The Cardinals should tender a contract to Dylan Carlson
This one should be obvious, but I've seen people suggest that Dylan Carlson is a non-tender candidate, and that would be beyond foolish to do.
The last 14 months of baseball have not been kind to Carlson's standing within the game of baseball. He's battled injuries a ton during that stretch, and even when he's been on the field, he's looked like a far cry from the top-20 prospect in baseball he once was. Carlson's defense is still promising, but his struggles against right-handed pitching at the plate continue to plague him. Carlson normally mashes left-handed pitching, but he regressed in that area, going from a guy with a 140 wRC+ against southpaws the last two seasons down to 118.
On the season, Carlson slashed .219/.318/.333 with 5 HR and 27 RBI in just 76 games played and had season-ending ankle surgery last month. He should be good to go by Spring Training, but there's just a lot working against Carlson at the moment.
The dollars stat from FanGraphs isn't everything, but like O'Neill, Carlson's value even in 2023 justifies the contract he's set to receive this offseason. Carlson is set to make just $1.8 million in 2024, and according to FanGraphs, he was worth $1.3 million in 2023. Sure, that's a tick less than his $1.8 million projected salary for 2024, but he did post seasons worth $20.3 million and $19.8 million in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
There is still too much talent with Carlson to just let him go for free this offseason. He could be a trade candidate this offseason, but I really like the idea of him coming back again as the fourth outfielder for St. Louis, especially since they lack additional center field options outside of Tommy Edman and Lars Nootbaar until Victor Scott II is ready. Carlson is still a valuable defender who can rake against left-handed pitching, and the upside of becoming a quality everyday outfielder is still there. At just $1.8 million, you can't cut him to save that little when his current and potential value is far more.
I would not feel comfortable with the Cardinals banking on him as a starting outfielder at the moment, but he's more than capable of being a fourth outfielder with upside baked in as well. He very well could be traded this offseason or work his way back into the Cardinals lineup during the season, but for now, he belongs as a bench option for St. Louis in 2024.