As the rumors fly that superstar free agent Manny Machado’s contract offers are falling well below what was predicted, it doesn’t seem that the St. Louis Cardinals are in much of a position to take advantage of the situation.
That’s a shame because, while Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best players in baseball, his addition means that poor-fielding on-base machine Matt Carpenter and his weak shoulder have to move back over to third base where he’s much more conspicuous on defense. Even if the Redbirds are able to keep Goldschmidt in the fold with a contract extension, they’d be a remarkably better team with Machado at the hot corner into the future..
Machado would prefer to play short — even though he’s much better at third. But I can’t see the Cardinals moving one of the most promising and cost-effective players on their roster to make room for a guy pulling down $25-$30 million a year. But what if the Birds kept Paul DeJong in place and moved Carpenter back to second base for at least one season? Carp wouldn’t be ideal there. But what if it was just for a year?
Kolten Wong would be relegated back to the bench. But weren’t the Birds supposed to be searching for a lefty bench bat? Wong is a lefty, and I think St. Louis could find enough playing time to keep everyone busy. If they had a lead late in a game, Wong could take over for defensive purposes. He could pinch hit in come in as part of a double-switch. He could play second when DeJong needs a day off and Machado plays short while Carpenter plays third. He could find time when Goldschmidt needs a rest or a pinch runner by putting Carpenter at first and Machado at third.
In interleague games, Carpenter could find at-bats as a designated hitter. Or what if he goes where I though he was most ideally suited since he was a young player: left field? He played 25 games in the outfield early in his career. Marcell Ozuna could slide over to right field this year and could walk away as a free agent in 2020 to free up space in both payroll and the depth chart.
I know a lot of folks are going to say “but Machado is a clubhouse cancer” or “Manny is a dirty player.” First, I’d respond by saying the episodes he mysteriously engaged in last postseason were pretty isolated events. Although I happened to be at a game in Baltimore where he attempted to fight then-Oakland Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson for having the audacity to try to tag him out on the base paths, he doesn’t seem like a modern day Ty Cobb who is trying to spike every guy on the field. Second, I’d venture that, if the shenanigans against the Milwaukee Brewers while playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers end up costing him about $100 million, it’s likely Machado will have learned a lesson or two. Finally, if the Cardinals insist on bargain shopping for players, bailing as soon as the bidding approaches fair market value, they’re going to have to accept a few scratches and dings along the way.
While I don’t condone playing for blood, it might play in the Birds’ favor that Machado apparently has a strong dislike for members of the Brewers, since they share the Central division with St. Louis. Usually, the players on the field don’t care a tenth as much about rivalries as do the fans. So it would be nice to see a little bit of fire between the baselines.
If reports are true that Machado’s bidding has stalled out at $25 million a year for seven seasons, the Cardinals could represent a great opportunity for Machado to rebuild his brand. How good would it look if he came to St. Louis, a smaller media market where scrutiny would be less of a distraction and took an also-ran team into the postseason? The Redbirds could offer him a $200 million, eight year deal, still significantly less than what people thought he’d get, with an opt out after two years. If he proves to be the player we thought he was two years ago, he hits the open market at 28 with a chance to cash in big time.
Maybe the opt out could be balanced with a team option that allows the Cardinals to keep Machado for $35 million a year for the remainder of the contract.
The addition of Machado wouldn’t prohibit resigning Goldschmidt because St. Louis has tons of roster flexibility beyond 2019. This club could go from a cloudy future to having a rock-solid foundation by getting those two players to sign on the dotted line. It would be awfully exciting to have twin sluggers playing across the diamond from each other for the next six seasons.
On the other hand, if this is all too complicated, the St. Louis front office could just get off its duff and sign Bryce Harper. Then, instead of shuffling around the infield, it could just put a guy who plays right field in right field and put .180-hitting Dexter Fowler in the fourth outfielder role where it wouldn’t take a lot of imagination to find him 400 plate appearances — if he can stay off the disabled list.