What personnel improvements to the ball club are the front office planning to make to ensure that the 2019 Cardinals avert a fourth consecutive year of missing Major League Baseball's postseason pool of participants? It's the biggest offseason in years and a starving fan base is demanding both answers and a flurry of activity. It's the season that ushers in the cold of winter, falling temperatures, subzero wind chill factors, snow flurries and impassable accumulations, massive traffic jams, and school closures. Welcome to the Hot Stove league where Cardinal Nation and knowledgeable baseball fans everywhere become armchair general managers armed with all of the answers that will land their team the talent via free agency or trade to make a legitimate run to the World Series come the following October - all done in spirited debates over a cup of hot chocolate, coffee or a hot toddy!

St. Louis' rabid contingent of supporters are adamant that management, with ownership's blessing, get the players to halt the franchise's skid of missing the playoffs and will hold the front office team of President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and General Manager Michael Girsch to the same level of accountability as the two hold the players to in addressing offseason conditioning and health issues. Along with the DeWitt's, they've simply got to get it done, no excuses, or second-place finishes.

The Cardinals have to be players in the Bryce Harper Sweepstakes, contrary to Ken Rosenthal, senior baseball writer for The Athletic, reporting "they're not as interested in Bryce Harper as those on the outside want them to be." Surmising that Harper, a generational talent, is a lock to join the Philadelphia Phillies' outfielder ranks would be a huge, unconscionable mistake on the Cardinals' part following this week's General Manager meetings in Carlsbad, California. They'd better be "kicking the tires" with Harper's camp! They have to go head-to-head, toe-to-toe with Philadelphia for his services, the superstar the team has sorely lacked since Albert Pujols' departure. If it means winning a bidding war, win the war. Make him say "No". Short of Harper's declaring that he doesn't want to play in St. Louis, the Cardinals have to pull out all of the stops, exhaust every possible means of selling him on the virtues and history of wearing the 'Birds on the Bat" and simply show him the money!

Should Harper opt to go elsewhere, obtaining Arizona Diamondback first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to be that bat-wielding third-place hitter in a trade becomes extremely attractive. He has one year left on a very affordable $14.5-million dollar contract but would be worth the investment. Goldschmidt is the consummate professional, a Gold-Glove award-winning fielder and the closest talent to Pujols who would champion the Cardinal Way. A year playing in St. Louis for its adoring fan base as the backdrop may just be enough to persuade him to sign a long-term deal as a member of next year's free agent class. The Cardinals will have to give up some high-end prospects, possibly some proven major leaguers on their current roster but the reward is worth the risk.

Baseball has evolved into a hitter's sport. Making eye-popping, other-worldly defensive plays the likes of Diamondback shortstop-third baseman Eduardo Escobar is both lauded and applauded but "chicks dig the long ball." From where I sit as an armchair manager, the addition of free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson fits the bill here. The former American League MVP was still very productive in a year shortened by a calf injury, would give the Cardinals a left-handed power bat and is also an excellent fielder. Where could the club, then, move Matt Carpenter if he's displaced at first by Goldschmidt and third by Donaldson (2-year, $40 million deal with a club option for a third)? Provided he's not part of a trade (and Carpenter shouldn't be), he'd be the team's new left fielder with Marcell Ozuna and his surgically repaired shoulder moving to right to showcase his new cannon of a throwing arm (sorry Dexter Fowler).

As for the makeover of the high-priority bullpen, the initial move should be the release of lefty reliever Brett Cecil. I'm aware of his no-trade clause, but Cecil simply needs to be paid to go away. Thirty-year-old Zach Britton tops my armchair general manager's list of candidates. Britton had a WAR of 0.7, ERA of 3.10 with a 2-0 record and 7 saves in 2018. For his career, his WAR is 11.7, ERA 3.21 with a 31-22 record and 142 saves. Compare those stats with those of 33-year-old Andrew Miller whose WAR was 0.2, ERA 4.24 with a 2-4 record and 2 saves in 2018. His career numbers show a WAR of 8.5, ERA of 3.98 with a 49-49 record to go with 53 saves.

The right-handed addition to the pen is former Cardinal Joe Kelly who throws in the 98-99 mph range. Kelly's WAR was 0.5, ERA 4.39 and record 4-2 with 2 saves in 2018. For his career, Kelly has a WAR of 6.2, an ERA of 3.87 and record of 43-25 with 2 saves. Provided the Cardinals pass on pursuing proven closer Craig Kimbrel, Kelly would be given the role until Jordan Hicks develops a swing-and-miss 4-seam fastball. It's the Hot Stove league and as Cubs president of baseball operations stated "no one is untouchable" referring to star third baseman Kris Bryant, in the quest to win championships. Cardinal owners and management should feel the very same way.

Free agent superstar infielder Manny Machado, rumored to be a target of the Chicago White Sox, is not a player management plans to pursue while former Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas remains on Mozeliak's and Girsch's radar. The bottom line is the Cardinals can ill afford to come away empty handed this offseason. The heat they'll feel from a failed Hot Stove season will be the ire of Cardinal Nation, sure to manifest itself by way of a ton of empty seats at Busch in 2019. To avoid that happening, better yet, to stoke the excitement level around these parts, the Red Birds will need to lure some combination of Harper, Goldschmidt, Donaldson, Britton and Kelly to St. Louis or be labeled cheapskates, further alienating a devoted fan base. Time to put up or shut. Time to put your money where your mouth is, Cardinals. Time for Mo' and Girsch to be held accountable. Time to procure legitimate talent for a legitimate World Series run. Time to win the Hot Stove league! Time to Heat Up St. Louis!

And time to pass me a hot toddy............