Top 5 Free Agency Targets: St. Louis Cardinals

London Hayes, Reporter

St. Louis Cardinals: Potential postseason heroes and villains

The Cardinals’ rollercoaster season came to a disappointing end with a first round loss to the San Diego Padres. Rollercoaster may not even be the right word for this season all around. From spring training being shut down in March, to the season restart in July, to the 2 week hiatus after up to 17 members of the organization came down with COVID-19; this season was everything but easy. 

The Cardinals scored 16 runs in the first two games of the wild card round, and then went scoreless in the deciding game 3, showing the inconsistency of their offense, which seemed to be a problem all year. The Cardinals pitching was a tad-bit worse than last season based on statistics, but in all fairness they were missing two relievers (Jordan Hicks & John Brebbia), and it is difficult to compare last season to this year based on stats when they played 98 games less than usual. 

The Cardinals desperately need help on the offensive side, and could use some retooling in the lower half of the starting rotation, but their main focus should be to make a big splash; whether it be through a signing or a trade. 

*Disclaimer* (The stats used in this article should be taken with a grain of salt due to a shortened season this year.)

5. Trevor Bauer

This signing would be interesting, and also surprising. The Cardinals #1 need is offense; however, Trevor Bauer is a certified ace, and he showed it in his opportunities this year. Bauer posted a career best 1.73 ERA in 73 innings, along with a 0.79 WHIP and a dead even 100 strikeouts. Bauer’s only other season that has been close to this, was his 2018 season with Cleveland in the year that he was an all-star. Some considered him to be a “one season wonder” after 2018, but he proved everyone wrong this year by finally putting all of his potential together. 

There are a few reasons why it would be surprising if the Cardinals brought him in. For one, the Cardinals are not known to spend a ton of money on big name free agents, and each of the times they have, they have fallen just short. Bauer would likely demand over $25M a year on a long term contract, but that brings us to the second point; Trevor Bauer has said a couple of times before that he plans on only signing one year deals, so that he doesn’t get stuck in a bad situation with a team. The Cardinals likely wouldn’t pay big money to have a guy for only one year guaranteed. Last but not least, the Cardinals are known to run a tight ship that follows the “Cardinal Way”, and I don’t believe Bauer fits into that criteria. Bauer almost never holds back on what he wants to say, and has said before he is “more concerned with being right than being liked.” His mentality is not a problem whatsoever, and is honestly a good thing for baseball, but the Cardinals likely wouldn’t put up with it. All in all, he is at number five on the list for a reason; he would be terrific to have, but the chances are slim. Plus the Cardinals need more offense at the moment rather than front line starting pitching, but Trevor Bauer would be a great addition nonetheless.

4. Nolan Arenado

You may be wondering why Arenado is only at number 4 on the list after last offseason when it seemed like almost every Cardinals fan wanted him. While it is generally agreed upon that Nolan Arenado would be a great fit for the Cardinals, there are definitely some pros and cons. For one, Nolan has been the consensus best defensive third baseman in the league for a while now, and adding him to the Cardinals already #1 infield defense in baseball would make them beyond elite. He also provides some protection in the middle of the lineup for Paul Goldschmidt, and gives the Cardinals another big power threat in the order. However, everyone knows about the so-called “Coors Field effect.” It is not believed to apply to every player who has played in Colorado, (take Hall of Famer Larry Walker for example) but Arenado’s home stats are drastically better than his road stats. 

For his career, Arenado hits .322 with 136 HRs and a .985 OPS in 543 games when he is in Colorado. On the road in 536 games, he hits .263 with 99 HRs and a .793 OPS. His road stats aren’t bad, but definitely not superstar caliber. It’s something you have to take in consideration if you are going to give up young players in your farm system for Arenado. That’s another thing, he isn’t a free agent. He is also on a huge contract with an option to opt-out after next season. So it raises the question; are the Cardinals willing to part ways with prospects for a guy who they could only potentially have for one year? Another question is how much better does Arenado really make the Cardinals? Are they championship contenders with Arenado? This is why Arenado is ranked at No. 4 and not No. 1 or 2. We are left with too many unanswered questions about how good he will be, if he will stay, and if acquiring him alone will really take this team above and beyond.

3. George Springer

Out of all of the players on this list, Springer is likely the most realistic, and would be one of the biggest helping factors to the team. It’s not a secret that the Cardinals outfield this year was awful at the plate. Out of the six players who got extended opportunities in the outfield, they combined for a batting average of .205, an OBP of .322, and an OPS of .707. The OBP and OPS are around league average; however, they lack consistent hitting and power. That’s where George Springer comes in. He may be a controversial player due to the Astros cheating scandal that was outed this offseason, but regardless of them cheating or not, George Springer is still a fantastic player. 

There is no evidence of the Astros using cheating tactics in 2019, only speculation, and 2019 was Springer’s best season by far. In 2019, Springer hit .292 with a .383 OBP and .899 OPS. He also broke out with a power stroke hitting 39 HRs with 96 RBIs. He also hit 34 HRs in 2017, but that was the year that there is solid evidence that the Astros cheated. It’s hard to take any Astros players 2017 stats seriously, because they knew what pitch was coming. However, many still think George Springer is a great player, and fits perfectly into the Cardinals outfield and lineup. The Cardinals haven’t been able to find a solid cleanup bat in many years, and with the addition of Springer, Paul Goldschmidt would be a candidate to move into that cleanup spot with Springer in one of the top three spots in the order. Springer is also a monster in the playoffs as he’s showing again this year, so he consistently provides a good bat in the lineup, which is what the Cardinals desperately need.

2. J.T. Realmuto

J.T. Realmuto has solidified himself as the best catcher in baseball over the past years with his elite defense and offensive production compared to other catchers. I don’t know if there’s an acquisition on this list so far that wouldn’t be controversial, and this one is no different. Signing J.T. Realmuto would mean that the longest tenured Cardinals player Yadier Molina, would no longer be on the team, which would certainly be a travesty to some fans. However, you have to be realistic with Yadier Molina. He is no longer what he once was, his best years are far behind him, and J.T. Realmuto would be a huge upgrade to the lineup and defensive side of the team. 

Realmuto is a career .278 hitter with an OPS over .800 in his last two full seasons. He provides a good bat through the middle of the order, and his defense makes up for any offensive struggles. Cardinals fans aren’t a stranger to A+ defense behind the plate, with Yadier Molina commanding the position for the past 16 years, and Realmuto would instantly be a fan favorite in St. Louis. The only issue is he would likely command a lot of money, and will probably be one of, if not the highest paid catcher of all time after his contract is finalized. The Cardinals have the money to get it done, but also shouldn’t drastically overpay for him, especially when you have a youngster in Andrew Knizner who is ready to step in for a starting role.

1.Francisco Lindor

Francisco Lindor would be the perfect Cardinal. Great attitude, plays his heart out every game, always has a smile on his face, and is also a fantastic baseball player. Now yes, the Cardinals already have a shortstop in Paul DeJong, but with his offensive inconsistency over the past two seasons, you would have to take Lindor ten times out of ten over DeJong. DeJong is still relatively young and has time to improve on his offense, but the Cardinals window isn’t going to stay open forever, so they need to go all in. Lindor is easily a better hitter than DeJong, and you could argue that their defensive presence is about the same. In his first full season in the big leagues, Lindor was an all-star and hit .301 with a .358 OBP, along with 15 HRs. After that, his game absolutely took off. His average and on base percentage dropped, but his power numbers improved drastically, as in his three seasons after that he hit over 30 HRs in each season, and posted an OPS above .840 and slugging percentage over .500. 

It’s no question that Francisco Lindor is a superstar, and would bring so much flare to the Cardinals on the field and off the field. The Cardinals have pieces to put together a trade for Lindor, it again is just a matter of whether or not they want to pull the trigger. A reason some may be skeptical to go through with a trade for Lindor, is because he is in the last year of his contract and is eligible for free agency after next season. Lindor has said before that his current team the Indians are a “billion-dollar team” and they can afford to pay him, so he knows what he is worth and won’t sell himself short. However, he has also said that Cleveland is home to him and he would love to stay, so he definitely seems to be loyal. If you let him play a full season in St. Louis in front of a packed Busch Stadium, there is a definite possibility that you could reach an extension with him. We’ve seen it before in the past, players that come to the Cardinals via trade often stay, unless you’re Jason Heyward of course. Heck, Paul Goldschmidt signed an extension after just being with the team for a few months when he saw the plethora of Cardinals fans that loved acquiring him. This is seen constantly, because even though Marcell Ozuna wasn’t re-signed, he voiced how he wanted to stay. So seriously, this would be a great trade, and if the Cardinals could sign him to a long term extension (which is very possible) it would be one of the best trades the Cardinals have made in a while. 

We’ve seen the last couple of prospects that the Cardinals have traded away start to blossom into young stars, but those are risks you have to take to be a championship-caliber team. They’ve shown willingness to take those risks, as they had a deal in place to acquire former MVP Giancarlo Stanton when he requested a trade from Miami in the 2017 offseason, but he waived his no trade clause and the trade was rejected. It is simply a matter of whether or not they want to go all in to try and bring championship number twelve to St. Louis.