St. Louis Cardinals: The team isn’t prepared for the looming DH

NEW YORK - JUNE 14: Jose Martinez #38 of the St. Louis Cardinals bats during the game against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 14, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JUNE 14: Jose Martinez #38 of the St. Louis Cardinals bats during the game against the New York Mets at Citi Field on June 14, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images) /

The designated hitter’s arrival in the National League is a good bet to happen soon, but as of now, the St. Louis Cardinals don’t look to be in a great position to utilize it.

A recent announcement that the designated hitter could arrive as early as 2021 could have National League teams scrambling to acquire another big bat, and the St. Louis Cardinals shouldn’t wait around. With the trade of Jose Martinez to the Tampa Bay Rays, the team’s best bet for a DH is gone, and there aren’t any great suitors on the team who could replace him.

The ideal DH is usually an older player with power who is an inferior fielder to most others on the team. Martinez would have fit this perfectly, and the Cardinals would have been one of the best teams in the National League at taking advantage of the extra batting spot. But if the DH does arrive sooner rather than later, the team might need to test the market.

Matt Carpenter seems to be the best choice in a weak crop of DH options for the Cardinals. While he had a poor year in 2019, if he can rebound a bit, he could be serviceable in the role and allow Tommy Edman to take over as the everyday third baseman. If one wants to think of loftier goals, Nolan Arenado would be a major defensive upgrade.

The release of Marcell Ozuna leaves the team with three starting outfielders at the moment, but prospect Dylan Carlson’s likely presence in 2021 could push one of them to the DH spot. The most likely candidate, if he’s still on the roster, would be Dexter Fowler, a player who also had his struggles last year but did bounce back somewhat from a miserable 2018.

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Neither of these options are likely to get people hyped for the DH to arrive in St. Louis, so the team has a good chance of seeking help outside the organization. The 40-year-old Nelson Cruz will be a free agent in 2021, and if he decides to continue playing, he could benefit the Cardinals by providing some serious thump.

Other current American League DHs who could test the market in 2021 include Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana. J.D. Martinez could be another option.

Also of importance are the other teams in the NL Central and their potential DH options. If the DH arrives in 2021, here are who I think will be the most likely to serve as the DH for the other four teams:

Chicago Cubs – Kyle Schwarber

Schwarber was built to be a DH. While he has become more adept in the field, it’s no secret that he’s still below average defensively. Although he only hit .250, he hit 38 long balls last year. The Cubs would be set at DH were Schwarber to stick around.

Cincinnati Reds – Nicholas Castellanos

The rising Reds just signed Castellanos, another player who could easily fit the DH mold. He has less power but more on-base ability than Schwarber, and he is similarly limited in the field. He could opt out after 2020, but if he decides to stay, the Reds would have an excellent DH option who would likely still be in his prime.

Milwaukee Brewers – Ryan Braun

Braun has contemplated retiring after the 2020 season, but if he re-signs with the Brewers for one more year, he would serve as a good DH option. He did well last year, hitting .285 with 22 home runs. If Braun does retire, things are less settled. Former Cardinal Jedd Gyorko could get the first shot at a DH role in Milwaukee.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Josh Bell

Bell, who would receive more attention if he played for a better team, had an All-Star year in 2019, hitting .277 with 39 home runs. Prospect Will Craig could supplant him at first base soon, leaving the poor-fielding Bell in a perfect spot to serve as a DH.

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The Cardinals simply don’t stack up to the rest of the division when it comes to a potential DH. It can be remedied, but with Martinez out of the picture, the Cardinals might want to take a gamble on the DH arriving in 2021 and sign one of the big bats before another NL team pounces.