St. Louis Cardinals: Halfway through the off-season, questions still loom

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 16: General Manager John Mozeliak (L) and owner William DeWitt, Jr. of the St. Louis Cardinals speak at a press conference at Roger Dean Stadium on February 16, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 16: General Manager John Mozeliak (L) and owner William DeWitt, Jr. of the St. Louis Cardinals speak at a press conference at Roger Dean Stadium on February 16, 2011 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images) /

With Christmas Day behind us, the St. Louis Cardinals still face plenty of questions heading into the final months of the offseason.

Don’t look now, but the St. Louis Cardinals are just a mere forty-nine days away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Jupiter, Florida. It also means the Cardinals are ninety-three days away from the regular season opener in New York. While it may seem far away, the Cardinals still have plenty of questions to answer this off-season before February.

I know how some of you are feeling right now. It feels like an eternity since the trade for Marcell Ozuna or any trade speculation surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals came our way. Based on the reports about Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson, you’d have though the team would be presenting one of them at a press conference this morning to celebrate Christmas. But, here we are, almost two weeks later, and still no sign of any progress.

That doesn’t mean progress hasn’t happened. I’m just merely pointing out the fact everything we were hearing has hushed in the last two weeks. It has some in Cardinal Nation on edge, and I get that.

I think it’s fair to say the St. Louis Cardinals are certainly not done with the off-season by any means. We heard John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch speak on that over the last two weeks, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t question what exactly is the team doing.

Here are some of my top questions remaining for the off-season.

We are still fixing the lineup, right?

Last week, co-contributor Nathan Grime gave us his opinion on what the St. Louis Cardinals lineup looks right now. He went with this:

  1. Matt Carpenter
  2. Tommy Pham
  3. Marcell Ozuna
  4. Jedd Gyorko
  5. Dexter Fowler
  6. Yadier Molina
  7. Paul DeJong
  8. Kolten Wong
  9. Pitcher

Honestly, it’s not a terrible lineup. I’d probably switch some people around, but it is isn’t as bad as people think. However, having said that, the lineup can still be improved drastically. The only questions is what position will the team upgrade over the off-season?

Having already improved the outfield, the primary focus of the St. Louis Cardinals has been third base. However, the Cardinals could also improve the lineup by bringing on a free agent first baseman or trading for one. Unfortunately, there is no indication at this point on which route the team will take, but the Cardinals certainly can improve if they want.

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Is the lineup above going to win you ninety games? Without an improved rotation, probably not. But, a major change at either corner infield position would certainly push the Cardinals closer to the 90-win mark. Would I be upset if the Cardinals do not upgrade at either spot? No, but they better upgrade elsewhere if they plan to be relevant in 2018.

Are the Cardinals still in the mix for a third baseman?

As I mentioned earlier, talk on Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado have certainly quieted over the last two weeks. Reports even suggested the Orioles would pull Machado from the trading block if their price demand was not met. As for Donaldson, the story has always been the Blue Jays intend to compete, so moving Donaldson was very unlikely.

The truth is both the Blue Jays and Orioles will not move their best player unless they get what they want. Unfortunately for both teams, their price is unrealistic and their hopes of competing anytime soon with the likes of New York and Boston are just as unrealistic. Wisely, Mozeliak and Co. know the risk of a one-year rental in a player like Machado and Donaldson. It isn’t worth trading your best pitching prospect in Alex Reyes or a rotation regular in Luke Weaver in hopes of resigning either superstar to a big deal.

However, now with Evan Longoria out of play as well, where exactly do the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves? Are they still even in the mix for a free gent third baseman or a trade for one?

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However you want to see it, the Cardinals are still in the hunt for an upgrade at third base, which tells me one thing about Matt Carpenter.

They would prefer to keep Matt Carpenter at first base every day than him play third base, which is fair. However, if they are still in the mix for a third baseman, where will he come from?

I personally thought Longoria would be coming this way in a deal with the Rays alongside Alex Colome, but that is obviously out the door. But, there have been no other links anywhere else.

Unless something comes up in the next couple of days, they can either look at lesser names and upgrade defensively, and offensively marginally, or search the free agent pool.

If the Cardinals search the free agent pool, I wouldn’t mind seeing Mike Moustakas man third base next year. Having lived in Kansas City the last two years, he can be a valuable bat to any lineup. However, the two big question marks on him will be health and cost.

Moustakascan be a little injury-prone, so the Cardinals would be hesitant to pay big money over the years. Reports suggest Moustakas might be willing to take a one year deal in order to increase his value for free agency next year. I’m not buying that.

Of course there is nothing concrete with Moustakas, except Bob Nightengale all but mathematically speculating there might be interest between the two parties. However, the fact is we have nothing to go on as it comes to third base.

What about moving Carpenter to third base, and improving first base?

I stated the Cardinals wanted to keep Carpenter at first base if possible, but it doesn’t mean the team should rule out any other options to improve the lineup and overall team. Again though, the question will be where does the first baseman come from?

Most of this off-season I have expressed my interest in the St. Louis Cardinals trading for Jose Abreu. I did so in the FanSided mock GM meetings, and I think it would be wise for the Cardinals to at the very least entertain the idea. Much like Marcell Ozuna, Abreu has two years of arbitration before hitting free agency. This allows the Cardinals to have some flexibility over the next two seasons and possibly work out a deal for an extension.

This would be my lineup with Abreu in the mix:

  1. Carpenter
  2. Pham
  3. Abreu
  4. Ozuna
  5. Fowler
  6. Molina
  7. DeJong
  8. Wong
  9. Pitcher

I’d take this lineup any day of the week over the one you saw earlier. However, the trade cost is what matters to the Cardinals. I would hope the Cardinals could get Abreu for something similar to what Ozuna’s price was, but it would be a stretch.

The other option I have seen is Eric Hosmer. While I like Hosmer and think he would be a good fit in St. Louis, I just don’t think the Cardinals want to commit the kind of money he is asking for on this particular player. It’s not a slight at Hosmer either, he just isn’t the Cardinals’ priority.

Truthfully, the same could be said about Abreu, but if the Cardinals are wanting to improve their lineup still, then they will need to take a risk somewhere. Part of me just wants the Cardinals to sign Eric Hosmer to a deal just to slight Bob Fescoe of 610 Sports Radio in KC. But, at the same time, if they are going to commit to Hosmer, I wouldn’t be upset because he is a good player.

Beat him up all you want for his defensive metrics, but he is a natural leader and will keep the clubhouse upbeat during tough times. You can’t calculate it, but I’ve been to enough games at Kauffman Stadium to see his impact on a team.

How will the pitching improve?

The fact of the matter is the St. Louis Cardinals will only be as good as their pitching. The lineup from the very first question will win you some games, but if you are not going to improve the lineup, then pitching should be your number one priority the rest for the off-season.

We know the Cardinals are making every effort to improve the bullpen. However, just like the Machado or Donaldson news, the news on Alex Colome died just as quickly. It almost felt like a forgone conclusion Colome was going to be a Cardinal within the last two weeks, but still nothing.

If the Colome deal is being put on hold because of the effort to get Chris Archer, then I’ll wait as long as it takes to get the deal done. Archer is on a team friendly deal, and wouldn’t cripple the organization financially in years to come.

Perhaps the Cardinals are working on a deal still to package another player from Tampa Bay, but if a deal falls through, what next? The only other options really are to go through free agency. Wade Davis and Greg Holland will be the primary targets, but will it be too late to persuade them to join the team in St. Louis?

While the closer’s role is still up for debate, the starting pitching should still be concerning to Mo and Co. However, Mozeliak recently went on the radio saying he felt comfortable with where the rotation is. Really?

Look, I don’t doubt Carlos Martinez, but are we willing to hang our season on Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, and Miles Mikolas? Don’t come at me with Alex Reyes either because he won’t be good to start until May most likely. Even if Reyes is inserted into the rotation, who are you kicking out? Good luck telling Wainwright that.

There are just too many questions to ignore as it pertains to pitching. It honestly is more important than hitting, but neither should be over looked.

Next: Debating Colome and Davis

What are some of the questions you still have this off-season? Let me know in the comments below.