After a COVID-shortened, double-header-filled 60 game 2020 season, the Cardinals have a lot of decisions to make this winter. There are a few key pieces to the team that are set to become free agents this offseason, including Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina and their 31 combined years in a Cardinals uniform. Who will stay, who will go, and who will join the Cardinals this winter?
The front office has made it clear that their intention is to cut payroll this offseason, and this is understandable. Without fans in the stands for half the season, teams’ incomes from this season have decreased signifanctly. It is likely going to be a very rough free agent market, and most people are expecting only huge markets to spend a lot of money. Unfortunately, the Cardinals made an incredibly surprising move by declining Kolten Wong’s club option, allowing him to enter free agency. Bill DeWitt’s plan for this offseason will likely be to stick with internal options going forward into 2021, with John Mozeliak hinting at Tommy Edman sliding over to second base if the Cardinals can’t get an extension done with Wong. If all goes well, and fans are allowed back in the crowd of a 162 game season, the Cardinals will be in a good position to spend next offseason. With Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter, Brett Cecil, and Andrew Miller coming off the books after 2021, available spending will no doubt be plentiful for the Cardinals. Next offseason’s free agent class looks just about as star-studded as this winter’s, highlighted by such names as Francisco Lindor, Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant, and NL MVP Freddie Freeman. Landing a big name in free agency a year from now seems more than possible for the Cardinals.
First of all, I feel the need to stress the importance of bringing back Kolten Wong. Letting Kolten walk this offseason seems like a vital mistake if the Cardinals go through with it, which is seeming more and more likely by the day. Looking at the past 4 seasons for Kolten Wong, his offensive production has been fairly average, with a .273/.356/.398 slash and a 103 wRC+ since 2017. I would have to assume the Cardinals lack of interest in Wong returning is centered around his offense, seeing as he is easily the best defensive second baseman in the game (he just took home his 2nd straight Gold Glove and 3rd straight Fielding Bible). However, in a lineup like the Cardinals’, Wong has never been expected to be a major contributor on the offensive side of the baseball. It’s been that way for years. If he can continue to flash the leather and put up a near 100 wRC+ like he has in nearly every year he’s been in the majors, there is absolutely no reason not to bring him back. If DeWitt thinks he will eat up too much money, then so be it. I know somebody will pay Wong upwards of $15M or $20M this offseason, which is what he rightfully deserves. Hopefully that somebody will be the Cardinals, but at the end of the day, we all want what’s best for Kolten, who has been such a great player and person for this organization all decade long.
I will likely discuss Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright in a separate article, so I’ll move onto external options for the Cards this offseason. Be on the lookout for that post soon.
I have thought this through and have come up with my ideal offseason for the Cardinals, realistic or not, which includes bringing Waino, Yadi, Wong, and Brad Miller back and adding a couple outside names.
A name I have been high on for a while now is Joc Pederson. Now a World Series champion, I think he could easily fit into the Cardinals outfield and right into the middle of our weak lineup. Joc struggled a tad in 2020, but between 2018 and 2019, posted very solid numbers for LA. In that two year span, Joc slashed .249/.331/.530 with 61 home runs, a 127 wRC+, and a 5.8 fWAR. Being a left handed bat and a great hitting outfielder, Pederson directly addresses two key needs for the Cardinals offensively. If he can get back to that 2018-19 form, he and Goldy could form a very formidable 3-4 punch. My expectation is that he receives a 2-year contract around the $9M AAV range.
Another guy I have been supportive of over the past couple months or so is RHP Corey Kluber. Kluber pitched all of one inning in 2020 before getting injured, but when he is healthy, he is electric. In his last 3 full healthy seasons (2016, 2017, 2018), Kluber has been one of the best in the game, sporting a 2.77 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 3.04 xFIP, and 3.14 SIERA, accumulating 17.6 fWAR. Adding this disgusting veteran to the rotation could make for a phenomenal 1-2 punch with him and Flaherty at the top. Follow them up with Mikolas, Kim, and one of Waino or Gomber, and you’ve got yourself a real good rotation. I don’t anticipate Kluber to get a huge payday this winter, likely signing a multi year deal around maybe $10M-$12M AAV. If the Cardinals want to give him a contract at around 2-years, $25M, that sounds like a steal to me.
There are a lot of different directions the Cardinals can go this offseason, and I honestly don’t know what to expect. Is it possible that we go after a coveted name like Trevor Bauer or George Springer in free agency? Sure. Could we see the Cardinals trade for an elusive bat like Francisco Lindor or Nolan Arenado? It doesn’t seem too unlikely. Maybe we stick with what we’ve got and don’t spend too much this offseason, and frankly, I wouldn’t be the most upset person in the world if that happened. In the midst of all this uncertainty, one thing is for sure: this offseason will be vital in determining the fate of the Cardinals in the near future, and it is sure to be an exciting winter.