Though St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak left little to the imagination when he told Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com that the team was likely done with offseason moves, you’d probably be right to take that with a small grain of salt.
After all, no team is ever truly done improving, yes? Even the Cardinals, as well-built as they are as an organization from top to bottom, can get better as the 2014 season approaches. The question is, however, just how much more can they improve? One would reasonably expect that the answer is what spurred on the GM’s comments about the offseason, but even as a thought experiment, let’s try a glass-half-empty view on the Redbirds.
Yes, on paper, that’s not going to be so easy. The team has upgraded where it needed (center field and shortstop), while making the requisite move to look ahead to the future by trading David Freese, moving Matt Carpenter to third and freeing Kolten Wong. Should the top prospect not work out at second base, there’s Mark Ellis waiting to fill in the gaps.
Meanwhile, Oscar Taveras looms in the minors, chomping at the bits for his opportunity.
The team’s combination of youth and experience at every position is remarkable, and while the NL Central is no slouch these days with the Cincinnati Reds and upstart Pittsburgh Pirates making things interesting, it’d be hard to bet against the Cardinals winning the division in 2014, and difficult to even imagine that they’d miss the postseason.
That said, they do have the saying about best laid plans for a reason — so where could it go awry?
Well, perhaps the first place to look is what they lost this offseason, namely Carlos Beltran. While the veteran was just a 2.0 fWAR player in 2013 thanks in part to his poor defensive play (21.4 fielding runs below average), he was a crucial part to the offensive machine as a .830 OPS player who hit .296 with 24 home runs.
This is not to mention the postseason, where he at least has the track record to be a series-changer, even though a rib injury kept from from doing it in the 2013 World Series.
St. Louis should be able to replace his overall value just fine with the upgrade from Jon Jay to Peter Bourjos, and Allen Craig is certainly no slouch himself, but is their offense truly more stable with Beltran’s production gone? Much of this will have to do with Craig’s health, and an extensive injury history would suggest this to be something of an uncertainty.
Should the 29-year-old be sidelined, the Cardinals would not have the easiest time replacing the offense. They’re still better off keeping slugger Matt Adams at first base, but who gets the opportunity in right?
Conceivably, they could call on Taveras, though how much they’ll truly be able to rely on the rookie — even one with all-world talent — is hard to say at this point. With a number of more experienced players capable of filling in the outfield spot, they’re more than likely going to be fine, but it would open up somewhat of a hole elsewhere.
And speaking of youth, is a Wong/Ellis combo at second base truly enough? The youngster will be given every chance to succeed in 2014, but should he fails to make a solid impression, the leash isn’t infinite in length and Ellis will be asked to step in. While the team will get defense and above-replacement production, the veteran’s offensive output will likely leave something to be desired.
Again, the depth is definitely there, but if it has to be relied on long-term, I suppose you could say that the Cardinals’ chances for a deep playoff run wouldn’t look all that great.
Then again, that’s something which could be said for essentially every team, no? So, if you were following along with our little thought experiment, you could probably see why Mozeliak is as confident as he is. Barring a series of highly unfortunate circumstances, this team is a contender now, and the thought that the team doesn’t need go to out and make something happen is as well-founded as it could be.
They could still make a move if something falls into their lap, of course; but at this point, you could say that the Cardinals just don’t have all that much to worry about.