Buffa: Cardinals staying and going this winter

One of the most important jobs for a General Manager after the season is over is to assess what a roster needs and can do without.

Who stays?

Who goes?

What changes can be made that improve the team and position them for success in the coming season?

John Mozeliak has his work cut out for him this offseason. There are veterans to cut ties with, young men to analyze, and a transition on defense that is required. 

Let's take a look here at some of the notables.

Matt Holliday, 37 in January

Judging by Mozeliak's comments on the final weekend of the season, Holliday has played his final game as a Cardinal. It's a business decision and a detachment that is necessary for team growth.

Holliday doesn't supply the kind of offense he once did and doesn't offer much on defense. While he may offer an American League team some value, his value to the Cardinals has decreased and it's hard to see him taking a massive pay cut to stay.

He averaged around 100 games the past two seasons and his OPS dropped to .782 last season while his WAR didn't reach 1.0. Let the Yankees or Red Sox scoop him up.

Brandon Moss, 33

The redwood warrior offered some needed pop in 2016, bringing more value to the much heralded Rob Kaminsky-Indians 2015 swap.

While Moss' .484 slugging percentage was mighty fine in 2016, his .225 average and 141 strikeouts weren't so hot. He hit below .175 in September and only offered 0.8 WAR overall. That's under the eight million dollars he made.

In mid August, he seemed like a bargain slugger. Then, his bat went ice cold during the hottest time of the year. He will get something generous from an AL club, perhaps in Houston where first base is open and pop is valued higher.

Jaime Garcia, 31

The southpaw has become more of a headache than ever: putting in his most starts in five years, but looking more hittable than ever.

While the Jaime defenders wait for the injury news to hit, I will tag this guy as expendable. Mozelaik said it best when asked after the season. There were nights where he looked like an ace and others where Matheny could slug Mo for leaving him around.

Garcia is a talented starter with mileage left on the arm, but he is on the wrong side of 30 and has spent eight injury-plagued, frustrating seasons in St. Louis.

I'd rather see Alex Reyes or Luke Weaver get 30 starts in the back of the rotation than see Garcia try to be something that Cards fans have waiting for him to become since he arrived. His 0.8 WAR didn't hold up to the value of his $12 million contract. Pick up the option and flip him or outright say no. 

Matt Adams, 28 years old

I made a case for bringing back Adams two weeks ago and that stands up today.

He won't cost the team more than $2 million and still offers the best defense at first base. Matt Carpenter, Moss, Holliday and any other glove over at first are not as good as Adams. It may not be gold-glove-caliber, but Adams can handle the bag.

His bat produced 16 home runs, 18 doubles, and a .471 slugging percentage in a part-time role last season and he improved against lefthanded pitching.

If the Cards plan on playing Carpenter at first, Adams shouldn't return. If they have a different plan, Adams is still a valuable asset. 

Tommy Pham, 29

While Pham holds value in his speed and occasional pop, Mike Matheny barely used him down the stretch in 2016. With Moss hitting below .150 and the team needing a spark, the skipper didn't turn to Pham and I don't see that changing in 2017.

Jeremy Hazelbaker offers what Pham does and is more trusted by Matheny, so that is the smart play. The Cards could promote Harrison Bader before July as well or trade for a center fielder this winter, so the return of Pham is less likely. He isn't arbitration eligible until 2018, so the Cards could work him into a trade while he he has some value. 

Jhonny Peralta, 34

The aging shortstop is in the final year of his contract and will make $10 million in 2017.

His effectiveness in 2016 was hampered by a thumb injury that occurred in spring training, but it's not a reach to say the man is trending down in value. His OPS stood at .815 in 2013 with Detroit before tumbling to .745 in 2015 and .715 last season.

He isn't a shortstop anymore, and has limited range anywhere.

He will prevent Carpenter from returning to third base in 2017, but should provide some offense with the thumb healing up. His value to other teams isn't high enough at the moment, so I see Peralta as a midseason trade departure at best.

His 1.8 WAR in a healthy, yet worn down, 2015 offers the value of a $10 million contract. It's not sensible to let Peralta walk in a soft trade. It was expected he would break down near the end of his contract. It wasn't supposed to happen at the end of year 2. However, Peralta can still be of use to this team.

Kolten Wong, 25

He isn't going anywhere and could easily bounce back in 2017 if Matheny turns him loose. The simple fact is Wong was overworked in 2015 and I think that contributed to his slow start in 2016.

Once he struggled, Matheny turned him into a platoon player and then Jedd Gyorko went berserk at the plate. If the Cards want to see this kid thrive, he needs to play 5 times a week.

He and Gyorko have similar contracts and could both help the Birds. While Wong is young, his trade value isn't extremely high and it's too early to give up on him.

However, 2017 is a big season for him. A potentially transitional one. Hopefully he gets the opportunity to prove himself.

Brayan Pena, 35 in January 

The arrival and sure handed presence of Carson Kelly suddenly made Pena expendable going into this offseason.

The veteran catcher barely played a lick in an injury plagued 2016 season that started with a knee injury and turned into a healthy catcher sitting behind Kelly in September.

Pena's career OPS of .650 doesn't stop traffic and his $2.5 million salary in 2017 will make it hard for Mozeliak to release him. If the GM doesn't mind eating that money, Pena may be gone. That is unlikely.

Carrying three catchers may not be a bad idea or Kelly could see more time in Memphis to start the season. He is the future, so sitting on the bench isn't a great idea. Yadier Molina catching over 1300 innings also isn't a wise plan, so three catchers may work. 

_______________________

Before Mozeliak can decide on signings and trades, he has to know where his current roster stands. Defense and athleticism are key components to improvement in 2017. The home run power of the Cards couldn't save a disastrously inept defense and baserunning team. Fundamentals went missing and should be found. Veterans aren't a problem. Aging and depreciating veterans are. 

The Cards may be done playing, but the front office is just getting warmed up. Get ready for an interesting winter Cards fans.


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