The Cardinals have given their fans a lot to be happy about this offseason.
As we ring in the new year, the team has already added slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a perennial all-star, through trade a dominant left-handed reliever to help out in the later innings in Andrew Miller through free agency.
However, the offseason shopping list for the Cardinals does not yet have all of the boxes checked off.
The biggest remaining hole the Cardinals have stated they want to fill is another left-handed batter who can hit for power.
How that role will be filled is a mystery and likely won’t be answered until we find out for sure one way or another where free agent right fielder Bryce Harper will elect to sign.
The presumptive choice for Harper is now the Los Angeles Dodgers after the team dealt outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig and pitcher Alex Wood to the Cincinnati Reds to create a vacancy in right field and free up cash for such a signing.
Harper would look great wearing the birds on the bat and filling out a heart of the order that would also include Goldschmidt and left-fielder Marcell Ozuna in St. Louis. It would seem an uncharacteristic move for the Cardinals if the team were to commit the rumored 10 years and $400 million that it might take to sign Harper. St. Louis hasn’t shied away from offering big contracts in the past, but they almost always are offered to players that have already been a part of the team rather than a new addition.
With Goldschmidt only having one year left on his current contract, the Cardinals will undoubtedly already be gearing up to try to resign him next winter. Whether they would be willing to pay out two contracts of the size it would take to acquire and hold onto both players seems unlikely.
Plus, the team will have to consider how heavily it wants to pursue resigning Marcell Ozuna, who like Harper is a Scott Boras client, next offseason as well.
A Harper signing seems even less likely with the remarks from Cardinals management that the team intends to give Dexter Fowler the opportunity to earn back the starting job in right field, which would not be possible if Harper were brought in.
Still, I don’t feel we can rule the Cardinals, or a bevy of other contending teams, out completely until Harper signs on the dotted line somewhere else.
However, once Harper signs his megadeal, where is some other left-handed bat going to fit in for St. Louis? Matt Carpenter and Paul Goldschmidt have the corner infield spots sewn up. That would rule out somebody like third baseman Mike Moustakas, formerly of the Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers, unless the Cardinals wished to relocate Carpenter to either second base or the outfield. Carpenter has played both positions in the past, but has stuck almost exclusively to either first or third base for the last few seasons.
More likely then, this theoretical lefty power bat would either fit in somewhere in the outfield, joining Tyler O’Neill as a backup option behind Ozuna, Fowler and center fielder Harrison Bader, or backing up Paul DeJong and Kolten Wong in the middle infield.
The best fit might be another solid option in right field as a backup plan in case Fowler cannot return to form. It would fit the Cardinals tradition to find a veteran they may be able to sign for a bargain price like Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies or Melky Cabrera, most recently from the Cleveland Indians. Another free agent from Colorado, Gerrardo Parra, might also be a solid option. Parra is also a former gold glove outfielder.
Only time will tell where the Cardinals will turn. The team may not be finished adding to its bullpen either if the right opportunity presents itself. However, even if the Cardinals called it quits for the rest of the offseason and went into the spring with the team they already have in place, it would be hard to find any fault in that.
If Goldschmidt stays in St. Louis beyond this year, the trade that brought him to the Cardinals might end up being regarded as one of the better acquisitions in the franchise’s history. Also, if Miller is anything like the pitcher he was in helping the Indians reach the 2016 World Series, the Cardinals might just already have all the pieces in place for another run into late October.