Today is the first official day of free agency as players and teams are able to talk to all available free agents. Teams must also tender qualifying offers to their outgoing free agents by today. Those offers are 1 year, $17.8 million contracts for 2020. The Cardinals only have one outgoing free agent who may receive one in Marcell Ozuna.
With the focus now on the offseason, I put together my annual list of five players that the Cardinals should be targeting this winter. Some via trade, some in free agency. Three years ago Ozuna was on my list right before his MVP-caliber turn in 2017. Of course, the team acquired him after that season. Last winter, my list consisted entirely of Bryce Harper. This year though, I return to the five player format.
I’ll admit though, not turning this post into a Kolten Wong defensive appreciation post after his win of the NL Gold Glove at second base yesterday was tough.
With the Red Sox working to get themselves under the luxury tax cap, that means that one of Mookie Betts or JD Martinez may be on the move this winter if Martinez does not opt out. If Betts is on the move, the Cardinals need to be first in line.
Betts, 27, may have taken a step back from his MVP winning 2018 season, but it was well in line with his other seasons. In 2019 he put together his fourth consecutive 6+ WAR season while hitting .295/.391/.524 with 29 home runs and led the league in runs scored. He also picked up his fourth Gold Glove Award last night. His +15 defensive runs saved led all AL outfielders and his +12.6 UZR was second best in the AL.
The Red Sox have made overtures to extend Betts, but those have been rebuffed by Betts and his agent, so it seems like they are very interested in testing free agency after the 2020 season. There have been rumors that he just doesn’t really like Boston, though they have been denied by him. However, this is the kind of move the Cardinals have specialized in under the DeWitt’s ownership, most recently trading for and then extending Paul Goldschmidt.
Much like Bryce Harper last winter, Betts is young and reshapes this roster and the future of the Cardinals. Alongside Goldschmidt, they could provide a focal point that would allow young stars like Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman to arrive and get to be rookies and not heroes, if you can even get away with acquiring Betts without giving one of them up. And Goldschmidt’s five year contract doesn’t look so bad if he’s expected to play sidekick instead of hero.
He also fits the club’s focus on run prevention as a defensive player. The Cardinals had five finalists for the Gold Glove Award and Betts would add yet another winner to their lineup. He’s arguably a better fit than Harper would have been, so I might forgive the Cardinals for their lack of a pursuit if they find a way to bring Betts in next season,
I put Francisco Lindor on this list mainly because he’s a player worth having, but I don’t quite know how you fit him into the team’s lineup. The Indians definitely don’t believe they’ll be able to extend him and ownership basically put the clock on his time in Cleveland, telling fans in March that they should “Enjoy him.” The question is when the Indians may decide to make the move to trade him to maximize his trade value.
Lindor, 25, hit .284/.335/.518 with 32 home runs last season along with a +9 defensive runs saved and +6.4 UZR. He is basically the player we hope Paul DeJong would be, but offensively, DeJong is looking more and more like the standard Cardinals’ prospect who is little more than a slugger who can’t hit for average, hitting .206/.297/.403 with 25 home runs after May 1st last season.
DeJong is the guy you need to find a place for. He’s signed long term, but with Matt Carpenter and Tommy Edman, I don’t see a place for DeJong with the Cardinals if Lindor was also on the roster. It would potentially make sense for DeJong to go back the other way in such a deal.
Lindor also has two years of team control remaining, which will make him probably the most expensive player on this list. Because of that, I’m not a big a fan of this trade as the others. But it has been 461 days since the last Cardinals/Indians trade.
Another outfield candidate would be Seattle’s Mitch Haniger. The Cardinals and the Mariners have been frequent trade partners since Michael Girsch took over as GM and there is some noise that Haniger might be on the block after an injury plagued year as Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto wheels and deals this winter.
Haniger, 28, still has three years of arbitration ahead of him and is coming off a terrible season, hitting just .220/.314/.463 with 15 home runs in 63 games. He had surgery to deal with a ruptured testicle—maybe he and Yadier Molina could exchange testicle injury horror stories—and then had a back injury slow his return to the big league club late in the season.
He’s just a year away from a season where he slashed .285/.366/.493 with 26 home runs as an AL All Star and a recipient of MVP votes. If the Cardinals don’t want to play in the Betts price range, this might provide a more attractive option to them. He’s more of a risk, but that just lowers his price tag. And with the outfield depth the Cardinals have on the verge of the Majors in Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena, and Dylan Carlson, they are positioned nicely to take a risk on an outfielder who may not be able to play everyday.
The Cardinals called in on Zack Wheeler with the Mets at the deadline last year and balked at the idea of giving up Tyler O’Neill or Harrison Bader for ten to twelve starts from Wheeler. That turned out being okay when Michael Wacha turned his season around with a strong finish, but as a free agent, he may still be someone worth getting.
Wheeler, 29, posted a 3.96 ERA over 31 starts with the Mets this season, hardly looking like a pitcher worth signing, but he also played in front of one of the league’s worst defenses. The Mets were 29th in baseball last season with -93 defensive runs saved. The Cardinals were the 3rd best in baseball with a +95 defensive runs saved. That kind of swing should definitely bear out in the numbers for a pitcher like Wheeler.
Wheeler is expected to be under a qualifying offer, which may influence his market. For a team like the Cardinals who are unlikely to play in the clouds for Stephen Strasburg or Gerrit Cole or even a Cole Hamels, someone like Wheeler might be right up their alley.
Given the Cardinals’ desire for a left handed power bat, there is one player in free agency that is flying under the radar that could provide that for them in Corey Dickerson. Dickerson has bounced around the last few years, and was dealt this summer to the Phillies for international bonus slot money and a player to be named later. He’ll get his first crack at free agency this winter.
Dickerson, 31, hit .304/.341/.565 with 12 home runs in 78 games between the Pirates and the Phillies in 2019. His season ended early when he ended up on the injured list with a foot injury that ended up being a fractured left foot. Historically an average defensive left fielder, his numbers were some of the worst he’d put up last season.
The Cardinals have been looking to add a left handed power bat to the lineup, and Dickerson would be a solid addition in that department, carrying a career .504 slugging percentage into the winter. He would make an excellent platoon addition for the outfield with one of the organization’s young right handed outfield bats.
Jon Doble has been writing about the St. Louis Cardinals for Redbird Dugout since 2010. You can find him on Twitter at @GroundRuleDoble. Thank you for reading.