After a tough loss in the 2013 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals head into an interesting offseason where they will look to remain a top contender, as well as find room for some of their great upcoming talent. They are in a unique, and indeed optimal, situation where they have the financial resources to sign veteran free agents, and a wealth of young talent that could be used as trade bait.
Some positions are set for the 2014 season, while some others must be addressed. The first move that John Mozeliak and the Cardinals’ front office needs to make, is to decide what to do with right fielder Carlos Beltran. That decision will set all the other decisions in motion.
Carlos Beltran is a fine player who came through for the Cardinals in many key situations over the past two years. Beltran came to the Cardinals with his sights set on reaching the first World Series of his illustrious career, and the team accomplished that this past season although the result was disappointing. Despite the unsatisfactory finish, Beltran filled a need for the Cardinals, and the club filled a need for Beltran; not much more could have been asked from either side.
But the downside to the 36-year old Beltran being very productive over the past two years is that his services will be coveted elsewhere, and the market for a veteran power hitter of his kind will be very competitive. The Cardinals made a qualifying offer of one year and $14 million to Beltran to ensure that if he leaves the club will be compensated with a draft pick, but no one is under the illusion that Beltran will take that deal. Beltran has said he would like to sign a two or three year deal and such a deal may go against the Cardinals’ philosophy. The good news is that the Cards have prepared for Beltran’s possible departure.
With the emergence of Matt Adams during the injury to Allen Craig, a logjam has been created at first base. Craig is in his prime and when healthy, he is one of the best hitters in baseball, so the Cardinals must find a spot to keep him.
Considering one of the Cardinals’ flaws in 2013 was their lack of power hitting, it seems to make sense to give the 25-year old Adams a chance to play every day since he has the potential to be the team’s best power hitter. Craig, when healthy, is more athletic than the burly Adams, so moving him from first is the logical move. Conveniently, the other spot where Allen Craig has the most experience is corner outfield, so he could possibly fill the void of a departed Beltran.
Another option for the Cardinals in right field is their highest rated prospect, Oscar Taveras. The 21-year old Taveras has been compared to the likes of Albert Pujols and Vladimir Guerrero, but Taveras missed the second half of his 2013 season with AAA Memphis due to an injury, so he might still be a little green for an everyday spot in the bigs.
A plausible situation might be to use Craig in right until midseason when Taveras might be more ready. Then the Cardinals can curb the fragile Craig’s work by moving him around to give Taveras, Adams, and left fielder Matt Holliday some off days. But this plan is probably underutilizing Craig, perhaps the team’s best hitter, and more consistency in the lineup would be desirable.
However, keeping Beltran would leave no room for Craig, and would eventually stunt Taveras’ development. Nevertheless, losing a player of Beltran’s caliber is never easy. Ultimately, it is Beltran’s decision, and the move may be out of the franchise’s hands anyway. The aging Beltran may want to sign with an American League club where he can eventually move to the designated hitter spot. Beltran has expressed respect for the Yankees in the past, and they will likely be able to offer him more money than the Cardinals should they so choose.
While the decision to let Beltran sign elsewhere may seem risky to the untrained eye, the Cardinals under Mozeliak have made a mantra of not overspending to keep a certain player, but rather turning to “the next man up” (see: Pujols, Albert). Clearly they have somewhat of a contingency plan in the event of Beltran’s departure. While Beltran undoubtedly has a lot of good baseball left in him, he and the club should shake hands on a memorable and relatively successful two years and then part ways.
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