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Inbox: How will Cards bolster OF offense?

Beat reporter Anne Rogers answers fans' questions
@anne__rogers
October 18, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- The offseason won’t truly begin until after the World Series ends, so there is still plenty to discuss about what could come this winter in St. Louis. It’s the perfect time for a Cardinals Inbox. The Cardinals are using the weeks following their season’s end to evaluate

ST. LOUIS -- The offseason won’t truly begin until after the World Series ends, so there is still plenty to discuss about what could come this winter in St. Louis. It’s the perfect time for a Cardinals Inbox.

The Cardinals are using the weeks following their season’s end to evaluate the team -- from the front office to the coaching staff to the players -- and determine their direction for 2021.

What might that direction be? Let’s dive into your questions:

Will we trade for an outfield bat since it was an offensive black hole this year?
-- @StacieRDunn

Fixing the outfield offense will be high on the Cardinals’ priority list. The outfield ranked 27th among the 30 Major League teams in batting average (.209), 22nd in slugging (.383) and 29th in plate appearances per strikeout (3.54).

So, yes, there is room for improvement. A change can come through free agency or the trade market. Some of you also asked whether any of the current outfielders would be traded this fall, and the Cardinals are likely to hear out any trade scenario (except for Dylan Carlson, who will be staying put). If the Cards do bring in an outfield bat, they’ll have to clear room.

What will payroll look like? What are the chances the team brings back both Molina and Wainwright?
-- @curtab7

Payroll is going to be the biggest unknown heading into the new year, and it will hinge on whether fans (and how many) can come to the ballpark. The Cardinals have $116.75 million committed to nine players, and several players including Harrison Bader, Jack Flaherty and Jordan Hicks are headed for a raise in their first year of eligibility for salary arbitration. There’s not going to be a lot of flexibility in the budget, and that’s going to lead to non-tendering contracts and other difficult decisions.

That said, the Cardinals will discuss what it looks like to bring back starting pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina, both free agents at the end of the month. Wainwright has been comfortable going year to year, and Molina wants to play two more years. Both likely will go through the free-agent process first. But the Cards will be in the mix to welcome the two back next year.

I think it’s impossible to judge dealing Arozarena as a bad trade until we see Liberatore. Thoughts -- and when do you think that is?
-- @Ironmike0509

I agree with you: The final verdict of this trade isn’t in yet. But so far, Tampa Bay has a big advantage.

For those who haven’t heard, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena is baseball’s hottest hitter this postseason. Where did this come from? Well, he hits. A lot. And he showed it at every level in the Cardinals’ farm system, including at Triple-A Memphis in 2019 with a .358/.435/.593 slash line over 64 games. But several times the Cardinals chose other outfielders on the roster and wanted to give players like Bader, Lane Thomas and Tyler O'Neill a chance in 2020. They went about moving right-handed-hitting outfielders last offseason, and that included sending José Martínez and Arozarena to the Rays for a top pitching prospect, Matthew Liberatore.

Liberatore is MLB Pipeline’s No. 52 prospect in baseball and No. 3 in the Cardinals’ organization. From what we saw in Spring Training and what the Cardinals saw this summer at their alternate training site in Springfield, Mo., Liberatore has a bright future. He’ll likely compete for a spot in the Majors at some point in 2021. When he does get to St. Louis, should the trade be graded on immediate impact or long-term success? It depends on the viewer, but I tend to skew toward the latter. I don’t think we’ll truly be able to grade this trade until a few years down the line.

But I know that doesn’t take away how Cardinals fans must feel watching Arozarena compete for a pennant this year.

Where does Gomber fit on the 2021 roster?
-- Rob Curry

Austin Gomber will have a chance to win a rotation spot next year. The Cardinals have only two sure starters right now -- Flaherty and Kwang Hyun Kim -- with hopes they can bring back Wainwright and that Miles Mikolas (right flexor tendon strain) will be healthy to begin the year. That still leaves a spot open, and there are a slew of candidates, including Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Alex Reyes and others. Gomber could come out of the bullpen, like he did some this year, or be the ace in Triple-A Memphis (or wherever the top Minor Leaguers will be) ready for a spot start.

What do you expect the Cardinals to do if the designated hitter sticks in the National League?
-- Jake Griffin

It depends a little bit on what they do this offseason and whether they acquire another hitter, but I suspect they’d rotate through the position much like they did this year. That means having Matt Carpenter see some time there and giving Dexter Fowler and Paul Goldschmidt days off their feet without subtracting their bats from the lineup. The Cardinals could get a big bat to serve solely as the DH, but they’d likely want that acquisition to bring value in the field, too, while adding to the DH mix.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.