As the postseason nears its conclusion, teams around the league are preparing for what is sure to be an exciting free agency period. With the exception of the Giants and Rangers, who I think might be a bit preoccupied with something (World Series), the anticipation of possible franchise changing acquisitions is at an all-time high. It is a time for those who struggled in 2010 to make significant roster upgrades with the hopes of turning things around in 2011. For others, such as the Cardinals, free agency is a time to add to an already talented roster and make that ever so difficult jump from good to great.
Although commonly believed otherwise, free agency in today’s MLB is not about how much money a team spends. Instead, the key to free agency is how a team spends their money and knowing how much is too much. The ability of the Cards front office to draw the line at some point will define the overall success of their off-season.
As the Yankees and Phillies proved this year by being eliminated in their respective League Championship Series’, spending money to get the biggest names on the market does not automatically translate into a World Series title. The Yankees got Curtis Granderson last offseason and then Lance Berkman at the trade deadline, two fairly expensive players. Their lineup looked absolutely stacked on paper, but baseball games aren’t played on paper. Sure, they made it deep into the playoffs, but anything short of a World Series in New York is considered a disappointment. Similarly, the Phillies spent a lot of money to get pitching ace Roy Oswalt, setting up what looked to be the best pitching trio in all of baseball. However, this was still not enough for Philadelphia to accomplish their goal of a World Series repeat.
Despite the fact the Cardinals will feel a good deal of pressure to go after some top tier players after a miserable season ending collapse, they would be foolish to get sucked into a bidding war with other teams who have money to spend. Superstar outfielders like Carl Crawford and Jason Werth are far too expensive for the St. Louis if they plan on providing Albert Pujols with the contract he deserves at the end of next season. Third basemen Adrian Beltre is also an appealing free agent since the Cards struggled at that position in 2010, but he will demand a huge contract after a career year with the Red Sox.
As I’ve said before, the Cardinals are really not that far away from being a team that can compete for the top spot in the National League. If they re-sign Jake Westbrook and Jamie Garcia avoids a sophomore slump, the starting pitching should be just fine. The bullpen, however, is a different story. I think guys like J.C. Romero, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, and Joe Beimel could all help out the pen, which is one of the weaker areas for the Cards. It would certainly be worth spending some money to get some depth in relief pitching, but relievers don’t tend to be too expensive anyway.
As far as hitting and fielding is concerned, second and third base should be the positions of emphasis for St. Louis as they look to improve. There are not many great second basemen available, but Orlando Hudson would be the perfect fit for the Redbirds. Hudson is a guy who hits for average (Usually around .280), plays great defense, and brings valuable experience to the table. He has won four gold gloves during his career, and the Twins were able to steal him for just five million dollars last season. What an upgrade he would be from Skip Schumaker. A number of different guys played third base for the Cards in 2010, and consistency is desperately needed at the hot corner. The Cards should be looking at Jorge Cantu or Brandon Inge to fill the hole. Neither guy will require a large paycheck, but both have shown that they can produce very good numbers and have success in the shadows of superstars.
While it would be unreasonable to expect the Cardinals to bring in free agents for every position that needs help, it would make a huge difference if they could get two or three of these free agents mentioned above. Free agency will definitely be competitive this year, but it is crucial that St. Louis gets something out of it. It is by no means easy to get quality talent for a cheap price, but there will be some opportunities for the Cards this off-season. The core of this team is as good as any in the N.L., and now it’s time to take things to the next level. The last thing Cardinal’s fans want is for this team to come up short once again next season and be left wondering if more could have been done in free agency.
Tags: Adrian Beltre Albert Pujols Brandon Inge Carl Crawford Grant Balfour J.C. Romero Jake Westbrook Jamie Garcia Jason Werth Joaquin Benoit Joe Beimel Jorge Cantu Orlando Hudson Skip Schumaker World Series