With a positional roster mostly set -- with five Gold Glovers, three Silver Slugger finalists, three candidates for down-ballot MVP votes and zero 2021 position players who have become free agents -- the Cardinals acknowledge that their placement in the Hot Stove this offseason may be more on the back burner.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak said as much on Wednesday at the GM Meetings in Carlsbad, Calif. It’s not that the Cardinals will be inactive, but they're in a position to sit back and wait for the right move to arise.
“You just have to remain open-minded, opportunistic and be prepared,” Mozelaik said. “Lots of time still in our offseason, and understanding what may present itself, we ultimately want to be in a position that if something excites us or interests us, we’ll be prepared to act.”
Such a tenor was ever-present entering the 2021 season. The club did not make an addition to its Major League roster until the final week of January, when Adam Wainwright re-signed. Then, just days later, St. Louis pulled off the blockbuster of the offseason by acquiring Nolan Arenado from the Rockies.
Even if this may be a patient offseason, there are priorities in mind. Mozeliak said those fall mainly on the pitching side, eyeing upgrades to the rotation and the bullpen. (Though should the Cardinals seek an upgrade at shortstop, there are tantalizing options.)
Wainwright will be joined by Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas as surefire locks for the rotation, but there remains a glaring hole for the fifth spot. Jake Woodford, Alex Reyes, Johan Oviedo and others will be in contention, but the Cardinals have learned from their depth -- and health -- being tested last season and could use another top-three starter. What’s more, it remains to be seen how Flaherty will recover from a disjointed, injury-stunted season that saw him in the bullpen for the postseason.
There are options aplenty. Atop the list would be Max Scherzer, the hometown ace who would likely command the highest payday of any free-agent starter. A more realistic option might be the likes of Marcus Stroman, a ground-ball pitcher who could have a chance to thrive in the Cardinals’ golden infield, should the monetary fit be there. Veteran Zack Greinke has also expressed his desire to return to the National League.
The Cards could be served by adding a lefty, currently without a southpaw starter on their 40-man roster. Alex Wood, who surged as a Giant in 2021, may be a good fit, as could a reunion with Jon Lester or J.A. Happ. The club has also been linked to right-hander Nick Martinez, who last appeared in the Majors in 2017 but pitched to a 1.62 ERA in 23 games in Japan this year.
All of that will be part of the wait-and-see approach the front office is prepared to take. Some work has already been done, though, with T.J. McFarland -- one of the many pitchers added to the roster on the fly last season -- re-signed to a one-year deal for 2022.
All moves will be made to bolster a roster under new leadership. Speaking on the transition of Oliver Marmol to manager after the dismissal of Mike Shildt, Mozeliak said the new bench boss already has earned quick respect and is shepherding a seamless takeover.
Also aiding the fluid nature of this offseason: the addition of Skip Schumaker, a Cardinals fan favorite beloved by his former teammates -- two of whom (Wainwright and Yadier Molina) will now be under his guidance as the incoming bench coach.
“I think it's been pretty seamless,” Mozeliak said. “I think the decision that we had to do -- talked to a lot of people, spent time trying to talk with our coaches, trying to get them to understand why we are where we are -- but I will say they all admire Oli, they respect him. You're going to be judged when you start, but I think where we are today, everybody feels pretty good about his leadership and what he brings to our club. … Overall, people are excited about Oli taking over.”