would reverse the impression that St. Louis isn’t serious about putting a championship club on the field. Not just for fans but for players the Cardinals might want to attract in the future.

Next year Adam Wainwright’s contract will be up and the Cardinals should be looking for a number one or number two starter to replace what he represented to this team for so many years. If this team had Machado and Ozuna slugging away in the middle — with the improved defense that they’ll bring — who wouldn’t want to join the fun?

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