Minnesota Twins: Louie Varland, RHP
Louie Varland pitched out of the bullpen in seven of his 17 appearances last season, and the differences were stark, as he struggled to a 5.30 ERA when starting a game as opposed to a 1.50 ERA when coming out of the bullpen. It's not too surprising given his reliance on his fastball, throwing it about 75% of the time, leading hitters to square it up after seeing him a couple times.
Varland has said that he would prefer to start, and the Cardinals could give him that chance. They might want to emphasize his slider, which has 63% more horizontal break than the average slider. He also gets elite extension on his pitches at 6.9 feet, ranking in the 90th percentile.
The Minnesota Twins might be in the market for an outfielder alongside Byron Buxton and Max Kepler, and the Cardinals could make for a fitting trade partner should the Twins want to go that route. Minnesota might be hesitant to part with Varland given the years of team control remaining, but a swap of him for a young outfielder might work for both squads.
New York Mets: Adam Ottavino, RHP
A ground ball machine for much of his career, Adam Ottavino, the Cardinals' first pick in the 2006 draft, displayed more of the same in 2023 with an outstanding 56.2% ground ball rate. Although Ottavino will turn 38 on Nov. 22, he hasn't seemed to lose much of his stuff. While his FIP of 4.52 was quite a bit higher than his ERA of 3.21 last season, opponents hit only .209 off of him, and he showed an impressive ability to avoid barrels, with only a 3.7% barrel rate.
Ottavino has a club option for 2024, and if the New York Mets decide not to exercise it, the Cardinals could sign Ottavino as a free agent. But if the Mets pick up the option, they could theoretically flip him to the Cardinals, who could use a ground ball expert like Ottavino to provide quick outs with a hopefully vastly improved defense behind him.
The Mets aren't likely to spend as much as they did when they went for it all last season, but if the Cardinals possess a player in the major or minor leagues who the Mets believe would be a good fit, a trade of Ottavino back to where it all began for him might benefit the Cardinals as they seek to contend again.