Linked in rumors for years, the Cardinals and Josh Donaldson seemed as good a match as ever this offseason, with Donaldson a free agent and St. Louis looking to add a corner infielder with an impact bat. Then came Monday's news that the Braves inked Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal, sparking baseball's Hot Stove season and putting the dance between St. Louis and the All-Star third baseman on hold again.
So where do the Cardinals go from here? What follows is a breakdown of how the club can look to pivot, with Donaldson off the market.
Go for Goldy?
Matt Carpenter's defensive versatility means the Cardinals' search for offense doesn't have to be limited to third. They can look across the infield, as well. Enter Paul Goldschmidt, who the D-backs are reportedly gauging interest for while they consider a rebuild.
• Which suitor needs Goldschmidt the most?
Fresh off his sixth consecutive All-Star campaign and set to make a reasonable $14.5 million in 2019, Goldschmidt would require a sizable haul (likely pitching heavy) to acquire. But the fact that he'll be a free agent after next season may lower the price, and the Cardinals could gamble if they're confident they can sign Goldschmidt to an extension. They've pulled that trick before with sluggers acquired via trade, most recently Matthew Holliday.
Though their interest in Donaldson, Bryce Harper and other free agents has been widely reported, the Cardinals likely prefer to upgrade via trade, hence their interest in Goldschmidt. That's not surprising, given the state of the free-agent market.
The first-base market is devoid of stars, and the third-base market is thin after Donaldson (if you count Manny Machado as a shortstop, which is reportedly his preference). That leaves Mike Moustakas as the next best corner infielder. He profiles as a fit.
A capable defender with the kind of power the Cardinals covet, Moustakas hit 66 home runs over the past two seasons with the Royals and Brewers. The 30-year-old is likely looking for a multiyear deal after settling for a one-year, $6.5 million contract last winter.
Let's get creative
Another option would be exploring the shortstop market, with the idea that Paul DeJong could move to third if need be. Though given DeJong's stark defensive improvement last season, this seems like the least likely scenario.
Machado is 26 and the slam-dunk best infielder available, but he'll require a massive financial commitment and may be better suited for third base long-term. None of the other available shortstops (Jose Iglesias, Freddy Galvis, Jordy Mercer, et al) come with considerable offensive upside.
Could they look within the organization?
With their preference to keep Jedd Gyorko as part-time player, Patrick Wisdom not considered a long-term solution and No. 2 prospect Nolan Gorman still years away, internal options appear slim. That said, the Cardinals' 40-man roster is packed with versatile infielders who could ostensibly man third base on a piecemeal basis, should they choose to go that route. Gyorko and Carpenter headline that group, which also includes Yairo Munoz, Edmundo Sosa and Ramon Urias.
In a byproduct of last week's roster shakeup, the Cardinals lost right-hander Conner Greene on a waiver claim to the Royals on Monday. Greene, who had been ranked the Cardinals' No. 27 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was designated for assignment prior to the deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 Draft.
Acquired last winter in the Randal Grichuk trade, Greene continued to struggle with control issues in his only year in St. Louis' system. He posted a 4.09 ERA with a 6.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 40 appearances between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis, and then he walked 15 across 9 2/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
The Cardinals also announced that right-hander Derian Gonzalez, the other pitcher they designated for assignment last week, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Memphis. Considered a rising prospect for years, Gonzalez pitched to a 4.05 ERA in 27 games (six starts) across three Minor League levels in 2018.