Tommy Edman: The glue to the Cardinals' roster or the key to starting pitching help?

Tommy Edman is the most interesting Cardinal to watch this offseason, as his future has a direct impact on how the 2024 team will look.

St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres
St. Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

The player to watch this offseason for the St. Louis Cardinals is Tommy Edman. Just as we all expected, right?

Seriously, I cannot think of a player on the roster who has a wider range of outcomes this offseason, especially due to his potential importance to the roster as either a trade piece or glue that makes this lineup work.

Since 2021, Edman has posted a 10.5 fWAR, which is tied for 40th in all of baseball during that stretch. Edman is not just one of the best defenders in all of baseball, but he also is one of the game's most valuable base runners and brings a great bat against left-handed pitching. He's under team control through 2025 and is sure to get a nice contract when he hits free agency.

With how thin the position player market is in free agency this year, Edman could be one of the most attractive trade chips on the market. Sure, he's an average bat at best, but that coupled with his elite defense and base running makes him a player that every team in baseball would want to have.

As of right now, Edman looks to be the Cardinals' center fielder come Opening Day, but he's also their safety net if Masyn Winn struggles at shortstop. Those are really important roles to play for the organization and worth having him around for, but should that get in the way of him helping them acquire their new starting pitching help?

Edman could be a significant piece in a trade package for a starter like Tyler Glasnow or Dylan Cease. In the case of Glasnow, it could be a straight swap, with the Cardinals potentially getting money in return as well.

There are a couple of reasons why the Cardinals could feel prepared to part ways with Edman this offseason. The first has to do with someone who just continued their hot 2023 season in the Arizona Fall League, Victor Scott II. I interviewed Scott for the Noot News Podcast, and his blend of elite speed and defense in center field already makes him a valuable piece for the Cardinals. With a strong Spring Training, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch believes Scott could win the center field job for Opening Day (subscription required).

Scott's bat continues to impress at every level he's been at, but it's fair to wonder if he needs more seasoning before he's ready for Major League pitching. In the case of both Scott and Winn, both possess the kinds of tools defensively and on the base paths (especially Scott) that make it worthwhile to let their bat catch up which they have prominent roles on the Major League roster.

Even if Scott is not ready in early 2024, Lars Nootbaar is more than capable of holding down center field, and Dylan Carlson or Richie Palacios can spend time out there as needed as well. If the Cardinals truly believe Scott is on the cusp, then I don't think holding onto Edman for the center field role is essential.

As far as shortstop goes, even if Winn needs a trip back to Memphis, newly acquired Thomas Saggese could be an answer for them as well. Brendan Donovan can play shortstop in a pinch, and there are other players on the 40-man roster who can pass there for a few weeks if needed. It also would be fairly easy to bring in a veteran shortstop on a cheap contract to back up Winn if they have real concerns.

The Cardinals do not need to move Edman. His value to them is real and he's a great player to have on your roster. But with how great their pitching needs are, they cannot hold onto him so tightly that they miss out on a game-changing upgrade. If you have the opportunity to upgrade your pitching by giving up something centered around Edman rather than Winn, Donovan, Scott, or Nolan Gorman, that's the preferred route.

Looking long-term for the Cardinals, even if Saggese and Scott are not ready in early 2024, the expectation is they'd be contributors by late 2024 and especially in 2025. With Winn, Donovan, and Gorman also expected to have significant roles, Edman's place on this roster gets murkier as the months go on. Edman will also be hitting free agency after the 2025 season and with the money they are about to wrap up in pitching and the continued rise in arbitration costs or extensions that their young guys will have, capitalizing on Edman's value now makes all the sense in the world.

I am fascinated to see how the Cardinals handle the future of Edman this offseason, as it can have dramatic impacts on the future of this team.