St. Louis Cardinals: What positions could be upgraded for 2020?
By Matt Graves
While it isn’t the offseason quite yet, where should the St. Louis Cardinals plan to make upgrades before the 2020 season?
Even with the St. Louis Cardinals making it to the NLCS before being booted out of the offseason by the Washington Nationals, there are some clear areas where the team is lacking. If you have any sort of brain, you know it rests almost universally on the offense.
Last offseason, it was near impossible to find any position other than first base to upgrade because of the contract rigidity and promise they had around the field. This winter, things will be a little bit different. After many players underperformed with the bat this year, some are liable to be moved or a replacement can be found.
Before looking at who will replace who is in these positions, let’s just take a look at the positions where the Cardinals’ front office can look to make upgrades. These upgrades don’t have to be external, but they certainly could be. These needs may also be due to certain free agents leaving.
It will be hard to get that much more production out of the left field spot than the 29 homers and 89 RBIs that Marcell Ozuna gave the Cardinals in 2019 without spending a lot of resources. The need in left field comes from the fact that Ozuna is a free agent.
One easy answer is to resign Ozuna, but when you look past some of the counting stats, it becomes clear that Ozuna didn’t have as great of a year as it seems. He was incredibly streaky and bad defensively. Ozuna was better offensively than he was in 2018 but still not great.
Left field is a position where the Cardinals have prospects that could jump right in (Dylan Carlson, Randy Arozarena, Lane Thomas, etc.), but given that Ozuna is the best free-agent left fielder, any upgrade not currently on the team will have to come via trade.
Harrison Bader had an even better defensive year than he did in 2018. Unfortunately, his offense fell off a cliff. With a .205 average and just a 78 OPS+, the Cardinals need more from that position. Dexter Fowler came in and played occasionally, but the vast majority of the innings in center went to Bader.
With Fowler occasionally in center and Tommy Edman moving to right field, the team had a better lineup. Bader had a ton of promise coming into the year as well as the confidence of the manager. I don’t think he has that anymore. Look for center field to be somewhere the team looks to upgrade if the deal is right.
In a similar situation as Harrison Bader, Matt Carpenter had an awful year at third base. I don’t truly believe that the team will move away from Matt Carpenter as they didn’t when Dexter Fowler had a season-long slump, but they definitely could.
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Carpenter finished the year strong in the final month, but still had a .226 batting average and saw his normally stellar OBP drop to 30 points below his career average. He lost his spot at the leadoff position and was relegated to a part-time player down the stretch.
At third base, there are attractive options both internally and externally in Anthony Rendon or Mike Moustakas on the free-agent market or with the young-gun Edman who is a more natural third baseman than right fielder.
I’m not saying the Cardinals are going to do anything, but it’ll be hard to look at the options both on the market and on the roster and decide to solely stick with Matt Carpenter, regardless of his contract or past performance.
The Cardinals starting rotation was phenomenal in 2019, but they have two spots opening and a lot of question marks. Both Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright are going to be free agents and while the team is probably leaning towards resigning Waino, that still leaves one spot open.
There is always room for another top-flight arm, and there is one name, Gerrit Cole, on the free-agent market that is the home run ball the Cardinals could try and hit. Knowing this team, they will probably settle for a lower, mid-tier name if they go the free agency route.
That doesn’t mean they don’t have internal options though. The question marks I referred to earlier are mostly in the forms of pitchers on the roster that are unknowns. Alex Reyes, Carlos Martinez, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Ryan Helsley, and Austin Gomber could all battle for that last spot.
I would guess that one gets the spot, but as far as which, it all depends on performance and health.
The Cardinals could certainly upgrade any position they want this offseason, but there are clear areas where a change would be easier to facilitate. If 2019 taught us anything, it’s that this offense needs help. It’s not an easy job, but the Cardinals can’t go into 2020 with the same lineup as 2019.