SAN DIEGO -- While attempting to replace Yadier Molina -- St. Louis’ bedrock of stability at catcher for nearly two decades -- is certainly a big ask, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak revealed that the club is looking at the task as an “opportunity” and a chance to upgrade in terms of offensive production.
Mozeliak reaffirmed that St. Louis' biggest need is still the position made vacant by Molina’s retirement. Mozeliak said he was hopeful the Cardinals can leave MLB’s Winter Meetings in San Diego with a catcher who will cement the team’s vision at the position. Whether that player comes via a trade or a free-agent signing will be decided by a catching market that has picked up in intensity because of the needs of several teams and the importance of the position.
“Obviously, we may have some insights on what [Molina’s replacement] may or may not look like, but I don’t feel like that’s right around the corner, necessarily,” Mozeliak said on Monday. “Regardless, we had a really, really good defensive catcher and ideally … we know we’re not getting [Molina], but getting someone who can carry himself well would be helpful.”
On a day when Trea Turner reportedly signed with the Phillies for $300 million, Mozeliak said the Cardinals aren’t necessarily in the market for a shortstop because of how Tommy Edman performed at the position last season. Also, with the World Baseball Classic returning, St. Louis is hopeful that giving Paul DeJong more looks will help revive his career.
“As of right now, Tommy Edman is our shortstop,” Mozeliak said.
The pursuit of a catcher -- and the cost it takes to land one -- will dictate the direction of the Cardinals for the rest of the offseason. St. Louis is eager to find a power bat that can replicate the 24-home run season retired legend Albert Pujols had and provide lineup protection for Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.
“The good news is, we feel like there are multiple options out there,” Mozeliak said. “I don’t feel like we’re leveraged one way or another. Maybe the most important takeaway is, what you don’t want to have happen is that when the music stops, you are left standing.
“We have identified targets we hope we can achieve. There’s enough depth in this [free-agent] class that there’s flexibility, but there are some guys definitely on the higher end.”
Some of the catchers perceived to be on the “higher end” are free agents Willson Contreras and Christian Vázquez and trade targets Sean Murphy and Alejandro Kirk. Athletics manager Mark Kotsay said he is hopeful to get some clarity on Murphy’s status soon.
“Sean’s a great player, and he’s on the right path,” said Kotsay. “With Sean, I want to write his name in the three-hole every day and have him as a leader, but this is a situation we’ve been in before. We’re hopefully going to move forward on that as soon as possible.”
Blue Jays manager John Schneider said he would love to retain Kirk, but that might not be possible because of Toronto’s catching depth. The 24-year-old had a 3.9 WAR last season while hitting .285 with 14 home runs and 63 RBIs. More telling of Kirk’s plate patience was him having more walks (63) than strikeouts (58), Schneider said.
“He’s unique because you put damage potential, controlling the zone with contact ability -- you put those three things together at a young age; he’s had all that since we signed him,” Schneider said. “You look at every great hitter, they’ve learned how to hit first, and then [the] power came later. He had 14 homers in his first full season, so he’s a very talented hitter, for sure.”
Mozeliak is hopeful the Cardinals can leave San Diego with a catcher, but some variables in that chase are out of his control.
“The biggest decision for us is how do we obtain [catching] -- free agency or is it a trade -- and we’re just trying to maintain some level of keeping things alive until we determine who is the most ideal fit,” Mozeliak said. “Today was about trying to get a better sense of that landscape. Things are starting to move [in MLB] and throughout this week, you’re going to have more activity. For us, it’s just about trying to make sure we’re on it.”