The St. Louis Cardinals enter the GM Meetings with many questions, and should be able to leave with some clarity about their offseason.
The GM Meetings are relatively the same each year. Reporters mingle in the hotel lobby. Teams and agents meet privately to discuss potential deals. By night fall, agents and some executives come out to meet with reporters while the general managers stay back to continue laying the offseason groundwork.
This year, the meetings on Nov. 9 will be held virtually. It is uncertain the direct impact it will have on agents and teams, but both sides are projecting negotiations to be difficult and slow moving. The expected theme among baseball people is that most teams will look to shed payroll before considering to add players.
That theme applies to the Cardinals. There are candidates off the current roster to be traded. They could begin the process of looking outside the organization to address holes on the roster. But the uncertainty of whether the universal designated hitter will be implemented in 2021 has teams hesitant to delve into their offseason plans.
Here is a look at a couple of things to watch at the GM Meetings.
Exploring the Carlos Martinez trade market.
Martinez, set to make $11.5 million in 2021, is viewed as a likely trade candidate. He missed most of the season with a left oblique strain and even when he was healthy, opposing offenses had their way with the 29-year-old. He posted a 9.90 ERA in 20 innings this season with career-worst strikeout and walk rates (7.65 K/9 and 4.65 BB/9).
It was not long ago that Martinez was viewed as a high-end starting pitcher signed at a reasonable cost. There are many teams in baseball who are looking to add to their rotation this winter, but with an eight-figure salary, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak will have his work cut out for him when trying to deal the right-hander.
Further impacting his trade value is that teams have questions about his declining velocity in 2020. In previous years, his fastball sat 95-96 mph. This year, however, it hovered around 93 mph. Was it because of the oblique? Is he starting to decline? These are all questions teams are wondering, and it’s yet another hurdle that Mozeliak and his front office will have to jump to clear a large chunk of payroll.
Upgrading the offense.
It is no secret that the Cardinals need to upgrade their offense. They ranked 28th in runs scored (240), 22nd in batting average (.234) and 26th in OPS (.694). Yadier Molina is a free agent after 17 seasons in St. Louis and is uncertain to return to the organization since he is drawing interest from other teams.
The lack of clarification regarding the designated hitter could slow down their pursuit of offensive upgrades outside of Molina. Mozeliak will need clarity on where they can place Matt Carpenter, Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson and others before exploring outside upgrades such as Joc Pederson and others.
But he can begin laying the groundwork now so he can execute deals when that clarity comes. After all, the GM Meetings are where the franchise began their pursuit of a Paul Goldschmidt trade. It is unlikely the team pulls off such a deal this year, but for the Cardinals, this is where their offseason plans come to focus.
Exploring the starting pitcher market.
The other focus for the Cardinals will be on the starting pitcher market. Of course, this largely depends on if they’re able to re-sign Adam Wainwright. If he leaves in free agency, it’s likely his replacement comes from outside the organization. But even manager Mike Shildt admitted in an MLB Network interview that it’s hard to envision a team without Wainwright or Molina.
It is unlikely the Cardinals sign a high-end free agent starter. The expectation is that the starting pitcher market will be slow to develop, with teams waiting out the market and the record number of non-tenders likely to flood an already crowded market. It could allow the Cardinals to add one, potentially two, starters this offseason at a discounted rate.
The early guess is that both Wainwright and Molina return on short-term deals, giving the team additional stability at key positions for another year. Expect the Cardinals to be among the many teams to be bargain shoppers this winter. The offseason is just beginning, but they should have a much better idea of what’s realistic – and what’s not – after the GM Meetings.