The Chicago Cubs' signings raise bar for the St. Louis Cardinals

Aug 16, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA;  Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer observes batting practice
Aug 16, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer observes batting practice / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Cubs' recent additions are putting pressure on the St. Louis Cardinals.

The National League Central was baseball's weakest division last year, as only the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers had realistic playoff hopes. But the Chicago Cubs' signings in December 2022 of Cody Bellinger, Brad Boxberger and now Dansby Swanson point to a team determined to climb back into the playoff race. The Cardinals might need more help to remain in the top spot.

While the Cubs have improved their outfield, infield and bullpen with these signings, the Cardinals have, to this point, taken a more conservative stance, signing only former Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. While Contreras fills the Cardinals' biggest area of need, the front office may need to be a bit greedier to compete with the Cubs' acquisitions.

Many of the top free agents have signed over the past week, so the Cardinals' chances of snagging another elite free agent are slim. Their biggest need now is in the rotation, which will be extremely questionable after 2023 and currently lacks a top-flight ace who can stay healthy. The Cardinals didn't indicate this offseason that they were seriously pursuing a starter, but with the stakes higher, another look may be warranted.

A reunion with Michael Wacha might be the Cardinals' best free-agent option. Wacha enjoyed one of his best seasons last year with the Boston Red Sox, going 11-2 with a 3.32 ERA. But as the best free-agent pitchers are locked up with other teams already, the Cardinals might look to a trade instead.

Experts and fans have speculated that Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Guardians and Pablo Lopez of the Miami Marlins will be on the move at some point in the offseason. While these pitchers wouldn't come cheap, the Cardinals do have the talent in the minor leagues to make a deal for one of them. A trade for a Bieber-caliber starter would likely require a top prospect such as Jordan Walker, and someone a rung lower, such as Lopez, would still force the Cardinals to part with some decent value.

The Cubs look to have an ascendant farm system heavy on pitching, so a Cardinals trade from a system more rife with offensive talent would be a risky venture in terms of competing with the Cubs in later years. The Cardinals could choose to deal a big name from the major league squad instead, but that would be odd for a team expected to be in postseason contention.

The Cubs' sudden flurry of activity in free agency could understandably worry some fans, but the old adage of how good rivals should push each other to be better could ring true here. The Cubs' recent spending spree could be the wake-up call the Cardinals' brass needed to get a move on and stay competitive.

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