The Cardinals are expected to shed payroll this offseason, but one outlet believes they could add an outfielder and keep some familiar faces.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ No. 1 priority this winter is to shed payroll. They started that process by parting with Kolten Wong and his $12.5 million salary. There has been speculation that they could look to move on from Carlos Martinez and his $11.5 million salary. And two longtime members of the organization, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, are on the free agent market.
When it comes to potentially replacing those players, as well as addressing other holes throughout the roster, it could prove difficult with most teams dealing with financial constraints because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some teams continue to inform agents that they do not have their final budgets for the 2021 season, though it is unclear if the Cardinals are one of them. It could mean the free-agent market is at a standstill for the beginning of the offseason.
It sets up an important offseason for president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, who is looking to keep the Cardinals in contention in a competitive National League Central division. It’s unlikely he pursues the top players on the market – our own Matt Graves wrote that a Francisco Lindor trade is a pipedream scenario – but it’s likely he looks for value when trying to add a left-handed bat and others.
MLB Trade Rumors recently released their annual top 50 free agent predictions for the 2020-’21 offseason. Their projected contracts have historically been relatively accurate, though an offseason littered with uncertainty makes that practice more difficult. Still, they had the Cardinals bringing in one new face and keeping two familiar faces in town.
Let’s take a look at who they had the Cardinals adding.
Joc Pederson (two years, $18 million):
Agents expect the Cardinals to add a left-handed bat to the middle of the lineup this winter, and Pederson would make sense. The 28-year-old is coming off a down year in 2020 just a year after mashing 36 taters in 514 plate appearances. His .190/.285/.397 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 43 games is not indicative of the player he is, but it is important to understand that he comes with flaws.
First, he is strictly a platoon player. He has hit only .191/.266/.310 in 269 career games against left-handed pitching. As noted by MLBTR, he posted a 132 wRC+ against right-handed pitching from 2015-’19, ranking 21st in baseball.
The market for a player as naturally talented as Pederson figures to be strong. The Angels had agreed to a deal to acquire Pederson in February, only for owner Arte Moreno to pull out of the deal at the eleventh hour. Some team(s) will surely believe they can get more out of Pederson by offering more consistent playing time than he had in Los Angeles, and the Cardinals could be one of those teams to make such a commitment.
Yadier Molina (one-year, $10 million)
Re-signing Yadier Molina makes too much sense for the Cardinals. After 17 seasons in St. Louis, he has established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball history. He has indicated that he still wants to play for one or two more seasons and is still a premiere defensive catcher with an average offensive game (.262/.303/.359 with four home runs and 16 RBI in 42 games this season).
Adding Molina on a one-year deal would be ideal for the Cardinals, given that the contract does not tie them down for future seasons. It also allows the front office more time to find his eventual replacement and provides stability at the catcher position for an 18th consecutive season.
Molina’s agent, Melvin Roman, told Jon Morosi of MLB Network that Molina is drawing interest from three teams in addition to the Cardinals, so there is competition for his services. Still, if they present an offer in the same ballpark as other teams, it is hard envisioning Molina signing elsewhere. This fit almost makes too much sense.
Adam Wainwright (one-year, $6 million):
Like Molina, having Wainwright return on an inexpensive one-year deal is an ideal scenario for the Cardinals. He has battled injuries throughout his career, of course, but had a steady season in 2019 and ranked fourth in MLB this year with an average of 6.52 innings per start, with a 3.15 ERA.
He would offer desired stability in the rotation for another season. The Cardinals have many options to choose from in a deep free agent market – Charlie Morton could also be of interest – but bringing back Wainwright would be a good way to start and potentially give them financial flexibility to address other parts of the roster.