During a cold offseason for baseball, a lot can happen in a single day.
Something tells me 2018 will be an interesting battle in the National League Central. After watching the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals upgrade and evaluate their rosters over the first two months of the offseason, the Milwaukee Brewers reloaded heavily inside 24 hours. They signed former Kansas City Royals centerfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year deal and traded three top prospects for former Miami Marlins centerfielder Christian Yelich.
In doing so, the Brewers reset the division deck of cards, taking the fight to Cubs and Cards. Make no mistake, a team that won 86 games last year with no pitching just went all in on their lineup. They traded away over 15 years of control and handed $80 million to a soon to be 32-year-old, screaming "let's win now" to their rivals.
Now, what should the Cardinals do?
The Cubs have spoken to Yu Darvish's agent, and the Brewers still have room and time to find a starting pitcher, so can the Cardinals afford to sit still and run into the season with their current roster? I don't think so, but upgrading isn't going to be easy.
It's Jan. 26 and the starting pitching market hasn't been broken open yet. Darvish and Jake Arrieta are still out there, as are Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer are lurking as the juiciest bats on the market while Greg Holland sits as the top closer available.
Cardinals fans scream action, but what should John Mozeliak do with a month left before everybody is in camp? Let's run over some scenarios.
Scott Boras is kidding himself if he thinks the 32-year-old closer is getting 3-4 guaranteed years, because the Wade Davis contract is four weeks old and that was the best comparable. Holland's second half in 2017 doesn't help his value. It's nasty. Holland's ERA was a clean 1.62 in the first half before rocketing to 6.38 in the second half. Hitters slugged an extra 20 percent higher than the first half. Holland's age and second half decline won't get him three years.
A two-year deal is more realistic, and if it comes to that, the Cardinals would be wise to consider it. For all his second half troubles, Holland cleaned up his act in September, gaining five saves and crafting a 1.83 ERA in ten appearances.
Unlike Luke Gregerson, who had his own setbacks last season, Holland is a proven commodity. Take out his Tommy John sidelined 2016 and the man has four straight seasons of 30+ saves. Holland saved 41 games in 2017 and finished 58 of them. On a shorter term, he could truly fortify the bullpen.
However, signing Holland does bring in an aging arm with peril, and makes the bullpen seem rather crowded. The Cardinals still lack a true closer, so looking at Holland one last time may be useful to secure saves.
This is an interesting case. Signing Hosmer would turn Jedd Gyorko into a super sub, and render Jose Martinez obsolete. Looking at Hosmer, it all comes down to which guy you get. Here are his OPS marks over the past four years:
Hosmer has four Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger award to go with an age of 28 as he seeks at least a five-year deal worth at least 80 million dollars, but more likely tipping the scale of 100 million dollars. Acquiring Hosmer would move Matt Carpenter to third base, where he is worse defensively than his current spot at first base, so I'd temper the "improve the infield" claims.
There were reports of Hosmer receiving a contract worth $140+ million over seven years, but that went away. Like Holland and Arrieta, Hosmer is waiting for a team to get incredibly foolish or momentarily hopeful.
I don't want the Cards to be either of those teams. Run with Gyorko, Carpenter, and Martinez. Save the cash and infield shakeup for next offseason. The starting lineup of the Cards looks solid outside an out of nowhere trade for Josh Donaldson. Hosmer is simply not worth it, unless his price and term goes down.
Where does he go and how much does your defense in the outfield suffer? Martinez has a wicked bat, but if you hope to get sharper defensively in the field, signing him won't do it. He is bound to be a Boston Red Sox outfielder/designated hitter here soon. I love his bat, but with the current outfield, there's no spot unless you run with a softball alignment.
He's a better option than Arrieta due to age and wear/tear on the arm, but I honestly don't think Darvish will be worth the contract he gets. In a starting pitcher bare market, prices will still be steep for a guy who actually doesn't have that many proven seasons under his belt. I'd rather run with other options with beards and witty postgame abilities.
Yes, I'm still hung up on Lance Lynn. The former Cardinal will be 31-years-old in May and is waiting for the Darvish/Arrieta market to unfold before he chooses a destination, but I still wonder if the Cardinals dangled a juicy two-year deal over his head or even an incentive laden one year deal, would he reach and grab it? I hope Miles Mikolas can be something decent, but I'm more worried about Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. One looks nearly finished and the other guy has a chronic shoulder injury.
Acquiring Lynn or even Alex Cobb would result in a rotation shift, which is something that more than likely won't happen. So, this rotation upgrade talk is kind of hapless speculation, but what else is there to do right now?
Trades are tricky. Chris Archer is real nice, but the Rays haven't talked seriously about shopping him. Judging other possible deals requires too much whiskey and time I don't have.
The truth is the Cardinals could make another move or two, but when you look hard at it, the actual move isn't that easy to transcribe. Fans can call for it, but what does Mozeliak actually have to work with and acquire?
If I was the boss for a day, I'd sign Holland to a two-year deal and sign Lynn to a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third season. Load up on pitching and then use your bevy of prospects to acquire Donaldson in July. That's what I'd do right now.
What do you think?