The Atlanta Braves have two pivotal free agents whose talents the St. Louis Cardinals desperately need in 2020. Josh Donaldson‘s potent bat and Dallas Keuchel‘s left-handed arm could be the tonic that sends the Cardinals back to the World Series.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a range of issues to address during the off-season. They will no doubt be looking at the outfield mix and the closer situation for 2020. However, issues at third base and the starting rotation will also need to be addressed.
The Atlanta Braves have two pending free agents that would help the Cardinals address third base and the rotation for 2020. Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel will both available to the highest bidder this off-season.
Donaldson and Keuchel both enter the free-agent market in different situations. The 33-year old Donaldson was extended a $17.8 million qualifying offer, and the 31-year old Keuchel wasn’t. Keuchel previously received one from the Astros, making him ineligible for the QO this year. However, Donaldson has never received a qualifying offer, this is his first year getting it.
A note to those who don’t understand qualifying offers. MLB players are eligible for qualifying offers who…
A. Have never received a qualifying offer previously in their career, and
B. Have spent an entire season on that’s team roster (in-season acquisitions are ineligible).
Therefore, since Josh Donaldson was an in-season acquisition by the Cleveland Indians last year from the Toronto Blue Jays, he was ineligible last year.
The Braves Conundrum with Josh Donaldson
The Braves would probably love to bring back Josh Donaldson, if at all possible. After all, the slugger hit 37 HR and 94 RBIs, along with an OPS of .900 in 2019. But the soon to be 34-year old Donaldson will likely reject the Qualifying Offer and be looking for more than just a one year contract. With Donaldson’s recent injury history in 2017 and 2018, the Braves may be reluctant to give him a multi-year deal.
The Braves would also like to prioritize upgrading at the catcher position and their rotation. With the availability of free-agent catcher, Yasmani Grandal, and recent reports saying the Braves are interested in pursuing Madison Bumgarner, signing Donaldson may be a luxury they can’t afford.
If the Braves land Grandal and Bumgarner, they may decide to go to prospect Austin Riley at third. The 22-year-old right-handed bat has been primarily used as an outfielder in the minors, but the Braves have been giving him time at third.
Dallas Keuchel Apathy in Atlanta
If the Braves’ priority is to sign Bumgarner or another front line younger starter, then Dallas Keuchel’s likely demand for a deal past one year will not be welcomed at SunTrust Park.
Keuchel certainly did all he could to impress future suitors after he signed a one-year $13 million deal with the Braves in June. He posted an 8-8 record with a 3.75 ERA in 19 games and 112 innings. Nevertheless, Keuchel turns 32 in January, and long-term deals for pitchers in his age range are not currently in vogue.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of love in Atlanta for the Tulsa Oklahoma native in 2020. Therefore, Keuchel will need to find suitors in the open market who value what he can add to a rotation with his left-handed arm.
Enter the St. Louis Cardinals
The Atlanta Braves may love Josh Donaldson, but may not be able to afford him, and seem to have already said goodbye to Dallas Keuchel. However, the St. Louis Cardinals have needs that both of these players can fill.
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The Cardinals need a power-hitting third baseman and a front line lefty for their rotation. Donaldson and Keuchel check the boxes for those needs.
Donaldson and Keuchel want multiyear deals that the Braves are reluctant to offer. The Cardinals may be willing to meet those wishes if they aren’t required to go beyond 2022 for Donaldson and 2021 for Keuchel.
Donaldson and Keuchel are reportedly looking for teams that are contenders, not in a rebuilding process. The Cardinals proved in 2019, they are contenders.
The boxes are all checked for the players and the team. Will the match be made during this off-season?
On Tuesday, President of Baseball Operations, John Mozeliak, discussed payroll limitations entering the off-season with the media. The Cardinals have committed $143 million to 11 players on long-term contracts, and they would like to stay around the $162.6 million they had in payroll to start the 2019 season. Obviously, this could complicate bringing in Donaldson and Keuchel.
Unloading the contracts of Matt, Carpenter, Dexter Fowler, and Brett Cecil would help but is not realistic. Letting Marcell Ozuna move on to other pastures might help bring in one, but not both players.
In other words, to bring in both Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel would require some creative moves if the Cardinals are committed to a $162-163 million payroll.
Staying pat or stretching the budget
The only way the St. Louis Cardinals will be able to bring on both Josh Donaldson and Dallas Keuchel is to stretch the payroll beyond the $162-163 million mark. Staying pat may only bring a playoff spot, but is unlikely to extend to an NL Pennant or World Championship.
Bringing in Donaldson and Keuchel on short-term deals is not only realistic but also gets the team closer to the promised land of a 12th World Series Championship in 2020. After all, that’s what we all want.
To conclude, in spite of the self-anointed salary cap. the St. Louis Cardinals should pursue Donaldson and Keuchel. Expand the budget and get it done.