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Inbox: What changes should Cards make?

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

Another October sans baseball in St. Louis leaves the fanbase forced to think about next year earlier than everyone had hoped. And given all the questions submitted, there are a lot of topics on your minds. Let's get to a few of them in our first offseason Inbox:

What area (bullpen, infield, starting pitching) do you think needs to be focused on the most this offseason so that St. Louis can improve next year?
-- Nick T. (@nicktrip444)

Another October sans baseball in St. Louis leaves the fanbase forced to think about next year earlier than everyone had hoped. And given all the questions submitted, there are a lot of topics on your minds. Let's get to a few of them in our first offseason Inbox:

What area (bullpen, infield, starting pitching) do you think needs to be focused on the most this offseason so that St. Louis can improve next year?
-- Nick T. (@nicktrip444)

First, let's consider the gap the Cardinals have to close in the National League Central. They finished with 88 wins. The Cubs had 95. The Brewers tallied 96. I mention that to make this point: The Cardinals have a sizeable deficit to make up. Some of that can come from internal improvement, but much of it is going to have to happen through roster turnover. And there are plenty of deficiencies to address.

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I'd list the offense (impact bat) and bullpen (multiple late-inning arms, including at least one reliable left-hander) as 1A and 1B, respectively. These needs aren't all that different from the ones we were discussing 12 months ago. That impact bat would best fit in right field or third base, and the Cards do need to balance all their right-handed hitters with some left-handed options. Furthermore, improving the defense (particularly down the lines) will be a necessity for a team building around its pitching.

Aside from Machado and Harper, this free agent class isn't great. Should we take care of arbitration-eligible players that we plan to keep and then make a run at 2019 free agents?
-- Kevin H. (@TheRealHuff8)

Before we get to the question, let me note that I disagree with your premise. Indeed, the focus of this free-agent class will be Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. But behind them, the market is deep in talent. There are impact pitchers available, including Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi, Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, Andrew Miller. And below Machado/Harper are plenty of intriguing position player possibilities: Josh Donaldson, Eduardo Escobar, Jed Lowrie, Jose Iglesias, A.J. Pollock, Nick Markakis, Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, DJ LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, among them.

I mention these players to make the point that even if the Cardinals do not land Machado or Harper, there is no reason why they can't improve their club by signing other free agents. To sit out of free agency this year with the intention of going all-in next season is a strategy I wouldn't expect the Cardinals to employ. They have the financial flexibility to go big now and still not be handcuffed to add again next winter when theyn could lose Michael Wacha, Miles Mikolas and Marcell Ozuna to free agency.

What are the chances the Cardinals move on from Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson and Dexter Fowler this offseason?
-- Aaron H. (@Hammy_282)

When it comes to complicated contracts, these are a few of them. Not so much Gregerson, who will be owed $5 million in 2019. He dealt with a plethora of injuries this year, but the Cardinals might as well let that contract play out and see if a healthy Gregerson can be an effective one next year.

Cecil and Fowler are different cases. I would expect the Cards to explore interest for Fowler, though it's unlikely there's much given that he's coming off a career-worst year and has $49.5 million still due on his contract. The fact that he's recovering from another lower-body injury would give potential suitors pause, too. Oh, and there's the whole no-trade clause thing. Perhaps the Cardinals could entice him to accept a trade elsewhere if they sign another starting right fielder, though even that is uncertain.

Cecil, whom the Cards signed to a four-year, $30.5 million contract in Nov. 2016, has given the club no return for that investment. He has no trade value, which means the Cards could eat the $14.5 million remaining on the deal or bring him back for one more try. If the Cards go the latter route, they'd be wise to cut ties with Cecil during Spring Training if it's once again evident that he's not a valuable arm for the 'pen.

How likely is it that the Cardinals re-sign Matt Adams, given how happy the fans were to see him return this year?
-- Stephen H. (@ephesossh)

Not likely. I know Adams was thrilled to rejoin the organization and would welcome a longer stay. But where would he fit? The Cardinals already have a left-handed hitting first baseman in Matt Carpenter, and Adams' lack of defensive versatility means he'd be returning to be a bat off the bench. The Cardinals have plenty of other options for that role.

Though he did contribute a few key hits down the stretch for St. Louis, Adams slashed an underwhelming .158/.200/.333 and posted a .533 OPS in 27 games after the mid-August trade.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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