ST. LOUIS -- While some teams have made splashes this offseason, it’s been quiet so far for the Cardinals. Aside from signing starter Adam Wainwright to a one-year deal and a few roster-shuffling moves that included designating reliever Dominic Leone for assignment, the Cards haven’t been active in adding to their roster for 2020.
That doesn’t mean they haven’t been active in talks, both in the trade and free-agent market. And the Winter Meetings -- which start on Sunday night in San Diego -- are another opportunity for the Cardinals to engage in those talks and potentially get a deal done.
What the Cardinals need hasn’t changed since the beginning of the offseason -- a power hitter in the middle of their lineup. Where that hitter might play has shifted a little. An offensive upgrade is more likely to come in the outfield -- now that the Cardinals have an open spot after Marcell Ozuna rejected their qualifying offer -- rather than third base, where the Cards have expressed their confidence in a bounce-back year for Matt Carpenter.
Offense is the Cardinals’ biggest priority, but they also could explore the starting-pitching market if Carlos Martínez has any setbacks as he tries to return to the rotation. There are plenty of pitchers at different price points on the market, and the Cardinals need to explore some of them.
Who might they trade?
If the Cardinals make a move, the trade market is where it’s likely going to come from, seeing as the free-agent outfield market isn’t too strong. They have a surplus of young outfielders that they could exchange for a big bat. Tyler O'Neill, Randy Arozarena, Justin Williams, Adolis García and Lane Thomas will all compete for a spot, and they all could be used in a trade.
The Cardinals don’t have as robust of a farm system as the Padres, for example, but they do have a few prospects they could package with Major League-ready players for an offensive upgrade.
Prospects to know
Dylan Carlson is the Cardinals' No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, but the club sees him as a cornerstone piece of the future -- he’ll be in the mix for an outfield spot in 2020 -- and isn’t interested in trading him. Another prospect to keep an eye on for a big role next season, and who is likely not on the trading block, is reliever Junior Fernandez (No. 8).
The Cardinals have around $147.5 million guaranteed to 12 players for 2020. At the end-of-year press conference, owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said that the club will want to stay near its 2019 Opening Day payroll of around $163 million, which ranked in the top 10 in MLB.
That doesn’t give the Cardinals a ton of room to work with as far as adding payroll goes. That’s another reason why a trade, rather than a big free-agent signing, makes sense this offseason, as long as the Cardinals aren’t adding a huge salary with that deal. St. Louis will be guided by player value for the right price in any offseason additions.
One question: Could a reunion with Marcell Ozuna still be in the cards?
The fact that Ozuna hasn’t signed elsewhere tells us that this could at least be a possibility. Ozuna has been open about his interest in staying in St. Louis. The Cardinals have a clear need for someone with power in left field -- and there were times this year that showed the offensive potential when Ozuna and Paul Goldschmidt are producing like they’re capable of doing.
But Ozuna has also been clear that he wants a multi-year deal, and the Cardinals haven’t expressed whether that’s something they’re interested in doing. They’ve been more open about wanting to see what kind of competition they’ll find from their young outfield prospects in the spring.