The stove is back on.
The hot stove, that is. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s a branding name given by Major League Baseball to market its offseason reporting of teams attempts to sign free agents and explore trades in preparation for the next season.
With the World Series coming to an end on Wednesday, resulting in a championship for the Washington Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, it’s now open season for teams to freely pursue any and all additions to their rosters.
One note about the World Series — it felt very odd to watch the away team win all seven games.
The 1991 and 2001 World Series both come immediately to mind, but for having the exact polar opposite result. The home team won all seven of the games in both of those series, resulting in titles for the Minnesota Twins (1991) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (2001).
The 2001 series was full of late game drama and heroic comebacks with the home team winning multiple games in the final at-bat.
Games 4 and 5 both went to extra innings in New York with Derek Jeter delivering a game-ending home run in the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 4 and Alfonso Soriano coming up with an RBI single in the bottom of the 12th inning the next night.
The Diamondbacks then scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 7 against the Yankees Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera to win, 3-2.
The thing about the away team winning all the games is that you miss out on the ninth-inning heroics. Four of the seven games in the 2019 World Series were won by five runs or more.
Only one of the games, Game 1, saw the two teams separated by one run.
The only game other than Game 1 that felt up for grabs after the seventh inning was Game 7, in which the Nationals trailed, 2-0, after six innings but scored three runs in the seventh, one in the eighth and one in the ninth to win, 6-2.
The 2019 games still carried their share of excitement, but lacked the types of moments that will be remembered by fans outside of the fan bases of the two teams.
With the champions crowned and the season officially over, the fasten seatbelt sign has now been removed on the offseason and General Managers are free to move around the cabin.
The first move for many teams was the add a new manager. Former Cardinals players were popular choices early this offseason with Mike Matheny taking over the managerial position for the Kansas City Royals and Carlos Beltran hired to manage the New York Mets.
In St. Louis, Mike Schildt is a finalist for the National League Manager of the Year award and the Cardinals aren’t in the market for a new skipper.
Instead, the Cardinals focus first and foremost will likely continue to revolve around free agent left fielder Marcell Ozuna, whom the team acquired in an offseason trade two years ago.
Ozuna emerged this season as the middle of the order bat the Cardinals thought they were getting when they completed that trade in December 2017.
While that’s what everyone following the team wanted to see happen, with his contract expired, the question becomes how much it will take to keep him in a Cardinals uniform in 2020 and beyond.
The Cardinals have already made a qualifying offer to Ozuna, a one-year deal worth a reported $17.8 million.
Qualifying deals typically just assure a team that if the player signs somewhere else in the offseason, the team will receive draft-pick compensation for that loss.
That’s not to say that the Cardinals won’t pursue a longer-term deal to resign Ozuna this winter. We don’t know yet what Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and General Manager Mike Girsch have in mind or where else they are looking to potentially find a slugger at a different position.
The free agent market this offseason is less compelling than it was a year ago with perennial all-stars still in their mid-20s like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado available.
Ozuna will be 29 years old when the 2020 season starts and a multi-year free agent deal would likely carry into his mid-30s. Unlike a decade ago, teams are less likely to guarantee money to players in their mid and late 30s.
Ozuna’s value could be bolstered by less surefire options in the outfield among free agents than the crowded field of players looking for deals last winter.
The only other main contributors from the Cardinals’ 2019 run to hit free agency this winter are right-handed starting pitchers Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha and switch-hitting backup catcher Matt Weiters.
The Cardinals brought the 13-year veteran Wainwright back on a one-year deal last winter and may purse another one-year deal for the 38-year-old.
What could happen with Wacha is anybody’s guess, just as it’s been anybody’s guess what type of performance he would deliver every time he’s stepped on the mound this past year.
While Wacha was the National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player during his 2013 rookie season, he’s had to battle multiple injuries in three of the last four seasons.
Weiters, while batting just .214 on the season, provided a valuable power threat off the bench for the Cardinals and performed well enough during Molina’s short trip to the injured list in the middle of the season to garner consideration for a new deal with the team.
There can be no addition without subtraction, however, and it may be unlikely that all four players wind up back in a Cardinals uniform in 2020.
The Cardinals will likely part ways with multiple relievers from the 40-man roster.
Mike Mayers was already claimed off waivers from the Cardinals by the Los Angeles Angels on Halloween.
Cardinal relievers not signed for next season include Luke Gregerson, who signed a two-year free agent deal with the team in 2017, lefties Tony Cingrani and Zac Rosscup, both of whom were acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in trades this past summer, and Chasen Shreve, who the Cardinals gave first baseman Luke Voit to the Yankees for in 2018.
Like previous years, don’t expect the Cardinals to make a big splashy addition, unless it happens by trade (as with Ozuna in 2017 and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt last winter).
The biggest free agents available this offseason are starting pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. With the Cardinals long being considered deeply loaded with young starting pitchers in their farm system, a play for one of the top arms seems unlikely.
Instead, look for the Cardinals to try to come up with a couple of more savvy additions to the roster that will continue to leave plenty of financial wiggle room.