ST. LOUIS — The hot stove has officially begun.

2019 is a confirmed memory, holding court only in our mind but no longer meaning much in reality. The St. Louis Cardinals are now open for business.

That means the free agent period has opened. Trade proposals are being drawn up, and the idea phase in front offices has begun. Qualifying offers go out Monday, teams trying to retain a stock on a short term basis.

All signs point to Marcell Ozuna not returning to the Cardinals, so there’s a new hole in left field to fill. There’s a good chance Harrison Bader or a younger outfielder plays center field and Dexter Fowler, who carries a full no trade clause and two years on his lucrative contract, plays in right.

I don’t see the team switching ambitions and turning to Tyler O’Neill, Adolis Garcia, or Randy Arozarena. They didn’t find much playing time in the latter half of this past season, so I wouldn’t bet on them getting the starting gig.

One can dream about acquiring Anthony Rendon via free agency and making left field less of an issue, but that’s more of a dream and not a reality.

Trading for Mookie Betts is equal parts imaginary, so don’t fester too long in that corridor of fan horrors unless your baseball heart is made of stretch material.

The team could break tradition and run with the 21-year-old Dylan Carlson, a player who doesn’t have a single Major League at-bat. He’s torn up minor league pitching and fits the profile of what the team needs. It’s just they very rarely install a player with no MLB experience into a starting role in April.

So, what about other free agents? Corey Dickerson comes to mind. Do you know he is? Let me enlighten you a little.

Dickerson isn’t a big name, someone you wouldn’t hinge your fantasy team performance on. He’s not Giancarlo Stanton or Bryce Harper. He could be just as good, if not better, than Marcell Ozuna.

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Unlike Ozuna, he’s a consistent hitter and not some one season MVP fluke. He missed time in 2019 due to a broken foot among other issues, but in 78 games, slashed .304/.361/.545 in time split between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. 28 doubles and 12 home runs in 279 at-bats.

Career wise, Dickerson has slugged .504 with a respectable .832 OPS and OPS+ of 119. The latter statistics measured a player’s OPS (combined on base and slugging percentage) against the rest of the league. Average is 100, so Dickerson is well above average. That falls right in line with his wRC+ of 117, a statistic that is similar in meaning to OPS+.

Defensively, Dickerson isn’t a Gold Glover, but also isn’t bad either. You won’t catch him climbing on top of an outfield wall for a one hopper in front of the fence, but he also won’t throw many out at the plate. He saved Pittsburgh 16 runs in 2018, but cost the Phillies and Pirates a combined six runs in 2019. His lifetime Ultimate Zone Rating is a slightly above average 0.2.

Basically, he’s a hitter and not known for his defense. He’s not Bader, which should please a good portion of Cardinal Nation.

Cost? Dickerson made $8.5 million on his last arbitration eligible season this year, so he’s a free agent. I don’t expect him to ask for the bank or break any team’s safe. He’s a solid if unspectacular player.

He will cost less than Ozuna, and arguably a better idea than giving him the QO of $17.8 million.

In a full season, Dickerson offers a team around three wins above replacement (WAR). Once again, that’s not groundbreaking, but it’s better than what Ozuna has given the team these past two seasons.

He’s also a left-handed bat with some power, which could keep the Cardinals a dual-faceted lineup. Dickerson has played in 135+ games in three of his seven seasons, so he isn’t injury-prone.

Something else of note is the fact that Dickerson doesn’t seem to have an issue coming onto a new roster and contributing right away. He’s played on four different teams in his seven year career. He arrived in Philadelphia last season and just kept hitting.

Dickerson doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but he doesn’t strike out a ton either. He’s never hit 30 home runs or 40 doubles, but he’s collected 20+ homers and 30+ doubles three different times. If the Cardinals want to potentially ease Carlson in, they could bring Dickerson in and not rupture that plan.

Dickerson wouldn’t represent the Cardinals pushing all their chips into the middle of the table, but he would still be a quality addition with some upside. Unlike any of their 2019 outfielders, a more consistent one.

You could bat Dickerson just about anywhere in the lineup, and get some hits. While batting average isn’t everything, it’s nice to have a guy who can just step up to the plate and get a hit.

Oh, and one more thing. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Dickerson slashed .396/.442/.708. Furthermore, in 86 plate appearances in 2019, Dickerson hit .364, a lot better than ANY Cardinal.

You could get him on a 2-3 year deal. He turns 31 in May, so term won’t be an issue. He isn’t asking for 3-5 contract years, folks. He’s available on the short term and can help a team in transition.

Dickerson isn’t the player Cardinals’ fans want under their Christmas tree this winter, but he’s still a valuable player to install in left field. All around, just solid.

Thanks for reading. Drop me a line at buffa82@gmail.com or on Twitter via @buffa82.