Oct 10, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pinch hitter Randal Grichuk (15) is congratulated by right fielder Stephen Piscotty (55) for hitting a solo home run during the fifth inning in game two of the NLDS against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Does anyone else get the feeling that the Cardinals need to do something in order to stay on top? I don’t recall feeling quite so concerned in the past few offseasons, but when you win 100 games and only lead your division by two, you might start to feel the pressure. When the third place team is only three games behind you, well then it starts to feel really tight at the top of the NL Central.
I assume that every team in contention tries to get better in the offseason, and we’ve seen St. Louis swing some pretty big deals for Jhonny Peralta and Jason Heyward recently, but this year feels different. If the Cardinals don’t succeed in moving forward, it could all too easily be us in that play-in game instead of Chicago or Pittsburgh.
I don’t like that thought much, so I’ve spent a fair amount of my free time trying to figure out how the Cardinals are going to keep up with their neighbors.
Do we need pitching? Cardinals finished sixth in fWAR, first in ERA, and fifth in FIP, so I don’t think so. Besides, with Adam Wainwright coming back, Marco Gonzales in the wings and Alex Reyes looking more and more like the ace of the future, the Cardinals should be better at pitching in 2016. I won’t complain at all if we bring back John Lackey, or add David Price or Jordan Zimmermann, but that doesn’t strike me as a priority. Rework the bullpen a little, and we’ll be ok. We’ve got the depth we need.
Well, what about the other side? Our offense ranked ninth in fWAR, but tied for fourteenth in wRC+, and nineteenth in OPS. Defensively, UZR/150 has us as the fifteenth best team in baseball. I think that’s the one. We can get better with our lineup. But where?
Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Peralta, and Matt Holliday aren’t likely to go anywhere. I hope Heyward sticks around for a few more years. Randal Grichuk probably handles center, and Stephen Piscotty should be at first. Kolten Wong wasn’t quite the player we hoped this year, but at 25, he still has room to grow.
So there. That was easy, right? We’ve managed to get through the entire lineup without finding a single piece that’s immediately obvious as easily replaceable. Shoot. Well, what can we do?
Assuming that Heyward is our right fielder next year, we can hope for improvement from what we have. A full season of Grichuk and Piscotty could work wonders, assuming they don’t take a step back. Wong can improve and give us a full season like what he did in the first half of 2015, and Peralta could bounce back after a down season — he has a history of doing that. Holliday could be healthy and return to his solid (if no longer brilliant) levels of performance. If most or all of those things happen, our offense could gain a good bit of ground and look a whole lot better in 2016.
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But what if we don’t assume that Heyward comes back? What then? Well, Piscotty moves to right and Matt Adams starts at first. Big City might not be the best choice, but there’s at least some hope. Although he started 2015 poorly, there’s still hope that he’ll bounce back and be reasonably solid offensively. If I had to choose, though, I’m not sure I want him as my everyday starting first baseman if I can help it.
So what is it that the Cardinals need? Although the Cardinals offense wasn’t great by any measure, it was especially bad on the power front, ranking 24th in ISO and 23rd in slugging percentage. Again, Grichuk and Piscotty may be able to help those numbers some, but an extra boost certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Thus, if we have to move forward without our fantastic right fielder, I think the Cardinals have to pursue Chris Davis. I don’t know what the 29 year old will cost, but 40-50 home runs a year at the center of our lineup would be a big help. I’d be careful of drastically overpaying, because Davis isn’t as young as he once was, but he’s got at least a few more very good years, and could well keep the Cardinals offense in contention.
There may be a few other ways that St. Louis can improve, even if they do resign Heyward. Recently, Steven McNeil discussed potentially trading Lance Lynn, and if the Cardinals were to do something of that sort, a power hitting first base prospect (like the Astros’ Jon Singleton) wouldn’t be out of the question. Additionally, adding a stronger backup catcher such as Chris Iannetta could help strengthen the bench and bolster the offense as a whole.
Regardless of what route the Cardinals front office chooses to take (or is able to take), St. Louis’ offense needs a boost in 2016. Thankfully, there are at least a number of ways that they can get better.