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Inbox: Should Cardinals overhaul the infield?

Beat reporter Jenifer Langosch answers questions from fans
November 13, 2018

ST. LOUIS --  As we wait for the Hot Stove season to start warming, let's take a dive into another batch of reader questions. As always, thanks to all who made submissions. Which players that are currently likely to be on the Cardinals' Opening Day roster should they consider parting

ST. LOUIS --  As we wait for the Hot Stove season to start warming, let's take a dive into another batch of reader questions. As always, thanks to all who made submissions.
Which players that are currently likely to be on the Cardinals' Opening Day roster should they consider parting ways with to create an opportunity for better talent? I'm not necessarily thinking of Minor Leaguers pushing for a spot, but veterans that are decent, not great, but might bring some value in a trade. Everyone is focused on right field and third base as areas of need, but are there other positions that could be improved?
-- Nathan H.

As you consider the current composition of the Cardinals' roster within the context of what the club hopes to accomplish this winter, there are a few players who may not be obvious fits moving forward. Let's start with Jedd Gyorko. Though Gyorko has finished as the team's primary third baseman the last two years, the Cards are clear in their intentions to upgrade that position. If the Cardinals check that offseason box, they would prefer not to pay Gyorko $13 million to be a utility player when Yairo Munoz, Tommy Edman and/or Edmundo Sosa could fill that role for around the Major League minimum.
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Jose Martinez is another. Yes, it seems counterintuitive that a club seeking to improve its offense would entertain trading its most consistent offensive performer from 2018. But that's where the Cardinals are with Martinez. He remains a defensive misfit in a league without a DH option. If the Cards find value for Martinez on the trade market, they could make that move knowing they have additional right-field coverage in William Fowler, Tyler O'Neill and, perhaps, an offseason signing to be named later.
Understandably, the Cardinals are looking to upgrade at third base. Is an upgrade at first base, which might include trading Matt Carpenter, being considered by management? He has been a tremendous Cardinal, but he is streaky offensively and a below-average defender with well-below-average speed at this point in his career. It's unlikely his value would ever be higher than it will be this offseason.
-- John D., Carmel, Ind.

I continue to be perplexed by the number of questions I get pushing for the Cards to trade Carpenter. But since it's clearly on the minds of many, I'll address it. First off, for a team trying to get better offensively, I'm not sure what would be gained by dealing away its best offensive player.
By the end of the week, Carpenter will be a Top-10 finisher in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting, punctuating a season in which he ranked fifth in the NL in wRC+ and sixth in OPS. That's a bat the Cardinals need. Carpenter's reasonable $14.5 million salary for 2019 adds to that value, too.
I'm not going to argue that Carpenter is superb on the bases or in the field. But he did show improvement last year. He posted a plus-6 Defensive Runs Saved mark at third base and a plus-1 DRS mark at first base. FanGraphs calculated Carpenter's BsR (Baserunning Runs Above Average) at 1.3. These figures suggest Carpenter was slightly above average in both areas.
Keep in mind that Carpenter's versatility creates more options for the Cardinals in their offseason search for another big bat. If they acquire a first baseman, Carpenter will move to third. If another third baseman arrives, Carpenter sticks at first. But having him in the lineup remains imperative.
Do the Cardinals have a long-term plan similar to the Astros (though not necessarily a full rebuild), or are they going to continue adding single pieces every year (i.e. Marcell Ozuna, Fowler, Bud Norris, Brett Cecil, etc.) to try to contend, similar to the Dodgers?
-- Nate J.

The Cardinals are not going to take a competitive hit by intentionally stripping their roster to rebuild. Ownership doesn't believe it's an ideal model for a franchise that draws 3.4 million fans annually and one that, despite missing the postseason for three straight seasons, still has the eighth-most number of wins in the Majors during that span.
The club believes in its core, and thus will continue to spend to complement pieces already in place. While that will require annual additions, the Cardinals will also seek to make long-term investments so they aren't engaged in the same searches year after year.
Any chance the Cardinals package some of their young pitching for a big, middle-of-the-order bat?
-- Eric M. (@shockereric56)

That is certainly a possible path, especially if the team strikes out in its free-agent pursuits. The Cardinals' strength is in their pitching depth, and with at least 10 candidates for five rotation spots, the team can afford to package some of those arms to address other needs.
Last offseason, the Cardinals used their surplus of outfielders to plug other holes. This year, they are best suited to plunge into the trade market by maximizing that pitching depth.
How far away is Nolan Gorman? I feel like the answer frames everything else related to the Cards' offseason activity.
-- Matthew M. (@BroTaguchi)

Gorman made the quick climb to Class A Peoria after being drafted last summer. But at 18 years old, there's still a lot of growth necessary before he's knocking on the big league door. Gorman will need at least two more full seasons in the Minors, which means you're looking at a 2021 arrival, at the earliest.
The Cardinals don't like blocking young talent once it's on the cusp of being Major League-ready. But with Gorman still so early in his development, that can't be a concern right now. For one, it's never a guarantee that a prospect will pan out. And two, the Cards need to improve their production from that spot in the interim.

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