St. Louis Cardinals: Ranking the best offseason of the decade

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Manager Mike Shildt #8 of the St. Louis Cardinals stands with his team for the playing of the national anthem prior to Game Three of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 14: Manager Mike Shildt #8 of the St. Louis Cardinals stands with his team for the playing of the national anthem prior to Game Three of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on October 14, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images) /
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As the decade comes to an end, Looking back at this chapter in St. Louis Cardinals history, which offseason was the best over the past 10 years?

The 2019 World Series is over and in 2019, the St. Louis Cardinals won the NL Central, their National League Divisional Series matchup against the Atlanta Braves and then came crashing back down to reality getting swept in the National League Championship Series against the eventual World Series Champion Washington Nationals.

Although it was a season of exceeding expectations by reaching the final four in all of MLB, there are still glaring holes in this team that need filling, meaning a very important winter for Cardinal Nation.

Over the last 10 years, there have been some great offseason acquisitions with the Cards filling in key pieces and some very dull offseasons where the Front Office has done nothing of note. Let’s take a spin through the last 10 years of St. Louis Cardinals winters, ranking the top three for the franchise and how we expect the winter before the 2020 season to compare.

2010 – three key free-agent signings for the Redbirds: resigning Jason LaRue, resigning Matt Holliday and signing Felipe Lopez

Felipe Lopez played 109 games in the 2010 season, hitting seven homers, 36 RBIs and had a .651 OPS before being released and then picked up by Boston. Jason LaRue re-signed with the club after spending two years already in St. Louis but struggled in his third season only playing 29 games with a .194 average and .274 OBP and similarly to Lopez was also let go at seasons end.

Matt Holliday, on the other hand, was the marquee free agent of the 2010 offseason and was a great snag by the Cardinals. Holliday went on to play 982 games as a Cardinal, making four All-Star appearances, getting four MVP nominations and a career .874 OPS with the Cardinals.

2011 – Two trades (Ryan Theriot & Maikel Cleto) and a handful of free-agent signings (Jake Westbrook, Lance Berkman, Gerald Laird & Nick Punto)

There were some big names on the free-agent market in the offseason before the 2011 season – namely Cliff Lee (signed with the Phillies), Adrian Beltre (signed with the Rangers), and Adam Dunn (signed with the White Sox) among others.

This offseason was a busy one, but no big names. The Cardinals made two trades acquiring Ryan Theriot from the Dodgers, who went on to play 132 games in his only season in Missouri hitting .271 average, and Maikel Cleto from the Mariners, who spent three years struggling with the Cards before a 2014 move to the White Sox leaving St Louis with an over 10.00 ERA with the club.

Then, some of the key free-agent signings were Nick Punto who played a year in STL, having a career-best OPS (.809). Lance Berkman, who was an All-Star in his first year as a Cardinal, went on to earn a 4.8 fWAR over his 1.5 seasons with the franchise. Jake Westbrook pitched as a starter for four years with a .529 record (36-32) and two complete games.

2012 – A Rule-5 flop in Barret Browning and two big free agent signings (Rafael Furcal & Carlos Beltran) after Albert Pujols left The Lou for LA

ST LOUIS, MO – OCTOBER 26: David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox talks to Carlos Beltran #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning of Game Three of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 26, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO – OCTOBER 26: David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox talks to Carlos Beltran #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning of Game Three of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 26, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Firstly, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Barrett Browning from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out between the Cards and Barrett after he spent only one year pitching in the Majors in relief with a 5.12ERA in 22 games.

Although the trade wasn’t great, the Cards managed to snag two key free agents in Rafael Furcal, who spent two years as a Cardinal and was an All-Star in his final season where he hit .264/.325/.346 in 121 games. Carlos Beltran, who spent two years in St. Louis was an All-Star in both seasons and had 116 extra-base hits, 181 RBI and a 127 OPS+.

2013 – A quiet offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals with an amateur free agent in Alex Reyes and a few other free agent signings

Some big names moved around in the winter before the 2013 season as the MLB saw Zack Greinke join the LA Dodgers, Nick Swisher move to Cleveland from New York and Torii Hunter become a Tiger. It was a quiet winter in Missouri with the Cardinals signing Ty Wiggington, who played only 47 games and amassed 9 hits before being released mid-July.

The Cardinals did sign free agent Randy Choate who went on to play his final three years in the MLB with the Cardinals, pitching out of relief in 196 games and had a 3.56 ERA with only 4 HR allowed. The Cardinals were planning for the future as they acquired amateur free agent Alex Reyes who went on to head their minor league system but since has been plagued by injuries and only made 17 appearances in the Majors.

2014 – Trades, free agents and amateur free agents were signed before the 2014 season by the Cards to improve the team

Two key trade pieces were brought in during the winter before 2014. With David Freese and Fernando Salas moving to the Angels, the St. Louis Cardinals received Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos in return in this trade. Grichuk spent the next four years as a Cardinal hitting 66 homers in 404 games before moving to the AL with Toronto where he has flourished and Bourjos was a regular in the lineup for two years with 100 hits playing in the outfield.

Additionally, the Cardinals signed Jhonny Peralta and Pat Neshek as free agents who both had good seasons with Neshek being an All-Star in his sole season in St. Louis pitching in 71 games with a 1.87 ERA and obtaining six saves. Peralta played a further three seasons hitting in 415 games with a career .742 OPS with the Cardinals. In 2014 he had his second-highest fWAR (4.6) of his career.

Lastly, the Cards further bolstered the youth system with the amateur free agent Aledmys Diaz who played two seasons in St. Louis, hitting 37% of his hits for extra bases and with career high 2.6 fWAR in his first season with the Cards. He was then traded to the Blue Jays for outfield prospect J.B Woodman after a rocky second year.

2015 – A trade for Jason Heyward and further free agent depth

The St. Louis Cardinals traded away Shelby Miller to the Atlanta Braves getting Jordan Walden and most importantly Jason Heyward in return. Heyward had a good season with a career high 5.6 fWAR along with a 117 OPS+ which he has never matched since, but JHey made the plunge of leaving St Louis after 1 year and joined the Chicago Cubs where he has never quite been the same player since.

In addition, the Cards made some extra free agent signings getting Miguel Socolovich, who stayed for three years pitching in 58 games having a 1.89 ERA in his first two years before dropping off.

The team also signed a lot of one year free agent rentals in Matt Belisle, allowed only one home run in 34 games but his second highest BB/9 ratio (4.0) of his career, Mark Reynolds, played 140 games mainly at first base but struggled for power with a career-low 13 homers with at least 235 plate appearances, and Carlos Villanueva, who was the Cards closer with a 2.95 ERA and closed out 20 games.

2016 – Jedd Gyorko comes to Missouri, the Cards draft John Brebbia and some important free agent signings

PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 30: Matt Wieters #32 of the St. Louis Cardinals congratulates teammate Jedd Gyorko #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals on a two run home run in the seventh inning as Andrew Knapp #15 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on at Citizens Bank Park on May 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 30: Matt Wieters #32 of the St. Louis Cardinals congratulates teammate Jedd Gyorko #3 of the St. Louis Cardinals on a two run home run in the seventh inning as Andrew Knapp #15 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on at Citizens Bank Park on May 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images) /

The Cardinals started the offseason by trading away Jon Jay to the San Diego Padres and received Jedd Gyorko in return. Jedd spent four years with the Cards before his trade to LA this summer playing across the infield and hitting .256/.328/.456 in his STL career.

The Cards also drafted Matt Bowman from the Mets who pitched for three years allowing 111 hits from 134 games before moving to the Reds after a poor 2018. They also drafted John Brebbia from the Arizona DiamondBacks who has been a double play machine of the 2019 roster having now played 161 games as a Cardinal with a 3.14 ERA and 10.2 SO/9.

Finally, the Cards delved into the free agent market acquiring Seunghwan Oh, who came 6th in the RoY award in his first season throwing a 1.92ERA in 76 games with 19 saves, 11.6 SO/9 and a sub-1.000 WHIP, but struggled in his second year having 0 fWAR and Mike Leake who signed for 5 years and $80,000,000 but only pitched for a full season with the Cards where he had his worst ERA (4.69) of his career and went to the Mariners in August 2017 as a salary dump.

2017 – The Sexy Dexy era starts along with a pitcher influx of John Gant and Brett Cecil

The winter before the 2017 season was highlighted by the free agent Dexter Fowler coming to St Louis on a 5-year deal. A number of other big outfield bats re-signed for their teams, namely Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Carlos Gomez, but Fowler was a big plus coming from Chicago.

He is now three years into his contract and has made 358 appearances having a career .745 OPS and 45 home runs with the Cardinals. Fowler had a great first year in St Louis with an .851 OPS but has struggled since.

The Cards also signed Brett Cecil as a free agent after eight years in Toronto who pitched in 73 games as a reliever in his first season but regressed in year two having a 6.89 ERA and -0.7 fWAR. Jaime Garcia then followed Shelby Miller and was moved to Atlanta with John Gant coming in the other direction. Gant has been eating middle-innings since, pitching in 64 games in 2019 with a 3.66 ERA and has allowed only 0.5 HR/9 which has been his career-best to date.

Lastly, the Cards acquired Adolis Garcia after his time spent in Japan and Cuba, and he is now a key minor league piece.

2018 – Free agents, including an international free agent and big trades took the headlines in the winter before the 2018 season

Miles Mikolas joined the St. Louis Cardinals as an international free agent after three years in Japan and was the focal point of the rotation in 2018 getting 18 wins and a 2.83 ERA including a 6.7 fWAR in 64 games after another good season in 2019 for the Cards.

The Redbirds also jumped into the free agent market acquiring Francisco Pena, who backed-up Yadier Molina but struggled offensively with a .203 average and only five extra-base hits in 58 games. Luke Gregerson, who joined after 3 years with the Astros but struggled with a 7.36 ERA over his two seasons, and Bud Norris, who was the Cards closer in 2018 getting 28 saves with a 3.59 ERA.

Finally, there were a number of trades with Randall Grichuk joining Toronto and the Cards receiving Dominic Leone back, who has played 69 games with a 5.59 2019 ERA. The team also traded Stephen Piscotty to the A’s and receiving Yairo Munoz back, who has played 196 games hitting 10 homers but hasn’t solidified a starting role-playing in 6 different positions in 2019 alone.

The team also traded for Marcell Ozuna with four players going in the other direction. Ozuna had a big year in 2017 with the Marlins winning a Gold Glove, silver slugger and MVP nominated year but since joining the Cardinals he hasn’t quite hit those heights and has struggled defensively with a .777 OPS and 52 HR in 278 games, plus a stand outperformance in the 2019 NLDS.

2019 – A big first base bat, a premium reliever and a back-up catcher

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI – OCTOBER 11: Paul Goldschmidt #46 and Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals takes the field prior to game one of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Busch Stadium on October 11, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI – OCTOBER 11: Paul Goldschmidt #46 and Marcell Ozuna #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals takes the field prior to game one of the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals at Busch Stadium on October 11, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Last winter, the offseason was all about the big trade with Arizona for Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals sent Luke Weaver, Carson Kelly, and Andy Young the other way receiving Goldy back who hit a team-high 34 home runs along with 97 RBI and had 3.2 fWAR. He didn’t quite hit the heights of his DBacks career in his first year in The Lou, but there is much optimism yet!

The Cardinals also brought in Matt Wieters to back up Yadi, who hit for a .702 OPS and 11 homers which filled a necessary gap for much of the season. They also signed the offseason’s premier relief pitcher Andrew Miller who although being solid through the Cards playoff run had his joint worst season of his career by fWAR (-0.4) and had a 4.45 ERA in 73 games plus a career-high 1.8 HR/9 and career-low (since 2012) 11.5 SO/9.

More from St Louis Cardinals News

The Twenty-Tens has been a decade of lots of changes to the roster in St. Louis with a lot of movement in the winters prior to the season, some a lot more positive than others. But the Cardinals have been trending towards making some bigger and more important acquisitions the last few years with Goldy, Ozuna, Mikolas and Fowler all joining the St. Louis Cardinals in the last three years. For me, the top three offseasons since 2010 have been:

  1. 2010 – acquiring a generational piece in Matt Holliday really pushed the Cardinals towards that 2011 World Series!
  2. 2019 – recency bias maybe, but the Cardinals showed their impetus of going for the big bat at first base and it paid off with a postseason run to the NLCS.
  3. 2018 – delving into the international free agent market for Mikolas has looked positive so far, Ozuna has added some batting strength to the lineup these past 2 years and Norris acted as a good closer for the season from the free agent market.

There is a lot of anticipation from the fanbase for this offseason with lots of free agent options and possible big additions to the starting rotation, ranging from Gerrit Cole to Madison Bumgarner to Zack Wheeler, plus third-base options, with Anthony Rendon or Josh Donaldson or Mike Moustakas, and outfield big bats in J.D Martinez or Yasiel Puig.

Next. 3 Halloween-scary trades that the Cardinals should actually do. dark

Here’s hoping the offseason will exceed expectations with a Rendon/Cole signing giving us our best offseason in the last 10 years, but more likely hoping for a winter similar to 2010/2019, with a big-name acquisition, than to 2013, which was very quiet and unexciting, for the St. Louis Cardinals.