St. Louis Cardinals: Way-too-early 2021 free agents to target

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 08: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 08: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros in action against the New York Mets during a spring training baseball game at Clover Park on March 8, 2020 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 3-1. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

One certainty about 2020 is that when the season ends (or is canceled), there will be a new free-agent class. Who should the St. Louis Cardinals be looking at?

In this world of uncertainty, the MLB and the Players’ Union have already found certainty in one area: no matter what the 2020 season ends up looking like, players will get a year of service time. While that does mean that the St. Louis Cardinals could potentially miss out on seeing what Brad Miller can do in the Jedd Gyorko role, it also means the 2021 free-agent class is intact.

This is best for the health of the game, and thankfully for the Cardinals, they give up a ton of prospects this winter for big-name players that only have one or two seasons left under contract. This freak situation cannot serve as a longterm justification for not doing so. But it does work for now.

The Cardinals won’t be losing too many players after the 2020 season, but it was supposed to be a season where the team figured out just what they had in their young outfielders. When we are taking this way-too-early look at the 2021 free agency, I am going to assume that the Cardinals need one outfielder and a couple of options for a starter. The team never really does more than that, but I am going to look at options at those spots.

I am also going to assume that none of these players sign mid-season extensions and will all be on the open market. So, let’s dig into who the Cardinals should target next offseason

George Springer

Position: CF

Age in 2021: 32

Just bringing this name up at all will anger some fans out there. If you are confused as to why it’s because Springer was a member of the Houston Astros for the past six seasons. He no doubt benefited from the cheating that was occurring there, but there’s plenty to suggest he’s still a fantastic player.

In 2019, Springer hit .292 with a whopping .299 ISO (slugging percentage – batting average). This meant he had a ton of extra-base power, evidenced by his 39 homers. His .383 OBP led to a fantastic .974 OPS, all as the leadoff hitter for the Astros.

Back to those who think the cheating scandal ruins all this, remember that the cheating was only at home. At home, Springer hit a slash of .287/.366/.565. In away games, Springer hit a slash of .297/.398/.614. He was clearly better on the road. He’s the real deal.

Over his six-year career, Springer has averaged a 133 wRC+, with his highest coming in 2019 (156). His low of 118 (in 2018) would’ve still been second on the 2019 Cardinals. He’s a stud.

It may also scare you that the Cardinals could be looking at another outfielder on a deal starting when they are on the wrong side of 30, but there is a chance that Springer doesn’t have many suitors, and his price could fall off a cliff. From a cost-value standpoint, the Cardinals would be idiots to stay away from a player of Springer’s skill, just because of his age.

Jake Odorizzi

Position: SP

Age in 2021: 31

There have long been rumors about the Highland, IL native returning to his hometown to pitch. Back when Odorizzi was on the Rays, it almost seemed like it was inevitable that he would come to the Cardinals at some point.

Odorizzi is going to be on the wrong side of 30 when he is a free agent in 2021, but for a rotation that is likely going to lose Adam Wainwright in 2021 or 2022, there is a need for a veteran starter.

Odorizzi has been very consistent in his career, mostly as a back-of-the-rotation starter. 2019 was actually his best year yet though. Over 30 starts, Odorizzi threw for a 3.51 ERA and a 3.36 FIP. His career-best 4.3 fWAR came mostly from his ERA as well as his 10.08 strikeouts per nine.

He wasn’t extremely lucky in 2019, he was just better. All of his expected values were in line with his actual, and he was a stud for the Twins.

Odorizzi has been in the league for eight years and his veteran status would be an asset to the back half of the rotation. I’d love him for three or four years.

Marcus Stroman

Position: SP

Age in 2021: 30

Marcus Stroman never quite got to the level of production that the Toronto Blue Jays may have expected from him. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t a great option for the team to go after in 2021.

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Stroman was traded to the New York Mets during the 2019 season and I was disappointed the Cardinals didn’t jump into the market for the short righty. By FIP, Stroman has been very good in his career. He’s never had a season-long FIP of more than 3.91 in any season, yet he’s had ERAs of 4.37 and 5.54.

Between the Mets and the Blue Jays in 2019, Stroman made 32 starts with a 3.22 ERA and 3.72 FIP. He had a stellar 53.7 ground ball percentage and it would make perfect sense for him to join the team with one of the league’s best infield defense.

2019 was Stroman’s best year with a 3.9 fWAR, he is one of the younger starting pitchers in the 2021 free-agent class and the Cardinals would do well by jumping in his market to sure up a rotation that will likely be good already. One thing that is always taught and relearned, you can never have enough pitching.

Next. MLB hopes to have a plan by end of May. dark

Odorizzi may be the most likely candidate to be signed from this list, but if the team sees a need at outfield or the starting rotation, the perfect sweet spot of targets is Stroman and Springer. Mookie Betts won’t be an option, but Springer could be.