Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

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Fat Strat
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Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

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The Cardinals don't yet have an operating plan for this offseason. Why not? And what do we know so far?
- J. P. Hill (Fat Strat)

It’s already December and this offseason has been unusually quiet for the Cardinals.

Usually by this time beat writers and in-the-know columnists have been able to parse the information released by the tight-lipped front office into a general offseason “plan” and a corresponding “shopping list” to accomplish that plan. By late November every year, we generally know what if not who the Cardinals are looking for. Last year, for example, Mozeliak and company frequently cited their desire for “left-handed power from their infield” or “a swing starter to provide depth for the rotation”.

This week I noticed that information is simply not out there. At first, I thought it was me – that I had missed reports. So, I started asking around to my fellow bloggers and our little community of knowledgeable internet writers. What are you hearing? What have I missed? I got the same response everywhere. Outside of Molina and Wainwright, no one has heard anything from the Cardinals.

That made me wonder – do the Cardinals even have a plan for the offseason?

Since the blogger community came up short, I took the same questions to Derrick Goold in his Monday chat. Goold indicated that what I was experiencing was right on. Normally, the Cardinals have an offseason plan that they have made somewhat public. Beat writers, like Goold, are normally able to condense that down into a shopping list of specific names and players.

There is none of that this season. Why? Goold suggests it's because the Cardinals are missing three things:

1. A Complete Understanding of Who is Available.

In a typical year, the free agent market is almost fully set immediately following the World Series. Sure, the Rule 5 deadline and non-tender deadline can add to the market, but the talent from either of those pools is not enough to move the needle. That might not be the case this season. Because of the financial crisis, there is an expectation that a large number of relatively talented arbitration-eligible players will be cut loose by their clubs and become free agents.

From the Cardinals’ perspective, there’s little reason to develop an internal shopping list until the store is fully stocked. The forthcoming non-tender purge should tempt the Cardinals, who have long desired to acquire younger, cost-controlled players through trade. The cost in prospects for even mediocre talent is usually pretty high. (Consider the Marcel Ozuna trade as an example).

Once the club knows who will get released and who might be available in a discounted trade – then they will be able to develop a more complete shopping list.

2. A Finalized Budget Range.

No, Derrick Goold asserts that the Cardinals still don’t have a budget for the coming season. The reasons for this have been discussed in detail already. The club not only lost significant revenue last season but they can’t currently project their revenue for 2021. The virus is currently surging. Professional and collegiate sports still are not allowing fans into stands at anywhere near full capacity. The Cardinals can’t set a spending level until they know their income level.

There is some good news, though. Several COVID vaccines are progressing into their final stages. Its possible vaccine distribution could begin for medical personnel by the end of the month. High-risk populations would soon follow. Then the general public. Once the team can better project its revenue, then it can better project it’s budget.

For now, that means operating at or near their spending floor. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the club to develop anything more than a rough outline of potential moves for when a budget can finally be set.

3. A Clear Understanding of the Market.

This is where not knowing who will be available and the lack of a budget come together. We can think of this in terms of supply and demand. If the traditional free agent market is flooded with additional non-tenders, the supply of players rises sharper than normal. What about demand? Finances are bad around baseball. There will be teams – likely as much as half the league – who will repress spending to recover as much lost 2020 revenue as possible. Demand for talent is going to be relatively low.

That should tank the market. Prices for free agents should continue to drop until players reach the owners’ financial floors. Then demand will increase, the market will be set, and teams will start cutting into the supply.

When will that happen? Not any time soon. For now, the Cardinals (and other teams) have no incentive to jump the market and sign players for what could be millions more than is necessary.

That’s Goold’s list of what the Cardinals are missing and why we just don’t have much information. He didn’t leave us there. Here’s what the Cardinals do have:

1. A Commitment to Remain Competitive.

Goold has asked the Cardinals on numerous occasions about the possibility of using the pandemic as an excuse to rebuild. The front office has bristled at this suggestion. From all indications, the loss of revenue hasn’t changed the organization's bottom-line: they want to field a competitive team every year, including 2021.

We can and will debate what that means. For practical purposes, we can assume that the club will spend or make trades to field a team that sits at better than .500 by most projection systems. Their internal projections matter more, but the Cardinals have pretty consistently been in the 83-88 win range from the publicly-available projections. That’s the baseline for player acquisition in 2021.

2. A Desire to Improve “Position Groups”.

Based on the information that we currently have, the Cardinals are well behind those win totals. Fangraphs’ early Depth Charts projections offers a 2021 winning percentage of just .478. That would only be 77 wins.

I really wouldn’t read too much into the specific projections that make up that number, except to note the distance the Cardinals need to make up to reach “competitive” levels. If their own internal metrics are anything close to this, they know they have work to do. Since they can’t quite develop a shopping list and are limited by an unknown budget, Goold suggests that the club is currently focused on potential improvements to the following position groupings.

3b/2b – The Cardinals have Tommy Edman as a capable replacement for Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter under contract at 3b. Neither situation is ideal. Goold has frequently pointed at players who might be able to provide competition and starter-level production at either or both positions, depending on matchups and roster needs.

He mentioned players like Jurickson Profar and Tommy La Stella as the types of players the Cardinals could target. Both provide versatility in the field and solid-to-good bats for the infield. Both are free agents and are likely to be available for slightly more than backup-level salaries.
Similar players could become available during the non-tender period. This type of multi-position, almost-but-not-quite-starter players see the field often enough to earn high salaries in playing-time based arbitration hearings. Most teams have a player or two in their system who might able to provide comparable production or depth for the league minimum.

Corner OF/DH – 2020 eroded some of the confidence that the Cardinals have in their young outfielders. Tyler O’Neill finally flashed his defensive potential, but his bat completely tanked. Lane Thomas contracted COVID and was never himself. The Cardinals still want to see these players, but they can’t ignore their lack of production in 2020. They also can’t ignore the fact that Dexter Fowler is a year older.

The Cardinals are likely set at two starting positions with Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson. They could use an infusion of power in their OF depth. With the DH likely to return, the club is open to a bat-first platoon-level player, something that hasn’t been true in the past.

Here’s where Joc Pederson – who had a down 2020 – and someone like Hunter Renfroe (whom I wrote about last week) enters the picture.
It’s also an area where the non-tender market could supply even more names. Pederson in particular seems attractive. His down year and limited skillset will hold his price down but he could be partnered with Tyler O’Neill in a quasi-platoon at DH and LF, depending on how the rest of the roster shakes out.


That’s it. That’s all Goold has right now. No plan. No shopping list. Just a vague desire from the Cardinals to remain competitive and the knowledge that some position groups could be better with more depth.

Watch the non-tender list. That should spark some more detailed information from the front office. But don’t expect anything to happen any time soon.

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CardsofSTL
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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

Post by CardsofSTL »

It really seems like they have no interest in doing anything at all until they know they are going to be able to sell tickets next season. By then we will have an middle infield of Edman and DeJong with Rangel Ravelo catching.

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heyzeus
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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

Post by heyzeus »

I think I saw somewhere that the Cardinals are in on Brian McCann because hey, why not sub out our elderly, formerly great and beloved franchise icon catcher for someone else's elderly, formerly great franchise icon catcher?

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Jocephus
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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

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different mccann catcher
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that free agent catcher James McCann has received interest from the Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, and Angels.

Not surprisingly, Heyman notes that the Phillies are believed to be interested in they lose J.T. Realmuto. The White Sox also have interest in retaining McCann, but they already added Yasmani Grandal last offseason, so it's more realistic that he'll find a prominent role elsewhere. McCann, 30, has

Source: Jon Heyman on Twitter
Nov 30, 2020, 10:04 AM ET

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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

Post by heyzeus »

Jocephus wrote:
December 2 20, 10:29 am
different mccann catcher
Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that free agent catcher James McCann has received interest from the Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, and Angels.

Not surprisingly, Heyman notes that the Phillies are believed to be interested in they lose J.T. Realmuto. The White Sox also have interest in retaining McCann, but they already added Yasmani Grandal last offseason, so it's more realistic that he'll find a prominent role elsewhere. McCann, 30, has

Source: Jon Heyman on Twitter
Nov 30, 2020, 10:04 AM ET
So you're saying I should actually read articles, rather than just the headline? I say "nay."

Fine, we might sign Brian McCann's large adult son.

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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

Post by Fat_Bulldog »

The plan is "hope for many over-performers."

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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

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CardsofSTL wrote:
December 2 20, 9:33 am
It really seems like they have no interest in doing anything at all until they know they are going to be able to sell tickets next season. By then we will have an middle infield of Edman and DeJong with Rangel Ravelo catching.
Spot on.

We are still in the middle of a pandemic. All bets are off.

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MrCrowesGarden
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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

Post by MrCrowesGarden »

They weren’t going to do anything anyway. The pandemic has merely provided cover for their inaction.

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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

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MrCrowesGarden wrote:
December 2 20, 1:16 pm
They weren’t going to do anything anyway. The pandemic has merely provided cover for their inaction.
1,000,000% correct

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Jocephus
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Re: Do the Cardinals have a Plan? Not Yet.

Post by Jocephus »

Trinian
Arenado to the Cardinals rumors don't make sense to me. If Arenado plays great in 2021, he'll opt out and the Cardinals would have overpaid for one year of his services. If he doesn't play great, he won't opt out and the Cardinals will be paying a very high price for the decline phase of a no longer great player. What am I missing?

Craig Edwards
The Rockies have to come to terms with the fact Arenado's contract isn't a good one for the team. They will have to pay money down on it like the Marlins did with Stanton. Nobody is giving up a ton of value to get Arenado. The Cardinals or other teams would certainly jump in if the cost made sense.

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