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Cardinals need to take advantage of free agent bargains

Despite St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak’s pronouncements that he’s satisfied with his club’s offense, the team simply MUST take a shot at a free agent slugger.

Especially if they’re to be had at bargain basement prices due to market conditions.

Mozeliak said he worries there won’t be enough at bats to go around for Matt Holliday, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk, Matt Adams and Brandon Moss next season if he adds a legitimate cleanup hitter. That’s bull for a lot of reasons.

First, the players in question have been bugged by serious injuries and under performance issues in recent seasons. Are we to believe that NONE of them are going to get hurt while ALL of them have career years?

Holliday, who turns 36 tomorrow, is the only guy in the bunch whose history and reputation demands that if he’s healthy he should get to start every day. Yet he played only 73 games in 2015 because of a pair of serious leg injuries.

Baseball Reference predicts Holliday will make only 405 plate appearances in 2015. If that’s correct, there will be AT LEAST 200 at-bats to be found in left field.

It’s safe to say, even if Holliday has no significant injuries, that he’ll be a candidate for more rest and to be replaced with a superior defensive player late in games. But it’s entirely possible he’ll never be the same after the leg troubles. Sometimes those issues are tough to kick and, no matter how much you stretch and rehab, they could crop up at any time.

Matt Adams is younger than Holliday. But he suffered a similar leg injury to his teammate and managed to appear in only 60 games, a handful of them late in the season when the Redbirds were wishfully thinking that maybe he could make a post-season comeback. He couldn’t.

Even when Adams has been healthy, he’s struggled to be a consistent performer the past two seasons.

In 2015 he hit only .240 and had five home runs. In 2014 he was healthier. But Adams mysteriously lost his power stroke in an odd bid to become an opposite field hitter. I’m all for players trying to make themselves more well-rounded. But Adams seemed to concentrate on hitting the ball to left field so much that he completely lost his power stroke.

I’m not sure if he IS healthy if Adams deserves to be handed a starter’s job.

The Cardinals must not think that’s the case, either. Otherwise they wouldn’t have invested a serious chunk of change in Brandon Moss.

A one-time All-Star. Moss hit .226 in 2015 and blamed the lack of production on a leg issue. So it’s a gamble that he’s going to be improved in 2016.

Piscotty hit the cover off the ball in late 2015 during a call up to essentially replace injured fellow outfielder Grichuk.

But can we count on a guy to be an instant middle of the order hitter after 63 games, many of them against expanded rosters?

Jim Lindeman was a sure-fire prospect 30 years ago and convinced the Cardinals they could afford to trade Andy VanSlyke. He was handed the starting job in right field and hit .208 with a .253 on base percentage. That little experiment lasted 227 plate appearances before the Redbirds were forced to consider other options.

I hope Piscotty becomes a perennial All-Star. But there is no need to throw the pressure him into a do-or-die situation in 2016.

If Piscotty turns out to be a world beater, the Cardinals could easily shed Moss or Adams this year and they could decline Holliday’s option for 2017 to make him a starter next year.

Even with all the above players healthy, which one of them is going to hit cleanup for St. Louis next season?

Grichuk and Moss are power guys. But they haven’t proved they can be selective at the plate and hit for high enough average to be a legitimate threat. Meanwhile, many Cardinals fans have concluded that the slowing Holliday needs to be moved from the three spot in the order to someplace like fifth or sixth.

That’s a big, smoking crater in the middle of the lineup. Maybe third baseman Matt Carpenter can fill one of the slots. But he’s had trouble hitting anywhere but leadoff over the course of his career. So that’s no sure-fire solution.

There is no reason for the Birds to put themselves into rebuild mode in 2016 to see what they have for the future. Especially when the next free agent class is so week.

Meanwhile, the talk around baseball is that Yoenis Cespedis and Justin Upton may be forced to take considerably less money to play next year and beyond than they originally hoped.

A story in the New York press said the Mets are starting to become interested in retaining Cespedes now that it’s becoming apparent a 3-4-year contract for the slugging outfielder may be realistic. Meanwhile, there is talk about Upton settling for a one-year pillow contract.

The Cardinals lost the David Price and Jason Heyward bidding. Their is no excuse to watch two other prime players put on another team’s uniform when the Birds have such a strong need for a bat and the low-hanging fruit is abundant.

Cespedes, who doesn’t require draft pick compensation because he was traded in the middle of last season, would be an ideal get. But Upton, who would cost a pick, could be a good alternative on a one-year deal because if he signs elsewhere in 2017 the Birds would get that pick back.

The Cardinals have said they didn’t plan to make any other big deals unless they just made too much sense to pass up. Well, getting a player who was supposed to get a $150-million contract for nearly half the price and half the years makes as much sense as possible in Cardinals free agent math.