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Offseason checklist: Cards’ needs and moves

@anne__rogers
December 3, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals won the National League Central in 2019 and made it back to the postseason after a three-year hiatus. But they suffered a swift exit in the NL Championship Series when their offense disappeared against the Nationals in a four-game sweep. So what are the Cards’

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals won the National League Central in 2019 and made it back to the postseason after a three-year hiatus. But they suffered a swift exit in the NL Championship Series when their offense disappeared against the Nationals in a four-game sweep.

So what are the Cards’ biggest needs entering 2020, and what moves have they made to address them? MLB.com is keeping track here. As the offseason continues, be sure to check back for updates.

BIGGEST NEEDS

Impact bat
The NLCS exposed the weakness that hindered the Cardinals for much of 2019: an inconsistent offense. Under new hitting coach Jeff Albert, the Cards hit 210 home runs this year (24th in the Majors) and slugged just .393 with runners in scoring position. At least St. Louis a target for the offseason -- offense. Adding a big bat into the lineup, one that would complement Paul Goldschmidt, is the first step toward consistency, especially if left fielder Marcell Ozuna, a free agent, leaves. The Cardinals don’t have an obvious cleanup hitter ready in their system yet, so they could fill that void through trade or free agency.

There are two spots where the Cardinals want to improve production: the outfield and third base. Ozuna’s free agency opens one spot, although the Cards’ abundance of outfielders will become even more pronounced if they add another. If the offensive upgrade comes at third base, St. Louis will need to find new roles for Matt Carpenter, who had a career-worst season with three years left on his contract, and Tommy Edman, who can play several positions.

5 questions the Cards need to answer for 2020

Starting pitching
The Cardinals didn’t make any moves at the Trade Deadline for a front-line starter, and it worked. The rotation pitched the Cards to the division title. But now, they are faced with a hole in their rotation. Michael Wacha is a free agent, and it's unlikely that he will return. Now would be the time for St. Louis to add a starter, one that can complement Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas, and it would help even more if that starter is a left-hander.

While Gerrit Cole is the pitcher to get this offseason, the Cardinals would likely target someone in a lower price range, like right-hander Zack Wheeler (who they were interested in at the Trade Deadline), right-hander Jake Odorizzi or lefty Dallas Keuchel.

Cards offseason FAQ: Who's in, out next year

MOVES MADE

Dec. 2: Cards tender contract to Gant
Ahead of Monday night’s non-tender deadline, the Cardinals tendered contracts for 2020 to all players on their 40-man roster. This includes John Gant, who is entering his first year of arbitration and is the Cards' only arbitration-eligible player. Tendering Gant a contract means that the Cardinals have committed to going through the arbitration process with him, unless he and the club can agree on a deal before exchanging salaries in mid-January and scheduling a hearing. Gant, 27, played a vital role in the Cards’ bullpen last season. The right-hander had a 2.22 ERA in the first half and was the high-leverage setup man for most of the year, shown in part by his 11-1 record. He had a 3.66 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 66 1/3 innings over 64 games, and although he struggled late in the year and was left off the postseason roster, the Cardinals believe he will still hold a vital role in next year’s bullpen. Gant made $571,300 in 2019 and could likely double his salary through the arbitration process.

Nov. 25: Leone placed on unconditional release waivers
After being designated for assignment on Nov. 20, right-hander Dominic Leone was placed on unconditional release waivers. All 29 clubs have the opportunity to claim Leone and place him on their 40-man roster. If he is claimed, he has the option of rejecting that claim to instead explore the free-agent market. Leone had a 5.53 ERA in 40 2/3 innings in 2019, shuffling between the Cardinals and Triple-A Memphis. After making $1.26 million this year, he was arbitration-eligible and out of options.

Nov. 20: Cards add three prospects, DFA Leone
The Cardinals protected three prospects -- right-hander Jake Woodford, third baseman Elehuris Montero and right-hander Alvaro Seijas -- from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man roster. They designated Leone for assignment to make room for one of the prospects, and the Cards’ roster was set at 40 players. Leone was a non-tender candidate, so this cleared the spot earlier than Dec. 2, the non-tender deadline. Montero (No. 4) and Woodford (No. 13) are ranked in the Cardinals’ Top 30 prospects list, according to MLB Pipeline, and Seijas is a young starter with a lot of potential whom the Cards didn’t want to leave available to other teams. The Rule 5 Draft is Dec. 12.

Nov. 14: Ozuna declines qualifying offer
As expected, Marcell Ozuna rejected the Cardinals’ one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer at the Nov. 14 deadline. Although Ozuna has expressed his preference to stay in St. Louis, and the Cards have been in talks to keep the 29-year-old left fielder, his rejection of the offer came in part because of expressed interest in a multiyear deal. If Ozuna doesn’t return or the Cardinals don’t use the outfield as a way to upgrade the offense this offseason, left field will be opened to the Cards’ young prospects in Spring Training. Tyler O'Neill, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena and top prospect Dylan Carlson are among the candidates for that position. At the very least, if the Cardinals lose Ozuna, they will receive Draft-pick compensation.

Nov. 12: Wainwright signs one-year deal
For the first time in his career, Adam Wainwright was a free agent. But his preference all along was to stay with the Cardinals, and it didn’t take long for that to happen. The Cards and Wainwright signed a one-year deal for 2020, as the veteran pitcher comes off a bounce-back year. Wainwright adds valuable experience to the Cardinals’ 2020 rotation, and the signing leaves St. Louis with just one more rotation vacancy to fill this offseason. The Cards’ hope is that Carlos Martínez can return to the rotation, but they also will explore trades and the free-agent market over the next few months.

Nov. 1: Mayers departs via waivers; Hudson outrighted
The Cardinals cleared two more roster spots by designating a pair of players for assignment. Mike Mayers, who posted a 6.63 ERA over 16 appearances in 2019, was claimed by the Angels. Catcher Joe Hudson went unclaimed and was outrighted to the Minors. He elected to become a free agent. The Cards also transferred three players -- right-hander Jordan Hicks, left-hander Brett Cecil and outfielder Lane Thomas -- off the 60-day injured list. The series of moves leaves St. Louis with three open spots on its 40-man roster.

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