The St. Louis Cardinals are in a very strange spot (again) this offseason. They have very few spots around the diamond around which they can make a huge upgrade.
Let’s try to get to the basis of this, statistically, going position by position:
Yadier Molina will be the starting catcher and has been worth 2.6 fWAR per 500 PA in his career and 2.3 fWAR per season over the last 3 years. He’s also THE franchise icon at the moment, so you won’t get an upgrade over him worth putting him on the bench or trading him. So you could upgrade at backup catcher over Francisco Pena, but really from 2005-2018 (14 seasons), the backup catchers have come to the plate just 2,226 times. That’s 159 times per season. In the last 10 seasons, that number goes down to 141 PA per season. In the last 3 seasons, it’s at 136 PA per season. The backup catcher just doesn’t play. Give that job to Carson Kelly (finally).
The infield gets a little trickier position by position. Starting with 1B and SS, Matt Carpenter is easily the best hitter in the infield, followed by Paul DeJong, then some combination of others. Carpenter has been worth 4.0 fWAR per 600 PA in his career and 3.8 fWAR per season in the last 3 years on average. DeJong has been worth 6.3 fWAR in just 933 career PA (4.1 fWAR/600). Carpenter is most capable at first base on the infield. He’s not fabulous there by any means, but I’d argue he’s quite average or slightly below at this point in his career. He’s also a slightly below average defender at third base as well. Either of those positions is therefore eligible for an upgrade. Thus far in his career , DeJong has been an above average to good defender at shortstop in his short time in the majors, by the advanced stats. He has also been a third baseman in his professional career and would likely be a candidate to play the hot corner if a shortstop upgrade was available.
At second base, Kolten Wong has been worth 2.7 fWAR per 600 PA in his career and 2.1 fWAR per season the last 3 years. That still puts him as an average MLB player. If he were able to put together his 2017 offense with his 2018 defense, he’d be an All-Star second baseman (I stopped short of saying elite, but that is what my fingers wanted to type.)
At third base, assuming Carpenter at first and DeJong at short, the Cardinals have Patrick Wisdom, Yairo Munoz, and Jedd Gyorko as potential options. At shortstop, assuming DeJong moves to third in this scenario, the Cardinals have Edmundo Sosa and Tommy Edman as potential options. At first base, assuming Carpenter moves to third in this scenario, the Cardinals have Jose Martinez and Rangel Ravelo as potential options. Gyorko has been a 2.0 fWAR infielder per season since joining the Cardinals in 2016. He’s also been a 2.0 fWAR per 600 player in his career. He’s been the definition of league average. That’s probably all you can count on from him this year. Martinez, Ravelo, and Wisdom all have potential bats to make them better than Gyorko’s average value, but also have something holding them back, whether that’s defense (Martinez) or lack of track record at the MLB level (Wisdom/Ravelo). Sosa has a defensive tool that could potentially make him more valuable than Gyorko, but he’s likely not because of his bat. Edman is not ready for that full-time position, yet, either. Yairo Munoz at third base is probably a guy who could put up a 2.0 fWAR season for you as well, but that’s not an upgrade over Gyorko.
There are five guys you could consider as “outfielders” on the current roster. First up is Marcell Ozuna. He’s been a 3.2 fWAR per 600 player in his career. That number goes up to 3.4 over the last 3 seasons. He’s set to be the everyday left fielder. The next guy to discuss, then, would be Harrison Bader, the expected center fielder. He has but 519 career PA in the majors, but I’m pretty sure I can logically say that his 3.7 fWAR in those 519 PA is likely going to regress a little bit this year. I can also logically say that I think he’ll be at least a 3.0-3.5 fWAR per 600 guy moving forward - taking a slight step back offensively and/or defensively next year but getting 600 PA rather than the 427 he received in 2018. Right field is the absolute crapshoot as nobody knows who will grab the proverbial bull by the horns. Jose Martinez (mentioned earlier at first base) is more comfortable (at least he looks it) in the outfield. Now, saying he looks “more comfortable” doesn’t mean that he looks average, or below average, or even competent. Martinez’s bat, however, makes him a 2.8 fWAR player per 600 PA in his career. All of his value comes in his bat. Tyler O’Neill broke onto the scene as a rookie last year and had an OPS over .800 but had some troubling offensive trends to go with that (K rate and BB rate). That said, he was above average at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths (when he could get on without putting the ball over the wall). O’Neill won’t keep the 5.5 fWAR pace he had last year, because pitchers will adjust and he’ll have to re-adjust at some point...and because that’s a very special type player’s pace. He’s good. I believe in him. Not that much. Dexter Fowler is the absolute wild card here. Fowler is a 2.3 fWAR/600 player in his career. He was worth 2.0 fWAR the last 3 years combined. He was worth NEGATIVE 1.2 fWAR last year, though. He was worth 2.6 fWAR/600 for the 9 years from 2009-2017. From 2012-2017 (6 seasons), he was worth 3.1 fWAR/600. For 3 seasons from 2015-2017, he was worth 3.5 fWAR/600 PA. He is an absolute enigma!
Recap (TL;DR version)
Basically, at catcher you’re looking to upgrade over a slightly above league average player who is a franchise icon or a guy who is only going to get <150 PA anyway. Looking at the infield as a whole, you’ve got a 4.1 fWAR guy, a 4.0 fWAR guy, a 2.7 fWAR guy and a 2.0 fWAR guy. In the outfield, you’re looking to upgrade over a 3.3ish fWAR guy, a 3-3.5ish fWAR guy, and probably a league average (2.0 fWAR) OF in right unless O’Neill absolutely breaks out.
As we expected all along and as management has stated, the Cardinals could most upgrade over their 3B and RF on offense. The upgrade they would be getting would be how much surplus fWAR over a league average (2.0 fWAR) player at either or both positions.
Potential Upgrades (position and fWAR to beat listed first):
C - 3.3 fWAR to upgrade
At catcher, JT Realmuto has been at least 1 fWAR higher than Yadier Molina’s 2.3 fWAR per season over that time in each of the last three years. I think the chance of the Cardinals upgrading over Yadi while he’s under contract is 0.0%.
1B - 3.0 fWAR to upgrade (with Carpenter moving to third)
At first base, Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, and Freddie Freeman have all been worth at least 3.0 fWAR each of the last three years. Max Muncy was better in his one full season. Anthony Rizzo was better two of the three years and missed by 0.1 fWAR this past year. He averaged 3.0 or higher, but wasn’t there all 3 years. Might as well count him, though. Cody Bellinger was better in each of his two full seasons. Matt Olson was better in his one full season and had better than 3.0 fWAR pace in his partial season. There we go. There’s some real names there to go after. At least one. Goldschmidt’s name is on the block. That’s why you go after him right there! I don’t believe Muncy or Bellinger will be moved from the Dodgers because 1) they have the money for both to stay there long term when they’ll get paid, 2) they’re not getting paid yet, and 3) they’ve shown that they’re willing to play both of them at positions other than first base this past year on the way to a second NLCS championship in a row.
2B - 3.7 fWAR to upgrade
Jose Altuve has been worth at least 3.7 fWAR in each of the last 3 seasons. That’s it. He’s not available.
3B - 3.0 fWAR to upgrade
There are some big names here. Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Justin Turner, and Jose Ramirez have been worth at least 3.0 fWAR in each of the last 3 seasons. Kris Bryant was better than 3.0 fWAR for 3 straight seasons before last year’s 2.3 fWAR season. Matt Chapman was over 3.0 fWAR in his only full season and on better pace than that in his partial season as well. Manny Machado was worth more than that when he played 3B in 2016. In 2017 playing SS he was not, but then in 2018 again at SS he was worth over 3.0 fWAR again (over double). Muncy (again) played about 30 games at third base last year. I haven’t seen enough of him to know if Carp at third or Muncy at third (with the other at first) is the optimal deployment. Josh Donaldson was worth over 12 fWAR from 2016-17, but was only worth 1.3 fWAR last year in 219 PA. Eugenio Suarez and Travis Shaw have each been worth more than that each of the last two seasons, but not before that. Kyle Seager was worth more than that for 6 straight seasons before last season’s dud of a year. Alex Bregman was worth over 3.0 fWAR each of the last two years - his only two full seasons. Not sure if any of them will be available, but I was stumping quite hard for Justin Turner 2 offseasons ago and feel quite justified in doing so right now. Donaldson was, but was just signed for $23M this year by the Braves. There’s a reason you’ve heard rumblings on Seager to STL this offseason. If Machado is affordable, you obviously should take a chance there as it’s a clear upgrade to a major position of need - again, position TBD.
SS - 3.0 fWAR to upgrade
Francisco Lindor, Jean Segura, and Xander Bogaerts have been worth 3.0 or better fWAR each of the last three seasons. Andrelton Simmons has been worth at least 3.0 fWAR in each of the last two seasons and 3 of the last 4 - but not each of the last 3. Carlos Correa had been worth 3.0 fWAR in each of his seasons until last year. Trea Turner and Didi Gregorius (injured) have been worth 3.0 fWAR on average and has gotten there 2 of the last 3 seasons, but not all 3 years. Trevor Story has been worth 3.0 or more fWAR in two of his three seasons. Chris Taylor (another Dodger who plays everywhere) has been worth 3+ fWAR each of the last two seasons, but not his entire career. There’s reasons you’ve heard rumblings about Simmons to STL the last few offseasons as well. Now, I don’t know why the Angels would do that as they’re trying to compete - despite their failure to do so. If Machado is affordable, you obviously should take a chance there as it’s a clear upgrade to a major position of need - again, position TBD.
OF - 3.0 fWAR to upgrade
Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Christian Yelich, Bryce Harper have been worth 3.0 or better fWAR each of the last three seasons. George Springer comes really close at 2.9 last year and 3.0+ in each of the prior three seasons. Aaron Judge has done it each of the last two years. Giancarlo Stanton, Lorenzo Cain, and JD Martinez have been worth at least 3.0 fWAR in four of the last five seasons. Justin Upton has gotten there the last 2 years and five of the last six. Starling Marte has also been worth 3+ in 5 of the last 6 years but not each of the last three. Charlie Blackmon got to the mark two years in a row before falling just short this year. Tommy Pham (the ship has sailed on that one) has gotten there the last two seasons. Aaron Hicks has beaten that mark each of the last two seasons, but not before that - as has Michael Conforto. Kevin Kiermaier was worth 3.0+ fWAR each of the prior 3 seasons but last year fell short after playing under 400 PA for the first time in a while. Odubel Herrera averaged over 3.0 fWAR each of the last three years but dropped off a bit this year. Ronald Acuna Jr. was better this year, his rookie season. As was Juan Soto. Cody Bellinger’s statistics from earlier fit in here as well. Brian Anderson of the Marlins got there this year - funny, after they traded away their entire outfield. Mallex Smith got over that mark in this season, his first full year. They tried to trade for Yelich and Stanton last offseason. They got rid of Pham last season. I’ve heard rumors of Blackmon, Hicks, Conforto, and Kiermaier in at least one offseason or more the past 2-3 years, but nothing substantial. I don’t know if any would be available for trade or not. The obvious upgrade here is Harper - who I have said repeatedly is my OF addition if I can.
Hopefully this helps you sort through some information about who might actually be able to upgrade the Cardinals’ 2019 roster and where they might turn this offseason.
What’s your preferred method to upgrade (not just re-tool or deepen) this roster?