Armchair GM: Offseason edition
As off season is officially here, this got me thinking about all of the different needs that the Cardinals have, not just the Albert Pujols negotiations but some other major issues as well. The Cardinals are not only World Champions but they won the World Series without Ace pitcher Adam Wainwright and they dealt with several injuries and a bad bullpen for the majority of the season, so they should have a very realistic shot at back to back World Series wins, something the Cardinals have never done. If they are going to do this, they have a few areas of concern that they have to fix, so here is what I would do if I were the General Manager of the Cardinals:
The Cardinals need to find their next manager and that is their top priority right now. If I were the Cardinals, I would sign Mike Matheny as the Manager unless they are able to get Joe Maddon from the Rays. Maddon is my first choice followed by Matheny and then Ryne Sandberg.
Pujols is the front and center star of the off-season, the number one free agent in most people’s minds, Pujols is the number one concern of the St. Louis Cardinals this winter. Will the Cardinals be able to offer Pujols the money and the years that he is searching for, will they work out something creative like giving him some ownership, or will Pujols sign with another team? However they do it in my mind the Cardinals have to re-sign Pujols, I am a huge fan of old school baseball, meaning star players staying with a team for their careers. Can you imagine Derek Jeter playing somewhere other than the Yankees, imagine Stan Musial or Ted Willams playing for different teams when they played, it is just impossible to imagine. So, if the Cardinals want to keep arguably their second best player in franchise history a Cardinal forever now is the time to do so. So I would sign Pujols, that would be my number one concern.
Ryan Theriot and Skip Schumaker are arbitration eligible and Nick Punto is a free agent. It is possible all three could come back and also possible that none of the above will be Cardinals in 2012. I don’t know if I want any of them back, I have always loved Skip Schumaker but he is not a second baseman he is a fourth outfielder at best, Ryan Theriot is a horrible defender who really cost us some losses this year with his poor middle infield defense, but he also came alive towards the end of the season with the bat, coming through in clutch situations but I don’t know if I would want to see him return in 2012. Punto is a gritty player with a good glove but a weak bat, now that TLR is not returning, don’t expect to see Punto back. So if I was the General Manager I would non-tender Theriot and sign a free agent like Kelly Johnson or Aaron Hill who have tremendous potential but have struggled in the past few seasons, they shouldn’t be too expensive and both are huge upgrades over Theriot and Schumaker. Then I would re-sign Schumaker just for a bench position because of his great clubhouse personality.
Rafael Furcal is a free agent and he has expressed interest in a return. He also offered to wait until the Cardinals find a manager to make his decision. Furcal could take a hometown discount and sign a one or two year deal for a reasonable amount, he came on as a team leader during the playoff run and does have some excitement left in his glove and bat but his numbers aren’t what they used to be. If the Cardinals cannot re-sign Pujols I would spend that money on a free agent short stop like Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, but since I believe Pujols will re-sign I would try to re-sign Furcal or trade for a solid shortstop like Stephen Drew or someone else. Another option is letting Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso platoon at short.
I think the Cardinals would be crazy to let Jon Jay start at center field. He has shown that he is not a great starter after the Cardinals traded both Ryan Ludwick in 2010 and Colby Rasmus in 2011 to give him starting time, both times his offensive numbers dwindled and he seemed to really struggle. He does have a good glove and he is a much cheaper option but I think the Cardinals should sign someone like Grady Sizemore or Coco Crisp and have more of a platooning role with Jay. Or even try to work on Allen Craig to become a center fielder, Craig’s bat needs to be in the lineup somewhere.
Yadier Molina will be starting and now that his option was officially exercised the Cardinals don’t have to worry about that. But if I were the GM, I would want to work out an extension with Molina. If Pujols signs with the Cardinals, his friendship alone will convince Molina to stay here, and Molina is already becoming a Cardinal Legend,winning 4 Gold Gloves in his brief career so far. I would try to work out a 4 or 5 year contract extension for around 30-35 million dollars total. Then the Cardinals need to find a backup catcher, Gerald Laird is a free agent and could be brought back on a cheap one million dollar deal. Or the Cardinals could go with an even cheaper option bringing up Tony Cruz or Bryan Anderson. If I were the GM I would try to sign one of the Molina brothers Bengie has hinted that he will stay in retirement but Jose Molina is still an option he has a solid glove and a decent bat around the same of what we have seen out of Laird, Jason LaRue, or Gary Bennet. If none of the Molina’s want to come to the Cardinals for a reasonable price, than I would let one of the young kids show what they are made of.
Even though the rotation is already set for next year with: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse, and Jake Westbrook all signed through next season, If I were the GM I would try to find a way to move Lohse or Westbrook. If that is somehow possible I would try to re-sign Edwin Jackson or try to sign Mark Buehrle. Buehrle is a native of Missouri and grew up a Cardinal fan, he is still moderately young just 32 years old and is a very solid player. He is a Gold Glove defender winning the award three years in a row, he is also a tremendous pitcher. He has a no hitter and perfect game under his belt as well as over 150 career wins with the White Sox. I would love to see him as a Cardinal but that is probably just a fantasy considering no one would want to acquire Lohse or Westbrook from us, unless we ate their contracts.
In my mind the bullpen is one of the most important pieces of any teams puzzle. We would not have won the World Series without our late season bullpen surge. But remember how the season started? Franklin, Batista, Miller, Tallet all stuggled and we saw each of them leave whether it was by trade or by them being released. Now how about we start the 2012 season without an awful start by the bullpen. What I would do is first of all re-sign Octavio Dotel to a cheaper deal maybe a one year, two million dollar deal or something around that. Then I would sign a strong left hander to complement Marc Rzepczynski, not Arthur Rhodes the 42 year old walk machine. How about someone that can actually get an out, there are a few options out there including Mike Gonzalez, John Grabow, or even George Sherill. Or the Cardinals could try to trade for a talented lefty, Brain Fuentes is a possible target who has been on the Cardinals radar before. Another thing that the Cardinals need is another veteran right hander that can come through for the Cardinals, someone like Octavio Dotel. There are a few options out there like Juan Gutirrez, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Dan Wheeler, and the Cardinals could really take a risk on Joel Zumaya. The Bullpen will already look good with a lot of cheap young players like Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez, Mitchell Boggs, Jason Motte, Zeppo, and Fernando Salas. So the Cardinals can afford to add two or more pieces to the bullpen.
Every team needs that one bench guy that can is a strong utility player. A guy who can play anywhere on the field and have a solid bat and glove. There are a few guys out there like Mark DeRosa, Xavier Nady, Jose Lopez, Bill Hall, and more. The Cardinals could really use a guy like that on this team, we have a lot of young players that will be on the bench and we could use a veteran presence similar to Nick Punto last season. If I were the GM, I would try to get Mark DeRosa or Jose Lopez, DeRosa has played as a Cardinal before and has a good bat and a good glove, Lopez is a younger option that has a solid bat and glove. But there are many more options available out there, so who knows what the Cardinals will do.
The Cardinals have many areas of need outside of just Albert Pujols and the manager position, so they have a lot of work to do this off season. These picks are just what I would do and not necessarily what I think the Cardinals will do, these are all based on my opinion, so what moves would you make?