The MLB Hot Stove has become quite chilly all of a sudden. Top pitchers like Yu Darvish and bats like J.D. Martinez are still on the market, as are closers Wade Davis and Greg Holland. After the St. Louis Cardinals traded for Marcell Ozuna, their scope has gone cold as well, which has left fans with a puzzling frame of mind.
What angle are the Cardinals playing? Who are they targeting? Are they waiting on the free agent market to steer the trade activity?
Here's what I believe to be certain:
A. The Cardinals do not want to hand Martinez 150-200 million dollars. Their outfield is full, and his mediocre at best defense and baserunning will only deteriorate with age. It's not a good investment at this point, especially after the Ozuna acquisition.
B. The Cardinals do not want to pay Darvish crazy money because the former Dodger is the top starting pitcher on the market. It's a cold class for starters, but the team would be more inclined to deal with the familiar (Lance Lynn) or the well-known rival (Jake Arrieta) over Darvish's rich territory.
C. The Cardinals do not want to pay a closer crazy long-term money. Why? They never have, and it's largely a bad idea. Closers don't hold up, especially ones over the age of 30. Davis and Holland fall into this danger zone, so the Cardinals will-and should-pass.
Here's what I believe the Cardinals need to do: upgrade the rotation and bullpen.
Forget about the extra bat, because the remaining options aren't worth it, and don't truly represent upgrades. Is Eric Hosmer better than Matt Carpenter? Nope. Free agent stalling or not, he will get paid, and it will be ridiculous money.
Mike Moustakas isn't better than Jedd Gyorko, so forget that idea too. Give Gyorko 10-15 more games and resist the moose.
Evan Longoria is thankfully a San Francisco Giant, so the Cardinals don't have to donate that contract to their charity wing.
The lineup upgrades, outside of a highly unlikely trade for Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado, aren't worth the squeeze at this moment. Ozuna adds some thump to the lineup at a relatively cheap cost, and next winter (or this summer), the Cardinals can dig back in there.
The rotation is downright flimsy. If you want to depend on Adam Wainwright bouncing back, please buy a lottery ticket instead. If you think Michael Wacha will pound out another 165-solid innings, please direct your attention to Brandon McCarthy. If you think Miles Mikolas will come back and turn into Lance Lynn, check yourself into a bar tab first. If you think Luke Weaver will suddenly crank out 33 starts and 160-170 innings, be careful.
And go easy on the Alex Reyes renaissance. The kid is coming off a tough surgery at a young age, so rushing him back to rotation work may not be wise at all. He'll be a bullpen guy this season, which is fine.
The Cardinals, with young guns like Reyes and Jack Flaherty, have an imposing 2019 rotation, not one fit to dominate in 2018. With a two-year grab like Ozuna, the team needs more weapons to make a full run next year, if that is their intent.
So here's what the Cardinals can do to solve this problem: Make a trade and sign a free agent.
Sign Alex Cobb. Maybe I've said this before, but the man is a good move for a team looking for innings for the next 2-3 years. A pitcher worth 2.5 fWAR from 2012-2014 before losing 2015-16 mostly to Tommy John, but bounced back well in 2017 (2.4 fWAR). According to Fangraphs, Cobb got better last season when he ditched the classic yet tiring four pitch arsenal some pitchers covet for a two-pitch dynamic combo instead, which included the higher usage of his curveball.
He's never produced 200 innings, but if he can produce a very good 165-170 with a newly rebuilt throwing arm, that works just as well for a team needing a sure thing in 2018. Cobb isn't going to blaze through complete games and rack up shutouts, but he will get you an effective 6-7 innings and give the bullpen a decent rest. He's valuable insurance and a good "steal" on this market, and is just 30 years old. I would imagine a 2-3 year deal would do it.
One could make an argument for Cobb's worth over Mike Leake, who was sent packing last season, but I think Cobb is trending up and capable of more than he's given Tampa Bay. Cobb also shouldn't crack the $10 million barrier after making less than $5 million in each of the past two years.
If the bridge with Lynn is truly burned, sign Cobb and get back in the saddle.
TRADE for Alex Colome, already! Forget the dreamy Chris Archer scenario, and ask Tampa Bay what they want for the guy who saved the most games in 2017. Colome has electric stuff, fits in perfectly with the Cardinals plans, and is under team control until 2021. He's saved 84 games the past two years with an ERA around 2.50 while averaging around 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. He's not perfect, but an easy bolt of lightning to give the weary Cards pen a good charge. Sign the man and the bullpen is fixed, at least for this offseason. He's also just 28 years old.
Cobb and Colome would make this Cardinals team better, and keep them from handing out stupid money. Archer isn't going anywhere, so stop asking for a piece that is still attached to the bone. It's almost January, and the Cardinals have plenty of questions on their roster. Acquire these two, make a run at the first half, see where the chips lie on July 30, and go from there.
The bats left on the market aren't desirable and the trade options are looking quite outlandish, so go for the options within your reach that make your team better.
Pitchers named Alex who used to be Tampa Bay Rays should be on the Cardinals radar right now.