For the first time in five years, the Cardinal front office has a mission that involves catching a club from the same division. It isn’t just any team either, as the Cubs announced the beginning of a much different rivalry on the biggest stage possible. Wrigley witnessed the dawn of a new age if you will, and I honestly think St. Louis baseball will now be better for it.
Think back a decade to how great the competition was with Houston for what turned out to be a short window of time. Now fast-forward to the epic battles with the Reds, Brewers, and Pirates in that order. They were all great contests, but no one could stay on the same level as the Cardinals for long. Chicago showed up to the party a year early, kicked down the door and decided October 2015 certainly would be unlike anything we have ever seen.
Now that John Mozeliak knows the objects in the mirror are definitely closer than they appear, the real work is about to begin. No more surefire answers are waiting at Memphis and to be honest, the one thing that stood out to me more than anything else down the stretch was the age of the roster. Everyone keeps talking about the St. Louis core, but take a look at these numbers — 34, 35, 33. Those are the respective ages of Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, and Yadier Molina.
Plenty of answers will come in the next month or so, but the bottom line has to be about getting younger. That is truly the only way to stay competitive with the likes of Chicago, New York and everybody else in the National League. I know he has quite a bit on his plate already, so to help him out here are the pair of items in order of importance with even a timeline for Mo. And to think there are those fans out there drowning their sorrows in adult beverages or ice cream — ha!
Number one will be no surprise to anyone so let’s just get this out of the way, shall we. The easiest way to help keep the roster younger already wears the Birds on the Bat, and he just experienced what had to be the final piece of the contract puzzle. Jason Heyward enjoyed a remarkable season and made himself a very rich man in the process. He can not be allowed out of town under any circumstance, unless he wants an armored truck following him at all times. To put this into context, it would be more shocking for me to see Heyward donning the #22 elsewhere than when Albert Pujols left town.
After being right in the middle of a thrilling, yet short, postseason run, Heyward won’t need much pushing to get the deal done. Mozeliak should have this accomplished before Turkey Day, leaving plenty of time before the Winter Meetings to give every Cards fan one more present under the tree. Wainwright has been the pillar who rightly deserves his place atop the rotation. His amazing comeback was uplifting, and he looks poised for another Cy Young run in 2016. What he needs now more than ever is the true second starter to slot right behind him, but that won’t come easy or cheap.
The thoughts for this post actually started last month before Carlos Martinez unfortunately added his name to the list of the walking wounded. He actually possess the whole package of youthful energy, a willingness to improve as well as the wicked assortment of pitches that have left many teams drooling in the past. His name will come up this off season but don’t worry fellow St. Louis supporters, your local cup stacker won’t be going anywhere.
More than anything else, I was really at a loss for who should have been excluded from the rotation heading into the playoffs. Those worries have long since been replaced by the desire for a true ace, and those don’t grow on trees. They also cost a ton in free agency while rarely helping with the youth movement so best to avoid the David Price suite this December. It isn’t completely misplaced to want that southpaw but not for the crazy amounts of money it will take to reel in this year’s top catch. And while some will say the funds are worth it, my argument has always been the payroll can be better dispersed in a variety of other ways.
What has always fascinated me about building a roster also happens to be Mo’s biggest issue heading into 2016. You rarely see a Cardinal team swimming in the deep free agent waters anyway, but my deep sea expedition will impact the rotation in a number of ways. By my current count, you still have six and maybe seven names in play after removing John Lackey from the mix. It will be hard to see him go, and something tells me the NL Central may still be his home. Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn both become interesting names to consider as well, and I just don’t see both reporting to Jupiter next March.
The trade route gets expensive anytime prospects are mentioned, but that is the best way to ensure the rotation gets younger. Two other lefties have been on my radar for years, and this is the December where one needs to be looking for real estate in close proximity to the Arch. Chris Sale and Matt Moore have more in common than just team friendly contracts, but that is probably the best place to start for the pair of 26-year olds.
Sale still has Kershaw-like swing and miss ability, but this past campaign was arguably his least successful for the other Chicago team. The White Sox won’t be giving him away under any circumstances, so that means St. Louis will have to sweeten the pot. You can never have enough outfielders, however, so that is where the conversations would start as well as a nice landing spot for Indiana native Lynn as well. Yes, it is a reach to think the Cards will have to make an impact move for a pitcher after dealing away a few, and that is why the timing works.
No one else is going to take pity on St. Louis, and this may be one of the few winters left where a homegrown talent doesn’t need an extension. That means snagging a guy like Moore from the Rays would be cheaper as far as prospects go and also enables much more flexibility in the years to come. Tampa Bay once had high hopes for Moore until injuries derailed nearly all of the last two seasons. He will be fully recovered from his TJ and positioned to be a very nice addition to a staff so why not move from the once-dominant AL East to the imposing NL Central.
The Rays actually line up as possible trade targets in a few different scenarios, so they could actually be quite busy as well in the coming months. Garcia or Lynn have attractive contracts for Tampa and both can be mentors to a very young starting rotation. If everything was equal, the package of Heyward and Sale before Christmas would go quite a long way to helping everyone forget the less-than-storybook ending this evening. It is true you can’t win them all, but that has never stopped anyone from trying.