The St. Louis Cardinals overcame a season full of injuries in 2013, giving the organization a chance to showcase some of its bright and young talent. The number of rookies that made their MLB debuts in 2013 is too numerous to mention, but despite the youth, inexperience and unfortunate circumstances of injuries to key vetarans such as Jason Motte and Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals still turned heads, made it to the World Series and set themselves up for a prolonged run as a NL-power.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals still have holes, all of which were exposed by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
But which holes are the most important to fill? Where should general manager John Mozeliak focus his efforts the most this off-season?
Here is a look at the Cardinals two biggest needs this offseason, with some possible options, to get fans ready for what promises to be a very interesting winter full of bit decision for the St. Louis general manager.
1. Find a suitable shortstop for the long-term
I have been a Pete Kozma defender for most of 2013 because I thought that the Cardinals offense was deep enough to overcome his inepitude at the plate. I felt Kozma’s defense was among the best in the NL all year at shorstop and that his glove was a necessary evil to have as part of the Cardinals lineup. That obviously turned out to be very wrong, as Kozma, or Daniel Descalso, repeatedly came to the plate in key situations and failed miserably to come through.
The Cardinals must find a shortstop this winter that can man the position for years to come.
Many Cardinals fans think Troy Tulowitzki should be the top target, but it is unreasonable to think that acquiring the Colorado Rockies injury prone star, who is going to make $20 million annually, will come easily. The Cardinals have a number of pieces, but would Mozeliak be willing to meet the asking price it would take for Colorado to move the cornerstone of their team? I doubt it.
There are other options out there that could be had via trade. The second most popular and obvious choice as a target at shortstop would be Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers. He too, at the ripe age 20, would come at an extremely steep price. He is widely considered as the top prospect in all of baseball.
But Profar is not the cornerstone of the Rangers franchise the way Tulowitzki is and Texas has already committed to Elvis Andrus over the long-term. With the Cardinals glutany of starting pitching and the ability to offer a power bat such as Matt Adams, the Rangers could have interest. But this would be an expensive trade as well.
There are other options. Freddy Galvis of the Philadelphia Phillies, who is just 23 years of age, could be an interesting option. The Phillies should be in the market for young pitching as well. Galvis would not be as sexy as Profar, but could be a long-term solution.
Stephen Drew also deserves to be mentioned. He was horrible in the World Series at the plate, but he offers a plus glove and his 13 home runs and 67 RBIs of production are intriguing and an obvious upgrade. But how many years would the Cardinals be willing to commit to a 30 year old shortstop?
Finally, other names that surely could come up include Erick Aybar of the L.A. Angels and Johnny Peralta, formerly of the Detroit Tigers and comes with the baggage of a recent 50-game PED suspension, who is a free agent.
No matter where Mozeliak turns, addressing the shorstop position has to be a priority and he should be willing to take a risk by moving some assets to upgrade the position.
2. Find a right-handed bat to play center field
Cardinals fans were clearly frustrated by the play of Jon Jay during the post-season and throughout 2013, calling for Shane Robinson to get more time. Robinson was likely the right option to fill-in during the short-term, but he is not a realistic option to log major playing time for the bulk of a season.
The Cardinals are very left-handed dependent at the plate and look to become even more so when Oscar Taveras joins the team in 2014. Taveras is an option to play centerfield pretty regulary, albeit while sacrificing some defense, next season, but the Cardinals need to find an upgrade that can play center field and hit with some pop from the right side of the plate and possibly keep Taveras in right field permanently if needed.
Unfortunately, there are very few options available. Some Cardinals fans would love for the team to go after Jacoby Ellsbury. But would it really be wise to go after an injury prone 30-year old who relies on his legs? Plus, Ellsbury is yet another left-handed bat.
Coco Crisp is an intriguing option for center field who would likely also come up at a steep price, but his 22 home runs and plus defense is certainly attractive. Unfortunately it looks like Oakland may exercise an option to bring him back.
This leaves very few options available for Mozeliak via the free agency market and there really are not any realistic center field options available via trade either. Dexter Folwer of Colorado may be able to be had, but he too would likely cost a premium in the pitching department.
While options are few, Mozeliak must do something about upgrading both the power and the defense from the right side of the plate in center field and doing so may be even tougher than finding a shortstop, although less important.
Looking for upgrades at shorstop and center field are obvious goals and Mozeliak must address the situations. But he must do so with a central theme of making this team more athletic than the 2013 version of the St. Louis Cardinals. Baseball is becoming more and more of a pitcher’s game and anything that Mozeliak can do to add pieces that can manufacture runs with speed and prevent runs with premium defense should be considered.
2013 was a fun season for Cardinals fans, who loved getting to know some of these young players. 2014 could be even more special as these youngsters mature and have some strategic pieces added to the mix.
Have a nice winter.