Spitfire: Cardinals Offseason Improvement Ideas

About a month ago, when the sadness of a broken season was still freshly marinating in my mind, I put out a fairly halfhearted list of some steps the Cardinals front office could take to put out an improved product in 2016. As I sort of mentioned, it was a pretty halfhearted and safe list and since then I’ve had a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. So here’s a new, improved, and much bolder list of Cardinals offseason improvement ideas.

When I put together that list about a month ago, the 2016 rotation looked pretty set in stone. Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia, with Alex Reyes, Marco Gonzales, Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney waiting in the wings.

Well, since then Lance Lynn has undergone Tommy John surgery, Reyes has been suspended for a positive marijuana test – the unfairness of which I’ll get into later – and the overall health record of the rotation looks pretty shaky.

Lance Lynn will miss the entire upcoming season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Lance Lynn will miss the entire upcoming season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch

Wainwright will be 34 on opening day and coming off a serious Achilles tear, Martinez will be coming off a shoulder strain, Wacha looked like a shell of himself in the 2nd half of the 2015 season coming off his serious shoulder injury in 2014, and Garcia’s injury track record is quite alarming.

On top of all that, Reyes won’t be a big league factor until the middle of May, Gonzales is coming off injuries, Cooney’s coming off an appendectomy that robbed him of the last two months of his season, and Lyons is a guy that really shouldn’t be relied upon as a consistent major league starter at this point.

In case you haven’t gotten the point yet, the Redbird rotation is in some serious flux right now. So that’s where this list starts.

Revised Step 1: Go Get a Mid-Tier Starter or Two

Would it be cool if the Cardinals landed David Price or Zack Greinke? Of course, but should they be willing to potentially spend upwards of $200 million on a pitcher? The Cardinals are in a bit of a rut, but not that kind of a rut. But this SP market is really deep – like really deep – and the Cardinals should be making serious runs at a lot of guys in the middle of this market.

Three names really jump out at me here; Hisashi Iwakuma, Mike Leake, and Scott Kazmir. Each are quality, middle of the rotation guys who can be had for relatively low coin.

Iwakuma is coming off an injury plagued year, but placed 3rd in AL Cy Young voting just two years ago and has a no-hitter to his name.

Iwakuma celebrates his August 2015 no-hitter vs. Baltimore. Photo courtesy of USA Today
Iwakuma celebrates his August 2015 no-hitter vs. Baltimore. Photo courtesy of USA Today

He could reasonably be had for somewhere around $9 or $10 million on a 1 year, prove-it deal. Although, he comes with the most risk, as he has the qualifying offer mantra attached to him, so the Cardinals would have to give up a 1st round pick for potentially just a year of Iwakuma’s services.

Kazmir’s 2015 season numbers don’t really impress you – a 3.98 FIP and 130 ERA+ in 183 IP – but take a look deeper and see that he posted a 3.16 FIP and 160 ERA+ during his time in Oakland, and was an all-star in both 2014 and 2015.

Oakland is a notorious pitcher’s park, and St. Louis is becoming the same type of mold. Houston is a notorious hitter’s park, and Kazmir understandably struggled. Bring him to St. Louis on a 2 year deal and he could thrive just like he did in Oakland. Also, Kazmir would not cost the Cardinals a 1st round compensation pick like Iwakuma would, but will likely be more expensive.

Kazmir delivers a pitch for the Oakland A's in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Tribune
Kazmir delivers a pitch for the Oakland A’s in 2015. Photo courtesy of the Oakland Tribune

Mike Leake really shouldn’t need much of an introduction among the members of the BFIB, as he has consistently shut the Cardinals down throughout his career with Cincinnati.

Leake delivers a pitch against St. Louis during a Sunday night game in May. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Leake delivers a pitch against St. Louis during a Sunday night game in May. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch

He’s an innings eater who fields his position exceptionally, can swing the bat a little bit and be a quality back of the rotation arm. Like Kazmir, there’s no compensation pick attached to his hip, and, considering the numbers, Leake should be able to be had for somewhere in the neighborhood of what Bartolo Colón got from the Mets two offseasons ago – 2 years for $20 mil.

These three were just names that jumped out at me, but the Cardinals should be very actively mining the middle of the starting pitcher market for quality arms to replace Lance Lynn and bridge the gap until guys like Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty are ready to take on big league roles.

Should the Mozeliak hat be thrown in the circles of David Price and Zack Greinke or Johnny Cueto? Sure, but the Cardinals can’t get caught up in bidding wars with the Dodgers or Cubs just because they now have “payroll muscle” to flex.

Revised Step 2: Clear Up First Base for Piscotty

First base is clearly the Cardinals’ biggest everyday positional issue with too many mouths to feed and not enough playing time to go around adequately. So who gets the majority of the at-bats and who doesn’t?

Well, I’ve got a rather creative solution that I can guarantee you’ll be hearing about for the first time.

As I stated in that big bold sentence up there, the Cardinals need to clear the way for Stephen Piscotty to take over as the everyday 1st basemen in 2016. He was their best offensive player in 2015 – yeah, all of 2015, not just the 2nd half, but the whole season – and the Cardinals need to make room for his bat to be in the lineup every day.

So how do they do that with Matt Adams still sitting there as a very viable option? We’re going to deal Adams somewhere, and I have a very specific destination in mind.

Baltimore.

Matt Adams makes a play during a 2014 game against the Orioles. Photo by Rob Carr for Getty Images
Matt Adams makes a play during a 2014 game against the Orioles. Photo by Rob Carr for Getty Images

Why Baltimore? Well, let’s think about it together. Who was Baltimore’s first baseman in 2015? Chris Davis.

Davis is coming off a monstrous year, will command an equally monstrous paycheck – one that the Cardinals need to avoid throwing their hat in on – and with Matt Wieters accepting his qualifying offer – which will put him on the books for $15.8 million – and Darren O’Day on their minds, the Orioles chances of keeping Davis are becoming increasingly slim by the day.

In come the Cardinals with the offer of Adams, still a quality first baseman, especially in the American League where O’s manager Buck Showalter can rest his legs but still keep him in the lineup with the DH option.

Adams could have a lot of value to Baltimore, and potentially yield a return of either a solid pitching prospect – a la Mike Wright – or a solid bullpen haul – Brian Matusz, Brad Brach, or, if God is on our side, Zach Britton.

This could potentially fix two issues. 1st base is now Piscotty’s, and the bullpen is strengthened.

Boom. Mic drop

Revised Step 3: SIGN JASON HEYWARD

This isn’t revised at all, but I’m putting it in here because it just can’t be said enough. Pay the man. Pay him whatever you need to pay him. Offer to re-name the stadium after him, offer him all your shares of Apple, offer him a lifetime supply of Imo’s, offer to build him a house in Frontenac; whatever you have to offer him, do it.

This seems harsh and untrue, but if Jason Heyward is in a different uniform on opening day 2016 playing on a salary under $200 million the Cardinals will have failed the offseason. Heyward is the top priority and nothing should get done before signing him. Plain and simple.

Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune
Photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post Dispatch
Photo courtesy of USA Today. I can't get enough of Heyward, please sign him. Please?
Photo courtesy of USA Today. I can’t get enough of Heyward, please sign him. Please?

So there it is, all shiny and new and improved. Ryan’s Cardinals offseason blueprint 2.0. I hope it’s as exciting to you as it is to me. But my work really means nothing, John Mozeliak holds all the cards in his hand and he needs to deal them out and push his chips to the middle of the table.

Go make it happen, Mo.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

 

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Spitfire: Cardinals Offseason Improvement Ideas

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